Wrote Alfred, Lord Tennyson, “'Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” The hell did he know? He would die in 1892—11 Octobers before the first World Series would be contested and 16 before the Cubs won their second straight (and most recent) title. Cleveland for its part was back then a triumphant capital of American trade and industry boasting a Temple Cup-winning baseball club, the Cleveland Spiders.
Sometimes one really is better off not loving at all. The Indians and Cubs entered this year's World Series have combined for 176 straight title-free seasons. That’s a lot of failure. The narratives business being what it is, one will emerge from this series with its so-called curse erased and the other with its hex redoubled. For bookkeeping’s sake, we ought to inventory the franchises’ misery before the series changes things. What exactly characterizes a miserable team? It’s more than just their title droughts; it’s a fusion of futility (think Arizona Cardinals) and bad luck (think Phoenix Suns) squired by all manner of dismal juju. Forthwith, a head-to-head misery smackdown. Unlike in our presidential election, all results are final.
The Cubs have gone since 1908 without a title; the Indians since “only” 1948. CHICAGO
Cleveland took pennants in 1954, '95 and '97; the Cubs hadn’t had one since 1945. CHICAGO
Chicago has made the playoffs 18 times in its 114 seasons as the Cubs. In Cleveland’s 102 seasons as the Indians, the team has only 12 playoff appearances. CLEVELAND
Steve Bartman. Leon Durham. Then again, Jose Mesa. Call this a TIE.
Implausibility of Curse Story:
Cleveland blames the Curse of Rocky Colavito, citing the 1960 trade to Detroit of the Indians’ All-Star outfielder. As a practical matter, yes, sending away Colavito surely hamstrung the team. But curses are built on bizarre mythology. And what’s more bizarre than the idea of an area saloonkeeper, vengeful after being ejected with his goat from Game 4 of the 1945 World Series, putting an eternal pox on the Cubs? CHICAGO.
Regular Season Performance:
The teams have similar all-time winning percentages: .513 for the Cubs and .510 for the Indians. But since Cleveland's title in 1948, Chicago has had a .472 winning percentage to the Indians' .504. It’s hard to imagine—especially given what the cuisine of the upper Midwest does to the vascular system—that much of the Cubs’ fanbase derives anything from the team’s superlative (if championship-free) run in the late ’20s and ’30s. CHICAGO wins (at losing).
Hall of Famers:
The Cubs have 14 players enshrined in Cooperstopw to the Indians’ 12. (How did Bruce Sutter get in, anyway?) CLEVELAND
Performance of Hitters in Common:
First baseman/designated Andre “Thunder” Thornton began his career in Chicago but never got an MVP vote until he landed in Cleveland, where he played from 1977 to ’87. Riggs “Old Hoss” Stephenson (sure) played his entire 1921 to '34 career for the Indians and Cubs. He batted .337 in Cleveland and .336 in Chicago. (If only someone could have informed him that 82 years after his retirement, this author would need more conclusive evidence.) If it all comes down to former Cuban outfielder Jose Cardenal (who played two seasons for the Indians in the ’60s and six for the Cubs in the ’70s)—and really, it should, lest you close this browser tab—it’s CHICAGO that got the better performance from shared hitters, and Cleveland that is miserable here.
Performance of Pitchers in Common:
On June 13, 1984, when the Indians dealt him to the Cubs for a package that included a young Joe Carter, Rick Sutcliffe had a 4-5 record and a 5.15 ERA. He proceeded to go 16-1 in his next 20 starts, and he won the NL Cy Young. Because of arm trouble, though, the rest of Sutcliffe’s career in Chicago was less impressive than what he had done as an Indian. Reliever Joe Borowski managed to lose his closer gig in both cities. Each team also had three years of Dennis Eckersley. Eck pitched better in Cleveland, but shortstop Rick Manning stole his wife. The teams also combined for 10 forgettable seasons of credible Paul Assenmacher relief work. Let’s call it a TIE.
Wrigley skybox fixture Eddie Vedder was once cool (ask your parents), and Bill Murray will never not be. Drew Carey and Arsenio Hall, on the other hand . . . CHICAGO
Has Racist Caricature On Hat:
Ambient Sports-Related Despair In City:
The Bears have the second-highest winning percentage in NFL history. The Blackhawks have won three of the last seven Stanley Cups. Michael Jordan’s ’90s Bulls are among the best teams ever. Meanwhile, the Browns have finished something other than last in their division just four of the last 16 seasons. One NBA title goes only so far in undoing an abominable 52 years. CLEVELAND.
Ambient Non-Sports Despair In City: Mayor Rahm Emanuel or Mayor Dennis Kucinich? The Great Chicago Fire or the Cuyahoga River catching fire? Substantial economic malaise due to deindustrialization or overwhelming economic malaise due to deindustrialization? Call this a TIE.
Disappointing Draft Picks:
A tough one! The Indians’ first-rounders from 2003 to '07: Adam Miller, Brad Snyder, Michael Aubrey, Jeremy Sowers, Johnny Drennen, Trevor Crowe, David Huff, Beau Mills. I’m sure they all became very successful realtors. Meanwhile, the Cubs have picked in the top five 14 times in their history. Whippersnapper Kris Bryant is the only unqualified success. Kerry Wood and Mark Prior are cautionary tales; so, in another way, is Corey Patterson. The 35 Indians first-rounders-turned-big-leaguers have produced a total of 290 bWAR (almost half of it by Manny Ramirez and CC Sabathia) whereas the 39 Cubs first-rounders-turned-big-leaguers have managed 253.5. Also the Cubs took a pitcher named Chadd Blasko. Chadd. Blasko. Going with CHICAGO on this one.
Every Cubs and Indians SI Cover
April 18, 1955 — Cleveland Indians Al Rosen
May 30, 1955 — Cleveland Indians Herb Score
June 3, 1963 — Cleveland Indians Bob Hope
May 23, 1966 — Cleveland Indians Sam McDowell
June 30, 1969 — Chicago Cubs Ron Santo
September 8, 1969 — Cincinnati Reds Pete Rose and Chicago Cubs Ernie Banks
August 30, 1971 — Chicago Cubs Ferguson Jenkins
June 11, 1984 — Chicago Cubs Leon "Bull" Durham
September 24, 1984 — Chicago Cubs Rick Sutcliffe and New York Mets Dwight Gooden
April 6, 1987 — Cleveland Indians Cory Snyder and Joe Carter
July 20, 1987 — Chicago Cubs Andre Dawson
March 16, 1992 — Chicago Cubs Ryne Sandberg
July 12, 1993 — Laurie Crews and Patti Olin, widows of former Cleveland Indians Tim Crews and Steve Olin
April 1, 1996 — Clevland Indians Manny Ramirez
May 6, 1996 — Cleveland Indians Albert Belle
June 29, 1998 — Chicago Cubs Sammy Sosa
September 21, 1998 — Chicago Cubs Sammy Sosa
October 12, 1998 — Cleveland Indians David Justice
December 21, 1998 — St. Louis Cardinals Mark McGwire and Chicago Cubs Sammy Sosa
July 7, 2003 — Chicago Cubs Kerry Wood and Mark Prior
August 25, 2003 — Chicago Cubs Sammy Sosa
October 13, 2003 — Chicago Cubs Kerry Wood
April 5, 2004 — Chicago Cubs Kerry Wood
October 3, 2005 — Cleveland Indians Ronnie Belliard
February 26, 2007 — Chicago Cubs Lou Piniella and Alfonso Soriano
May 14, 2007 — Cleveland Indians Grady Sizemore
May 5, 2008 — Chicago Cubs Kosuke Fukudome
September 29, 2008 — Chicago Cubs Aramis Ramirez
May 9, 2011 — Chicago Cubs Starlin Castro
July 7-14, 2014 — Chicago Cubs Ernie Banks
December 22, 2014 — Chicago Cubs Jon Lester
February 2, 2015 — Chicago Cubs Ernie Banks
March 30, 2015 — Cleveland Indians Corey Kluber and Michael Brantley
August 31, 2015 — Chicago Cubs Kris Bryant
March 28, 2016 — Chicago Cubs Anthony Rizzo, Jason Heyward, Jake Arrieta and Kris Bryant
May 16, 2016 — Chicago Cubs Javier Baez
Oct. 10, 2016 — Chicago Cubs
Worst Free-Agent Signing:
Before the 2013 season the Indians signed Michael Bourn to a four-year, $48 million deal and Nick Swisher to a four-year, $56 million contract. They were traded away together to the Braves in August of 2015 after having combined for 5.3 WAR. The Cubs, meanwhile, gave Milton Bradley $30 million over three years in 2009. Before his first season there was through, he’d be suspended for telling a reporter of the Cubs, “You understand why they haven't won in 100 years here." Not surprisingly, he was traded after his first season there. CHICAGO
Seasons Having Employed Jeff Francoeur:
Neither of these teams has ever employed Jeff Francoeur. Never forget—things could always be worse! TIE
Fans' Likelihood To Melt Down If Their Team Loses:
Grievance is in the air in Ohio this year. Had the Cavaliers not won their first title in June, Cleveland’s despondent fans would assuredly have produced caterwauling shrill enough to merit its own exhibit at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. But northeast Ohio sports types have improbably stumbled upon something like Zen. As for Cubs fans? If this juggernaut crumbles, they’ll have a beyond-deserved pity party. CHICAGO.
Four ties. Six categories for Cleveland. Seven for Chicago. Fly the W.