The year that the word "Bartman" was added to the constellation of phrases signifying the Cubs prolific tendency to fall short was, otherwise, a pretty good year to be a Cubs fan. On October 5th, we sat in the stands at Turner Field with thousands of other Cubs fans and witnessed something that did not seem possible -- the Cubs winning a postseason series. But before the Cubs got to the playoffs, Cubs fans were forced to deal with something that the rest of baseball fans already knew: Sammy Sosa was not a good guy. In June of that year, Sosa was caught with a corked bat and provided an inane explanation for why he was using the bat. The week following, the Cubs traveled to Baltimore to take on the Orioles in a three game series. We had tickets to all three games and I don't remember feeling as miserable at a Cubs game (well, maybe the Rob frigging Mackowiak doubleheader at PNC Ballpark, but they are close) as I did in our short time at Camden -- we later decided not to use some of our tickets. People came to the ballpark not to cheer for the Orioles (because, after all, who in their right mind does that? Thank you, Peter Angelos) and instead were there to get obscenely wasted and berate Sosa and all resident Cubs fans for the duration of the game. The whole thing was painful. In the nearly two decades that had passed since the team choked at Jack Murphy, the Cubs had managed only meek performances against the Giants and Braves in the playoffs and pretty much the only exceptional stories for Cubs fans in the latter half of the nineties was Kerry Wood’s 20 strikeout game and Sammy Sosa’s home runs. In one corked bat, Cubs fans were largely stripped of that joy – not that we deserved to have it, as most of us turned a blind eye towards his doping and general surliness, but we were stripped of it nonetheless.
The Sosa corked-bat incident is relevant at the moment for two reasons: first, it helps to explain why the epic incompetence displayed by this year's Cubs team, culminating in a sweep by a pretty bad Arizona Diamondbacks squad, hasn't bothered me as much as it probably should. Second, I'm reminded of it every time I watch the Patriots destroy another NFL team this season.
On the first point, there is no question that I am p.o.'d about the lifeless performance of the $100 million Cubs in the NLDS. In what would have been the ultimate irony for Sweet Lou, he might have been better served if he'd sat the starting veterans in game 3, played Ward at first, Fontenot at second, Theriot at short, either DeRosa or Aram at third, Soto at catcher, Murton in left, Pie in center, and Jacque Jones or Cliff Floyd in right. I can now add Mark DeRosa's horrible at-bat in the fifth inning to the constellation of bitter Cubs' failures -- bases-loaded, one out, three and one count, team down two, and Livan had just walked to two straight batters. Well hit fly ball gets you within a run. Or you could reach for a ball out and away and hit it into the ground for a Drew-Ojeda-Jackson double play. Whatever works. When the Cubs lost to the Marlins in 2003, the sports media chalked it up to Bartman. Some Cubs fans hung the series around the neck of AGone. Cubs fans who understood what was going on blamed Fox and Bernie Mac. But given four years of sorrow, of thinking about what it would have been like to see and hear Santo calling a World Series game, have taught me that it was karma. I, and thousands of other Cubs fans, gave Sosa a free pass and let him demean the game and the Cubs uniform. At spring training in Mesa in 2004, I was aghast watching Maddux shag fly balls in center field while Sosa had a cadre of sycophants around him and his personal assistant in right. Despite the exhortations of the crowd watching batting practice (and CPatt put on a show), the most that Sosa could be troubled to do was to send his assistant to give a ball to a young girl who would not stop shrieking his name. In three days, that was the only recognition I saw Sosa give fans. He was bigger than us. He was the personification of American baseball. Cubs fans were prepared to let Prior treat them just as badly. Just so long as the Cubs were relevant, just so long as we weren't the joke of the National League, just so long as we weren't being told that Jose Guzman was the equivalent of the recently departed Greg Maddux, that an outfield with Kal Daniels or Candy Maldonado would get us back into contention, or that Danny Jackson was the best free agent in Cubs history. When (if?) the Cubs win the World Series, I want it to be a team that I can cheer for unequivocally. The suffering has to mean something. I don't cheer for the Cubs because I believe in winning at all costs. I am not a Yankees fan. Had the 2003 Cubs gained rings, it would have made it even more difficult for the organization to extricate itself from the debacle that became Sammy Sosa -- we would be the Giants, hoping that Barry would just up and decide to wander the subcontinent a la Ricky Williams. The 2007 Cubs presented different problems. Z's sense of himself and his achievements has lost its bearing to reality. Prior remains on the team (as does, I believe, Scott Eyre). Cubs fans viciously and unfairly killed Jacque Jones all season. The team lost way too many games that they had no business losing by ridiculously listless performances (where have you gone DLee? The city of Chicago wants you back). This was not a team to be proud of. This was, instead, the perfect team to post yet another postseason failure in the record books. At least they, like the Phillies, had the good grace to make it quick.
At the same time, I believe that the karmic wheel will come around on the Pats this season. I love Bill Simmons' writing. I often disagree with his analysis of sports, but there is no more entertaining read about sports. But this has got to be a difficult time to be a Pats fan. Gregg Easterbrook has correctly expressed the appropriate level of indignation for what Belichick has done to disgrace the NFL. It is, however, even more painful to watch, listen to and read apologists trying to excuse Belichick's actions. At the moment, most Pats fans can take solace and salve wounds by reference to the quality of the team -- clearly superior to every other squad in the league. But as JT sings, what goes around comes around and the Pats are prime candidates for comeuppance. It is a whole new type of losing -- one that Cubs fans are used to -- a catastrophic loss that is looming and the whole time that you as a fan anticipate it, you know you deserve it. Belichick's taping on top of (1) the addition of Randy Moss, (2) drafting Brandon Meriweather, and (3) Rodney Harrison's HGH tempts the fates too much to believe that the road from Foxboro to the Super Bowl has already been paved. Look to the horizon, Pats fans, something wicked is headed your way (or there is no justice in sports, in which case we'll soon be witnesses to the Knicks rallying around Zeke and leading NY back to the Finals).