Column: Is anyone else sick of the Cubs and their long-suffering narrative?
This is a confession I make carefully, knowing it could result in bleacher tourists showering me with bad beer, or teary eyed bandwagoners shouting at me during the overworked seventh-inning songfest, or somebody throwing a plasma TV at me from an expensive seat on an ugly roof.
But somebody has to say it.
I am sick of the Chicago Cubs.
I am sick of how their long-suffering narrative has hijacked this baseball postseason, dominating the airwaves, controlling baseball’s decision makers, turning October into one long “Cubbies Forever” Lifetime flick.
I am sick of the Cubs’ being cast as lovable losers when they’ve averaged 100 wins over the last two years with the major leagues’ fifth-highest payroll and a baseball boss who will soon make more than $10 million a year.
I am sick of the Cubs’ being painted as a friendly neighborhood squad when, in July, they traded for a pitcher named Aroldis Chapman whose domestic violence issues kept other teams, including the Dodgers, from acquiring him.
I am sick of Wrigley Field being painted as a quaint ballyard when Bill Murray roams the stands, singing celebrities visit the broadcast booth, pricey rooftop suites line the buildings beyond the outfield, and the average price for the upcoming National League Championship Series is $750 a ticket.
I am also sick of the impact the Cubs have already had on the Dodgers in advance of Saturday’s opener in the NLCS, where the anonymous guys from Los Angeles will take the field as heavy underdogs in more than talent and depth.
The Dodgers are also exhausted because the schedule of their division series against the Washington Nationals was totally dictated by baseball and television’s insistence that everyone loves the Cubs.
The five-game series featured four afternoon games — not easy on the body with cross-country travel — because the Cubs were always guaranteed a prime-time TV spot.
The series also featured games played on three consecutive days, in two different cities with no travel day in between, because baseball prematurely declared Game 2 in Washington a rainout last Saturday even though it was the middle of the afternoon and, it turned out, it didn’t rain the rest of the night. There has been speculation that because the Cubs were playing that night, baseball didn’t want a delayed Dodgers-Nationals game cutting into the huge prime-time viewership. Not only were both teams inconvenienced by having to play Sunday in Washington and Monday and Tuesday in Los Angeles, but the Saturday rainout hurt the Dodgers competitively, pushing Rich Hill’s Game 2 start back a day, which meant his start in Thursday’s Game 5 was on three days’ rest instead of the usual four. He lasted only 2 2/3 innings.
Worse than all that, because of the Cubs, baseball waited until shortly before midnight Monday to announce the Tuesday afternoon starting time of Dodgers-Nationals Game 4. It was the latest determination in anyone’s memory, scheduling a game barely a dozen hours in advance. Besides messing with player routines, it greatly inconvenienced stadium workers and fans and resulted in empty seats at Dodger Stadium.
All that because baseball wanted to wait until the Cubs had finished their Monday night extra-inning division series game with the San Francisco Giants. The Cubs lost, their series was extended, and thus the Cubs were given the prime-time spot and the Dodgers played again in the afternoon.
Even Dodgers Manager Dave Roberts acknowledged that, so far, October has felt like it belonged to the Cubs.
Greetings from Wrigley Field in Chicago, where the Dodgers will face the Cubs in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series on Saturday.
“I think that there might be a little bit of that,’’ Roberts said Friday. “I can kind of relate a little bit playing for the [Boston] Red Sox in 2004, where it felt like the whole country was supporting us and was hoping for us to break the curse, and obviously the country’s rallied around the Cubs.’’
None of this is actually the Cubs’ fault. By all accounts, they are a group of good guys managed by everybody’s favorite uncle, Joe Maddon. They are baseball’s best team by a wide margin, finishing with the best record and all the best statistics, and are deserving of every bit of praise that comes with potentially breaking a historic 108-year title drought.
But, seriously, the Dodgers are the real Cinderellas in this cliche story.
Their 28-year drought doesn’t compare to the Cubs’ — “We have more than multiple decades,’’ Maddon said with a laugh Friday — but Dodgers fans are just as frustrated.
“Twenty-eight years is not as much as 108 years, but in a city like Los Angeles, that’s a long, long time,” said Ned Colletti, the former Dodgers general manager who built much of the current team and who also is a former executive with the Cubs.
The Dodgers’ story is heart-wrenching because, for all those 28 years, they lost even though they tried to win. They have lost with baseball’s highest payroll. They have lost with Hall of Fame managers such as Tom Lasorda and Joe Torre. They have lost despite beginning every season with a championship mandate.
The Cubs, meanwhile, have played out many seasons when ownership seemingly didn’t care about winning as long as Wrigley Field remained a popular tourist destination. The Cubs were actually an easier sell as losers, something that never would happen in a win-or-else town like Los Angeles.
The Cubs’ designed apathy reached a peak from 2011 to 2013 when they lost an average of 98 games a season in the worst three-year stretch in club history. The final two years of that streak were the first two years of the reign of club President Theo Epstein, who led the Cubs to two last-place finishes while the team did what could only be described as tanking.
Epstein purposely rebuilt the team from its foundation, using high draft picks to select the likes of MVP candidate Kris Bryant as the second overall selection in 2013, losing so he could eventually win.
No, that wouldn’t have worked in Los Angeles. Just ask Andrew Friedman, who would love to have just one day when somebody wasn’t screaming for him to win now.
“They were very smart in taking their time and knowing that in a few years they would have a very different team to watch,” Colletti said of the Epstein regime. “In another major market, that would definitely be a tougher sell.”
The Cubs’ master plan has worked because the Cubs print money, the Cubs have basked in losing, and the Cubs fans have been just thrilled to sit in the fancy new bleachers. So exactly what part of that makes you want to grab for the Kleenex?
“I don’t think it affects us,” Roberts said. “We are here now and we’re playing on prime time and our guys are looking forward to it.”
Still, the way it will be portrayed, the Cubs will take the field Saturday to the imagined tinkling of piano keys while attempting to become the first team win both a World Series trophy and a Nobel Peace Prize.
Just in time for the ivy to turn brown.
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