Even with my lifelong passion for sports waning in the last year and a half, I cannot stop caring completely. Even if I did, it would not undermine the inordinate amount of time I have spent loving the Chicago Cubs. I saw so many major and minor moments at Wrigley. I was there for Bartman. My youth group was there for Sosa’s corked bat. My good friend Florencio and I watched pitcher Travis Wood hit a grand slam against the White Sox in 20131. I watched with my best friends Chris and Matt as LaTroy Hawkins blew a save vs. the AAA Cincinnati Reds in 20042. And I was there the night they clinched their first World Series birth in 71 years, awkwardly doing Facebook Live for the first time to give my friends a front-row seat to history.
Because of the Cubs, I have bonded with church members and complete strangers. I mourned with my roommate Josh in 2003. I celebrated with my wife Kayla in 20163. Outside of the Carolina Gamecocks, no team has ever meant more to me.
I have sat through countless eras for this franchise. Each one was special in its own way, but clearly, this most recent one was the best. Five playoff series wins, plus a wild card victory. Too many heart-stopping, individual wins to count. And, of course, it was all punctuated with the franchise’s first championship in 108 years.
After that title, probably the most significant in sports history, Cub fans could live in the moment for once. You don’t wait that many ‘next years’ and then turn the page quickly. Even so, I can’t deny that I and legions of others knew this shouldn’t be a one-time thing. Looking at the roster, we saw that Rizzo was 26. As was Hendricks. Bryant and Contreras were 24. Baez and Schwarber were 23. Addison Russell was 22!
Even the most optimistic fan (me) didn’t think we could keep most of the championship players long-term, but I thought we could keep most of the core for a decade. I thought more than a couple of those guys would retire as Cubs. As a result, I thought the ceiling for this team was the 96-00 Yankees. I would have gladly taken a 2010-14 San Fransisco Giants run. At worst I thought we’d at least win another one a few years later as the Red Sox did in 2007 after their curse-breaking World Series in 2004.
But none of it happened. Aside from a “Never Underestimate the Heart of a Champion” 5-game series win vs. Washington in 2017 that left me emotionally spent, the Cubs have imploded in the postseason. You can read in other places why it happened. I’m writing today for one reason: to say goodbye to this era.
Friday, July 30th was the day the tombstone was erected: Born 2015, Died 2021. Yes, we lost Russell a couple of years ago to off-the-field trouble. Additionally, they dealt Schwarber after continued major struggles at the plate. But to trade perhaps the three most popular players in the same day—that was the team’s way of saying it was time to move on; the era was over.
There was Rizzo, the clubhouse leader. The lone guy from 2016 who endured 2012, the worst Cubs season in the divisional era4. Who quoted Rocky and Anchorman to keep the team loose in the World Series, and who always will have the glory of catching the final outs for the NLCS and the championship that year, and pocketing the balls. There was Bryant, the Rookie of the Year and NL MVP, whose grin as he made the championship-winning put out we will never forget. There was Baez, the Magician with the glove and on the bases, who drove us crazy at times but never failed to entertain.
Hendricks and Contreras remain, but the harsh reality is that the 2016 Championship Cubs are gone. I could bemoan the long-term success that never was. I could whine about the ownership. No doubt, I want to do those things. But if there is one thing I have learned in real life, from graduating college to leaving Chicago after 17 years, it’s that saying good-bye the right way is the healthiest way to respond.
For people who say “It’s just sports” I invite them to watch the video of Kris Bryant finding out he was traded:
I unashamedly shed tears myself. It’s because I was thinking of Rambling Ever On’s very own Mark Sass, who is a bigger fan than I am, and who converses about the team with as much enthusiasm as anyone I know. And I was thinking of those people at Northwest Community Church, with whom I literally rubbed shoulders, watching Cubs games and at a million other events. I thought of my friends like Eric, Chad, and Alan in other states, whose passion and knowledge of the team bring my heart joy.
They, like me, have to let go. And that rips my heart out. Even if these front office maneuvers yield another World Series in the near future, no team will ever compare to these Cubs.
So we honor them by saying goodbye the right way. Thank you, Rizzo, Bryant, Baez, and all the rest, for the greatest sports ride of my life.
- Mega baseball fans might know that Travis Wood was a power-hitting machine in his eight-year MLB career, hitting 11 HRs with 37 RBIs in under 300 ABs. For comparison, those two stats are better than what the Cubs have gotten out of half of their position players in 2021, in a comparable amount of at-bats. ↩
- This is my standing joke, as the Cubs actually played the major league team, but the Reds had given up on the season. And had called up most of that day’s roster. Yet Hawkins still couldn’t get three outs when the Cubs desperately needed them to stay in the playoff race. ↩
- Specifically, I fell to the floor and cried, and she took pictures and sent them to the Internet. ↩
- At least as far as losses. In 1981 in a shortened year the team had a worse winning percentage. ↩