Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The real Cubs' curse is the pressure of winning now

At the beginning of the 2008 MLB season, it was pretty common that you would see a season preview like this when talking about the Chicago Cubs. The theme centered around it being 100 years since the Cubs last won a World Series (1908).

When you read player quotes, you'll see that they try to be ignorant and forget the history. In the MLB preview, shortstop and second baseman Ryan Theriot said:
We want to win for the city of Chicago and ourselves and this organization, and not because of the length of time since we had a championship.
It really doesn't matter that Theriot said it. Put anyone's name there and it will still ring true. Every player and Manager refuse to make any mention of Chicago's history or admit that there is added pressure.

Raise your hand if you believe that the Cubs don't face any pressure from their team's history. I'm guessing nobody is going to disagree with that; there certainly is a stronger sense of urgency being inside Wrigley Field.

In some ways, fans and reporters put the Cubs players in a similar position as New York Yankees. While the Yankees are hammered with the expectation that anything short of a championship is a failure, the Cubs are hammered with the cynicism of being failures until they win a championship.

That message seems to affect Chicago more than its willing to admit. Look at stats from the regular season, the Cubs are clearly better, although it's a little skewed with Manny Ramirez only being part of the team for the last part of the season.

But considering how the Dodgers clobbered the Cubs, his production can be taken out of the playoffs for comparison's sake and it still doesn't make much sense. Over the years, plenty of things have happened to Chicago where the easy answer is to blame the curse, but perhaps the more appropriate label is that the belief of the curse is what causes the Cubs to choke or have bad luck over the course of the years.

It doesn't seem rational that the Cubs would make four infield errors during game two or how Alfonso Soriano hit under .100 the entire series. It's not a curse, rather it's the high expectations that come from being a Cub.

Even the Steve Bartman incident could've been avoided if Moises Alou just kept his big yap shut when Bartman caught the foul ball. I can't explain why, but there is a weird connection that players have with one another and the entire team seems to feed off different players' emotions.

For instance, back when Manny being Manny was actually embraced by the Boston Red Sox, his laid back attitude to the game caused the rest of the team to be laid back, which eventually led to a 2004 Championship and the Red Sox "reversed the curse."

If Soriano ever came into spring training and said anything besides how focused he is on winning and anything short of a championship is a failure for next season, Cubs fans would call for his head and want him out of Chicago. Yet perhaps there was something that Chicago could learn from a team that calls itself a bunch of idiots.

Even the Cubs songs go along with the win-or-die attitude, literally. Steve Goodman's song "A Dying Cubs Fan's Last Request" is pretty much the general feeling among most fans. Witnessing a Cubs' World Series ranks somewhere on the top of the list of lifetime goals, but we are trained to be pessimistic whenever it looks like the Lovable Losers (another way of demeaning recent Cubs teams) will turn it around.

I can't think of anyone other than Cubs fans who wonder out loud if they will die before Chicago wins a World Series, and that includes teenagers. When Management reaches an apocolypse and puts together a team that wins the World Series, they will do it with underachieving players and a low budget instead of a team like they have now where it's a high budget and constant pressure to win now.

The Red Sox set an example for the Cubs in assembling a championship team that is only worried about themselves instead of how the media and fans perceive them. Perhaps if players like Ryan Dempster stopped guaranteeing World Series and putting so much pressure on themselves a ring will follow.

After a disappointing season in 2002, the Cubs assembled a scrappy group that came very close to making the World Series. Instead of going after an ace like CC Sabathia as most fans would prefer, they should get more guys like DeRosa, a multi-position guy who can get the hits when needed. It's an unpopular move, but after this past collapse, the Cubs might as well keep expectations low and just hope to make the playoffs every year.


Brett Rosenstein said...

very well interpreted.

Justin said...

I think most of us are still stunned by the Cubs being swept in the playoffs, but clearly their is a big difference between the playoffs and the regular season. It is much easier to guide a team to the postseason than to guide a team from the first round of the playoffs to the world series, and that is something Cubs fans need to understand. If the Cubs and Dodgers played 162 head to head games in the first round, I would guarantee the cubs winning a majority of them. However, statistically speaking, there is much more variability in a smaller sample size (5 games versus). Therefore, the playoffs are really a poor indicator of the best team. In order to win the World Series teams need a little bit of luck (i.e. clutch hitting and pitching performances) and the Cubs just can't seem to find it. The point is that great Cubs teams will continue to be built and rebuilt, but these teams are only built to perform in the regular season. The playoffs will always be a crapshoot, and sooner or later the Cubs will need a lucky roll of the dice.

Sam said...

Sounds about right. As a Sox fan, I didn't believe in the "curse" even before 2004, but I did believe in a similar curse of bad management and bad luck. Buckner's bobble was caused by not putting in a defensive replacement for an obviously hurting (and already defensively bad) player, not the ghost of Babe Ruth pushing that ball between his legs. The same can definitely be applied to the Cubs, and in both cases, the mistakes can be attributed to the enormous amount of pressure that comes from trying to win for the first time in decades.

Plus, everyone's talking about the Cubs and year 100 when they were the best in the NL, but what about the 100-win Angels looking pitiful in their series against the wild card? The hottest team -- not necessarily the best team -- wins in the playoffs. And the Dodgers are smokin' right now.

Ryan said...

I know some people who curled up into a ball and sat in the dark for two weeks following the 2003 season. It truly is unfortunate what happened this season. The Cubbies brought everyone's hopes up, from Fukudome's incredible debut the first game of the season, to when that magic number was finally down to zero. The hope, the reason to "believe" that it was "gonna happen" died quickly. I'd like to believe the Cubs win a World Series in my lifetime, but you never know what will happen...

ChiSoxMO30 said...

You make a lot of good points Adam. There is no curse, but rather the Cubs seem to choke under the constant pressure that they have to win the World Series or else.

HJ said...

Guys-good news-for upwards of 2k, our sports lives can be as miserable and hopeless as Adam's.

The Chicago Tribute is legitimately reporting (not a joke) a lifelong Cubs fan is literally selling his "loyalty" on eBay and bids are now over $2,000. Google news "cubs fan ebay..." (Blogger somehow won't let me post a link here)

RIP, 2008 Chicago Cubs, and may baseball someday have mercy on Adam Miller's soul.

triplekitten7 said...

I think that what you said holds a lot of truth. Because of that I also think the best shot we have to win is next year. A lot of the tension came from it being exactly 100 years and everyone including the fans and the ball club thinking this is the year to do it, make a statement, let history repeat. But by making it 101 years in 2009 maybe a lot more of the pressure can be released. History has a way of repeating itself and when the Cubs won the world series in 1908, it was after a 3rd playoff appearance... maybe 3rd times a charm!!

Daniel Rock said...

I don't know if it was really the pressure that got to them... it seems like they just played (at least) two of the worst games they played all season. It sucks, but we shouldn't let the expectations get to us any more than the players should. There's always next year...

Adam said...

The expectations seemed to be a lot higher this year than last year because the Cubs did pretty much everything they needed to do in order to ensure a good team and they did that for the most part. They got another strong pitcher in Rich Harden, Jeff Samardjzia has done well so far out of the bullpen, and they have great defense in the outfield now with Jim Edmonds. I think Hendry is implicitly telling his players, "I gave you everything you need to win a World Series, now go out and win one." Did he give the Cubs enough tools to win or did he fall short?

John said...

I feel sorry for you guys (sort of) even as a Cardinals fan. I agree with Justin that your ownership keeps building teams that do well in the regular season and screw it up in the playoffs. At least you can enjoy the fact that the White Sox and Brewers sucked it up just as bad. I think part of the problem is that the Cubs were so hot earlier this year and had quite a few extra inning games that it might have gotten to them in October.