Fans should not hold their breath, but 'Year of the Cubs' is coming

Posted: Sunday, September 21, 2003

Thanks, Cubs, for yet another great summer.

Although that statement might seem premature to many baseball fans considering there are still a couple weeks left to the season, to those of us who are dyed-in-the-wool Cubs fans, our nod of appreciation actually could have come earlier than this.

You see, being a Cubs fan means never having expectations and, therefore, never being disappointed.

After all, the Cubs' last National League pennant came in 1945, and the last time they raised a World Series victory flag was in 1908 in the West Side Grounds. That's a very long time ago.

How long? Well, my father, also a lifelong Cubs fan, was born in 1909. That's right, he never got to see them win a World Series in his 82 years.

And I, who started in this business before typewriters were wired, have never seen the Cubs win a pennant. (Oh, for you younger sports fans, typewriters were office machines in vogue before 'puters.)

This year, though, with the Cubs leading their division through most of the season, we Cubs fans were rewarded with unimagined joy.

Heck, there was even a short spell this season when the other Chicago baseball guys were in first and we entertained the idea of a "Chicago Subway Series" or "Chicago El Series" or "all-Chicago World Series" or whatever one would call that highly improbable meeting of the nines.

Being the loyal fan that I am, I usually start my year telling everyone within earshot, "This is the year of the Cubs."

It's not that I'm one who would find joy in being able to tell someone, "I told you so." In fact, history tells me the chances of the Cubs going all the way are slim to none.

Furthermore, I spent many summers listening to WGN's Cubs broadcaster Jack Brick-house search the English language struggling to find ways to say, "The Cubs are in last place," without ever, ever actually saying those words.

It was always, "The Cubs are having a rough year" or "The Cubs are trailing the league" or "They're still in a slump, four weeks after coming off that troubling 12-loss road trip."

Then, when the even more colorful Harry Carey made the move from the South Side to replace Brickhouse, his Bud-swilling escapades and seventh-inning stretch sing-alongs of "Take Me Out To The Ball Game," almost made one forget that the hapless Cubs were, in fact, in last place almost.

No, I think there's a little tiny voice, way down deep inside that tugs at me and says there is a chance this will be "The Year of the Cubs."

Keep in mind that I always say that in the depth of winter, three full months after the end of the previous dismal baseball season, when my brain cells are moving at about the same speed as a 30-year-old catcher running the bases.

This year, even with that little voice still uttering its nonsense in April, manager Dusty Baker came to the Cubs with "a winning attitude."

"And I don't want to hear anything about a hex or a billy goat," he said or words to that effect.

We were doomed.

No one, no one, can mention the billy goat and the hex on Wrigley Field and come away thinking the Cubs will win a championship.

I don't remember the precise details, but the story goes something like this:

There's a greasy little eatery named Billy Goats on Lower Michigan Avenue frequented by sports wags and other downtown Chicago writers. Moderns may know it as it was made somewhat famous in a Saturday Night Live skit mimicking the chants of its employees yelling, "Ahmburger, ahmburger, ahmburger, no hot dog. Peksi, peksi, peksi, no Coke."

Anyway, one year, when the Cubs were actually in contention, the owner of Billy Goats, a Greek immigrant who actually owned a goat within the city limits, got caught up in Cubs fever and wanted to come to Wrigley to see a game.

He offered to have the outfield grass mowed by his goat, in hopes of bringing some sort of Aegean good luck to the team.

Chewing-gum magnate team owners, however, rudely told George Papagranacoppulo-polis (or something like that) to take his goat and ... .

Supposedly, on his way back out to Sheffield Avenue, George the Greek put a hex on the Cubs, and to this day, they've never won anything more than a little division title or a wild card berth. That's it.

So this year, along comes Baker, who's had his fair share of success leading other major league baseball organizations, and he spits in the face of the Greek hex.

So much for the 2003 season, I thought. And, it was only April!

Brickhouse and Carey have long since moved on to the great hallowed Cubs Park in the sky and relative newcomer Steve Stone doesn't quite have the yarn-spinning talent of either predecessor.

Sammy Sosa did create a bit of a diversion with his corked-bat antics, so we Cubs fans were somewhat distracted as our club held onto its Central Division lead well past the All-Star break.

Many even thought, "What if ... ?"

Deep down inside though, we knew. The Cubs were not going to win any championship.

After all, next year, 2004, is the "Year of the Cubs."

Phil Hermanek is a reporter for the Penin-sula Clarion.

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