Column: Cubs’ success is almost according to script—the one for ‘Back to the Future Part II’
Forget Joe Maddon and Jake Arrieta. The man who first put the Chicago Cubs into contention for the 2015 World Series was screenwriter Bob Gale, who came up with the comically implausible conceit of the Cubs winning the championship this year.
If you’ve seen “Back to the Future Part II,” or talked to a Cubs fan in the past six months, you’re probably aware of the billboard in the 1989 movie that announces “Cubs Win World Series, Sweep Miami” in 2015. For most of the season, long-suffering Cubs fans have been waving that Orwellian prophesy around like a magic wand.
The prediction may have been genius; or it may have been amazing good luck. It may also be doomed, given the New York Mets’ deliriously dominant pitching of late.
But what a wonderful piece of whimsy, in what has been a mostly charmed season for the Chicago Cubs, traditionally the most-haunted of haunted houses.
The scene “had to be something remarkable, it had to be something funny,” Gale said by phone from New York, where he’s promoting the 30th anniversary release of the “Back to the Future” trilogy on Blu-ray and DVD.
In the sequel’s script, set in 1985, the film’s time-altering DeLorean propels the main characters into the year 2015. Gale needed some plot device that would make Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) want to purchase a sports almanac that becomes pivotal to the story line. That’s when the electronic billboard flashes up the congratulatory note about the Cubs.
With the almanac as crystal ball, the sports-obsessed McFly figures that he will be able to make a fortune gambling when he returns to 1985.
Well, the almanac falls into the wrong hands, mayhem ensues, and “Back to the Future Part II” goes on to become the third-highest-grossing movie of 1989. Back then, film critic Roger Ebert praised its humor and gave it three out of four stars. The movie returns to theaters Wednesday to mark the script’s hypothetical Oct. 21, 2015 championship.
Some of the film’s other predictions, such as flying skateboards, never panned out, but the Cubs prediction has come eerily close. For Gale, a Los Angeles-based lifelong St. Louis Cardinals fan, the Cubs’ run has become a source of contention among his friends.
“In the last month, I’ve gotten many e-mails saying, ‘I blame you for this, Gale,’” he said after the Cubs eliminated his friends’ Cardinals.
“You have to understand that it’s just one of the predictions we made,” he said of the script he penned with director Robert Zemeckis. “We also predicted that Miami would have a major league team, and it eventually did.”
The screenwriter says he first started hearing from Cubs followers in 1997, when the Marlins won the World Series, in only their fifth year of existence. To them, it was a sign that his predictions for 2015 were panning out.
“The baseball fanatic and the superstitious fans are going to jump on anything,” he says with a laugh.
The movie connection snowballed when the Cubs got off to a roaring start this year, ahead of what many predicted for the young team. Pundits had the Cubs vastly improved under new manager Maddon, but thought major success wouldn’t come for another year or two.
Instead, the Cubbies are one of the final four teams left this season. Should they win the World Series, either this year, or soon, Gale wonders what will become of a ballclub widely loved as America’s ultimate underdog —- a winsome symbol of hard luck and perseverance.
“When the Red Sox won it all after so long, they lost a lot of fans around the country,” he said. “They gave up what made them special.”
After 107 years, most Cubs fans are willing to risk it. And given his connection, Gale is paying attention to how it pans out for them.
“I’m going to be watching with as much interest as everybody else,” he says as the Cubs look to rebound against the Mets.
“It’s such a head-scratcher to see where the Mets are now,” he says. “At the beginning of the season, everybody was predicting the Nats [Washington Nationals]. That’s what’s so wonderful about baseball — you never know.”
Does sports’ Nostradamus have any more prophesies for the future?
Well, he won’t make any calls on the USC coaching vacancy, or when — or if — Kobe Bryant will ever retire.
But Gale does predict the Cubs will win the World Series in 2045, and that umpires will soon be replaced by robots.
Yeah, Bob, won’t we all?
Follow Chris Erskine on Twitter @erskinetimes
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