LOPRESTI: Cubs fans hope their dreams aren't fantasy

October 3, 2015

mike lopresti sportsJust got back from Disney World. And while we’re on the subject of Fantasyland, let’s talk about the Cubs possibly winning the World Series.

Since the state of Indiana is honeycombed with Cubs fans—both the genuine long-suffering variety and the opportunists ready to leap on the bandwagon at the first sight of a magical October—we are here to commemorate the start of their playoff journey. We’ll do it by remembering just how long it has been since the Cubs won a World Series.

That would be 1908, by the way. In other words, 107 years ago, and 107 years after the inauguration of Thomas Jefferson.

How long ago is 1908? The last year the Cubs won, Thomas Selfridge died in an airplane crash, becoming the first powered-air-flight fatality in history. The pilot was Orville Wright. The first Model T was built. Babe Ruth was 13 years old. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid were reportedly gunned down in Bolivia. The population of the United States was just under 89 million. William Howard Taft was elected president with the help of Indiana, which had 10 more electoral votes than Florida and five more than California. And a new song was introduced called “Take Me Out To The Ballgame,” written by two guys who had never seen a major-league baseball game in their lives. When the Cubs celebrated their last championship, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was farmland, Augusta National Golf Course was a nursery, and Wrigley Field was a seminary. AT&T Park in San Francisco is 16 years old and has seen three World Series champions. Wrigley Field is 101 and has seen none.

There have been 19 U.S. presidents since 1908. Also 59 Cubs losing seasons. The last Cubs title came 16 years before the first Winter Olympics, 31 years before the debut of the Final Four, 38 years before the birth of the NBA, and 59 years before the first Super Bowl.

Baseball was a little different in 1908. Brooklyn’s Tim Jordan led the majors in home runs. He had 12. The Cubs leader was Joe Tinker, with six. Chicago pitchers threw 108 complete games. As of Sept. 28, there had been 99 this season by all 30 teams combined.

We can put the 107-year wait for the next Cubs victory parade into some sort of historical perspective.

The Cubs’ 1908 trophy is 21 years older than the first Oscar, 23 years older than the Empire State Building, and 33 years older than Mount Rushmore.

The last Cubs title came 12 years before American women were given the right to vote, 19 years before the first commercial talking movie, 20 years before the invention of bubble gum, and 23 years before “The Star Spangled Banner” officially became the national anthem.

The Cubs’ 1908 championship pre-dates personal income tax, the electric shaver, the invention of the Oreo, the building and sinking of the Titanic, and the development of the crossword puzzle, the parking meter, air-conditioning, FM radio, penicillin, the Panama Canal, beer in a can, the ballpoint pen, the yo-yo, aerosol cans, frozen food, sliced bread—and four states of the union. Not only Hawaii and Alaska, but also Arizona and New Mexico.

The second-longest title drought in major league baseball belongs to the Cleveland Indians, at 67 years. The Cubs’ dry spell hit 67 years in 1975, and just kept going.

But here is the thing. In the coming days, none of the above means as much as the fact that Jake Arrietta has given up nine earned runs since the All-Star break, and is 14-1 in his last 19 starts with a ridiculous 0.89 earned run average, and just became the first Cubs pitcher to win more than 20 games in a season since Ferguson Jenkins, 44 years ago.

Or the fact that the lineup includes fearless and productive young faces—Indiana University’s Kyle Schwarber among them—who have no concern whether the last Cubs title came before or after the Great Depression.

So, is it time? Can Joe Maddon pull off what the last 40-odd other Cubs managers did not? It could happen, you know. They have a better shot than the 20 teams who didn’t make the postseason, anyway. Or, it might be over after nine quick innings in the wild-card game against Pittsburgh and a gaggle of ex-Indianapolis Indians.

There are lots of story lines for baseball’s October, but this one cuts close to Indiana. And if it happens, the sport itself will shake—and not just the north side of Chicago. Imagine a Cubs championship in the age of water found on Mars, to go with the one from the time of Thomas Edison.•


Lopresti is a lifelong resident of Richmond and a graduate of Ball State University. He was a columnist for USA Today and Gannett newspapers for 31 years. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at mlopresti@ibj.com.


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