The Chicago Cubs bandwagon is filling up quickly with fans from around the country as they set out to capture their first world series title in 108 years. The Cubs are famously ‘cursed’ and it is this curse that has allegedly kept them from even appearing in the World Series since 1945. While the origins of the curse may be a little foggy (it involves a goat which is fun) the results are hard to argue with. The Cubs have been losers for a long time. Heck, there are expansion teams in Florida with two more championships than the Cubs have in the last century. But here’s the problem, if the Cubs win the World Series they immediately lose their lovable loser identity, and baseball loses one of it’s last remaining historical quirks.
Of course it is easy to understand why Cubs fans want to win. It’s their team and they are doing what fans are supposed to do, root for them. But why all of a sudden do we (the larger sports watching world) want this incredible streak of misery to end? Every year the Cubs have failed to win adds to the intrigue of The Curse. After 25 years without a championship a fan base gets itchy. After 50 years and it starts to get sad. After 75 years the talk of curses and black magic starts to be floated around jokingly. But after 100 years the idea of curses starts to become believable. The egg-heads over at fiverthirtyeight.com looked at the data, and even the numbers suggest that something strange is going on with the Cubs. And that’s when the real fun starts. As a result of their lack of success the present day Chicago Cubs have an unmistakable identity as baseball’s unluckiest team and most loyally miserable fan base. For baseball fans at large that is an easy narrative to swallow and it increases our enjoyment of the baseball universe to know that curses and supernatural bad luck might be real. For the MLB itself it is an easy narrative to market. But the second the Cubs win the World Series that entire identity changes. The team we have known as lovable losers for over a century transform in front of our eyes to the 2016 World Champions, a formerly cursed club.
The 2016 Cubs are a fun team, a talented team, and an unquestionably good team. But after they win they will be seen as something else: another Theo Epstein product come to fruition. Epstein earned fame as the GM for the Boston Red Sox when they broke their own curse. And if you want a preview of how the Cubs will be viewed in a few years after they break their own curse look no further than the Red Sox. They too were sudden fan favorites, propelled past the arch-rival Yankees in dramatic fashion to go on and break The Curse of the Bambino in 2004. It was great fun in the moment, but now years (and a second World Series title) later, the Red Sox are just another powerhouse A.L. East team with a bloated salary and not a scrap of underdog status remaining. The problem for the Cubs is that they are the last cursed team, and when that is gone, it is gone. The Cubs will never regain that identity (at least not for another 100 years at minimum), and baseball and its fans will never regain the ongoing story of the team that cannot win.
The new, short-lived narrative will be about two things: how good Epstein is at his job and how he killed the two most famous curses in all of sports. The first part of that is undoubtable true: Epstein is an incredible GM. In a relatively short amount of time he assembled a roster that is so loaded with talent the team couldn’t lose if they were trying. But the second part of the statement should not be considered true. If the Cubs win, Epstein did not exorcise The Curse, he overpowered it. To truly beat The Curse in a manner that would be satisfying to non-Chicago baseball fans a Cubs team would need to come out of nowhere and win The World Series with a great deal of good luck acting as a karma counterbalance to their century of misfortune. That’s how Hollywood would write it up. But what has actually happened is that Epstein meticulously assembled a dominating team that has been favored to win The World Series since before the first pitch was thrown this season. That feels less like breaking The Curse and more like circumventing it with brute force.
Cubs fans may wonder “Why does it have to be the Cubs that carry this dubious identity of being cursed”? Sure, there are other teams that have not won a World Series or have not won in a long time. But as newer teams or owners of considerably shorter losing streaks, none are as compelling as what the Cubs have done, or haven’t done rather. Accepting a lesser losing streak as our operative baseball storyline is like buying off-brand groceries. They are fine. But you know they are not real Oreo’s. Only the Cubs will do. In addition to the unmatched length of their drought there is also the incredible surrounding circumstances that have plagued the Cubs. No other losing streak has anything nearly as interesting as the Bartman chronicles. One Cubs World Series win and all that goes from being a griping saga with an unknown ending to a historical footnote.
It will be tempting to root for the Cubs. Many of your friends and family will pull for them because “they deserve it”. They are wrong. We deserve the Cubs to be just who they are right now. Why trade in 100 years of intrigue, identity, and ignominy for fleeting present glory and likely future resentment? Here’s to the Cleveland Indians winning and to 109 years of one of the most interesting storylines in sports.