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Out of Season: A brief article leading up to the 2007 Chicago Cubs

Antwan FieldsContributor INovember 17, 2009

Wrigley Field, home of the Chicago Cubs, June 1984  (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
A. Messerschmidt/Getty Images

I'm not a fan of the Resident Evil series, nor of very many RPG's. But, as I thought about my many years as a Cubs fan, I compare it to a meeting with Dr. Salvador.

For the uninitiated, or the few people who pretend they don't care, Dr. Salvador is the giant guy with the chainsaw in Resident Evil Four.

Among other things he can do besides cut your head off, he can teleport to the top of a ladder you're climbing and cut your head off, he can teleport ahead of you and cut your head off, he can break down the door of a room you're in and cut your head off-notice a pattern?

Being a Cubs fan is like being on the business end of that chainsaw.

Pre-1950, the last Cubs WS, as any baseball fan knows, was won in 1908. Since then, the Cubs have been on the receiving end of much mythology (the Homer in the Gloamin, Ruth's called shot, etc) with little or nothing to show for it. This team, in fact, went the entire 1950's, 60's, and 70's without a single playoff experience.

In 1983, I was born. Apparently I was a better luck charm than any, because the Cubs made the NLCS the very next year (and got run off the field by the inferior San Diego Padres, who then jobbed out to the rampaging Detroit Tigers.)

As I grew up, I was vaguely aware that there were two teams in Chicago, one called the South Side Hit Men, AKA the Chicago White Sox, and the other called the Cubs.

As a kid, the White Sox just seemed more exciting when I finally became a full-time baseball fan in 1993, having seen a few ALCS games a year or so earlier. They had one of the best hitters ever in Frank Thomas, an exciting young third baseman and all around winner in Robin Ventura, and a catcher who I, weirdly, identified with named Ron Karkovice, not knowing he was really a below-average player, I thought he was the greatest thing since sliced bread.

The Cubs? I didn't really know much about them, except this Lefevbre guy won more than he lost.

Nowadays, that's not really a measure of a good manager, but cut me a break, I was 10. I knew this guy named Sammy Sosa who was fast, a first baseman named Grace, and a second baseman named Sandberg who hit second.

I couldn't figure it out: Harry Carey and Steve Stone talk about this Sandberg guy like he's Hank Aaron, but he didn't seem that good to me, if he's so good, why does he hit second?

Yeah, I was a dumb kid back then.

Years progress, and people pass through: Eric Yelding, Kevin Roberson, Luis Salazar, Steve Buchele, and a host of others.

Then the White Sox fired Gene Lamont, who wasn't exactly a nice guy to begin with, and about this time, Rick Wilkins had a 30 homer season. It was Rick Wilkins, later that season, who participated in the play that summed up my later years as a Cubs fan, but more on that later.

Suddenly I began paying attention to the Cubs, and as I did, even though they lost a lot, they were fun.

Wilkins was coming off the 30 homer season, where before and after, he was garbage.

Anyway, a game the Cubs are losing in San Diego to those accursed Padres by either one or two runs, Wilkins gets inserted as a pinch hitter by, I believe, Jim Riggleman. Wilkins was fading and didn't have confidence anymore, but he got hold of one off Trevor Hoffman and launches it to dead center field.

Steve Finley happens to be manning center, and he jumps over the wall and catches the ball. Obviously, the Cubs lost that game, and they've lost plenty more, but 1998 brought me back from the brink.

That was the year Harry went away.

He fell down steps and died, and the Cubs dedicated the season to him. Then Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa (and Greg Vaughn to a much lesser extent) went on that historic home run binge, and baseball was fun again. Except on the South Side, but that's something to write about in another article.

Never mind the Cubs getting swept by the Braves after that heroic effort in game 163 against Barry Bonds, an elderly Joe Carter, and the Giants.

I was ecstatic.  They can build upon this, can't they?

No, they couldn't.

The years passed, Kerry Wood struck out 20 batters, Sosa continued to batter the ball, and the Cubs continued to finish not where they deserved to be.

Finally, Riggleman went away–I try to forget Don Baylor exists–and was replaced, after a joker named Bruce Kimm pretended he was the manager of the Chicago Cubs, by Dusty Baker.

In retrospect, Dusty Baker was Dr. Salvador, only he went after arms instead of necks. Wood and Superman, AKA Mark Prior, kept having these high pitch counts in high-inning starts. And as any doctor will tell you, repeatedly throwing a ball will have disastrous results. But before that, the magical 2003 season hit.

Everything seemed to be going right.

Prior was automatic. Wood matched him strikeout for strikeout. Moises Alou urinated on his hands quite a bit to the tune of 280-22-91, and he slumped at the end of the season or he would have finished over .300.

Of course, there was Sammy Sosa, who despite coming to the end of his tenure in Chicago put up a .279-40-103, and he got help from newcomer Aramis Ramirez and Alou.

It was pitching, though, with Prior, Wood, and Carlos Zambrano firing BB's across the plate, and after defeating the Braves in the NLDS and coming home to Chicago up 3-2 on Florida, (the final game in Florida being one I believe Dusty Baker intentionally lost) it looked good, because it would be Prior and Wood, and we had to like our chances.

One of my best friends, at that time, was and is a rabid Cubs fan. The one game I ever attended was with him, and the Cubs lost to the accursed Marlins back when Andre Dawson was a member of the Marlins coaching staff.

The point is, when they lost that game, he was outside Wrigley Field yelling "we'll get em tomorrow." So when Prior went into the eighth inning up 3-0, everyone in Chicago was readying themselves for a wild celebration...or at most Cub fans, Sox fans seem to hate Cub fans more than Cub fans hate them.

I don't believe in curses, but after what was about to take place, my faith in the non-existence of curses was shaken to it's foundation.

With one out, and the awful Juan Pierre at second Luis Castillo hit a foul ball to left field. A man wearing a cap and headphones reached slightly over the fence for a foul ball. Replays later showed that Steve Bartman's hand was merely inches over the glove of Moises Alou, and when Bartman touched the ball, it was a borderline call whether it was fan interference or not. The umpire in left field ruled it wasn't, and watching replays, I hate to say it, but it wasn't.

Had Alou kept his cool, Prior might have gotten out of the inning and turned the game over to Joe Borowski. Alou did not do so, and then the roof fell in, and the Cubs took what Mark Twain would call "a clodding"

Lowlights: Alex Gonzalez committed a bad error, future Cub All-Star Derrek Lee tied the game with a double,  MIKE FRIGGIN MORDECAI clears the bases with a double, and suddenly the game and the series are over.

And I will NEVER forget the looks on the faces of fellow Cubs fans after Game Seven was over. Wherever David Lemmon was at that time, I guarantee he was not saying "we'll get em tomorrow" after Game Six.

As I wrap up Part One of this article leading up to the 2009 Chicago Cubs, which I will discuss in detail, this was my first brush with true hope for this team, and I was convinced there would be more next season, which would be the 2004 season.

TBC.

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