• Marc Johnson

They Gotta Win…Really

       “Baseball is almost the only orderly thing in a very unorderly world. If you get three strikes, even the best lawyer in the world can’t get you off.”

One-time Cleveland Indians owner Bill “Rhymes with Wreck” Veeck

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The Cubs vs. Indians World Series is a welcome break – distraction – from you know what and since Americans love an underdog both teams have some claim to being the sentimental favorite. The Cubs, naturally, get most of the attention since a century-plus of futility that may soon be broken is indeed a great storyline.

Just to put this whole thing in perspective, Teddy Roosevelt, not a baseball fan if I remember correctly, was in the White House when the Cubs last hoisted the World Series flag. I wonder if TR even noticed? He was probably too busy carrying a big stick and swimming in the Potomac.

The Cubs have been absent from the World Series since 1945, longer than some teams have been in baseball, and while Cleveland has played in the fall classic more recently the Tribe has not won a world series since Harry Truman was in the White House.

That 1948 Cleveland team is worth remembering both for its stellar stars – Lou Boudreau, the American League MVP that year and a future Hall of Famer and Larry Doby, the first African-American player in the AL, who hit .301 in ’48 – and for its owner, the great, great Bill Veeck.

Sportswriter Stanley Frank once said of Boudreau, a slick fielding if not very speedy shortstop, that “He is easily the slowest ballplayer since Ernie Lombardi was thrown out at first base trying to stretch a double into a single.” Great line.

Larry Doby, a pathfinder in Cleveland


Doby, also a Hall of Fame player, never received all the recognition he deserves as the second man to cross baseball’s color line. Doby suffered much the same level of racism and intolerance that Jackie Robinson endured after breaking in with the Brooklyn Dodgers just a few weeks before Doby joined the Indians.

Veeck, a brilliant promoter and stunningly effective sports executive, stands along side the great Branch Rickey as a pioneer in finally integrating baseball. If Veeck doesn’t somehow get his due during this year’s World Series God isn’t a baseball fan. And I’m pretty sure she is.

Which brings us to the boys from the North Side. All over America today Chicago Cubs fans are chewing their lower lips, biting their nails, rubbing their hands in anticipation – and dread. The Cubs are in the Series! Isn’t that great!

Oh, my Lord, they might lose!

Such is the yin and yang of a Cubs fan. The Cubs might end the drought. They’re favored, no? But there is this: The decades of futility, the curse, the jokes – anyone can have a bad century – the ghost of Steve Bartman, the Ricketts’ family support for you know who. It all hangs over the World Series.

Steve Bartman, a foil for Cub futility


Even the Indians’ manager, Tony Francona, rings fear into the hearts of those who inhabit Cub World. Tony “Freaking” Francona, the guy who presided over the end of the Curse of the Bambino when the Red Sox broke their own famine back in 2004. You can almost hear them, Cub fans: “Crap, that Francona guy has been here before. We’re doomed.”

Somebody is gonna win this thing. If Cleveland loses the Series life will go on by the banks of Lake Erie. LeBron James and the Cavs play across the street from Jacobs Field, after all. Cleveland is due, but it won the NBA title. Don’t get greedy Cleveland.

If the Cubs falter, however, I’m going to worry about the mental health of Chicago and much of the nation. We’ve been on national suicide watch for months now. We’ll need to double down if the Cubs stumble. Say it can’t be.

Come on. It’s unthinkable, really. The Cubs gotta win. We’ve endured too much unthinkable already this year.

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©2019 by Marc C Johnson