By D. Merrill Ewert
We have just gone through the longest and ugliest presidential campaign of my life! Every time I thought it couldn’t possibly get worse, it did. A week before the election, I concluded that my friends, neighbors, Facebook buddies and even my fellow parishioners were so passionately and irrevocably divided that some relationships might not survive the election.
And then, Ben Zobrist laced a double down the left field line in the top of the 10th inning in the seventh game of the World Series to give the Cubs a lead over the Cleveland Indians they never relinquished. I could hardly believe it; the Chicago Cubs were World Champions! That’s when I knew our nation was going to be okay too.
The Giants and Dodgers are baseball teams—pretty good, to be sure, but no more. The Cubs on the other hand, are a way of living and a philosophy of life. They embody passion, offer hope, model courage and demonstrate resilience. When they’re knocked down, they get up, dust themselves off and come right back at you. They never doubt, have no fear and they never, ever quit!
Cubs fans, like their team, are also resilient. Impervious to sarcasm, scorn and ridicule, they eschew pity and stay focused on the goal—to break the curse and claim the World Series title. Both players and fans possess a powerful and self-renewing sense of hope. I discovered this nearly two decades ago after a particularly devastating loss when I stopped by the office of a colleague and fellow fan. I had come to console him, suggest he take some time off and remind him our employee assistance program offered free counseling. When I found him laughing and telling jokes, I challenged his loyalty. In response, he pointed out that pitchers and catchers would be reporting for spring training in 112 days. “More importantly,” he reminded me, “this is our year!”
That’s when I finally got it.
Over the years, people have blamed the Cubs’ bad fortunes on cheapskate owners, lousy players and incompetent managers. They were wrong. It was the curse. For those who don’t know, on October 6, 1945, the Cubs were leading the Detroit Tigers in the World Series, two games to one. They only needed to win two out of the four remaining games to take the title. Trying to bring his team luck, William “Billy Goat” Sianis, owner of the Billy Goat Tavern and Cubs fan extraordinaire, purchased two tickets for the game. One was for him and the other for his goat, Murphy. When the ushers refused to let Murphy in, Billy appealed to team owner Philip K. Wrigley, who denied entry to the goat. Outraged, Billy is alleged to have said, “Them Cubs, they ain’t gonna win no more! The Cubs will never win a World Series ‘till they let the goat in!”
That curse turned one baseball’s elite teams into inept bumblers. All attempts at exorcism failed. Even bringing other goats into the stadium didn’t help. Since baseball is a social experience, Cubs fans suffered together.
Priscilla joined me in front of the TV for the Series but friends Gary Wall and Larry Nikkel, were also there—in a virtual sense. (Gary is the MB’s district minister and Giants season ticket holder; Larry is the former President of Tabor College and a passionate Cleveland fan.) As we watched from Fresno, Wichita and Phoenix respectively, we were trash-texting, debating strategy, arguing over calls, questioning managers and speculating as to when the plate umpire had last visited an optometrist.
When the Cubs faced elimination, I watched a TV interview with one of the team’s youngest players. I can’t recall his exact words, but it was very close to: “We’ve got this. That curse thing? That was then and this is now; none of us were even born yet when that happened. It means nothing to us. We’re a team; we have each other’s backs. We will never quit; we’re going to work hard and do whatever it takes to win!"
Barely out of his teens, this young Cubbie offered us a road map for the way out of our national predicament: Believe in the goal and embrace the journey. Stop whining about the past and quit blaming everybody else. Repudiate words and actions that demean and limit us. Hang together and have each other’s backs. Work hard and do whatever it takes to win—together. We can root for different teams but still enjoy our friendships and celebrate the game together!
(Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have a Cy Young Award winner and the ERA leader in the pitching rotation, to field the entire starting infield from the 2016 National League all-star team and to bring on a closer whose fastball has been clocked at 105 MPH....)
D. Merrill Ewert, Ph.D., was president of FPU from 2002-2012, years 94-104 of the Cubs’ 108-year world championship drought.