Chicago was basically closed for business on Nov. 4, as an estimated 5 million people took to the streets for a parade from Wrigley Field to Grant Park to celebrate the Chicago Cubs and their exhilarating, comeback victory in the World Series, securing the Cubs first title in 108 years.
According to anecdotal reports, there was also heavy traffic in area cemeteries the following weekend. Many wanted to pay respects to the Cubs fans who for more than a century handed us the ball, so to speak, at the end of their lives and asked us to adhere to their hard-bitten faith in our often pathetic boys in blue. At gravesides throughout Chicagoland, fans will announce to departed loved-ones what I screamed outside my house when the Cubs won Game 7 that Wednesday night: “It finally happened.”
I know that the Cubs are not actually the most important thing in the world. Our nation faces an immensely fateful election on Tuesday, for instance. But as I customarily like to explain, “Go reason with a six-year-old.” At that age, I fell madly under the spell of the Cubs homer-hitting shortstop, Ernie Banks, and his less-lauded Keystone companion at second base, Gene Baker. With my best friend and next door neighbor, Lee Bernstein (now of blessed memory, like so many other Cubs fans I’ve loved) we took turns pretending to be Ernie and smacking the ball over the wooden fence in Lee’s backyard on Chicago’s North Side. For me, that inner six year old has come to life for sixty years, every time I’ve seen the Cubs take the field.
My love for the Cubs was reinforced by my relationship with my father. As it so often goes with sports, the Cubs were a family legacy. My dad’s best friend, Ed Brody, once shared with me his recollection of how he and my dad grew up side by side North Side, just as Lee and I did. On the weekends, each of their immigrant fathers would huddle close to his radio to hear to the Cubs broadcasts and then rush downstairs between innings to exclaim to one another in Yiddish over the fence between their yards.
My father, who lost his mother when he was four years old, was not a man at ease with his children. I tend to think he regarded my sister and me as rivals for the affection of my mother, which he needed desperately, given what he’d been deprived of early in life. But the one lasting communion we found was with the Cubs. When I was around 10, my father bought a package of tickets to weekend and holiday Cubs games and we went together for several years. Our seats were in the second row behind the visitors dug out. From there, I was often an arms length from some of the greatest players of that era–Henry Aaron, Stan Musial, Willie Mays—and Ernie Banks when he approached the stands, chasing a foul pop-up from his new position at First Base.
Of course, the reason my father had the chance to buy second row seats was because most often we left Wrigley in disappointment. What has distinguished rooting for the Cubs for more than a century is that it has involved embracing losing. The Cubs of my childhood were inept, perennial contenders for last place in the National League. Even when they assembled a team in 1969 with four players destined to enter the Hall of Fame—Banks, Billy Williams, Ferguson Jenkins and Ron Santo—and built an 8 ½ game lead in the standings by mid-August, they lost the Eastern Division title, a defeat made even more agonizing in the Second City by the fact that they were beaten by those upstarts from New York, the Mets.
Since then, there have been a parade of epic, heart-crushing losses. I was in Wrigley Field to see the Cubs win the second National League playoff game, ever played there in 1984. They won and left for San Diego up two games to none, only to lose the series when they lost the lead in the 7th inning of game 5. In 2003 the Cubs went up three games to one against the Florida Marlins in the League Championship Series (just as the poor Indians did in the World Series this year), an advantage that almost always leads to victory. Five outs from the World Series in Game 6, the Cubs surrendered the lead as a result of a cascade of mishaps that began when a Cubs fans reached for a ball their leftfielder was poised to catch. In 2008, the Cubbies had the best record in the National League, then exited the playoffs meekly, swept in the Division Series for the second consecutive year. Something always went wrong. In the end, the Cubs lost. And we rooted anyway.
I won’t pretend there wasn’t bitterness. As a teenager, when I’d ask my father, during baseball season, how the Cubs had fared the prior day, he’d frequently growl: “They won. They didn’t play.” In 2003, a dear friend called me near tears after the Cubs lost to the Marlins “I can’t believe I did this to my children,” he said, about raising them as Cubs fans.
Yet we all knew by rooting for the Cubs, despite the legacy of losing, by hoping against hope, we were embracing something that is essential to life. As I recently said to a reporter for this magazine, “It’s character-building when the Cubs stomp on your heart and you have to put it back in your chest.” My youngest child says she has told friends that the Cubs are my only true religion.
On Oct. 28, I fulfilled my lifelong dream and attended the first World Series game played in Wrigley Field in 71 years. My son, who was visiting from New York, sat beside me. And the Cubs lost. Now that I know the outcome of the Series, I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
Before Game 5, with the Cubs facing elimination in what was going to be the last game of the year in Wrigley Field, my younger daughter texted a one-word message from New York : “Believe.” And I did. They won that game. And another. And that Wednesday night, they suddenly faced the possibility of winning the Series after all. When they blew the lead in the 8th inning, four outs away from the championship that has eluded us, four outs away from the championship that has eluded us for more than a century, it was, as Yogi Berra said, déjà vu all over again. But I told my wife, “It’s the Cubs. It’s never easy.” I believed. Because the inner six-year-old has always had to.
My older daughter, now a resident of D.C., has shared her passion for the Cubs with my two young grandsons, who awoke the following Thursday morning to the joy of finding out from their parents that the Cubs had won the Series. I’m elated for the boys. For me. For all of us. But a little piece of me still rued the fact that when it comes to baseball and the lessons it teaches, my grandsons’ lives will be so different from mine.
Scott Turow is the author of the forthcoming novel Testimony, to be published next May.
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