The allure of Cubs vs. Indians — the perfect World Series — is worth exploring. It has little to do with the teams themselves or the cities involved, and everything to do with us. With human nature.
We love sports in part because, like life itself, so much of it involves being let down, coming up short, falling or failing, but never giving up. Sports and life both demand loyalty and patience. Both earn our love, then push its boundaries.
In real life we don’t hit the lottery, probably didn’t marry the homecoming queen and likely never lucked into the high-paying dream job. In sports, of the 122 teams in MLB, the NFL, NBA or NHL, only four get to celebrate at the end of a season. The other 97 percent of all teams, and their fans, are left to sift through various shades of disappointment.
Most of us never choose the team that tugs at our heart. We were born into it or inherited it. It’s a tradition handed down. Our teams become family, and when we get frustrated and talk of disowning our team (sound familiar, Dolfans?) we know we are probably kidding ourselves. Because our teams are our blood.
I remember the first time I learned of this power sports holds over people. It was the fall of 1967. The Red Sox were in the World Series, a rarity, trying to win their first championship in a half century, since 1918.
I was a kid in middle school (junior high back then) with little interest in baseball, but I happened to have been born just north of Boston, and all my cousins and relatives were diehard Bosox fans, so I became one. I am to this day. Always will be.
That was the “Impossible Dream” season. The year Yaz won the Triple Crown. My family was visiting my aunt and uncle up north during the series and, in a wood-frame house off the Merrimac River, we all listened to Game 7 on the radio, dying by degrees as Cardinals ace Bob Gibson stymied the Sox.
When it ended I remember my Uncle George, middle aged, turned away from us, to hide the tears he was fighting, I think.
“So I’ll never get to see it,” he said.
He was right. My uncle lived to see Boston reach the World Series again in 1975 and ’86 but lose each time. He’d passed away by the time the Red Sox finally ended their 86-year drought in 2004.
In sports we wait and wait. We wait for our team to finally be really good or really lucky. We wait forever, it seems.
Dolphins fans are into their 43rd year waiting to cheer another Super Bowl champion, after the last one in ever-distant 1973. Woe is us, right? Well, that’s a relative term.
You know how many fans of other teams in other cities have been waiting even longer than Dolfans to cheer another championship or a first one?
In football alone, 11 other teams have made their fans wait longer, led by the 59-year wait (and counting) for Detroit Lions fans. In hockey four teams have had a longer drought, led by the Toronto Maple Leafs’ 48 years. It’s six teams in basketball, topped by the Denver Nuggets’ 49-year wait. Six teams in baseball exceed the Dolphins’ drought, led, of course, by the Cubs and Indians.
In all, 69 of 122 teams in the Big Four sports, or 57 percent, have made their fans wait at least 20 years to cheer another champion or a first one. Thirty-one have waited more than 40 years.
The idea of the “long-suffering” fan is integral in sports, part of the fabric, and a Cubs-Indians World Series would be the absolute cathedral because nobody has waited longer than Cubs fans’ 108 years (since 1908) or Indians fans’ 68 years (since 1948).
Miami and Marlins fans have more of a vested interest in a Cubs-Indians series than most because we have been integral part in both teams’ heartache.
On Oct. 26, 1997, at then-Pro Player Stadium, the then-Florida Marlins beat the Indians 3-2 in the 11th inning of World Series Game 7. The Marlins had been in existence all of five seasons. Cleveland has not made it back since for another shot at reprising 1948.
On Oct. 15, 2003, at Wrigley Field, the Marlins beat the Cubs 9-6 in Game 7 of the NL Championship Series, stopping Chicago one win shy of the World Series. The Cubs haven’t been closer since, until now. (It was one night earlier in Game 6 when Steve Bartman happened. Chicago led 3-0 in the eighth when infamously a fan interfered with a catch by the Cubs, and the Marlins went on to score eight runs and win 8-3.)
Baseball’s other two final-four teams also were trying to reward their fans’ patience. The Toronto Blue Jays hadn’t won a World Series since 1993. The Los Angeles Dodgers last won in 1988, and a crown for them would have been a fitting cap to the career of legendary broadcaster Vin Scully.
Nothing would top Cubs-Indians, though. Not in any sport.
Cubs-Indians would be for all the fans who want to believe that all suffering does end, eventually.