2016 World Series: Experiencing the Pain of the Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indians

by William B. Leahy
Former President Bill Clinton was alternately praised and ridiculed for staring soulfully into a voter’s eyes and saying, “I feel your pain.” As I contemplate the current World Series between the Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indians, I know to a moral certainty that the chronic pain of one of these venerable Major League Baseball franchises will be relieved soon. What differentiates me from the millions who observe that pain from a safe distance, however, is my unique claim that I have experienced the pain of both teams first-hand.

Cubs BaseballI was raised in a south suburb of Chicago (“Chicagoland”, as we Second City natives call it). Though my position as a south side resident (and the fact that the Chicago American League entry was respectable in my youth) inclined my loyalties to the White Sox, I suffered the relentless drum beat of Cub futility as well. I was one of those irrationally optimistic urchins who raced home from school to watch the Cubs (no night games, no lights) fall short far more often than not.  Indeed, for those Cub teams in the era of Buddy Holly and Chuck Berry, mediocrity would have been as welcomed as earmuffs at a Britney Spears concert.

Chicago Cubs BaseballThen, seemingly, fate smiled in my direction: Sears Roebuck and Co. awarded my Dad a major promotion to a position in Cleveland. The Indians had been a formidable team during the 1950s, interrupting the Yankees’ reign of terror with an American League pennant and all-time record 111-43 winning percentage in 1954. I saw brighter days ahead. Beyond the Tribe’s promise as a perennial contender, there would be no National League poor relation to mitigate my enthusiasm.  In retrospect, I should have paid closer attention to the fact that the 1954 Tribe suffered a humiliating 4-0 upset from the New York Giants in the World Series.

To my horror, our arrival in northeast Ohio signaled the Tribe’s grueling march towards irrelevance that persisted throughout the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s. The nadir was a Sports Illustrated pre-season baseball preview which proclaimed the Indians “the best team in the American League”, a prediction which the Tribe proceeded to turn on its ear by losing 100 games. While buoyed by the Cinderella story depicted in the legendary comedy, “Major League”, our city recognized the story as cruel fiction.

Jacobs field Cleveland IndiansThen came the 1990s…a beautiful new ball park and a new lease on life. The Tribe became consistent winners, selling out Jacobs Field 453 consecutive times. Still, the brass ring eluded the tantalizingly short-armed Tribe, defeated by the Atlanta Braves’ Hall of Fame pitching rotation in 1995 and the Florida Marlins, assembled for a single moment of glory like a Frankenstein monster, in 1997. The latter defeat was particularly galling, coming in the last inning of Game 7, taking its rightful place along with other Cleveland disappointments (e.g., The Drive, The Fumble, Red Right 88, The Shot).

That brings us to October, 2016, with the widely recognized, “Best Team in Baseball”, a veritable yet unaccustomed Goliath, the Chicago Cubs, facing the plucky Cleveland Indians.  Armed with nothing but a slingshot, the Tribe has vanquished the mighty Red Sox and Blue Jays, barely breaking out a sweat.   The Cubs, historical lovable losers, denizens of the lower reaches of the baseball caste system, have not won a World’s Championship since 1908, when, no doubt, President Theodore Roosevelt pronounced the feat, “Bully!” The Tribe had last won in 1948 when President Truman was more preoccupied with overcoming the Chicago Tribune’s premature assertion that Thomas Dewey was our country’s next President. Suffice it to say that both teams’ loyalists have suffered long and hard with frustration and dashed hopes as their daily portion.

The view from our seats.

The view from our seats.

As, with unbridled joy, I watched the Tribe emerge victorious 6-0 in Game 1 in my box seat at Progressive Field and saw the Cleveland Cavaliers collect their NBA championship rings at the Q on the Jumbotron, I reflected on the change in fortunes our unfairly maligned city has experienced this year. Make no mistake. My loyalty, my passion, my devotion are invested solely with the Tribe. Still, the little boy in me is pleased to see the once feckless Cubs vie for that cherished prize. Whomever will fall short, I can say with conviction, “I feel your pain!”

With my sister, Jean.

With my sister, Jean.

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