The Cubs will play an intrasquad exhibition game on Wednesday just before they open the Cactus League season against the Arizona Diamondbacks on Thursday. We’re ever so much closer to Opening Day, so keep up with our countdown lineup.
The Detroit Tigers were one of the hardest-luck franchises for the longest time, if you could believe that. Despite having one of the greatest players (and dicks) of all time in Ty Cobb, they lost to the Cubs (yeah, it happened!) in the World Series in 1907 and 1908, then to the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1909 before having a massive postseason drought. The Tigers finally won the pennant again in 1934, years after Cobb had retired, but lost to the St. Louis Cardinals (damn those guys) in the World Series.
The Cubs were still among the best teams in the majors, having won 100 games in 1935 and boasting Hall of Famer Gabby Hartnett, Stan Hack, a VERY young Phil Cavarretta, and getting some final contributions from Hall of Famer Kiki Cuyler before he was released. This was, of course, 27 years since the team had last won the World Series, a far cry from the infamous drought we Cubs fans lament today. Still, at least the Cubs had been winning the pennant periodically so there was always a chance, right? This was also the year that the Cubs set a franchise record with 21 straight victories in September, so they were red hot going into the championship round.
In now-typical Cub fashion, the North Siders won the first game but fell into a 3-1 hole in the Series before forcing a Game Six. In Game Six, they were able to get Stan Hack into scoring position on a leadoff triple in the last frame, but couldn’t drive him in. Detroit ended up winning their first World Series championship in the bottom of the ninth with a two-out walkoff hit. Drag!
Interesting note according to the ever-reliable Wikipedia: the owner of the Tigers at the time, Frank Navin, had been running the club for the past three decades up to that point, including the four previous defeats in the World Series and the two to the Cubs. This must have been incredible for him to finally see it all happen. A few weeks after the victory, he died of a heart attack. But you have to assume that he died feeling fulfilled since this was his life’s work.
This is somewhat akin to what the current owner, Mike Ilitch, is trying to do with the modern-day Tigers. Ilitch is 84 now and might as well be a thousand years old, having been around for so long and apparently not in the best of health. He bought the team in 1992, and unfortunately for him, they were unable to get to the playoffs until 2006, the year after Justin Verlander‘s debut, when they lost to the Cardinals (again) in the World Series. They have been to the playoffs in each of the last three seasons, losing the World Series to the Giants in 2012. He has done a lot for the team in terms of financial resources and support, possibly due to a sense of desperation knowing he doesn’t have a lot of time left.
For both owners, Navin and Ilitch, you have to think that the feelings of triumph would be the ultimate reward for their patience and hard work. It took Navin damned near 30 years to earn his ultimate reward, just before he died. Ilitch is going over two decades now and may get another chance as the Tigers are stacked and the rest of the AL Central doesn’t seem to be up to par.
What does this have to do with us Cubs fans? Well, the Ricketts family have only owned the club since 2009-ish (given all the transactional snafus and Tribune silliness). They probably have far more stupid crap to deal with than the Tigers did back in Navin’s day, or that Ilitch had to deal with in modern-day Detroit while Comerica was erected after nearly a century in old Tiger Stadium. But four years is a far cry from having to wait two or three decades to achieve the ultimate dream. The Ricketts have continually said they are in it for the long haul. When it does happen, and we hope it will happen, then I hope we all share in the same joy that Frank Navin did when he finally broke through with the franchise’s first championship.
35 more sleeps until Opening Day.