How many of you turned 25 years old this year? How many of you are younger than that?
You, you children of the 1990s, have never witnessed the Cincinnati Reds win a World Series title. You've gone an entire lifetime to date without the team you follow more than any other taking home the ultimate baseball trophy, the bragging rights that go with it, and the banner that'll fly for it forever. You've read about times the Reds did just that, and you've surely seen the remnants throughout your varied baseballing experiences. But you, yourself, have not woken up on a single morning and been able to say, "yes, yes I have watched and rooted and yelled and hooted for my team, my World Sereis champions, and now I may consider my life complete."
In that sense, you unlucky souls had that in common with the entire swath of Chicago Cubs fans for your entire existence. Your Cubs-fan peers, their Cubs-fan parents, those Cubs-fan parents' parents, and many of those Cubs-fan parents' parents' parents. Until, of course, late last night, when those Cubs tackled Cleveland in an extra-innings thriller and sprayed enough victory champagne to fill a 108 year gap in many souls.
The Chicago Cubs are now World Series Champions. Yes, those Chicago Cubs.
The World Series is a complicated, often awful beast in many ways. These very same Chicago Cubs won 103 games in the 2016 season, a season far longer and more representative of overall talent than the 7 games they were asked to play against a beaten down and bruised Cleveland squad. It pits only a National League team against only an American League team, and does so with the All Star Game having dictated which gets to play the advantageous role of 'host.' The single biggest driver for regular season success - the success that qualifies teams for the postseason in the first place - gets thrown out the window in terms of importance (I'm talking about starting pitching depth). Suddenly the things the game's commissioner seems hell-bent on altering - endless pitching changes and 4.5 hour games - become the exact things that define how well these games are received on the grand scale.
In many ways, it's like watching an epic basketball game come down to shooting free throws, as free throws seem a somewhat minor and arbitrary way of settling a score between teams so good at the more important things in the game. It's handing over a 3 hour football game rife with explosive athleticism and grueling collisions to a kicker incapable of the physical demands placed so importantly on the rest of the game. It's the ceremony for a skyscraper's completion held when the tiny radio tower is placed on top, instead of during the weeks and months during which the massive structure was actually forged.
It's not arbitrary, but it sure seems more so than the season it directly follows.
This isn't meant to dump on the Cubs, or to diminish their success in winning something that so, so many humans had chased for decades. If anything, it's meant to wonder why we placed such immense pressure on them for so long for not having won one at all.
There seems to be a rather overriding sense around many baseball fans that this particular World Series victory is going to change things, alter the landscape and create some newfangled baseball plutocracy that will damn to hell all those not included. And it's that sentiment that I just don't understand.
Chicago has always had the resources and wherewithal to be a baseball juggernaut. Many times, in fact, they have been just that. They'd be a baseball juggernaut in 2017 whether they had lost last night or not, as their 103 win regular season and absurdly talented roster espouse. Chicago has always been Chicago, not just the nation's 3rd largest metropolitan area, but one that innately ingrains sports fandom into its denizens perhaps deeper than anywhere else in this country. I mean, it's rare to find sports teams anywhere that have even existed for 108 years, much less ones that have done so with the same name in the same stadium and done so without entrenching themselves with championship after championship.
Many Reds fans have reached the point of feeling squeezed out by this new iteration of the Cubs being good. They've seen a complete teardown of their own team as this beast rose from the North, and now they'll get to spend the next five months hearing about how it's all going to happen again in 2017, and 2018. It's easy to forget, though, that before the Cubs were good, the Reds were really, really good. And before the Cubs were good, the Cubs were really, really bad. And that before for the Cubs were really, really bad and the Reds were really, really good, the Cubs were really, really good and the Reds were really, really, completely terrible. That's largely how baseball just operates. It's how the Boston Red Sox managed to finish last in the AL East for two consecutive seasons prior to this one, and how the Baltimore Orioles and Toronto Blue Jays have busted into the playoffs despite playing in the same, seemingly impenetrable division as those Sox and the New York Yankees.
The Chicago Cubs won the NL Central in 2016, just like they did in 2003, 2007, and 2008. It's been a long, long time since their division-winning drought of 1946-1984, though I feel that stretch did more to peg them as "Loveable Losers" than the overall World Series title drought. In fact, beginning when they ended that streak in 1984, they've taken home 6 division titles, which is more than the 5 the Reds have claimed during that period. That's basically my entire lifetime, a timeframe that now includes one World Series title for each club.
These Cubs deserve congratulations for their World Series title, but they also deserve congratulations for simply being good at baseball, something they've been quite adept at time and time again for decades despite the lack of trophies in their cabinet. Their World Series title will be bright, shiny, and meaningful to them, but it shouldn't be viewed as some roadblock for the Reds or other teams to trip up on. If anything, it gives them one more thing to chase.