There are some sporting fanbases that are defined by the long drought since their last trophy. Examples that immediately come to mind are Scottish rugby fans’ 17-year wait for a Six Nations title, Liverpool’s 26-year wait for a Premier League trophy, and Edinburgh University’s rugby team, which hasn’t won the Scottish Varsity match since 2012. There is one sporting drought, though, that goes far beyond any of these. In fact, it makes any one of them look like a mere blip as opposed to a real team-defining barren spell.
The drought is that of the Chicago Cubs, who have not won the World Series since 1908. In case you were wondering just how long that is, here is a selection of facts about that year: in the few weeks before the Cubs last won the World Series, Bulgaria seceded from the Ottoman Empire, Austria-Hungary annexed Bosnia, and Henry Ford produced the first Model T automobile. 1908 is closer to Napoleon’s defeat at the Battle of Waterloo than it is to the present day. In 1908, the US only comprised of 46 states, since Arizona, New Mexico, Alaska, and Hawaii had not yet become part of the country. The oldest currently living person is 116 years old, meaning that we are, in all likelihood, less than ten years away from the entire population of the Earth at the time of the Cubs’ last World Series victory having passed on. There are many more examples, but this article is too short for me to keep going. To summarise: Cubs fans’ wait for one more championship has been improbably, ridiculously long. They haven’t even managed a World Series appearance since 1945, despite only having a maximum of fourteen other teams to compete with for the honour of being the National League’s representative.
Such a long wait has affected the way the team is viewed both in baseball and American popular culture. Wrigley Field, the Cubs’ historic stadium, has become known as “the Friendly Confines,” an ironic jab at how receptive it is for visiting teams. Some of the fans were also dubbed “Bleacher Bums,” a nickname fitting for those willing to watch a losing baseball team on a weekday afternoon.
The Cubs actually breaking the streak and winning the Series has become an event associated with the distant future. In Back to the Future II, Marty Mcfly sees the team defeat the fictional Miami Sharks to win the 2015 World Series, with the joke being that Miami did not have a team when the film was made. Ironically, since its release, the Miami Marlins have come into existence and won the title twice, and we are now past the future in which the film was set (these things happen to the Cubs). There are musical tributes, too. American indie band Mountain Goats released a song named “Cubs in Five,” which mentions a Cubs victory in the same breath as The Canterbury Tales becoming a bestseller and the stars spelling the answers to tomorrow’s crossword. The team’s futility is, according to some, not merely an accident. It is a curse placed on the team by a man named Billy Sianis, who was ejected from Wrigley Field during the 1945 World Series because his billy goat, which was accompanying him, was bothering other spectators. As the years have passed, the billy goat has passed into Chicago folklore, with goats brought onto the field, holy water sprayed over the dugouts and pilgrimages made to curse the homes of rival teams. None of these attempts has worked, and evidence for the Cubs’ curse continued to accumulate.
In 2003, the team was holding a 3-0 lead in the bottom of the eighth inning, just five outs away from the World Series, when a fan named Steve Bartman innocently reached over a wall and tried to catch a ball that Cubs outfielder Moises Alou was simultaneously hoping to catch. The Cubs lost the game and went the next 12 years without winning a single playoff game, never mind a Series. To add insult to injury, the subsequent two World Series were won by other teams ending a supposed curse, with the Boston Red Sox ending the 86-year “Curse of the Bambino” in 2004 and the crosstown Chicago White Sox ending the 85-year “Curse of the Black Sox” in 2005.
In the last few years, though, something has begun to stir. Theo Epstein was appointed as the Cubs’ president of baseball operations in 2011, and he began to develop some promising young players. The roster matured to the point that the team clinched a National League wild card last season, only to fall to the New York Mets in the playoffs. This year, though, the Cubs exploded into life. Thanks to the home-run hitting of Kris Bryant, last year’s Rookie of the Year and a favourite for this year’s league Most Valuable Player award, as well as the dominant pitching of Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester, who have 37 wins between them, the Cubs have become the best team in Major League Baseball. They own the best win-loss record in the entire MLB, winning over 100 games in a season for the first time since 1935, and clinched a playoff spot with weeks to spare.
The Cubs now stand just seven wins away from the World Series and eleven from the title. Their regular season success means that they have the home advantage throughout the playoffs and are on the brink of making history. Being the Cubs, history is hardly a reason to feel confident. Perhaps, though, it is time for the Cubs’ long, long wait to finally come to an end.