Constable: On the night Cubs won the World Series 5 years ago, future seemed full of joy
Five years ago tomorrow night, I was writing a column on deadline about the very-much-in-doubt Game 7 of the 2016 World Series when my phone rang.
"Oh, Burt," my 89-year-old mom said in a shaky voice without even saying hello. "I don't think Joe Maddon should have put in Chapman. I don't think he's ..."
"Mom, Mom," I interrupted firmly. "Mom. You might be right. But I've got to go."
At 11:48 p.m., more than a century of longing, heartache, loss, love, passion, failure and anticipation rolled across the infield where Cubs third-baseman Kris Bryant plucked it from the wet grass and fired it into the comforting glove of first-baseman Anthony Rizzo. Just like that, next year finally arrived, and the Cubs won the World Series.
Fans spread the news not only on social media, but also with hugs, phone calls and trips to cemeteries.
Decades and decades of angst vanished in a moment, replaced by a cathartic release of tension and doubt.
But mostly there was pure joy. Our team was good, young and fun, and the Cubs fans' eternal mantra of "Wait Till Next Year" took on a whole new, optimistic meaning.
Four days after the Cubs victory parade and rally drew millions of people to Grant Park, the world changed.
Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton to become the 45th president. If Cubs fans mirror the country at large, nearly half of them thought this was just more good news, and the other half immediately lost their buzz.
Joe Ricketts, the patriarch of the Cubs-owning family, was smiling and hoisting the World Series trophy one day, and three years later, his son, Tom Ricketts was assuring the media that his father, who sent racist and Islamophobic emails, had nothing to do with the team.
World Series MVP Ben Zobrist and his wife, Julianna, were waving from the top deck of a parade bus but now are engulfed in nasty divorce proceedings that allege she had an affair with their pastor.
Dexter Fowler, who led off Game 7 with a homer and had three hits, was granted free agency the day after the rally and became a St. Louis Cardinal. Lovable Kyle Schwarber, who miraculously returned from a season-ending injury to post a team-high .412 batting average in the World Series and collect three hits in Game 7, just finished his 2021 playoff run with the Boston Red Sox.
Rizzo, who tucked the ball from the final out into his back pocket before joining the celebration on the field, just finished his playoff run with the New York Yankees.
Bryant, the regular-season MVP and the man fans envisioned as a lifelong Cub, just finished his playoff run with the San Francisco Giants.
Thrilling Javy Baez, who homered in Game 7, finished last season with the New York Mets.
Shortstop Addison Russell, who hit a clutch World Series grand slam, was suspended for abusive behavior and now plays in the Mexican minor leagues. Ace pitcher Jon Lester, perhaps the greatest free agent signing in Cubs history, won four games down the stretch to help this year's St. Louis Cardinals win a wild card spot.
Jake Arrieta, who won two World Series games in 2016, was released by the Cubs and San Diego Padres and appears washed up.
Mike Montgomery picked up his first career save in that glorious, triumphant Game 7, and now an online search for his name shows what probably is his last moment as a professional ballplayer -- throwing a tantrum and hitting an umpire with a rosin bag during a Korean baseball game.
"Grandpa" David Ross, who homered in Game 7 in his last official at-bat, now has a losing record as manager of the Cubs and faces the task of rebuilding a team that jettisoned all its superstars.
Manager Joe Maddon took his talents to the Los Angeles Angels.
Closer Aroldis Chapman, who proved my mom right by blowing the Cubs' lead in that Game 7, is back with the Yankees.
On that fantastical night five years ago, the Chicago Bears were celebrating the return of injured star quarterback Jay Cutler with a win over the Minnesota Vikings, the beloved Chicago Blackhawks were off to a good start on the way to a 50-win season and another shot at the Stanley Cup under legendary coach Joel Quenneville, Greta Thunberg was a 13-year-old Swedish girl you hadn't heard of, David Hogg was a 16-year-old student you hadn't heard of, George Floyd was just another Black man trying to make a life for himself in Minneapolis, and the Zika virus making its way into Florida had to be the scariest virus we would ever experience.
I called back my mom after midnight on the night the Cubs won, and we had a wonderful talk that included memories of Cubs moments together with my dad at Wrigley Field, in front of a TV, or on the phone.
Mom died at age 92 in 2019. I gave up my share of Cubs season tickets after the 2019 season. We're coping with a pandemic. Politics have divided the nation. And the Cubs stink again. On Nov. 2, 2016, none of us envisioned that world.
But every once in a while, it's fun to go back to that night in 2016 and remember the universal joy.