Jeff Pearlman: After harrowing months of a dark presidential election, the Chicago Cubs victory is ray of optimism
He says the rollercoaster of final innings, the team's grit--and then the glee--were the balm needed for the nation's soul
Editor’s Note: Jeff Pearlman is an author of the new book Gunslinger: The Remarkable, Improbable, Iconic Life of Brett Favre. He blogs at jeffpearlman.com ; follow him on Twitter. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.
My head hurts. My tongue is dry. My hands twitch, my nose runs, I’m breaking out in hives. I curse irrationally and I have an odd hankering for raw meat.
I’m your typical American citizen in the month of November in the year 2016, trying to hang on as this awful presidential election—historic by all measures of irredeemable awfulness—sucks out every ounce of my contaminated soul.
In other words …
Thank God for the Chicago Cubs.
I know—it sounds ridiculous. I get it. But in 44 years of life, never have I (or, I believe, this nation) been more desperate for a narrative like we just saw in the 112th Fall Classic. We are a battered people, and the Cubs—who had gone without a World Series title since (let’s say it one last time) nineteen … oh … eight—are, beyond all else, optimism.
Early this morning, by defeating the Cleveland Indians in a riveting 10-inning Game 7, Chicago offered the nation a final dose of its season-long blueprint for success. There was grittiness. There was determination. There was an unwillingness to wilt.
And there was amazing, edge-of-your-seat baseball.
Chicago carried a lead late into the game, then lost it (unexpectedly, potentially tragically) in the eighth behind their overworked closer, Aroldis Chapman.
And at that moment, as Cleveland’s Rajaii Davis tied the score at 6 with a two-run homer, there was no reason—logically—to think Chicago would win. They were on the road—bullpen was bare, star reliever exposed, crowd going wild. But these Cubs aren’t yesterdays’ Cubs. They fought back, took a lead in the 10th, held on behind rocky pitching. It wasn’t pretty or balletic. But that’s OK. Baseball often is neither.
What it did have was a genuine and beautiful sense of camaraderie and togetherness (Exhibit A: right fielder Jason Heyward holding a team meeting during a rain delay—just before the game went into extra innings). Mostly, in the end, there was joy. And glee. And giddiness. And, having survived Cleveland’s repeated refusals to die quietly, relief.
Here’s why the Chicago Cubs got to me this season: It wasn’t too long after I started covering the Majors for Sports Illustrated in the late-1990s, that baseball turned into just a job. After too many 1-0 Brewers-Reds snoozers and brainless interviews with middle relievers and 250-pound steroid-fueled sluggers and know-it-all managers, I was numb. By the time I left SI in 2003, it was largely because I was done with the national pastime.
But this fall, for the first time in ages, watching a baseball team—watching the Chicago Cubs– took me back to my boyhood in Mahopac, N.Y. The Cubs made me a kid again, sitting before a small color TV, mitt in hand, diving left, lunging right, mimicking the plays and motions of my heroes.
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That’s what Chicago supplied in bushels—a reminder of why we have an unquenchable passion for the game. I began the 2016 season caring not one iota about the Cubs. I ended it by bellowing joyfully at my television with the final out.
In the coming days, I suspect this World Series—with its historic conclusion and parallel timing with a nation-altering event—will draw some comparisons to the 2001 Fall Classic, when the Diamondbacks beat the Yankees in the shadow of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
At the time it was said, correctly, that the country needed baseball as a balm to heal its awful wounds. Fifteen years later, we are not living in mourning, but merely in a pained and ugly time for our people.
By winning its first World Series since the birth year of Thurgood Marshall and Lyndon Johnson, the Cubs won’t (sadly) change the tone of our country’s dialogue.
They will, however, remind us that it’s OK to be happy and hopeful.
That alone is awfully special.