Friday, November 4, 2016

Windy City winner: The Cubs win and why it matters

The art of fiction is dead. Reality has strangled invention. Only the utterly impossible, the inexpressibly fantastic, can ever be plausible again.

Red Smith

WHEN BOBBY Thomson hit a home run to win the National League pennant in 1951, Red Smith wrote that ode to the long shot finishing in the money, against all odds. If only the Ol’ Redhead were alive today.

If he were, he’d have been witness on Wednesday to a miracle borne of 108 years of hard work and hard luck; he’d have seen and heard of a city fighting to stay alive and vibrant in the grip of a fugue state of gun violence that’s claimed hundreds this year alone. He’d have watched the Chicago Cubs, hapless no more, defeat the Cleveland Indians, 8-7, to win the World Series in seven games, ending the longest drought by any major professional sports franchise.

Somewhere, Steve Bartman is breathing easy.

IN all the ways that matter — the drama, the comeback, the unpredictability, the unexpected heroes, the 17-minute rain delay Wednesday — this was a World Series for the ages. And it was an experience the whole country could get its heart around. It took the Great National Pastime to help us reach something like a national consensus; not because of clever marketing or boardroom decisions. The Chicago Cubs really are America’s team.

Something in this win, the course of this season, the previous 107 seasons of rollercoaster emotions has helped to solidify this team’s hold on the mass heart. The Cubs embody the human condition, its highs and lows, its flights and crashes, more and better than any other team around. And that’s what makes this win so special.

Roger Angell once observed that “there’s more Met than Yankee in all of us,” but you can make the case there’s really more Cub than Met or Yankee in all of us. Our lives are tissues of disappointment, travail and encounters with bad manners. Plans fall through; the diagnosis isn’t what we expected; unfortunately the employer decided to go in a different direction. We can’t always get what we want. Usually.

But every now and then ... something happens. It doesn’t pay the bills or fix the plumbing. It won’t stop ISIS or AIDS or inflation, or any other modern plague. And it won’t in and of itself stop the senseless gun-violence slaughter that’s gripped the Windy City for far too long. But Chicago needs that “it,” that ineffable objective, that green light in the distance ... that chance to feel good. To feel strong. To feel united. To feel alive.

NOW THE folks at Anheuser-Busch get that (notwithstanding their current foreign ownership). Overnight after Game 7, the marketing and creative team at Budweiser cobbled together an ad that weaved the voice and image of the late Cubs broadcasting legend Harry Caray into film and video footage of the final out of Game 7 — as if Caray, dead since 1998, was calling the game himself.

The result was a masterpiece, a powerfully emotional ad that’s made grown men weep more than once in its 1.3 million You Tube views. Yeah, it’s selling beer, but that’s not what you’re looking at.

You’re looking at real people, everyday people. Like the throngs that stood outside Wrigley Field waiting for the outcome.

Like the well-recognized comedian and movie actor who sat in the stands and celebrated, not as a famous entertainer but as just another overjoyed Cubs fan.

Like the Cubs fan who watched the final out in his basement with friends and collapsed in tears when the Cubs won it all.

It doesn’t happen often enough, God knows. But the Chicago Cubs victory in the Fall Classic, a game that was a classic — a clinic on tenacity and determination — showed how being down one game to three is no excuse. We all live our lives down one game to three, or it feels like it much of the time.

But sometimes ... we get it right. We put it together. We bounce back. And we put one in the W column — we win, in spite of everything. On those days, there’s more Chicago Cub in each of us than anything else.

Image credit: Cubs win!: Ron Vesely/MLB Photos/Getty Images.

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