Today is Valentine’s Day, and we as Cubs fans celebrate the “holiday” in a way by rekindling our love for the Cubs. The pitchers and catchers have reported, the sun is shining in Mesa, and the players are starting their workouts. When this blog hits the realm of the published, there will officially be 45 more sleeps until the Cubs open the season at Pittsburgh on March 31. You can of course follow the Cubs’ trek towards respectability at their official web schedule.
As we count down the days, we were trying to figure out a theme for this particular series. Do we do favorite players (nah, too cliche)? How about greatest Cubs games, greatest players, greatest individual seasons (probably already been done to death)? But since this is Valentine’s Day, and since we’re Cubs fans, we’re going to just count down with 45 reasons to keep loving the Cubs, though with a twist.
As every Cubs fan knows, the 1945 Cubs team was unfortunately the last in franchise
history (so far) to win the National League pennant. This team lost to the eventual champion Detroit Tigers in seven games, an extra heart-breaker given that they hadn’t won it all since 1908 (another fact we all knew). And another not-so-fun fact that Cubs fans know…they wouldn’t get back to the playoffs until 1984.
There are a myriad of reasons why the Cubs were so after 1945, and part of that involves the mythology of some guy’s goat. I prefer to think that Joe Posnanski’s Cubs history is more accurate, especially the part where the Cubs refused to build a farm system. That should sound very familiar for any Cubs fans that follow our blogs and who are paying any kind of attention to the overarching plan to rebuild the once-dominant franchise (where, again unfortunately, “once” means before World War II…sigh).
The 1945 Cubs were actually a very strong team, as teams had to be in those days to win the pennant. After all, there were only eight teams in the National League, and divisional play wouldn’t begin until 1969 (yeah, that was another story!). The Cubs put up a fight in the World Series, but in any short series, anything could happen, and unfortunately they had a bad game in the deciding Game Seven.
However, think about how awesome it would have been to watch that team plow through the National League. An MVP season from Phil Cavarretta. An equally splendid season from the appropriately-named Stan Hack. Strong contribution from supporting players including Andy Pafko, who died last year. It certainly seemed like a team that could get a city and its fanbase excited, even though I wasn’t there.
Thinking more about it, some numbers jump out at me. The Cubs had been out of the playoffs for seven years, but hadn’t won it all in 37 years. That’s a far cry from 105-going-on-106, but for a team that was used to making it to the World Series consistently, that was still an eternity. I think of New York Yankees fans who had to brave a drought of 14 years between playoff appearances, or even the Cardinals who didn’t have a World Series win for 24 years before their improbable run in 2006 (boo hoo for them, right), and I realize how spoiled they must be by all their long-time success that such relatively short dry spells would piss them off.
From the historical point of view, the 1945 World Series came fresh off of the Allies’ victory over the Axis powers as they defeated Germany and nuked the hell out of Japan. The soldiers were starting to come home, the Great Depression was on its last legs, and American morale was strong as the national pastime took center stage once again. 1945 may have been a loss that fans continue to bemoan (assuming they’re still alive), but in the grand scheme of things, I wonder if it was a great year to be a Cubs (or a baseball) fan regardless. Forget baseball, even…it was arguably one of the greatest years to be an American, celebrating the defeat of tyranny.
Yeah, it’s been a long time since the Cubs have been to the greatest stage in professional baseball. But just like America in 1945, I believe modern Cubs fans share a similar optimism, that they can overcome great odds to achieve success even through a long slog through one of the greatest global conflicts in world history. Maybe the 2014 Cubs aren’t good on paper, and we aren’t going to hold our breaths hoping that they sneak into the second wild card slot. But we can always have that optimism and enjoy baseball. It’s those two qualities that make it fun to be a Cubs fan even in the face of another losing season. We bitch and moan that the team is pure crap, but we always welcome Opening Day. We miss baseball. We can’t wait to get it back, even if we don’t know half the guys on the squad. We keep at it because it’s only a matter of time, with the right stewardship, before we can celebrate again.
The Rest of the List
Thanks to you guys for bearing with us through spring training and all the way to Opening Day! Here’s what we have planned for the rest of the countdown…
44: The Wonderful Mr. Rizzo
43: The Amazingly Diverse Fan Base
42: The Answer to Life
41: Managers Come and Managers Go
40: Having a Good Time
39: Avoid the Seat Nazis
38: The 1938 World Series
37: The Ivy
36: All’s Well That Randy Wells
35: The 1935 World Series
34: Kerry Wood‘s Incredible Performance
33: The Cubs Blogosphere
32: The 1932 World Series
31: Fergie and Mad Dog
30: You Never Know…
29: The 1929 World Series
27: The View
26: Sweet Swingin’ Billy Williams
25: Underappreciated Players You End Up Missing
24: The Old and the New
21: Slammin’ Sammy Sosa
20: Scrappy White Guys
19: Platoons and Game Theory
18: The 1918 World Series
17: Grace Under Fire
16: Wrigley Field
15: Following the Rebuild
14: Mr. Cub
13: A Starlin is Born
12: Oh the Memes
11: The Arrival of Theo Epstein
10: The 1910 World Series
9: Role Players
8: The 1908 World Series
7: The 1907 World Series
6: The 1906 World Series
5: Death to the Wave
4: The Big Four Prospects
3: Ron Santo, the Ultimate Fan
2: Ryan Theriot and the TOOTBLAN
1: Someday We’ll Go All The Way