5 October, 2008
What’s there to say, really?
…hmm, a lot, actually. I’ll spare you the 2003 reminiscing and just ask my question. Someone, please, answer me.
So in ’03, we choked in Game 6, big time. GAME 6…of a SEVEN GAME SERIES. What stopped us from winning Game 7? No, seriously. WHAT? I still don’t really know. “Because we’re the Cubs,” blah blah blah, spare me. That’s not an answer. WHAT. STOPPED. US?
2008. October 1. OK, Dempster got in a spot…in GAME 1. We fell behind and got demoralized. IN GAME ONE. HELLO! 4 MORE GAMES TO PLAY! What was stopping this team, the best Cubs team in my memory and my father’s memory and his father’s memory, from just, you know, PLAYING? Believing in themselves? I’m serious, WHAT? Can someone please tell me?
You know, though? Here is the even more real question. Was it the same thing? In 2003 and 2008? Who cares, losing is losing, you say. I disagree. The answer matters, and I’ll tell you why. 2003 was a gift. Everything came together in that lucky once-in-a-blue-moon way, and it was magical, and it woulda been magical if we’d gone all the way, but something happened. In immediate hindsight the Game 6 choke seemed easily explained: lack of playoff experience, lack of big-game experience, tripped players up. And as chokes do, it spread, in a series of bad decisions and bad luck and Golden Glovers misplaying ground balls and coaches not taking out finished pitchers and spazzy outfielders and ugh, ugh!
Sorry. Note, though: the failure was contained. Contained within the game–the NLDS was thrillingly fought, the NLCS until that point was also. If you like, you can further argue that the failure due to inexperience was contained, within the season. It didn’t say anything about the Cubs as a franchise, despite what people thought. It was just a year. Disappointing sure, but it was just what sometimes happens to teams that improbably fight their way to the playoffs. The Marlins did the same, and just got a little farther. It happens–that’s why we have a postseason at all. Right?
2008? This year was different. THIS YEAR WAS DIFFERENT. We were plain good. We clinched over a week before the end of the season. Best NL record. Most runs in NL. God knows how many other bests, firsts, best since’s; I’m bad at keeping track of that stuff. But it was a Cubs team like none of us have ever seen. And that team just didn’t fucking show up for the most important series of the season. Here’s what freaks me out, here’s what kept me up last night: if THIS team couldn’t pull it off, what Cub team can? How good do we have to be to make this happen?
(Maybe making it happen isn’t about being good. Maybe it was too easy. Maybe you need to fight all the way, like in ’03. ?)
Here is the emotional doublethink that defines my Cub fandom*. Deep down I have a core of hope and belief that they can do it. But I also have a core of doubt and resignation to loss. And I never know which one is deeper. Which is the core of which? I can’t tell. Maybe I should call it doublefeel.
*Maybe it’s everyone’s fandom, for all teams. But I don’t remember feeling this way about the 1990s Bulls and I doubt Yankee fans feel this way.
Maybe that’s the difference between 2003 and 2008. I was at the 2003 NLCS Game 7. Not 24 hours after the Game 6 choke, I made and carried a sign to the park that said just “I BELIEVE”. Why COULDN’T we win? WHY NOT come back from a bad game? That was the day before! That’s why it’s not a one-game playoff, the postseason, because a bad inning, an off day, can happen anytime. I believed. But that was the heart speaking. In my head, I could see us being outplayed, in slow motion. You knew that a debacle like that wouldn’t happen to the Marlins. And, doublefeel-wise, when the loss finally came, it felt both shocking and inevitable.
This year was the other way around. Rationality was on the side of optimism. For once, for ONCE, we were just that good. Look at the numbers! But you can’t turn off that emotional side that is keeping you on the edge of cynicism and defeat.
So this is mostly just shocking. No, really. “Durr, it’s the Cubs, what do you expect” people will say. Well, I’ll tell you. More. I expect more. Because it’s expecting less that makes people think jokes about lovable losers are acceptable. This looked to be the year we left all that bullshit behind.
OK, you know? I was feeling maudlin. I couldn’t get to sleep last night til 2:30 (apparently neither could Mark DeRosa). Today, I had listened to the Steve Goodman song I linked to up there, I sat down to write this, catharsis, etc…and now I’m just pissed. This year WAS different, goddamnit.
Postscript: As usual, Al says it better. Wanting it too much…is it that simple?