Tony La Russa: Cubs won't breeze to World Series
1:10 | MLB
Tony La Russa: Cubs won't breeze to World Series
Tuesday September 20th, 2016

I had lived in Chicago for exactly 44 days before conceding the National League Central for the foreseeable future. On Oct. 13, 2015, I walked from my apartment in Lincoln Park to Wrigleyville to meet a friend who’d attended the final game of the Cubs-Cardinals NLDS. I perversely wanted to see the celebration. The neighborhood was thick with weed smoke, and fans bellowed louder than the gridlocked taxis could honk. For Cubs fans, it felt like the beginning of something great. For me, it felt like the end.

Look at the box scores of those four games, and they’re unremarkable. The most convincing win was the Cardinals’ in Game 1, a 4–0 shutout. St. Louis lost the next three, none by greater than a three-run margin, but they each seemed out of reach. The Cubs were just better. (Jason Heyward and John Lackey would certainly agree with me.) That night, it hit me: I had moved to Chicago at the exact worst time.

Some background: I grew up in St. Louis and was 10 years old during the home run race in 1998, which is when I fell in love with baseball. I’d always been a Cardinals fan, dating back to an inexplicable devotion to Pedro Guerrero I developed as a three-year-old; there was something about Mike Shannon’s gravely voice rhyming his name on the radio that sold me. But in ’98, I went haywire. I have a mildly photographic memory, which I put to use memorizing the NL leaderboards I’d read each morning in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. My friends were embarrassed that I’d argue with boys about Jeff Bagwell’s batting stance and El Duque’s fastball, and even though I’ve dialed back my viewing and stat-memorization, I can still say with a straight face that I care more about the Cardinals than I do about half my relatives.

As I moved away from St. Louis for college and jobs, I always asked potential friends I met from Chicago the same question: Are you a Cubs fan? It was half-joking, but I lucked out. The close friend I made while living in Minneapolis is from a South Side Irish family—White Sox people. My cousin’s husband: White Sox, too. And, most importantly, one of my very best friends assured me soon after we met at Missouri that despite growing up in a northwest suburb of Chicago, he’d given up on baseball entirely.

I knew when I moved here that I’d have to relax my standards. I’d have to make friends with Cubs fans, and I have, and they’re lovely. But what I didn’t count on was that soon after I arrived, my friend from school would reveal his true colors. As the playoffs neared, he talked more and more about the Cubs. I joked that he’d jumped on the bandwagon. He was agitated—and then he remembered. He’d lied, he told me. He grew up a Cubs fan; it was just easier never to admit it to me. During the first game of the NLDS, which we watched with friends at a bar, he ordered a plate of toasted ravioli. (To be clear, they were cheese-filled, which is an affront.) I was confused; he rarely orders bar food. But the Cardinals were winning, and I didn’t think much of it. The fried cheese pasta pockets arrived, and within 30 seconds, my friend had picked up the basket, looked me in the eye, and dumped them on the ground. “Screw the Cardinals,” he said, laughing.

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I wish I could tell you that being a Cardinals fan in Chicago in the summer of 2016 is like having toasted ravioli dumped on your feet on a daily basis—but it’s not. I’ve been to 12 games at Wrigley this season (the Cardinals are 5–1 with me in attendance, just saying), and the place is magic. It’s a pain to get beer, and the hot dogs are horrendous, and I wouldn’t want it to be any different. I love that there are seagulls. I love that the seat numbering only sort of makes sense, and I love that I understand it now. I love the older men and women with their scorecards and their decades-old Cubs t-shirts who sit at the ballpark with headphones in, listening to the game on the radio. Hell, I even love the absurdly large billboard of Kris Bryant wearing Express.

These days, you can’t walk into the grocery store or the drycleaner or the gym without hearing someone talking about the Cubs, about that Bryant home run, about Kyle Hendricks’s Cy Young chances, about where do you think Jake Arrieta does Pilates? One night in August, I was riding the L north, and the car was full of people in team gear. I was confused; it was about 5 p.m., so it was still early, and I could have sworn the Cubs were out of town. But this was the red line toward Wrigley, so I told myself I must have been mistaken.

I wasn’t. They were in San Diego.

To be clear: I will never be a Cubs fan. My DNA is programmed to prevent that; I assume that if I were to try, it would result in total nervous system shutdown. I will tell you that deep-dish pizza is mediocre and Malort tastes like sludge. I will extol the virtue of Imo’s Pizza and swear that Budweiser really is the king of beers. But that doesn’t mean that if the Cardinals are eliminated this postseason (or don't make it at all), I won’t hope for a World Series on the north side of Chicago. I think I will. I will cheer for my duplicitous friend; for two little boys I know and love in Colorado who are named after Ernie Banks and Greg Maddux; for their sister, whose middle name is a tribute to Mark Grace; for the men hawking merchandise at the corner of Sheffield and Addison; for the blind man who rides the red line toward Wrigley most nights in a Cubs t-shirt; for the millions of people who are now my neighbors and deserve to know how it feels to see your catcher and closer meet halfway between the mound and home plate and jump into each other’s arms.

They’re revoking my access to St. Louis as I type this, but oh well. I just hope fans don’t burn Chicago down celebrating if they win. Because this place is the best—even if it is full of Cubs fans with no regard for toasted ravioli.

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