From October 7, 2008: The Pointlessness of Hope

On the John

The Pointlessness of Hope

Completed October 7, 2008

To read “The Audacity of Hope” from Oct. 4, 2008, click here

Fans of the Chicago Cubs, seen here making a face they have perfected over 100 years.

They got swept.

Can you believe it? In its way, this was as bad as the Super Bowl. Worse, maybe, exacerbated as it was by the whole 100-year thing. Game 3 had been a dull ache throughout, yet one masked by enthusiasm, faith, hope. When those failed, when Soriano checked his final swing and the Cubs’ death knell echoed no more, all that was left was that ache.

I couldn’t talk. Couldn’t think. Couldn’t do anything other than shake my head and fumble the same words again and again. I can’t believe it. I just can’t believe it. I mean, I can’t believe it can’t believe it just can’t. What happens now? What happens when you spend 162 days building a house and watch it burn a week later? What happens tomorrow?

What if they never win?

That’s what gets me most. Because I believed in 100. Maybe if we’d followed up our 96-loss 2006 with similar natural disasters in 2007 and 2008, I would have been prepared. Perhaps if we’d followed last year with disappointment, the way we did in ’85, 1990, ’99, or 2004, I would not have thrown myself aboard this ride. I claimed all season: I will not let my guard down until we clinch. Yet even that guardedness was brushed aside in the thrill of this incredible run, a season that saw the Cubs atop the NL Central from May 11th through the end save one day late July tied with Milwaukee. Six players with 20 or more home runs, a rookie catcher as All-Star starter, him joined by two veteran pitchers in new roles, a stacked lineup up and down the order, a no-hitter tossed for good measure. Useless, all of it. And now 100 slaps me, 100 and beyond.

What if they never win? I mean, what if they never win? They might never win. They just might never win might never do it. And that’s the thing. 100 felt like a predestination. 101 feels like banishment. The Cubs return home, where they will have six months before another regular season game, an additional six before even a whiff of another chance at last week. Right now, the 2008 postseason continues without them.

After becoming Chicago’s first baseball team to post consecutive postseasons since those other ’06-’08 Cubs, this year’s bunch set these other notable marks in division series play:

  • They tied the 2003 Braves for biggest positive win differential of a team that lost an LDS. (The Cubs won 13 more games than did Los Angeles.)
  • They became the third team to be swept in the LDS after posting a league-best record (2000 White Sox, 2001 Braves).
  • They became the third team to be swept in consecutive LDS (Dodgers ’95-’96, Rangers ’98-’99), and the only one of the three to have home field in either series.

Yes, it’s fair to say had we not been the 97-win hitting, pitching, and fielding machine we’d been all season, I would not have felt quite so despondent Saturday night. But we were, so I did, and considering this L.A. collapse followed Leon Durham, Will Clark, Brant Brown, Bartman/Gonzalez, LaTroy/Victor Diaz, those damned Diamondbacks, seven 90-loss seasons, the jettisonings of Palmeiro, Maddux, Luis Gonzalez, Gracie, Steve Stone, and the failures (on some level) of Walton, Patterson, Sosa, Prior, Wood, (Pie?), Hawkins, and Dusty, and since all of these took place during my nearly 27 years on Earth, I would say it’s remarkable how rapidly, strongly, and consistently my vulnerability can be restored.

Of course, for the players themselves, this is all periphery. They carry this 100-year experience like a hiker with a backpack, relieved of its weight once the trip is completed. Their sporting experience is related to ours, but we are first cousins, not siblings. If late in the 8th inning, for instance, you and I and Alfonso Soriano had been sitting on our couches or bar stools or dugout benches with our cheeks on our hands, we were probably not all thinking the same thing. My guess is that when Soriano and the fellas distress, they aren’t pondering tragic thoughts of black cats and heel clicks and billy goats and one eight-run inning from a game five years ago. They are probably thinking only about their own personal failure as individuals and as team, about the way they were entirely inept at their chosen profession, the gaze of half a gajillion spectators trailing them as they bungled their way through three disastrous baseball games, the embarrassment of knowing they’d been the National League’s best team for 162 games and its worst for the next three. That is plenty reason to be distraught.

Still, like the home fans in Game 1, I kept wishing our team would kick themselves out of their funk. Isn’t baseball supposed to be a game of short memory? I kept shouting at the screen: “Buck up guys! It’s a two-run game! Lou, kick ‘em in the cleats man!” It was no use. After getting trounced in Game 1, this team deflated. After fumbling away Game 2, they decayed. And after leaving two on in the top half of the 1st only to watch Los Angeles score two in the bottom half, they were defeated, each inning more defeating than the last. It was sad, the whole thing, us and them together, the only series I can recall where the fans failed the players and the players failed the fans.

So off we go, each on our way, them spending the winter wondering if their group of Cubs will get another chance to win it all, us wondering if any group of Cubs ever will. I asked my father about it ten minutes after the final pitch. He has lived with 31 more years of this than have I. As such, he is 31 years closer to watching Cubs games from that big lounge chair in the sky. I figured this must have brought him a panic. “They might never win it. Ya know?” I said to him.

“They might not.” He opened his Alexander Hamilton biography, set down his bookmark, and began to read.

That urgency may have been beaten out of him, but not me. And it still hasn’t. Even here, three days later, I am already beginning to feel my confidence restored. It’s still a terrific group, and just about everybody should be back. And, you know what? 101 years is kind of a perfect total to wait for, ya know? It’s got that good symmetrical look to it. People are always listing 101 ways to do something, as if it’s just a bit cooler than 100. 101, it stands out. It pops.

This was good. This was meant to be. Capturing that title after 101 years of misery was meant to be. We’ll do it after 101 years. 101 years. 101 years. After 101.

Copyright 2008, jm silverstein


3 Replies to “From October 7, 2008: The Pointlessness of Hope”

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