Each week, during college football season DPB’s Kyle Magin and Andrew J. Pridgen pour on the prose with Pints and Picks™. Who to wager and (sometimes) what to drink while doing it. This week: #allstreaksmustpass
You and I talk a lot back on forth on this site and especially in this space about the rough edges of sport and how it relates to the human psyche to make it so compelling. Whenever I write about a sport, I always attempt to contextualize in a way that it’s relatable to something going on with me or the world that surrounds all of us. After all, that’s why we participate, that’s why we watch.
I’ll give you an example: The other night while watching Oregon and Cal play Tecmo Bowl-style defense and going on to take down the biggest spread in regular season college football history (90) like a Double-Double Animal Style on hour eight of a road trip, a buddy texted me from Portland.
He and I, both Bay Area expats who matriculated in Eugene, have always had a soft spot for Cal mostly because of proximity to campus growing up and family ties. His query wasn’t about the suddenly bowl-eligible Bears taking down of the Ducks in double-OT, rather it was about a blond girl in a white fleece shown on the cutaway. Her dispassionate gaze out into the fog-afflicted San Francisco skyline seemed to suggest that she was as far away from her present condition as the mind would allow. “Did you see that girl?” he wrote. “I always wonder when I see someone like that how they got in.”
To the uninitiated, this sounds like a bit of a sexist knock. “What’s a pretty girl like you doing at an impossible-to-get-into school like this?” But if you know the area and you know the Cal admissions process, you know that it’s a miracle for an average Joe to get in who doesn’t have Jason Kidd’s handles or Natalie Coughlin’s backstroke.
Though, like every impossible to crack code, there is a backdoor. Cal has a family tree which raises their kids in the nearby yoga-pant-mom-texting-in-the-Range-Rover-drop-off-line enclaves of Lafayette, Orinda and Moraga (or sometimes in Piedmont near Oakland). They have deep ties to the University, attend the Cal alumni camp, tend to the grounds of great grandpa’s wooded chalet on the West Shore in the summers and their progeny graduate with lit degrees and eventually are spat out onto Chestnut Street for their first few years of postgrad doing PR or marketing for startups before considering law school or the Peace Corps.
This girl fit that profile entirely.
Which is to say, Kyle, love it or hate it, frustrated by it or even bored with it, we are all born into some kind of fandom, some indentured servitude that says, this is who you are, like it or not. If you’re a loser, you’re a loser, but someday your day may come and won’t that be lovely. Won’t it be worth the wait.
For Cubs and Indians fans that day has come indeed.
Will they be gracious? Will they be grateful? That night, oh that glorious glorious night a week or so from now when the last out somehow finds its way into the glove of the man who will lift instantly an entire city, exorcising the demons and the drudgery of year after year decade after decade generation after generation of guessing and wanting and trying and crying and never getting close. Will be worth it? Will it be memorable?
Will it make things all better?
Of course not. And that’s the irony. While winning tastes great in the moment and I wouldn’t deny anyone a bit of that sweetness, the instant lift, the brotherhood engendered crossing all race, economic, political and gender divides. The garbage man hugging the ad agency guy, hugging the teacher, hugging the ex-con. It is a moment we all live for, all crave.
…But there will also be something else. There will be, for fans of either team, an instant sadness that comes with it all because of all the men and women in the shared past—your dad, your grandpa, your crazy aunt—who won’t be there to witness, won’t be there to embrace—whose endless gaze of longing long ago left the stands.
And you, the winner, will be instantly tear-filled in their absence….
Because in victory there something lost, especially to all the already-prepping-to-be-even-more-obnoxious-than-they-already-are…legion of Cubs fans. Identity is a tough thing to shake.
Winners aren’t lovable. Winners are targets.
But, as Yogi Berra once said: The future ain’t what it used to be. …So regardless of how it turns out and for whom the dream comes true, embrace all of it.
And, if you’re having a hard time with your head and your heart conflicting, just do what I did. Toss the statistics and probable starters and DH vs. no DH out and ask yourself one thing: Do you prefer Chicago Cubs fan bad boy Charlie Sheen?
Or do you prefer Indians closer bad boy Charlie Sheen?
One last aside: Kyle, it’s important to note and you texted it the other day that you and I were “through the looking glass” when it comes to our respective loyalties, you to the AL and me to the NL. But this World Series, like a lot of things of late, is different. One of my oldest buddies grew up in suburban Cleveland and though we still clash over whatever it was that happened with the officiating and front-office decisions/suspensions that tore at our fabric during this last NBA playoff, we still agree on—yep—baseball.
This guy was the first to text/call me each time the Giants won one of their trio of World Series earlier this decade and the message was always the same: “I’m truly excited for you, I can only imagine how great this feels.”
I contacted him with a similar message after Cleveland won the pennant and his response, “Thanks man, now that it’s here I’m not quite sure what to do with it.” And isn’t that the case with both of these ball clubs and their ever-faithful surrogates? The two franchises traversing the largest deserts in sports history. Cleveland hasn’t won since 1948 and Cubs’ drought dates back to 1908. That’s about 170 years of combined frustration between the two fanbases, and you thought your last dry spell was bad.
The odds, as if they mattered in this matchup:
Chicago Cubs -175
Cleveland Indians +155
To me, for all the reasons listed above and because I love Cubs fans for who they are and Indians fans for who they aspire to be, for me, it’s a no-brainer: Tribe in 5.
World Series, contextually, exist in what passes in American sports as geologic time. As you pointed out, there’s 170-some years of championship futility between these two clubs. From Larry Doby to Manny Ramirez on one side to Frank Chance to Starlin Castro on the other—the context this series lives in is absolutely historic.
I’d encourage the fans, though, to live and die with these Cubs and these Indians. To look at the joy on the faces of the Cubs’ pair of cancer survivors in Jon Lester and Anthony Rizzo. To enjoy the spotlight on the otherworldly careers of Francisco Lindor and Kris Bryant as they’re still brand new. To watch Terry Francona upend years of baseball illogic and deploy his best reliever—Andrew Miller—whenever the hell he’s needed late in games. We may be witnessing the end of the ninth-inning-only closer and the advent of the high-leverage, multi-inning reliever and for stat nerds (and eventually all baseball fans), it’s a happy day.
The Cubs have struggled to get here–in 2015 they overcame the Pittsburgh Pirates and St. Louis Cardinals before falling to the Mets. They came up short in the regular season and captured the second wildcard after failing to keep up with Pittsburgh and St. Louis in the regular season. This season, they buried an era of competitive baseball in the steel city and convincingly shut down every charge from the Cardinals. They took care of the San Francisco Giants–this decade’s most clutch squad–in the ninth inning of an elimination game, then defeated Dodgers ace and current best pitcher on the planet, Clayton Kershaw, in the NLCS. The Indians haven’t had the 24-month climb a la Chicago, but putting away the Detroit Tigers and defending champion Kansas City Royals wasn’t easy; nor was defeating the Toronto Blue Jays and their entire nation’s worth of fans.
I’m personally excited to see Lindor and the Cubs’ Addison Russell play shortstop. They’re both in the top 5 of defensive shortstops in baseball with UZRs of 20.7 and 14.3, respectively. Lindor is a spider, snaring everything his legs can put him in front (or astride) of and tossing it to second or first with lightning speed. Russell is slightly slower (still faster than you!), but has one of those arms that would play on the mound, at short, in center and right, or 18 rows back in the Wrigley bleachers. You haven’t seen this level of infield defense since Omar Vizquel trotted out to the left side of second in 1997.
Obviously, though, this series is about so much more than today, as you pointed out, AJ. It’s about the generations of fans–the lifeblood of any organization, unquestionably–who didn’t get to see it. It’s about the legion of players–lifers, free agents and cup-of-coffee guys–who could never best the rest of the league while they wore the colors. I’m saying, enjoy the nostalgia, but don’t forget the guys who got you here this year.
With that in mind, I’m picking the guys who I think are the present and the future of the sport: The Chicago Cubs, in six.
For every different-guy-every-night talent Francona trots out to the batter’s box, the Cubs send out an All-Star. For Indians ace Corey Kluber, the Cubs have Jake Arrietta and Kyle Hendricks. For Cleveland’s Andrew Miller, the Cubs answer with Pedro Strop and Aroldis ‘my offspeed stuff is 96’ Chapman. The World Series trophy will, for the first time in 108 years, make its home on Addison and Sheffield.
Editor’s Note: The hero image is of George Harrison’s “All Things Must Pass” and yes, Cleveland and Chicago, all streaks do pass.