Curses don’t exist. I’m certain of it. Since February, Leicester City won the Premier League, the city of Cleveland won two professional sports titles (don’t forget about the Calder Cup!), Donald Trump won the Republican nomination, and Leonardo DiCaprio won an Oscar. How can anyone believe in curses after that? Shoot, Indiana men’s basketball coach Tom Crean opened last season by squirting out one colossal turd after another and losing one of his best scorers to injury in December, and he closed it by winning the Big Ten title and Big Ten Coach of the Year. How can anyone watch that happen and still say, “Why yes, I do believe a higher power is controlling the outcomes of sporting events and consciously deciding to punish certain teams/players/coaches/cities to fit a well-established narrative”?
Here’s the deal: Labor Day has officially come and gone, which means it’s time to get serious about baseball. Everyone knows that the first five months of a given MLB season exist solely to serve as a distraction. They give us something to throw on the TV or radio as background noise as we do fun things throughout the summer, but unless you’re a degenerate gambler or a baseball junkie, you probably don’t get too caught up in who’s playing well and who’s playing for the Twins.
But now September is here, and it’s nut-cutting time. It’s time to question every decision your team’s manager makes even though you’ve watched only about 20 games this season. It’s time to Google “magic number” to remind yourself what the hell that even means. It’s time to figure out which player on the Giants and/or Cardinals is going to piss you off the most this October and make you yell, “HOW IS HE DOING THIS HE’S NOT EVEN THAT GOOD?” And most importantly, it’s time to look at the standings to see which teams are — WHOA, THE CUBS ARE THE BEST TEAM IN BASEBALL BY A WIDE MARGIN? WHAT IS HAPPENING???
I’ll tell you what’s happening: The Chicago Cubs are winning the 2016 World Series. It’s happening because, again, curses aren’t real. It’s happening because the Cubs have been on an absolute tear all season and only seem to be getting better. I’m a lifelong Cubs fan who has watched 90 percent of their games this year, and this is all I can come up with when making a list of their weaknesses:
- Jon Lester gets paid exclusively to throw a baseball yet literally cannot throw a ball to first base.
- Ben Zobrist’s walk-up music is some corny song created by his wife.
- Jason Heyward seems to swing with a pool noodle instead of a baseball bat.
- John Lackey reacts to giving up three-run bombs by staring into oblivion as though he’s trying to remember all the different team names from Legends of the Hidden Temple.
- Javier Báez will, without exception, give himself a hernia trying to hit every pitch he sees 600 feet if he comes to the plate representing the tying or winning run in the eighth inning or later.
That’s it. That’s the list. The Cubs are going to win the World Series because they are a nearly flawless baseball team managed by a mad genius, Joe Maddon. I don’t need to get melodramatic with bullshit stories about destiny and the stars aligning and Back to the Future and whatever else. Being a Cubs fan has been such a miserable plight for so long that the pissing and moaning coming from Cubs fans over the years has made neutral observers go from thinking, “I hope that the Cubs win because those fans deserve to taste happiness for once” to “I hope the Cubs win so Cubs fans finally shut the hell up.” Nobody wants to hear about the Loveable Losers anymore. Nobody needs a refresher on the Curse of the Billy Goat and Bartman and 1908 and Daniel Murphy and all that other shit. Everyone gets it. The Cubs were good a million years ago and have sucked to varying degrees ever since.
So no, I’m not going to say that the Cubs are going to win one for Harry Caray or Ernie Banks or Ron Santo or your grandpa’s grandpa. I’m not going to pretend that Dusty Baker managing the Nationals is the baseball gods’ way of setting the stage for Chicago to exact vengeance on Baker for his murder of Mark Prior’s right arm. I’ll save all that metaphysical stuff for when it actually happens. For now, I’m just going to say this as an analytical baseball expert who has watched 100-plus Cubs games this season and zero non-Cubs games: The Chicago Cubs are an unstoppable goddamn machine.
No sport in America makes people use the word “relationship” to describe their fandom more than baseball. The games take so long and there are so many of them that closely following a season requires an insane time commitment. When a team is great, this sacrifice is tolerable. But spending 25 hours a week obsessively tracking and cheering for a team comes at a cost. Eventually, the rational part of the brain turns off and you start hanging on every pitch like the entire year depends on it. You forget that players slump and get hot and then slump and get hot a million different times. When your team gets shut out it’s infuriating, and when it hangs 10 runs the next game that almost makes it worse because you just want to scream at the TV, “WHERE WAS THIS YESTERDAY?!”
Of course, when a baseball team sucks, following it becomes a chore. Repeatedly getting your heart stomped on while putting in enough hours to earn employee benefits isn’t worth it, so you probably only watch the games that are convenient and check the standings every so often to make sure you aren’t missing a miracle surge. Extrapolate this approach over a lifetime and the average baseball fan finds himself on an infinite roller coaster of falling in and out of love with the sport.
And yet, I don’t think Cubs fans have ever experienced a true love of baseball until this season. I can’t speak for all of them, of course, because that’s the other thing about having a relationship with baseball: Your experience is always unique. The sheer amount of games makes it impossible for an entire fan base to share unified thoughts and feelings. Every fan ends up seeing a different fraction of the puzzle, leaving us all to draw our own conclusions. Some Cubs fans might say they experienced true baseball love in 1984 or 1989 or 1998 or 2003 or 2008 or the second half of last season. I thought I had experienced it in some of those years, too. But it took this season for me to finally know what it feels like to pour everything I have into a baseball team — to lay it all on the line and say, “I’m giving you seven months of my life to do with what you wish” — and then have that team love me back in such a way that my life becomes one baseballgasm after another.
That’s where I am with this team. I love everything about it. I love that I don’t have a favorite player because the entire roster is my favorite player. I love watching Anthony Rizzo crowd the plate and air-hump the strike zone as he awaits the next pitch. I love watching Báez turn a routine play into a highlight almost as much as I love watching him turn an impossible play into an even better highlight. I love that Kyle Hendricks is in contention for the Cy Young Award even though he’s the third-best pitcher in the rotation. I love that Addison Russell hasn’t even hit puberty yet and he’s already got my brother and me discussing whether he’s the second-best shortstop in Cubs history. I love that the existence of Kris Bryant means that if I’m asked to name five-tool players in the NL Central, my mind doesn’t automatically go to all the douchers that make up the Cardinals infield. I love that we’re a month away from Jorge Soler flailing his bat at three straight sliders in the dirt while wearing a turtleneck in 50-degree weather. I love that you could make a convincing case that Maddon is purposely trying to lose games with some of the insane moves he makes, if it wasn’t for the fact that all of them seem to work as perfect strokes of genius.
In short, the Cubs are going to win the World Series this season because they have to. I’ve invested too much into this summer to start worrying about curses and playoff magic and all that other garbage now. I know there are tons of Cubs fans who don’t share these sentiments and have read all of this with an uneasy pit in their stomachs, like I’m peeing on an Indian burial ground while daring God to strike me with lightning. But screw that. Enough is enough. It’s time we face our fears head on. We’re winning the World Series this year. It’s happening. Go ahead and get your tattoo of Harry Caray holding the severed heads of a billy goat and a black cat now so you can rack up retweets from those “Fake SportsCenter” and “Shooter McGavin” accounts. We have by far the best team in baseball, and curses aren’t real. All of our patience has led to this. The time is now.
Besides, here’s the other beautiful thing about baseball: Even if it doesn’t happen — even if the baseball gods decide we deserve a little more torture as the Cubs unceremoniously get bounced from the playoffs by a team whose asses we kicked all season …
There’s always next year.