Saturday, October 22, 2016

How Long It's Been: The Chicago Cubs Won a Pennant

Yes. It happened. Tonight the Chicago Cubs beat the Los Angeles Dodgers 5-0 in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series at Wrigley Field. The Chicago Cubs have won the Pennant.

Do you need to get your eyes checked? Maybe, but not because of this. That was not an error, typographical or otherwise: The Cubbies won the Pennant.

Or, as Jack Brickhouse would have said, "That's it! That's it! Hey hey!"

Or, as Harry Caray would have said, "Cubs win! Cubs win! The Good Lord wants the Cubbies to win! Holy cow!"

*

Do they still play the blues in Chicago
when baseball season rolls around?
When the snow melts away
do the Cubbies still play
in their ivy-covered burial ground?
When I was a boy
they were my pride and joy
but now they only bring fatigue
to the home of the brave
the land of the free
and the doormat of the National League.

You know the law of averages says
anything will happen that can.
But the last time the Cubs
won a National League Pennant
was the year we dropped the bomb on Japan...

I've got season tickets to watch the Angels now
and that's just what I'm gonna do.
But you, the living
you're stuck here with the Cubs
so it's me that feels sorry for you!
-- Steve Goodman, "A Dying Cub Fan's Last Request"

It's easy to blame "The Curse of the Billy Goat" for the Cubs' failure to win a Pennant from 1945 until tonight. Except they haven't won the World Series since 1908. Between 1908 and 1945, they were actually in 7 World Series. Not a bad total at all. That's actually more Pennants in those 37 years than the Mets have won in their entire 54-season history -- including the one they won just last year (their 5th).

But the Cubs lost all 7 of those World Series. And thus, by the time William "Billy Goat" Sianis and his bar-mascot goat were kicked out of Wrigley Field during Game 4 of the 1945 World Series, they had already not won a World Series for 37 years. You can't blame the Curse of the Billy Goat for that.

Curse of Fred Merkle, maybe?

The Goat. All those years of Ernie Banks. The black cat running around Ron Santo in 1969. Leon Durham in 1984. Steve Bartman in 2003. Last year's total capitulation against the Mets in the NLCS. 71 years.

Now, they have finally won a Pennant.

The last time they did that, it was on September 29, 1945, beating the Pittsburgh Pirates 4-3, in the 1st game of a doubleheader at Forbes Field, to go 3 games up with just 2 to play.

That's 71 years and 23 days. How long has that been?

*

The author of "A Dying Cub Fan's Last Request," the song that started this post, Steve Goodman, was born, grew up, became a legend, and died, all between the Cubs' last Pennant in 1945 and their 1984 debacle. So did John Belushi.

John's brother Jim Belushi is also both a Saturday Night Live legend and a Cub fan. So is Bill Murray. Neither of them had ever had the Cubs win a Pennant in their lifetime until now -- and Jim is 62, and Bill is 66.

There was no All-Star Game in 1945, due to travel restrictions put in place by the federal government, due to World War II. Had there been, the Cub probably would have had the following players on their roster make the NL All-Star Team: 1st baseman Phil Cavarretta, 3rd baseman Stan Hack, left fielder Andy Pafko, center fielder Harry "Peanuts" Lowrey, right fielder Bill Nicholson, and pitchers Hank Wyse, Claude Passeau, Paul Derringer and Hank Borowy.

This was not a team that lucked into the Pennant: Manager Charlie Grimm's team won 98 games, and beat out a Cardinal team that won 95.

Borowy, a native of my original hometown of Bloomfield, New Jersey, had helped the Yankees win the 1943 World Series, was traded to the Cubs in midseason, went 11-2 for them down the stretch to finish 21-7, shut out the Detroit Tigers in Game 1 of the World Series, started and lost Game 5, pitched the 9th through 12th innings and won Game 6 on no rest, then started Game 7 on no rest and didn't get out of the 1st inning.

Shortstop Lennie Merullo died on May 30, 1945, at age 98, meaning that there were no more living people who had played in a World Series for the Chicago Cubs. The last surviving player from the 1945 World Series is Tiger left fielder Ed Mierkowicz, now 92.

The Cubs had, back in 1907 and 1908, won 2 World Series. At that point, that was still more than some teams had won. The Boston Braves (1914, forerunners of the Atlanta Braves), Cleveland Indians (1920) and the Washington Senators (1924, forerunners of the Minnesota Twins) had each won only 1. The Phillies and St. Louis Browns (forerunners of the Baltimore Orioles) Phillies hadn't yet won any. And the Tigers only caught up to the Cubs by beating them in '45, having previously won in 1935.

From 1945 onward, the Yankees have won 17 World Series, the Cardinals 6, the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers 5, the New York/San Francisco Giants 4, the Oakland Athletics 4, the Boston Red Sox 3, the Cincinnati Reds 3, the Pittsburgh Pirates 3; and the Mets, Braves, Indians, Twins, Tigers, Toronto Blue Jays, San Diego Padres, Kansas City Royals, and even the Phillies have won 2 more. The Los Angeles Angels, and even the Indians and White Sox have won 1 since.

Pennants since then? The Yankees 26, the Dodgers 15, the Cardinals 11, the Giants 8, Atlanta 8, Boston 7, Baltimore 6, Oakland 6, Philadelphia 6, Cincinnati 5, the Mets 5, Detroit 4, Kansas City 4, Cleveland 4, Minnesota 3, Pittsburgh 3, San Diego 2, the Texas Rangers 2, the Miami Marlins 2, and 1 each for Anaheim, the Milwaukee Brewers, the Arizona Diamondbacks, the Colorado Rockies, the Houston Astros, the Milwaukee Brewers and the Tampa Bay Rays. The Cubs? None... until now.

It's also worth noting that the Angels, Rangers, Astros, Royals, Brewers, Padres, Blue Jays, Marlins, Rockies, Rays, Diamondbacks and Mets didn't yet exist in 1945. And the A's moved twice, from Philadelphia to Kansas City, and then to Oakland. The Braves also moved twice, from Boston to Milwaukee, and then to Atlanta. The Browns/Orioles, the Dodgers, the Giants, the Seanators/Twins, the new Senators/Rangers, the Seattle Pilots/Brewers, and the Montreal Expos/Nationals also moved.

The Cubs's Wrigley Field and the Red Sox' Fenway Park are the only major league ballparks in use then that are still in use now. Every other team has changed its home stadium at least once.

Boston/Milwaukee/Atlanta is preparing to do it for a 4th time. San Francisco, Washington/Minnesota, Washington/Texas, Montreal/Washington have done it 3 times. So have the Yankees, if you count their sojourn at Shea Stadium while the old Yankee Stadium was renovated. The Mets, Philadelphia, St. Louis/Baltimore, Los Angeles/Anaheim, Seattle/Milwaukee, Philadelphia/Kansas City/Oakland, Cincinnati, Houston, Brooklyn/Los Angeles, Pittsburgh and St. Louis have done it twice, as has Cleveland if you count no longer dividing their home games between tiny League Park and vast Municipal Stadium, and just using Municipal from 1947 to 1993.

Major League Baseball had just 16 teams in 10 cities. From east to west, they were: Boston (2 teams), New York (3 teams), Philadelphia (2 teams), Washington, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Detroit, Cincinnati, Chicago (2 teams) and St. Louis (2 teams). There was a National League team in Boston, and American League teams in Washington, Chicago and St. Louis. No team had moved in 42 years.

There was no artificial turf, no domed stadiums (retractable or otherwise), no electronic scoreboards, only a handful of games had ever been on television (after all, hardly anybody had a TV set at that time, so there was little point to it), and there were no nonwhite players. Within a month, the Brooklyn Dodgers would sign Jackie Robinson to a minor-league contract, and begin to take a sledgehammer to the color barrier, breaking it on April 15, 1947.

And 4 teams had still not played a night game at home: The Cubs, the Yankees, the Red Sox and the Tigers. All but the Cubs would do so by 1948. The Cubs wouldn't until 1988. And putting lights up at Wrigley Field did nothing to end the supposed curse: The Bartman Incident happened at night.

The National Football League had 10 teams: Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Washington, Pittsburgh, Cleveland (soon to move to Los Angeles), Detroit, Green Bay, and 2 teams in Chicago. The National Hockey League had 6 teams: Montreal, Toronto, Boston, New York, Detroit and Chicago. There was no National Basketball Association: It wouldn't begin play for another year. 

There was a National Basketball League, and it included 2 teams that would move to the NBA: The Fort Wayne Pistons and the Rochester Royals. By 1947, it would add the Minneapolis Lakers, the Tri-Cities Blackhawks and the Syracuse Nationals. All 5 of these teams exist today, but none in their original cities. They are, respectively: The Detroit Pistons, the Sacramento Kings, the Los Angeles Lakers, the Atlanta Hawks and the Philadelphia 76ers.

1890s baseball legend Hugh Duffy was still alive. So was Arlie Latham, "The Freshest Man On Earth," the last survivor of the St. Louis Browns (forerunners of the Cardinals, not the Orioles) team that won 4 straight American Association Pennants from 1885 to 1888, famously beating the Chicago White Stockings (forerunners of the Cubs) in a postseason series in 1886.

The defining players of my childhood? Carl Yastrzemski was 6 years old, Willie Stargell 5, Pete Rose 4, Tom Seaver was 10 months old, and Steve Carlton 9 months. Reggie Jackson, Nolan Ryan, Johnny Bench, Mike Schmidt and George Brett weren't born yet. Rod Carew was born 2 days after this Cubs clinchings. Not one of the managers and head coaches of the 9 current New York Tri-State Area teams had been born yet: The oldest, Terry Collins, was born on May 27, 1949.

The Tigers dethroned the Cardinals as World Champions. The defending NFL Champions were the Green Bay Packers, and the Stanley Cup holders were the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Heavyweight Champion of the World was Joe Louis.

The Olympic Games, which had been canceled for 1940 and 1944 due to World War II, would start up again in 1948, and have since been held 5 times in America, 3 times each in Canada, Japan and Italy; twice each in Britain, Germany, Austria, France, Norway, Japan, Australia and Russia; and once each in Switzerland, Finland, Mexico, Germany, Bosnia, Korea, Spain, Greece, China and Brazil.

The World Cup, which had been canceled for 1942 because of The War, and would be canceled again for 1946 because there wasn't time after The War to hold qualifying matches, has since been held in Brazil, Mexico and Germany twice; and in America, Switzerland, Sweden, Chile, England, Argentina, Spain, Italy, France, Japan, Korea and South Africa once each.

There were 48 States in the Union. The President of the United States was Harry S Truman. The Governor of Illinois was Dwight H. Green, and the Mayor of Chicago was Edward J. Kelly. The Governor of the State of New York was Thomas E. Dewey. The Mayor of the City of New York was Fiorello LaGuardia, but William O'Dwyer was about to be elected to succeed him. The Governor of New Jersey was Walter Edge. The last 3 Presidents of the United States, 4 of the last 5 Governors of Illinois, the last 3 Governors of New York, the last 6 Governors of New Jersey, and the current Mayors of Chicago and New York weren't born yet.

The Pope was Pius XII. The Prime Minister of Canada was William Lyon Mackenie King, and of Britain Clement Attlee. The monarch of Britain was King George VI. England had suspended play in both its Football League and its FA Cup for the duration of The War; therefore, the winners of 1939, Liverpool-based Everton and Hampshire-based Portsmouth, respectively, were still the holders thereof.

Major novels of 1945 included Animal Farm by George Orwell, Cannery Row by John Steinbeck,
Brideshead Revisited by Everlyn Waugh, Night Has a Thousand Eyes by Cornell Woolrich, Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren, and Stuart Little by E.B. White.

Many films had been made in color, but most were still made in black & white. Notable films of 1945 included The Lost Weekend, The Bells of St. Mary's, Blithe Spirit, the original version of Brewster's Millions, the original version of Christmas In Connecticut, Brief Encounter, The Corn Is Green, Leave Her to Heaven, Love Letters, the first sound version of The Picture of Dorian Gray, Spellbound, A Tree Grows In Brooklyn and The Wicked Lady; the war pictures A Bell for Adano, Blood On the Sun, Hotel Berlin, Pride of the Marines, Pursuit to Algiers, The Story of G.I. Joe (no relation to the later films based on the action figures), and They Were Expendable (no relation to the later The Expendables films); the Westerns Along Came Jones and Gun Smoke (no relation to the later TV series Gunsmoke); the musicals Anchors Aweigh, State Fair, Ziegfeld Follies, the George Gershwin biography Rhapsody In Blue, and The House I Live In, a cautionary tale against prejudice starring Frank Sinatra. And, oh yeah, The Naughty Nineties, the forum in which most people, unable to get to a theater to see them live, first saw Bud Abbott and Lou Costello do their baseball-themed "Who's On First?" routine. (They didn't come up with it, though. Who did? Naturally.)

The Number 1 song in America on September 29, 1945 was "Till the End of Time" by Perry Como. As stated, Frank Sinatra had starred in The House I Live In, and also recorded an album based on it, perhaps the first "concept album" aside from collections of songs by a particular writer. The film was directed by Albert Maltz, the songs written by Earl Robinson. Both would later be blacklisted for perceived Communist views.

Elvis Presley was 10 years old, Ringo Starr was 5, John Lennon was about to turn 5, Bob Dylan was 4, Paul McCartney was 3, George Harrison was 2, and Michael Jackson wasn't born yet.

A first-class stamp cost 3 cents, the fare on the New York Subway was 5 cents and the fare on Chicago's El was 10 cents. The average price of a gallon of gas was 15 cents, a cup of coffee 5 cents, a hamburger 20 cents, a soda 10 cents, a movie ticket 30 cents, a new car $650, a new house $4,600. The Dow Jones Industrial Average was 181.71

By 1945, there were still many Americans who had never owned a telephone, including all 4 of my own grandparents. Hardly anyone had even seen a television set. ENIAC, the Electronic Numerical Integrator And Computer, the world's 1st real computer, was successfully tested at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. The leading computer mind in the world was Alan Turing. Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Tim Berners-Lee wouldn't be born for another 10 years.

Antibiotics were still relatively new, but had already saved thousands of lives in The War. There was, as yet, no cure for polio. Space program? The Germans had gotten their V-2 rockets into the stratosphere, but artificial satellites, let alone astronauts, were a long way off.

In the Autumn of 1945, World War II had been over for only a few weeks. Cordell Hull, the U.S. Secretary of State, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of Allied Forces, was, in effect, the dictator of Germany; General Douglas MacArthur, that of Japan; and both were trying to start the rebuilding of the former enemies as modern democracies.

The U.S. occupied southern Korean, the Soviet Union its north, setting up the first war of the Cold War. Ho Chi Minh established the Democratic Republic of Viet Nam, setting up another. Mohandas Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru demanded that all British troops leave India. Peronism was founded in Argentina. Vichy French Premier Pierre Laval and Norwegian Nazi leader Vidkun Quisling were tried, convicted and executed. The United Nations was established.

U.S. Army Captain Ronald Reagan signed the honorable discharge papers of Major Clark Gable. The "Black Friday Riot" took place in Hollywood, leading Reagan to (incorrectly) conclude that most labor unions were dominated by Communists, beginning his transformation from New Deal liberal to the greatest conservative icon of the modern world. And Jackie Robinson, a shortstop for the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro American League, signed a contract with the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Milton Hershey, and Jerome Kern, and Admiral John McCain Sr. died. Jim Palmer, and Phil Jackson, and Jacques Lemaire were born.

September 29, 1945. The Chicago Cubs won the National League Pennant. They had 70 chances to win another. Now, on their 71st chance, they have done it.

Indeed, if you are under the age of 75, you do not remember the Chicago Cubs being in the World Series. You will remember it now. Indeed, the moment the Cubs won the Pennant -- 9:46 PM Central Time on October 22, 2016 -- is going to be one of those "Where Were You?" moments. A happy one, for pretty much everybody.

Everybody, that is, except Los Angeles Dodgers, St. Louis Cardinals, Chicago White Sox, and possibly Met fans. Then again, a lot of people are Met fans because their parents or grandparents were Brooklyn Dodger fans, and are happy to see the Dodgers go down.

Even if it means the Cubs go up. They are now at the mountaintop. And they can see the promised land.

Four more wins. But the Cleveland Indians stand in their way. A team that hasn't won the World Series since 1948, and a team that hasn't won the World Series since 1908.

Something's got to give. One team's curse will finally be ended, for once and for all. The other's... will be worse than ever: "If we couldn't beat them in the World Series, what hope have we got?"

Sometime between the 1969 September Swoon and his death in 1997, the great Chicago newspaper columnist Mike Royko said, "New York didn't need that 1969 Pennant. All we wanted was that one little Pennant. It would have kept us happy for the rest of the century."

Would Cub fans be fine with winning the Pennant, but not the World Series? Maybe it depends on, if they lose it, how: If they simply get beat by a better team, that's one thing; but if they lose in shocking or unfair fashion, that's another.

Or maybe, just maybe, the Cubs will win the whole damn thing.

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