Chicago Cubs futility theories: Wikis

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The Chicago Cubs have the longest dry spell between championships in all four major U.S. sports leagues (MLB, NFL, NHL, NBA) having failed to win a World Series since 1908; the other three major sports leagues were not even in existence when the Cubs last won the World Series. Furthermore, Chicago teams have won championships in the other three sports (the NBA, in fact, was founded in 1946, the year after the Cubs last visited the World Series) while their American League counterpart in the Windy City, the Chicago White Sox (who themselves went through a long dry spell from 1917 to 2005 as well as the Black Sox Scandal in 1919-1920 (When the NFL was established) having won two World Series championships since 1908. The Cubs have not been to the World Series since 1945[1], and they finished in the second division, or bottom half, of the National League for 20 consecutive years after 1947.

As with the Boston Red Sox (prior to their 2004 post-season triumph), the Cubs of recent generations have seemed to be a team that "bad things happen to."[2] Although there is a tendency to compare the Cubs and the Red Sox, especially since both teams were five outs from the World Series in 2003 and both had "curses" to overcome (Boston had the "Curse of the Bambino") there is a stark difference. Since World War II, the Red Sox have been frequent contenders and often are in the post-season, including six trips to the World Series. The Red Sox were more known as "chokers" rather than losers, and until the team won in '04 and again in '07, had drawn more comparisons to the NFL's Buffalo Bills (and the pre-Terrell Davis Denver Broncos) than they did to the Chicago Cubs, who are known more as "Loveable Losers". As far as comparisons go, only the futility of the NHL's Chicago Blackhawks and perhaps that of the Los Angeles Clippers (NBA) and the Cincinnati Bengals (NFL) are closest, though in reality these are vastly different from the title-drought at Chicago's Wrigley Field. [3] The feelings are not sympathetic from most South Side fans, however; fans of the White Sox are generally calloused when it comes to their neighbors to the north, due mostly to the fact that in spite of the Sox's success, the Cubbies boast a much larger fanbase, sell out many more games, and continue to be the "media darlings" of the Windy City. In 2006 Forbes reported that despite the White Sox World Series triumph the year prior, the Cubbies came out on top when it came to finances, thanks to an avid fan base and ticket sales 75% higher than the Sox, who have the larger facility.[4]

In other years the Cubs have shown they can win, or at least contend, when their pitching is superior. Outstanding pitching has been a major factor in every one of their winning seasons since World War II. In addition, it should be noted that the recent history on the North Side is far better than what was seen by fans during the "dark ages" of 1948 through 1983, which saw the team rarely finish with a winning record and produced exactly zero playoff appearances, paired with a bounty of late season collapses.

Since 1984 things have been a touch better as the club has reached post-season play six times and in addition the club has finished with a winning record six times in the 11 total seasons since 1998. While a modest number, the team has played in the same division very successful franchises. Pittsburgh dominated in the 1970s and early 1990s, and St. Louis, New York (who shared a division with Chicago for decades), and more recently Houston, are annual powerhouses, yet the club still managed to win about every six years.

This improvement has given the team's extremely loyal fanbase a taste of success, and the insatiable desire for more has led to the fans and the Chicago media becoming more and more critical of both team play and the club's managerial decisions. This "through the microscope" analysis has produced years of winning in New York, as well as recent success in Boston, and it can be said that Cub fans are at least, if not more, critical than Yankee or Red Sox fans, as they are now less likely to tolerate a losing season. In fact, in 2005, head Bleacher Bum Derek Schaul informed former "leader" Mike Murphy on Chicago-based WSCR that the group was boycotting Wrigley until the Cubs were 10 games over .500, which did not happen until late 2007. Despite this threatened boycott, attendance per game increased yearly from 2005 to 2008.[5]

Contents

June Swoon

The Cubs have an unfortunate history of collapse after promising starts. Usually attributed to playing a vast number of day games, this trend was dubbed the "June Swoon," although most of the slumps did not take place in June, the month is used symbolically to designate that they occurred later in the season. 1969's collapse was perhaps the most famous, but the team had other dramatic falls:

  • 1977: 25 games over .500 on June 28, but finished 81-81
  • 1979: 13 games over .500 on August 20, but finished 80-82
  • 1985: 35-19 on June 11, then lost 13 in a row and finished seven games under .500

The club has had "swoons" in other seasons as well, including 1978, 1987, and 1999. In fact, the Cubs played winning baseball in June only four times from '73 until 2000, and have been nearly as poor in September. In contrast, they have been above .500 at the end of May, when it's cooler in Chicago, well over half the time during this same period. Some people refer to their late season collapses as a CUBS acronym, Completely Useless By September.

The Curse of the Billy Goat

Due to the wartime travel restrictions, the first three games of the 1945 World Series were played in Detroit, where the Cubs won two games, including a one-hitter by Claude Passeau, and the final four games were to be played at Wrigley. In Game 4, the Curse of the Billy Goat was allegedly laid upon the Cubs when P.K. Wrigley ejected Billy Sianis, who had come to game 4 with two box seat tickets, one for him, and one for his goat. They paraded around for a few innings, but Wrigley demanded the goat leave the park due to its unpleasant odor. Upon his ejection, Mr. Sianis uttered, "the Cubs, they ain't gonna win no more."[6] The Cubs lost game 4, lost the series, and have not been back since. It has also been implied by many that Sianis put a "curse" on the Cubs, apparently preventing the team from making it back to (but not actually winning) the World Series. In 1969, during a game at Shea Stadium, a fan released a black cat on the field, and after this incident, the Mets made a miraculous run, coming from 8 games back to beating Chicago by 8 games to win the NL pennant. The black cat is often mentioned as a reminder of the Curse of the Billy Goat.

Bad deals and signings

Over the years, the Cubs have made more than their fair share of poor transactions. Though Jim Hendry is widely thought to have made some very good deals in the recent past, (most notably, acquiring Aramis Ramírez and Kenny Lofton in the same deal from Pittsburgh for Bobby Hill) some of the trades and signings made by the club have blown up in the Cubs' faces on a rather significant scale. The most lopsided trade ever was sending eventual Hall of Famer Lou Brock to rival St. Louis for Ernie Broglio. More recent examples are trading Rafael Palmeiro to Texas after a "dispute" with Ryne Sandberg[7], extending the contract of Gary Gaetti rather than signing Robin Ventura, letting Greg Maddux walk, and signing Alfonso Soriano.

Though no club bats 1.000 in the free agent market, the vast majority of Cub free agent signings during the '70s through the '90s have not panned out as hoped, most notably Danny Jackson, Jeff Blauser, and Mel Rojas. All these players came to the North Side and failed to live up to what the club and their fans expected of them. The team has also shown a trend of signing older veterans in the twilight of their respective careers, such as Rich Gossage and George Bell, instead of focusing on acquiring prime young talent to bolster the big league team and the farm system.

Until the late 1990s the Cubs annually had one of the poorest farm systems in baseball for decades. One reason for this is that most of the high draft choices the club has made recently have failed to blossom as hoped. Even recently, Mark Prior and Corey Patterson stumbled after initial success, and over the years players the franchise banked on such as Brooks Kieschnick, Kevin Orie, Gary Scott, and first round busts Earl Cunningham, Ty Griffin, Drew Hall, Mike Harkey, and Ben Christiansen led a revolving door of players who made little if any splash at the big league level.

Ownership

Many blame the ownership of the club for its inability to win a title. William Wrigley Jr. owned the Chicago Cubs from 1925 until his death in 1932. At that point, his son, Philip K. Wrigley, inherited the team. However, P.K. was not particularly interested in baseball and did not invest in it the way he could have. For example, Wrigley failed to sign black players soon after integration in 1947 and he also failed to install lights at Wrigley Field. However, he refused to sell the team out of loyalty to his father. In addition, he attempted to run the team like a business, often trying new, innovative practices which often failed. Some of these include the College of Coaches and the hiring of a drill sergeant to condition players during spring training. When P.K. Wrigley died in 1977, he passed the team to his son, William Wrigley III, who sold the team to the Chicago Tribune for just over $20,000,000 to pay estate taxes. None of the owners under the Wrigley regime paid for scouting.[8] Under the Tribune, the Cubs made their first post-season appearance since 1945. In 1988 they added lights, but changes in upper team and also company management kept the Cubs from continued success. Critics may also argue that the team payroll was too low for a large-market team. Chicago sports radio personality Mike Murphy has reported that, at the Chicago Tribune, in the men's executive bathroom above the mirror, there is a sign that reads: "Risk aversion at all costs", and that mindset, as it was applied to the Cubs, has hampered any attempts to sign star players or take any sort of gamble relating to the franchise.[8] Only in recent years has ownership begun signing players to large contracts while developing minor league talent. In December of 2007, the Chicago Tribune was sold to billionaire Sam Zell, who put the team up for sale in 2009. The successful bidder was the family trust of TD Ameritrade founder Joe Ricketts, with his son Tom Ricketts having operational control over the team by family agreement. The Ricketts trust took over in October 2009, shortly after the end of the MLB regular season.

Wrigley Field

The Cubs were 5 wins and as few as 5 outs from a title in 2003

The venerable ballpark itself has to be considered a factor in the team's failures to go farther than they have. Pitcher Ferguson Jenkins, upon being traded to the Texas Rangers after a successful though home run prone career with the Cubs, bitterly complained that "Wrigley Field is a bad ballpark!" The "basket" that outlines Wrigley's outfield has frequently been named a culprit in making it a hitter's park. The basket extends about 4 feet into the field of play at the top of the outfield wall all along the outfield. It has been argued that it "catches" some home runs that would have been doubles or triples, or even fly outs. Depending on whether the wind is blowing in or out, Wrigley can take on the characteristics of either a hitter's or a pitcher's park, however. The notorious winds created by the close vicinity to Lake Michigan often turn sure home runs into harmless fly outs, and vice versa.

The larger-than-average number of day games has also been pointed to for some years as wearing down the Cubs, since the summers in Chicago are very warm and humid, traditionally. [9] The collapse of the 1969 team was attributed, in part, to having to play all 81 home games during the day in that era before Wrigley Field had lights.[citation needed] Even with the installation of lights in 1988, and with more night games in recent years, the Cubs still play more day games than any other team in Major League Baseball. Ownership has noted this issue and has attempted to gain more night contests, however the Lakeview community and Mayor Richard M. Daley (a devoted White Sox fan) have fought the team to keep the number as low as possible despite the effect on the players.[10]

Postseason

At 28-55-1, the Cubs have won fewer postseason games in their history than any of the other 15 original pre-expansion major league teams, and their win percentage of .337 is also by far the lowest.[11] They have lost the last three games in eight of their ten postseason appearances between 1932 and 2008, being swept in five of the eight. Since 1984, their postseason record has been 9-22, a win percentage of .280, and between 2003 and 2008, the team has lost its last nine postseason games.

With a home postseason record of 12-25 going back to 1906,[12] the Cubs' postseason home win percentage of .324 has produced an average of less than one home win in the team's 16 postseason series in 15 postseason appearances. The Cubs have recorded only seven postseason wins at Wrigley Field since their first postseason appearance there in 1929, including only two World Series wins, the first by Lon Warnecke in Game 5 in 1935[12] and the last by Hank Borowy in Game 6 in 1945[12]. Mark Prior is the only Cubs pitcher ever to win two postseason games at Wrigley Field (2003 NLDS Game 3 and 2003 NLCS Game 2).[12] The Cubs have only three other postseason wins in Wrigley Field, two in 1984 (Rick Sutcliffe's win in NLCS Game 1 and Steve Trout's win in NCLS Game 2,[12] the Cubs' only consecutive postseason home wins since the 1907 World Series at the West Side Grounds)[12] and one in 1989 (NCLS Game 2,[12] won by Les Lancaster). The Cubs' total of seven postseason wins in over 90 years of Wrigley Field history equals the number of postseason home wins the Phillies had in just the 2008 Philadelphia Phillies season.

Some theories try to blame the team's futility in reaching and winning in the postseason on alleged supernatural intervention, such as the Curse of the Billy Goat from 1945, citing the Leon Durham error of 1984 and the Steve Bartman incident in 2003 as "evidence" of a curse. More practical theories include the too-cozy dimensions of Wrigley Field; the physical toll from the summer heat discussed in the 1977 book Stuck on the Cubs; and evidenced by the plentiful late season collapses, most notably in 1969 and 2004, as well as 1977, 1979, 1985, and 1999, among others.

See also

Notes

  1. ^ http://www.cubs.com
  2. ^ Chicago Tribune, May 9 2004 Sec 2 Pg. 11
  3. ^ Red Sox are the heavies now - MLB - Yahoo! Sports
  4. ^ http://www.forbes.com/lists/2006/33/335092.html
  5. ^ Chicago Cubs Attendance. Baseball Almanac.
  6. ^ [1]
  7. ^ Chicago Sun times May 10, 1998 sec 2 pg 13
  8. ^ a b Interview: Mike Murphy
  9. ^ http://www.weather.com
  10. ^ Chicago Sun-Times August 11 2006 Sec 2 pg. 9-10
  11. ^ Calculated from the postseason history of each team on its www.mlb.com website.
  12. ^ a b c d e f g Snyder, John (2005). Cubs Journal. Cincinnati. 
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