It’s been a long time, baby (bears)

On the surface, it may not seem like such an interesting story: the National League’s best team (and consensus preseason pick to win the World Series) will play tonight against the American League’s second-best team in game 1 of the 2016 World Series. But it’s incredibly unlikely, given the two teams representing their respective leagues.

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The AL champion Cleveland Indians, the class of the Central division from 1995-99, are making their first World Series appearance since their heartbreaking seven-game (extra innings in game 7, of course) loss to the Florida Marlins in ’97. They also appeared in the 1995 Fall Classic, their first postseason participation since being swept by the New York Giants in ’54. Their only titles came in 1920 and 1948; the ensuing 67 year drought is the second-longest streak in baseball.

The longest, every decent fan knows, belongs to the Chicago Cubs. Not only does their title deficiency stretch all the way back to 1908 (107 years!), they haven’t even appeared in the World Series since 1945. Game 7 was played October 10, just over one month after V-J Day–the official end to World War II.

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Cubs fans celebrating their latest National League crown. Or so I’m told…

Obviously, it would be too easy to put this historical awfulness in perspective by comparing modern amenities and conveniences with those available in ’45. “Gah! No smartphones?! What sort of cultural backwater was that?” “Forty-eight states? What’s up with that?!” “Politicians trying to drum up support among the electorate by singling out people different from them? Appalling!” (Okay, so that second example technically started in ’47. But, the more things change, the more they stay the same, and all that, amirite?).

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Instead, I thought it would be a little more fun and obscure to do so with baseball-specific trivia. So, without further, potentially one last jab at the expense of the Cubs and their fans.

  • Cubs’ skipper Joe Maddon (b. 1954) wasn’t born yet.
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    Uncle Joe with the letter ‘o’

    Same for owner Tom Ricketts (b. 1963). Maddon’s predecessors (Rick Renteria, Dale Sveum, and Mike Quade) weren’t born yet, either. Lou Piniella was 2 when the Cubs last represented the NL in the World Series. The last Cubs manager to likely have any memory of their participation was Don Zimmer (b. 1931); he was fired from that position in 1991.

  • Interleague play wasn’t even a faint glimmer in Bud Selig’s eye; in fact, he turned 11 the summer of the Cubs’ most recent postseason success.
  • The AL wouldn’t adopt the designated hitter, forever rendering that league inherently inferior to the NL, for another 28 years.
  • The streak turned 13 shortly after current commissioner Rob Manfred was born (1958).
  • Blacks were still banned from baseball in 1945. To put it another way, 69 years after Jackie Robinson integrated MLB, Chicago will finally have a black player appear in the World Series. Way to be behind the curve! Dexter Fowler (assuming he leads off for the visitors’ half of the first) will be the first; Addison Russell will also likely start, but Jason Heyward is a toss-up, considering he started NLCS game 6 on the bench and has had an all-around miserable postseason (.071/.133/.179). For whatever it’s worth, Cleveland’s Larry Doby broke the color barrier in the AL less than three months behind Robinson and appeared in the ’48 World Series.
  • Among its 16 member franchises, MLB had two teams in Boston, three in New York, two in Philadelphia, and two in St. Louis. Those four cities used to make up 56.25% of the league’s teams; now it’s 16.67% (5 of 30). Only the Red Sox, White Sox, Cubs, Cardinals, Tigers, Phillies, Pirates, Reds, and Yankees still play in the same metropolitan area.
  • The Boston Red Sox ended their futility (1918-2004) and have won the World Series three times (2007 and ’13, too)! Even Chicago’s south-siders, whose previous triumph came in 1917, won it all in 2005.
  • Six expansion franchises (est. 1962-present) screen-shot-2011-09-23-at-11-32-13-amhave won the World Series:
    • Mets in 1969 and ’86
    • Royals in 1985 and 2015
    • Blue Jays in 1992 and ’93
    • Marlins in 1997 and 2003 (see inset)
    • Diamondbacks in 2001
    • Angels in 2002
  • The clock on the NL’s second-longest title drought, belonging to the Giants, began ticking with their win in 1954 and lasted until their recent string of success started in 2010.
  • Connie Mack would manage the Philadelphia Athletics for another five seasons. He was born in December 1862, during the American Civil War. The Battle of Antietam had just been fought the previous fall, and Gettysburg was still over six months away.
  • Ty Cobb was baseball’s career hits leader, with 4189; Pete Rose would not surpass that mark until forty years later, in 1985.
  • Babe Ruth was baseball’s home run king, holding both the single season record of 60 (he’s now 8th on that list) and career mark of 714 (3rd).
  • Walter Johnson held the record for the lowest single season ERA recorded in the post-dead-ball era (1919-present): 1.49 in 1919. Any good Cards fan knows Bob Gibson was the first (and only) pitcher since to come in below that number, when he posted his remarkable 1.12 in 1968.
  • George Sisler of the St. Louis Browns laid claim to the longest hitting streak in baseball’s modern era, beginning in 1901, with hits in 41 consecutive games in 1922.
  • Lou Gehrig was still baseball’s “iron man,” and would be for another forty years.
  • Only three perfect games had been tossed since 1901; the current count is at 21.
  • The Yankees had already won ten World Series, and lost four more. Seventy-one years later, the Cardinals are the only franchise to have made it to double-digits, which they accomplished in 2006. To this day, only four other franchises (Giants, Cardinals, Dodgers, and A’s) have even appeared in at least fourteen Fall Classics.
  • The Red  Sox, Giants, White Sox, and Cubs are the only franchises that had won a World Series when the Cubs won their latest and last in 1908.

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Care to take any other cracks at the Cubs’ futility? Comments on this matter are most definitely encouraged below.

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Back to the Past

The Cubs have the Mets right where they want them.

“But, Ryan, the Mets have a 3-0 lead on them in the National League championship series!”

Precisely.

Let’s take a little trip down memory lane, back to 2004.  On this date, the Boston Red Sox were preparing for their World Series showdown with the St. Louis Cardinals after having completed the first comeback of its kind in MLB history the night before: a 3-0 deficit in a best-of-seven postseason series turned in to a 4-3 series win.  And, technically, that memorable game 7 had ended juuuuust after midnight on October 21 (bbref lists a start time of 8:30 and a duration of 3:31, putting the deciding game’s end at 12:01 AM).

Back to the present.  Surely, you say, the Red Sox’ improbable run in 2004 has absolutely nothing to do with this year’s iteration of the Chicago Cubs.  Not so fast.

Obviously, both franchises have/had extraordinarily lost championship droughts.  The Red Sox were staring 86 seasons in the face; they last won it all in 1918, two seasons before their owner sold none other than Babe Ruth to their hated rivals, the New York Yankees.  The Cubs, meanwhile, have been trophy-free since 1908, and haven’t even appeared in a World Series since 1945, the same year the owner of the local Billy Goat Tavern jinxed the Cubs after he and his pet goat were asked to leave a World Series game against the Detroit Tigers.

Both teams finished with win totals in the upper 90s (Cubs: 97; Red Sox: 98) and finished precisely 3 games behind their main rival and division champion (Cardinals: 100-62; Yankees: 101-61), thereby relegating the beleaguered club to the Wild Card (or, in Chicago’s case, the 2nd Wild Card and a one-game playoff).

Both teams defeated the Cardinals in four games in their respective postseasons–the Red Sox, of course, in the World Series and the Cubbies in the NLDS.

Both teams squared off against their respective league’s New York franchise in the LCS and dug themselves an 0-3 hole against said club.

And, really, that’s approximately where the eerie similarities end.  I was hoping, prior to researching this topic, that the Red Sox had beaten the A’s in the ALDS that in ’04, because then I could draw a connection between a former location from that franchise (Kansas City) and the American League’s likely World Series representative this season (Royals).  But it wasn’t to be.  The 2004 A’s finished a game behind the Anaheim Angels, whom the Red Sox swept out of the postseason in the ALDS.

Unfortunately, there were no players from that team who played for this year’s Royals or Toronto Blue Jays.  It would be far too easy to complete a “six degrees of a 2004 Anaheim Angel” with either of this year’s ALCS participants.  After all, a few players suited up for KC and Torotno as recently as two or three seasons ago.  But only four ’04 Angels were still active in 2015, most notably Bartolo Colon for the Mets and John Lackey for St. Louis.

Different managers, too.  I mean, Ned Yost and John Gibbons both played in the majors around the same time as Angels manager Mike Scioscia, who was far and away the most successful of the trio of catchers. Gibbons did catch a handful of games for the ’86 Mets, who prolonged Boston’s misery in that year’s World Series.  But I’ve otherwise given up on trying to connect the 2004 Angels to the 2015 Royals and Blue Jays, geographically, personnel-wise, etc.

Then there’s Theo Epstein and Manny Ramirez.  Epstein was the architect of Boston’s nearly-unprecedented postseason success as the general manager; he has also seemingly resurrected the Cubs in just a few short seasons.  Manny, of course, was a key figure in Boston’s postseason success.  Presently, he serves as a hitting consultant in the Cubs’ organization.  So there’s that.

Back to the future.  Either way, there will be an interesting narrative to write tonight.  Either the Mets will sweep the Cubs out of the 2015 postseason on the date to which Doc Brown and Marty McFly traveled in Back to the Future Part II, in which Marty initially conceives of his sports betting scheme after seeing the breaking news that the long-shot Cubbies won the World Series.  Or they’ll begin their epic turnaround tonight and surge to their first World Series title in 108 years, just as Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale foretold some 26 years ago.