That was something. One for the ages. Wish you were here to see your Cubs win at last. I don’t know how the afterlife works, but maybe, somehow, you tuned in. If so, you know this is a very different team from the ones you watched most of your life. They personified a favorite quote from your hero Winston Churchill, spoken in the depths of World War II during England’s finest hour: “Never, never, never give up.”
In the nine years since you died, a new Cubs management group proved that a measly curse doesn’t stand a chance against patience, talent, a plan — and chemistry. Never underestimate chemistry. The right mix of personalities in the right environment. When Kris Bryant fielded that slow roller on the infield grass for the last out, he wasn’t thinking, “God, I hope I don’t screw this up!” He had a big grin on his face. “Look what I got!” Even when his foot slipped on the wet grass, his throw was true.
You should’ve seen it. I so dearly wish you could’ve seen it.
Maybe you did.
If you did, no doubt you thought back to your childhood, when the Cubs were in the Series in ’29 ’32 ’35 and ’38. Four times in nine years, four times in your first 14 years. They lost them all, but they were good. Then World War II came along and replacement players, but in 1945 they made it again. You were on a troop ship coming home from Europe and didn’t know what happened in Game 7 until you docked in New York harbor. Or maybe you just didn’t ask because you figured the news was bad. Years of futility can do that to a fan.
Your dad saw the championships in 1907 and ’08. He told me he saw Tinker, Evers and Chance play at the West Side Grounds and Weeghman Park, which became Wrigley. All W’s. He saw the 1918 World Series when the Red Sox beat them. When he died in 1971, the championship drought was 63 years long.
In the ’50s and early ’60s, the Cubs were bad, but each summer you drove all of us to Wrigley to watch them. They always lost, it seemed, but if memory serves, Ernie Banks would come up in the seventh or eighth inning, uncoil that smooth, loose-wristed swing and the ball would soar into the left field bleachers or out of the park for a solo homer and we’d all go home happy.
In 1969, the team was finally good, but came up short. In 1984, they were better but lost in the playoffs. In 2003, they were really close, then collapsed. You suffered through it all but never, never, never gave up. It became a generational thing. Just as you never, never, never gave up on us, we never, never, never give up on one another.
This year, all those who never gave up were rewarded with a Series and a Game 7 that people will talk about for another 108 years (unless they win again next year, which suddenly seems quite possible). Coming back to tie the Series at 3 all, coming back to regain the lead in the 10th inning, holding that lead against a very good opponent who never, never, never gave up.
It was your kind of Series, your kind of team. Sure, you’d shake your head about Baez’s lack of discipline at the plate, but also about his flashes of brilliance in the field. When he missed that bunt, you’d shake your head again and say, “Fundamentals!” You’d have second-guessed Maddon pulling Hendricks in the 5th inning, but then you’d say, “Let’s wait and see. He must have a reason.”
After watching Schwarber bat, you might have second-guessed the National League’s stubborn refusal to accept the designated hitter in spite of your great devotion to tradition. And when everyone else was congratulating Ben Zobrist for getting that clutch hit in the 10th, you’d have pointed out the more important hit was Miguel Montero’s follow-up single, which provided the margin of victory.
You would have drawn from everything you learned, and taught, in three decades of coaching youth baseball in Oak Park. It would have been wonderful to watch it all with you.
But maybe I did.
After it was all over, since I couldn’t call you, I phoned Mike, son number 1, who, as you well know, probably owns the distinction of having watched more televised Cubs games in the past 60 years than anyone. And for many of those years he was, as the announcers used to say, “scoring the game at home.”
As a lifelong White Sox fan, I, too, know about suffering — enough to be in awe of the pain of Cubs fans, which has always been an order of magnitude greater. So I wanted to tell him how happy I was that he lived to see this moment. It was 12:30 a.m., Thursday’s first hour, but this was no time to worry about being polite.
Bill, son number 6, went one better. The next day he visited your grave in Queen of Heaven Cemetery with offerings. How you would have enjoyed reading the Trib Sports section that day.
But maybe you did.
Maybe in the afterlife they don’t care so much about baseball and championships and the like. But I’ll bet they care about happiness.
And this past week everyone around here enjoyed a little bit of heaven.
Which, of course, made me think of you.
Son number 3