Holy Cow! Cubs Win the World Series
With the Midas touch, Theo Epstein turns second legendary loser into a champion
For 108 years, they’ve been the lovable losers, but the Chicago Cubs are finally World Series Champions. It was the longest span without winning a title in major American pro sports, yet, among more than a century of losses and missed opportunities the Cubbies grew to one of the most popular sports brands in the world.
In New Orleans, love for the team is so extreme that customers at the Milan Lounge, the self-described Wrigley Field South, stood packed, shoulder-to-shoulder throughout the playoffs to take in games with like-minded fans. Bruno Tavern’s celebrated the Cubs’ feat by offering patrons two hours of free drinking after Game 6 and an hour on the house after Game 7.
Despite playing more like the Bad News Bears more often than not over the years, the Cubs gained a diehard nationwide following, due much in part to Chicago superstation WGN broadcasting their games to homes around the country via cable television.
Even when games were bad, WGN’s play-by-play announcer Harry Caray was captivatingly entertaining and could steal the show without even trying. He had a solid reputation for partying, giving fans a reason to wink and nudge as he slurred his speech, mispronounced names and made wild declarations, seemingly out of no where. But he grew into an icon and made Cubs games can’t miss TV. After every Cubs’ home run, you could count on Caray to shout “Holy Cow” in a drawn out manner that sounded more like, “Ho Lee Cow.” At every game, he’d open the broadcast booth’s stadium window, take over Wrigley’s public address system, and lead the crowd in singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during the seventh inning stretch, always displaying the same joyous enthusiasm no matter the score. And when Chicago was the victor he closed games by exclaiming, “Cubs win! Cubs win! Cubs win!”
I’d dare say Caray had as much influence on making individuals Cubs fans as any of the players on the team. Well parodied by comedian Will Ferrell, he was like the fun-loving family member you always thought might be a little bit crazy, but never missed an opportunity to hang out with. Long a pitchman for Budweiser, the beer company aired two commercials in his honor immediately after the series ended. The second, with a Caray voiceover “calling” the last out of Game 7, will give long-time fans goose bumps.
The Cubs began playing at Wrigley Field in 1916. Unique characteristics of the stadium include an ivy-covered brick wall – without padding – in the outfield and a hand-operated scoreboard at the top of the center field bleachers. The ballpark didn’t get lights until August 1988, so many home games were in the afternoon. For millions of latch-key Generation Xers like me, the Cubs were the baseball team of our adolescence. When we got home from school or summer camp, we tuned in to Cubs’ games before our parents got home.
Even though the Cubs lost, often times more than they won, being a Cubs fan has always felt like being part of a family. And our family may not be perfect or win as often as the Yankees or Cardinals, but, damn, we have fun. Along the way, we’ve held out hope that one day we would be lucky enough to see the Cubs win the World Series. As the Cubs got close, fans flocked to the brick wall at the Right Field entrance to Wrigley to write the names of fellow fans, who were unable to experience this World Series run.
Going to Wrigley holds special significance – and not just for Cub fans. It’s an American icon, home to, arguably, the most famous play in baseball history – Babe Ruth’s Called Shot. It’s old, lacks many modern features standard in modern ballparks, and is simply perfect. An opponent hits a home run in our park; we throw it back. Meanwhile, we’ll cause great physical harm to ourselves trying to retrieve a Cub hit ball.
Baseball thrives on its tradition, and Wrigley, along with Boston’s Fenway Park, are direct links to baseball’s past.
Speaking of Boston, the Red Sox went 86 years between winning World Series titles in 1918 and 2004. Theo Epstein was the Red Sox’s general manager who built the Boston teams that won championships in 2004 and 2007. He joined the Cubs in 2011, and, as President of Baseball Operations, built them into a team that may be on the verge of a dynasty. At 43, Epstein seems to have the Midas touch in turning legendary losing, some say cursed, franchises into world champions. If they haven’t already, Baseball’s Hall of Fame needs to reserve space for Epstein’s inevitable enshrinement. He’s already earned his ticket to Cooperstown; the only question now is how many accolades will he collect along the way.
Ever eternal optimists, Cubs fans used to end the season saying, “Wait ’til next year.”
Now, World Series Champions, Cubs fans are saying, “Can’t wait ’til next year.”