I’ve got a grandson who had his ninth birthday last month. I asked him at his little party whether he remembered the Cubs’ 2016 World Series title.
I didn’t mean reports of it or videos. The event itself, in real time.
“Not really,” he said.
Now, this kid’s a huge sports fan, been playing baseball since I turned him into a left-handed hitter at age 2. (Thank you, Pops!)
He loves the Cubs, even loves the Indians, the Cubs’ foe in the 2016 Series, because his dad’s side of the sports-mad family is from the Cleveland area.
My point is, if this focused 9-year-old has no real memory of the Cubs’ last championship since 1908 because he was too young, then nobody does who is under age 10.
The Cubs are now four-plus years into their second World Series drought since 1908.
Are they building toward another crown or idly turning the pages of a fresh and endless calendar?
Is there a whole new populace of fans (my grandson leading the way) who will go through the torment of never seeing (and remembering) a championship Cubs team in their lifetimes?
I only ask these questions because nobody should have to reprise Cubs fans’ misery for most of the 20th century into the 21st. And if they must suffer, let’s start now with the therapy.
Things sure haven’t gone as expected for the Cubs after that 2016 title. The hope that the team was a dynasty in the making — or at least a contender for the crown for years — was shot down after the Cubs went 4-9 in three postseason appearances since 2016.
Maybe it’s just the playoffs that are the problem because the Cubs have been above .500 in each of the last four seasons and finished first in the National League Central in 2017 and last season.
But if you’re not built for playoff success, what are you built for? That’s another question. And I hate to ask it.
Because maybe the Cubs now are built just to tread water. Maybe we saw the rise and pinnacle and are on the slow bicycle ride down to average or worse. And another generation can prepare to eat dust for years.
Biggest change? Chief engineer and former team president Theo Epstein is gone for the first time in a decade. Trusty sidekick Jed Hoyer is now at the wheel, but Hoyer might have had his fuel tank (read: money from the Ricketts ownership) half-emptied.
Gone are longtime pitching-staff leader Jon Lester (to the Nationals) and last season’s best starter, Yu Darvish (Padres). Also not around is a star finisher like the Cubs had in 2016, a guy such as controversial rent-a-bazooka Aroldis Chapman.
The Cubs’ staff might have some skilled technicians in pitchers such as Kyle Hendricks and Zach Davies, but they’re definitely short of fireballers. And no matter what managers say about the value of technique, speed still kills.
New man Davies is worth noting here because he is listed as 6 feet and all of 155 pounds. If he threw faster than 90 mph, it would be like getting a bullet out of a soda straw. (Fun tidbit: Recently retired pitcher Bartolo Colon, whose fastball occasionally touched 100 mph for many a club, was an inch shorter and weighed 130 pounds more than Davies.)
At any rate, we shouldn’t lay all Cubs uncertainty at the feet (arms) of the pitchers. Outfielder/perpetual-DH-in-training Kyle Schwarber — same height, 70 pounds heavier than Davies — is gone (to the Nationals), but pretty much the rest of the Cubs’ offensive guns from the World Series season are intact. Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Javy Baez, Willson Contreras, Jason Heyward — they’re all in place, but nobody can say for sure if they’re as good as they once were.
All except Heyward had weak seasons during the 60-game COVID mayhem in 2020. If they get it straight this season, those hitters could help the Cubs beat division foes such as the Cardinals, who will pay five-time All-Star third baseman Nolan Arenado about $150 million to help trample the Cubs.
If none of this works out, and quickly, you might guess the Cubs will be dumping high-priced veterans very soon. Actually, you can count on it.
And if you were, say, second-year manager ”Dancin’ David” Ross, you might wish you had started your skipper’s waltz elsewhere.
And if you’re a fan?
You’re rosy and hopeful by nature, of course. And you’ve seen it all before.