It was supposed to happen, but it didn’t. The Cubs Faithful expected a championship in 2004, and it just didn’t happen. For the first 25 years I spent watching the Cubs, I was more interested in the individual players, than in having a World Series winning team. How many bags would Dernier swipe….how many strikeouts would Sutcliffe throw….how many hits would Grace have….and how many home runs would Sammy slam? Those were the questions that I, and many of the Cubs Faithful, asked for years and years, and we always got an answer by the end of the year, and we were happy, satisfied, and content to wait until next year. The 1984 and 1989 Division Championships seemed more like a cool bonus, and less like an expected outcome. Not anymore. We simply don’t put up with that anymore. Life goes in cycles, and one day the Cubs Faithful will be content to just watch their team again, win or lose. That day will have to wait, though, as none of us can see past this present moment in Cubs’ History, and if you think I am making this all up….well….you know better.
Last week I stated the path back to a wildcard berth was a series-by-series trek. Simply put, the Cubs need to focus on winning every series, and not necessarily every game. No need for the extra pressure of looking at the standings….that will take care of itself, provided that the Cubs take care of business. This past week, business has been good and bad, but mostly good. The Cubs have won 3 of their last 4 series, including wins over the top 2 teams in their division; the Cardinals and the Reds. There is no reason to fear either of these teams, as the Reds do not have enough pitching, and the Cardinals are one Albert Pujols away from having a AAA batting order. All is not great, however, as the Cubs offense was pitiful against Houston, and if Michael Barrett strikes out instead of hitting a grand slam the other night, the Cubs may have been shutout yet again. Overall, though, there is reason for optimism: Cedeno and Murton keep hitting, making their case for being legitimate big-leaguers, and the same can be said for Sean Marshall as well. While much more evidence needs to be seen before a verdict can be rendered on Carlos Marmol, you have to like what you have seen so far. How ridiculous, and indicting it is of Hendry’s horrible offseason, that Dusty Baker won’t rule out starting Glendon Rusch again? In general, though, the Cubs seem to be on the right track, and Prior and Lee loom in the near future.
The Curse of 2004….
All the pieces were there: Maddux was added as a 5th starter, Derrek Lee was signed to play 1st base, and Nomar was acquired in mid-season. The expectations were also there, as 2003 had lit a fire into the Cubs Faithful that they had never experienced before. Simply making the playoffs wasn’t enough….having a good year wasn’t enough. No longer could the fans simply pick a few favorite players, and just track their stats all year, just like they had in all the years past. Individual achievements were no longer as desirable. We already saw Kerry Wood strike out 20, and watched Mark Prior win 18 games in his first full year….and we had seen Sammy Sosa obliterate any meaningfulness to the number “60” when it came to home run totals. After all those individual achievements, we still became most enthralled with the idea of the Cubs being crowned the best….World Series Champions. From the moment that foul ball was launched towards Steve Bartman, and Game 6 unraveled before our eyes, the Cubs Faithful started looking to 2004 for closure. No one could accept the ending to the 2003 playoff run, and the events that took place all seemed like once-in-a-lifetime flukes, so we simply wanted 2004 to give us what we felt was rightfully ours in 2003.
When 2004 fell apart, the world seemed to get murky and unclear, and there were all these distractions from the announcers, to injuries, to Sammy Sosa’s departure….so the date may have said 2005 on our calendars, but in our minds it was still 2004….it was still the year of our redemption. Flash forward to 2006, and the Cubs Faithful are still in limbo….still trying to “keep the gang together” for one more run. Who is the gang? Wood, Prior, and Zambrano….but mainly Wood and Prior. The fans have been living in this dreamy coma-like state since Game 6 in 2003, and you better believe that Prior and Wood have been experiencing the same nightmare right along with us.
The Clock of the Long Now….
My column’s title is borrowed from a project to build a clock that runs for 10,000 years. Why do you need a clock like that? One of the founders of the project felt that his whole life he had been looking towards the year 2000. Everyone always talked about how this and that would change, or how this and that would be invented, all by the year 2000. The movies of the 1970s and 1980s were filled with “futuristic” themes of life after, or around, the year 2000. Everything climaxed with the final years of the 1990s, and many around the world held their breath as Y2K approached. Then a strange thing happened on January 1st, 2000….and the strange thing was that nothing happened at all. Now you never hear anyone say how this and that will change by the year 2018, or how this and that will be invented by the year 2025. Nope….as a society, we have turned into the Cubs fan prior to 2003: we are just kind of floating along in the present, and we are not focused on accomplishing anything of note by any particular date down the road in our future.
So the founders of the Clock of the Long Now wish to build this incredible machine to help give our culture, and future cultures, a way to truly grasp the future and the magnitude of time that lies ahead of us all. The clock ticks once a year, bongs once a century, and the cuckoo comes out every millennium….giving society landmarks in the future to look forward to, and reestablishing meaning to the questions on what life will be like many years in our future….such as by the next time the clock ticks or bongs….
We all need a Purpose….
If I have lost all you CCO readers at this point, then I do apologize (and yes, I am actually drug-free), but the point I am trying to make, in my usual long and rambling manner, is that we all need to have a purpose in life….a goal, if you will. However, sometimes we need to hit the restart button, and establish new goals and find a new purpose to strive for. Sometimes we have to do this because we reached our goals, and sometimes we have to do this because our goals have become unreachable (sometimes through no fault of our own). If you spent your life training to climb Mount Rushmore, and it blew up, then you probably have to come up with a new goal. If you prepared all your life to be the worst pitcher in Major League Baseball to be given a $6 million contract, and you happened to turn on WGN one night and see Glendon Rusch pitching, then you probably have to come up with a new goal. You get the idea….
So I am drawing a line in the sand, here and now, for myself, and on behalf of all the Cubs Faithful: if we don’t win it all this year, then let’s leave 2003 and 2004 in the past, retool and regroup, and create a new goal for the future. Our goal can still be to win the World Series, but we need to stop holding onto the idea of relying on Wood and Prior to get us there. I have not given up on this season yet, but it is always prudent to look to the future, and the reality is that the 2007 roster is likely to look drastically different than we know it today. Next week I will go over who is under contract for next year, and who is not, and try to give you my vision of what the 2007 team may look like. For the present, let’s hope for a quick return of Lee and Prior, and that Wood comes off the DL to pitch solidly, and consistently, the rest of the year, and that 2006 finally quenches the thirst we acquired in October of 2003. All the while, and regardless of what happens this year, perhaps Cedeno, Murton, Zambrano, Marshall, and Marmol all represent new pieces of a new dream, a new reality, and a new clock by which all Cubs fans may start keeping track of time, in the future. Until next time, CCO readers, let’s go Cubs!