SABR

Now I Can Die In Peace

By Bill Nowlin

This article was published in the Spring 2011 Baseball Research Journal.

You the living, you’re stuck here with the Cubs, So it’s me that feels sorry for you!
— Steve Goodman, from “A Dying Cub Fan’s Last Request” (1983)

It’s getting on 30 years since Steve Goodman wrote those words. Steve died on September 20, 1984, less than two weeks before the Cubs won the first two games of that year’s League Championship Series.

All they needed was one more win to have another shot at a World Championship. They didn’t get it. Not even a shot. Starting with 1984, the Cubs have appeared six times in the postseason. But something always blocks them, and it probably isn’t a Billy Goat Curse. 102 years and counting. Name the sport: Not one other professional team in North America can claim a longer drought.

Any Red Sox fan with a few years under their cap identified with Cubs fans. Even if they couldn’t name a single player in the NL Central, Red Sox fans knew in their hearts that the Cubs were “their” National League team. Until 2004.

Back then, Red Sox fans always dreamed of a World Series between Boston and the Cubs, but realized that a battle of the underdogs would suffer one sad ending. One of the teams would have to lose.

Things changed in 2004. And more so in 2007. Now there are Red Sox fans in their first year of college who were 11 when Boston won its first World Championship since 1918. Sure, they’d waited all their lives for the Bosox to win it all. But now the waiting is a part of their childhood, maybe only a dim memory. The dying Cubs fan implored, “Play that lonesome losers tune, that’s the one I like the best.” Red Sox fans today no longer see their team as the lovable losers of the AL, the Davids fighting against the twin Goliaths of the Yankees and a Curse. Those of us Red Sox fans who lived through decades of losing know that in winning, we’ve lost something, too.

For almost my whole life, certainly in 1972 (that last-day loss) and 1975 (The Series), but particularly after 1986, 1988, and 1990, and then 1995, we Sox fans (I’m talking Boston here, not the South Siders of the Second City) frequently asked each other: “What would it be like if the Red Sox won it all? Would we lose something special, something that defined us as Red Sox fans?”

I did worry about it … but not so much that I wanted the Red Sox to lose! My response was always, “I believe in the scientific method. Let’s see it put to the test and we’ll find out what it feels like.” What could be fairer than that? Give us a chance to test the hypothesis.

Not only did the Red Sox win their first crown in 86 years (when they had prevailed over the Cubs, as it happens, way back in 1918), but the way they won it also made the victory taste all the sweeter. Sweeping the Cardinals in four was nice; those with long memories or a good sense of history knew there was some payback there for 1946 and 1967, but beating the Yankees—four straight after being down three games to none—was just delicious.

As so many of us wrote at the time, a Hollywood writer who’d submitted that script would have had it sent back by every studio in town.

It did feel good. In fact, it felt great. And so much of the country was happy for Red Sox fans to finally have the chance to savor a win. Then we did it again (here, of course, I identify as baseball fans do with the teams they support) in 2007. And they’ve been in contention since 2003, when two enhanced Game Seven home runs by an admitted Yankees steroids user and a manager who ignored the explicit instructions he’d been given before the game regarding Pedro’s pitch count did them in.

Then close as can be in 2008. Close but no cigar in 2009. Stocked up now for 2011…it’s pretty close to a golden age.

Unfortunately, some Red Sox fans aren’t wearing the laurels gracefully.

It really doesn’t come as a surprise to learn that a good portion of the country now sees “Red Sox Nation” as the second-most insufferable set of fans. (It goes without saying who ranks first.) And Boston can’t really plead poverty. A Yankees/Red Sox game has become more like Goliath against Goliath, Jr. A lot of baseball fans have become weary of all the hype around The Rivalry.

But Cubs fans have their own rivalries … with the Mets, with the White Sox, but foremost with the Cardinals. The hated birds from the southwest have been in the World Series nine times (and won five of them) since Chicago’s last appearance in 1945.

There are parallels to the Cubs/Cardinals and Red Sox/Yankees struggles…for one, both the Cubs and Red Sox gave their rivals franchise players for essentially nothing, players who helped those rivals win World Series. Babe Ruth for a sack of money stacks up very well against Brock for Broglio, doesn’t it?

For another parallel, The Cubs and Bosox both play in gritty urban parks while the Yankees and Cardinals now toil in shiny new stadia. And clearly, should the Cubs ever win the World Series, portions of their fandom would become as obnoxious as those in Boston are accused of being.

So, Cubs fans, it’s not all milk and honey on the other side. We Red Sox fans really have lost something. Life just ain’t what it used to be. It’s better in some ways, of course. Now we can die in peace. But it’s not going too far to say there truly is something that’s been lost. Poignant, you know, and all that.

You don’t have to feel too sorry for us, though. Some year that the Red Sox don’t reach the World Series, I’m pretty sure plenty of longtime Boston fans hope the Cubs do, and that they have that trophy rest in Wrigleyville.

BILL NOWLIN has authored somewhere around 30 books on the Boston Red Sox. He is active in SABR’s BioProject and is a VP of SABR. He’s also co-founder of Rounder Records of Massachusetts.

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