The Goat, The Ghosts, Lou and Ozzie
Steve Bartman and Moises Alou of the Cubs battle for a foul ball in the 2003 National League Championship Series. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
The goat. The ghosts. The black cat. The meltdowns of 1969, 1984, 2003 and heaven knows how many other seasons. Bartman.
The yearly hope and the abysmal fades. The ivy covered walls and the addled brains of the fans. The legendary rave-out of a manager fed up with losing, the fans and the media. A countless parade of tired managers and players who go from great to trash as soon as they put on the uniform.
This is the 100 year legacy of the Chicago Cubs. 100 years since their last World Series win. 100 years of mostly really terrible teams and the “3000 (bleepin’) fans who come out here every (bleepin’) day, rippin’ every (bleepin’) thing you do.”
It’s been so long since the Cubs won a pennant, that this kid is an old man by now. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Allsport)
I have always enjoyed going to Wrigley Field to cover the Cubs for two main reasons. Seeing a ball game at Wrigley is a joy for a baseball fan. And there’s always the chance, almost every day, that you’ll see something during a baseball game that you’ve never seen before. And it almost always goes bad for the Cubs. A triple play. A no hitter spoiled with two outs in the top of the ninth inning on Opening Day. Two grand slams hit in the same inning against the Cubbies. You name it, I’ve seen it. Almost. (There’s always next year!)
In 2005, the Chicago White Sox earned a place in my heart forever. They won the World Series. A Chicago team won the World Series IN MY LIFETIME. No goats, ghosts or black cats. Just solid baseball from a wonderful team with a manager who will always deserve a place in Chicago sports history along with Ditka, Payton, Jordan, Sosa and Fisk.
A White Sox fan celebrates the 2005 World Series Championship on Rush Street in Chicago. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
The results of the 2005 season for the Sox put the heat on the Cubs management like never before. They began to build a team to win the World Series. And they hired a no-nonsense manager, Lou Piniella, who is so different from White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen, that he might as well live on the moon. The Cubs team for 2008 was built for one thing and one thing only: to win the World Series. This year. Period.
Manager Ozzie Guillen of the Chicago White Sox enjoys teasing other players and managers as much as managing a game. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Manager Lou Piniella of the Chicago Cubs has perfected the long, slow walk from the dugout to the mound and back like no other Major League manager. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Since May, both Chicago teams have been in first place in their respective divisions and leagues, with the exception of a few days for the White Sox. The Sox have had injuries galore and a Minnesota Twins team that just wouldn’t give up, breathing down their necks for the entire season. The Cubs have had a 2-4 game lead most of the year in their division with the Milwaukee Brewers, one of the finest smoke and mirror teams in the Major Leagues, nipping at their heals until recently. The Cubs have led the League in almost every category imaginable the entire season from team batting to runs scored to ERA…you name it. And aside from a every-year stint on the DL from Kerry Wood and Alfonso Soriano, they’ve done it relatively injury free.
The managers for both teams couldn’t be more different. Ozzie is a trickster, a joker, a guy with his heart on his sleeve that says anything and everything to the media. Lou is the seasoned veteran manager whose every move is calculated and who basically hates talking to the media. They both have gotten the best out of their players all season, using wildly different tactics and some surprisingly good players, especially on the south side of town where two players in particular, Carlos Quentin and Alexei Ramirez, have become full-blown stars this year. The Cubs core players have proven star ability, like Carlos Zambrano, who threw the first Cub no-hitter since 1972 a few weeks ago, and Aramis Ramirez a third baseman with a lethal swing. But players like Mark DeRosa and Ryan Theriot have proven to be special cogs in the Cubs machinery this season. And Geovany Soto, the Cubs rookie catcher, may end up being the National League Rookie of the Year when it’s all said and done.
Until his injury, Carlos Quentin of the White Sox was leading the American League in home runs with 36 and had driven in 100 RBI’s. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Alexei Ramirez, a rookie from Cuba, has shown that he belongs as a starter on the White Sox roster. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Fans cheer as Aramis Ramirez of the Cubs celebrates a walk-off home run to beat the White Sox in June. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Carlos Zambrano, shown pitching against the Brewers in Milwaukee, became the first Cub to throw a no-hitter since 1972 by shutting down the Astros during a game played in Milwaukee after being canceled in Houston because of Hurricane Ike. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Mark DeRosa of the Cubs tips hit helmet to the crowd after hitting a grand slam against the Astros in August. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
The Sox, on the other hand, have swung from OK, to great to absolutely terrible all season long, with star players like Paul Konerko fighting off injuies and slumps and a bullpen that imploded following a back injury to Scott Linebrink midway through the summer.
Two first place teams from Chicago…with one improbable destiny…an all-Chicago World Series.
It would seem at this point that the White Sox have the toughest road. The Rays, Red Sox and Angels are formidable and the Sox had trouble with all three teams this season. The Cubs should slide right through their National League playoff opponents like they did all season. The team coasted to the NL Central title a couple of weeks ago, almost a foregone conclusion for many who predicated a World Series berth for the Cubs at the beginning of the season. And despite a potential Sports Illustrated cover jinx facing them, thanks to my photo last week of Aramis Ramirez raising his fist in victory after hitting a walk-off home run against the White Sox in June, they should go all the way to the big show this month. However, as many in Chicago have been constantly reminded…the Cubs are the Cubs, after all. The “Loveable Losers” with the key word being…..losers.
The White Sox could not have won their division in a more sensational manner. To win the title, the Sox managed a feat never before accomplished in Major League history. They beat three different teams in three days win the title. After a dismal last two weeks of the season, the Sox finished a 1/2 game behind the Twins. With a win over the Cleveland Indians, the Sox were forced to play a make-up game on Monday and defeated the Tigers, setting up a winner-take-all AL Central tiebreaking game against the Twins Tuesday night in Chicago. It was a nail-biter of a game; a pitchers duel between John Danks of the Sox and Nick Blackburn of the Twins. It was settled in the 7th inning when Jim Thome blasted a 461 foot solo home run off of Blackburn in the 7th inning. Thome, a 38 year old designated hitter and one of the nicest guys in all of sports, celebrated like a kid who just won the Little League World Series title.
Manager Ozzie Guillen and Jim Thome celebrate winning the AL Central title after a 1-0 win over the Minnesota Twins. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
But just the thought of an all-Chicago World Series is so tantalizing, so ridiculous, so unbelievable that it’s worth entertaining some thought. Actually, the same goes for having just the Cubs in a World Series. But it’s the first time in 102 years that both Chicago teams have been in the playoffs at the same time. If that’s not deep-dish pizza karma, I don’t know what is.
The last week of baseball season has Chicago fans on both sides of town looking forward to what could be a wild ride in the October playoffs. Can Ozzie make it through the American League with the injured players and the season-long up and down nature of their hitting and bullpen? Can Lou and his team built for a Title excise 100 years worth of Cubbie demons?
Stay tuned. This is gonna be fun.
Will Lou Piniella of the Cubs and Ozzie Guillen of the White Sox meet again in the World Series? Maybe hell could freeze over indeed. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)