Curses aside, let's just look ahead

Published3/29/2008 11:47 PM

DETROIT, Oct. 14, 1908 -- Chicago Cubs manager and first baseman Frank Chance opened the telegram from President Theodore Roosevelt:

"Bully for you and the Chicago Cubs for winning the 1908 World Series. Coupled with your World Series victory of 1907, this has you well on your way to becoming a dynasty in American sports, although I may instruct my cabinet to look into the antitrust implications of such a monopoly if your stranglehold on major-league baseball continues next year with a 'three-peat.' But, once again, congratulations on your accomplishment. It is truly an example of walking softly and carrying a big stick."


Also today, Chance was presented by Henry Ford with a Model T automobile as the most outstanding player of the World Series.

No, not all of this happened, but if any president was going to invent the term, "three-peat," it just might have been T.R. himself.

The Cubs became the first team to post back-to-back victories in the modern World Series, and major-league baseball had every reason to fear the "Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance" juggernaut becoming a dynasty.

It didn't happen that way.

As all Cubs fans know as the new season starts Monday, 1908 was the last world championship for the team that once played on the West Side and since 1916 has played at what's now known as Wrigley Field, a name itself that may go by the wayside soon.

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There were other World Series, in 1910, 1918, 1929, 1932, 1938 and 1945, but the Cubs came up empty each time.

After the advent of divisional play in 1969, the Cubs made the playoffs in 1984, 1989, 1998, 2003 and 2007, only to fall short of reaching the World Series each time.

There were blowout post-season losses, such as in 1938, when the Yankees swept them.

There were heartbreakers, such as 1984 and 2003.

And there was the bittersweet regular season of 1969, when the Cubs saw a big lead in August melt away in the Wrigley Field sun. For myriad reasons, that '69 team may be the most beloved of all the Cubs teams that fell short of World Series glory.

Since the last World Series title for the Cubs, the United States has fought World War I, World War II, the Korean conflict, the Vietnam War and two Persian Gulf wars.

That's two WWs, a W in the White House, but no W in the World Series for the Cubs.

Jack Brickhouse, the legendary Cubs TV announcer, used to say that any team could have a bad century, and, hey-hey, Jack's quip now has literal meaning.


Some say a team going 100 years without winning it all defies the odds, but all things aren't equal, and a combination of bad management, neglectful ownership and, yes, even a little bad luck, contributed to this century of futility.

How people deal with and react to the dubious milestone certainly varies.

Current Cubs manager Lou Piniella, while downplaying its significance, thought enough of it to address his team about it at the beginning of spring training. The 2008 Cubs players claim only partial responsibility for this storied century.

"I've only been here for four of them," said third baseman Aramis Ramirez, a key member of the 2003 club that came within five outs of the World Series before a famous foul ball in Game 6 of the National League championship series opened the door for the Florida Marlins. "Everybody knows because everybody talks about it. Hopefully we do it this year. It's been 100 years. It's a long time. That's a shame because we've got great fans and a great city, a great ballpark with a lot of tradition. Hopefully we'll do it this year."

At the beginning of spring training, pitcher Ryan Dempster went so far as to predict the Cubs would win the World Series this year.

"Enough of all the kind of (nonsense), you know, the curse this, the curse that, the goat this, the black cat, the 100 years, whatever it is," Dempster said, reeling off alleged reasons the Cubs haven't won.

Surprisingly, a couple of famous old Cubs have three words for the anniversary: Bring it on.

"It's over now," said Billy Williams, the left fielder for the 1969 team that finished behind the New York Mets. "We can look to the future. The only thing it means is you hear people make jokes about it: 'Everybody has a bad century.' You get a laugh and you go on. Some of the clubs have been so close. You can win this year. You can win next year, and you forget all about it."

That seemed to go double for Ron Santo, who to this day abhors Shea Stadium in New York, where a black cat crossed in front of the Cubs' dugout late in the '69 season.

"Last year, I thought about it," Santo said. "I really felt it would be great to do it before 100 years. Now, this year, I'm not even thinking about it. I just know this organization is going in the right direction. What I see, it's eventually going to happen, just like Boston.

"You know what else?" Santo continued. "These players today -- they don't understand tradition. So they're not pressured. The pressure is no longer on the players. It would be on us, because we're traditionalists, and the fans. This year, we have to be favored in our division, and if we stay healthy, this club is going to do it. No doubt about it."

Ah, the fans.

A quick check of the blogs and the message boards reveals no real fixation or angst over the 100th anniversary. Most fans seem more worried about whether Dempster can be an effective starting pitcher than about doing research on pitchers Mordecai "Three Finger" Brown, Orval Overall and Ed Reulbach, mainstays of the 1900s staff.

In other words, it's a media thing, according to many fans.

"Yes, absolutely," said Al Yellon, the creator of, a popular blog. Yellon is a regular in the bleachers and says he has been to more than 2,000 Cubs games since 1963. A hundred is "a nice round number that is, of course, way too long. The people I share most games with in the bleachers are focused forward, not back.

"We don't need to continually be reminded of the failures and the history and all the goofy stuff that's happened to prevent the Cubs from winning for 100 seasons. We know. Personally, I'd rather focus on the issues facing this year's Cubs as they try to win this year."

Cubs fan Ed Hartig is known to those on the Cubs beat as a "research historian." Need a stat, fact or trend verified? Hartig's the man.

He has more of a celebratory take on the whole thing.

"I'd love to see the Cubs honor the 1908 World Series champions," Hartig said. "Tinker, Evers, Chance -- they're greats in Cubs history. I'd love to see a Mordecai 'Three Finger' Brown bobblehead day at Wrigley Field.

"Obviously, the anniversary isn't a celebration of the 1908 team, but rather it's about the 99 failures since. Every national newspaper, magazine and baseball publication has or will do a story on their failures. And I'm pretty sure that every national broadcast of a Cubs game will include some 'clever' anecdote regarding how long it's been since they won a World Series."

In the past, networks have paraded a computer-generated billy goat across the screen in honor of the "curse of the billy goat," when William Sianis, the owner of the legendary Billy Goat tavern, and his goat, were kicked out of the park during the 1945 World Series.

ESPN did a documentary on the 2003 championship series, when a fan's grab of a foul ball down the left-field line allegedly cost the Cubs an out and a shot at the series. Those things, coupled with renewed interest in the anniversary this spring, have fans saying, "Enough, already."

"I've already heard/read enough, and the season hasn't even started," Hartig said.

Like Hartig, Yellon would prefer to look forward.

"I'd like to say it means nothing, because … I'd rather look forward than celebrate or even commemorate a century of failure," Yellon said. "There have been Web sites set up selling T-shirts about it, and I won't buy one. I don't think it's anything we need to note apart from a simple acknowledgment, and then move on … and focus on winning this year.

"It can happen. Maybe there's no more appropriate time than 2008, that centennial season, when the Chicago Cubs are about to be sold to new ownership, to win it all, for those of us who are here … and for all the generations who rooted for that title and never saw it."


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