By MIKE HERNDON
Teddy Roosevelt was president. New York City had just begun a new tradition — dropping the ball in Times Square to celebrate New Year’s. A long-distance radio message was sent for the first time from the Eiffel Tower. Henry Ford produced his first Model T. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid are reportedly killed somewhere in Bolivia. And Orville and Wilbur Wright finally showed the public what they had been testing on Kill Devil Hills in North Carolina — a flying machine.
The year was 1908. The winner of the World Series that year was the Chicago Cubs.
It would be the last time they’d win Major League Baseball’s championship for more than a century.
Some believe it was because of a goat. When William Sianis, owner of the Billy Goat Tavern (where you can still get a cold beer and a cheeseburger below Michigan Avenue) tried to take his pet goat to watch the Cubs play in the 1945 World Series at Wrigley Field, he was asked to leave. As he did, he muttered that the Cubs wouldn’t ever win again.
And for the next seven decades, they didn’t. As the years of futility continued, Sianis’ words became interpreted as a curse.
The Cubs didn’t only not win. They lost spectacularly. Twenty-three times from 1945-2015, they lost 90 games or more. They won more than 90 games only six times. They won their division five times between 1984 and 2015, but never returned to the World Series.
Until this year.
And when the Chicago Cubs finally returned to the World Series this year, 108 years after their last appearance, they took a good many of us with them.
We are, for the most part, a nation of front-runners. We subscribe to the Vince Lombardi philosophy: Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing. But there is something in our DNA that attracts us to an underdog. Maybe it goes back to our days as colonies, struggling to throw off the rule of the uppity British.
We place a premium on winning. But we especially like it when it’s the little guy doing it.
The Cubs have always drawn an inordinate number of otherwise unaffiliated fans around the country. Maybe it was the wide reach of WGN in the days before satellite TV. Or the slurred quirkiness of Harry Carey. Or the quaintness of Wrigley Field.
But mostly, I think, it was because we all want to see an underdog finally finish on top. And while these Cubs may not have been an underdog to the Indians, they were a decided underdog to history.
They almost didn’t make it. The Cubs fell behind 3-1 and seemingly couldn’t hit Corey Kluber, who made a third start in the series in Game 7. After finally getting to Kluber and chasing him early, they blew a 6-3 lead as Joe Maddon sent a gassed Aroldis Chapman back to the hill, going into extra innings tied at 6 and wondering what the heck happened.
We shook our heads and sighed: Here they go again.
Except this time was different. This time Ben Zobrist doubled in the go-ahead run in the 10th and Miguel Montero drove in an insurance run that the Cubs would end up needing. This time, Carl Edwards and Mike Montgomery closed out the bottom of the 10th for an 8-7 win.
This time, a hotshot executive named Theo Epstein who’d already ended one curse — the Curse of the Bambino in Boston — pushed all the right buttons to make it happen again. And a manager who was being second-guessed en masse throughout the Twitterverse for his use of his pitchers found the right combination to close it out.
This time, there was jubilation in Wrigleyville — and chaos, and trust falls from light poles and a couple guys carrying a power pole down the street, trailing live wires behind them. There was an elated Bill Murray, a joyous Eddie Vedder, and a bunch of guys in blue celebrating their franchise’s first championship since before their grandfathers were born.
This is why we love sports.
This time, the curse was finally over. Take your goat and go home, Billy. Fly the W. The underdogs are finally on top of the world.