In this World Series the eye is drawn first to what isn't there,
as with missing front teeth or the slit in a skirt. What isn't
there, of course, are the Cubs and the Red Sox, whose absence is
a presence, like the phantom legs of an amputee. Many of us can
see nothing else.
You needn't know baseball to know this: The Yankees and the
Marlins, who will have won six of the last eight Series, are less
interesting than the Cubs and the Sox, who will have won 0 of the
last 84. Happy families are all alike, Tolstoy wrote in Anna
Karenina. Every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.
Cubs fans, as a family, are longer suffering than their Boston
counterparts. This is a fact. White Sox fans have suffered longer
than Red Sox fans without winning a World Series. Hell, Padres
fans under 35 have gone unfulfilled every bit as long as Red Sox
fans of the same age. But Red Sox fans--who think of themselves
aggrandizingly as a Nation, not a family--have suffered more
grotesquely. This is a critical distinction in their game of
one-downsmanship. Boston was one strike from winning it all in
1986. Other differences are more instructive. Cubs fans,
historically, have seen the glass as half full. Indeed, by the
time you get from the beer stand to your bleacher seats, it
usually is. Cubs fans have the Friendly Confines, Let's play two
and ivy. Their most famous fan is a comic actor, Bill Murray,
which makes sense: The Cubs lose because they keep slipping on
Red Sox fans traditionally see life's meat loaf as overcooked, no
doubt because Grady Little left it in too long. They have Bucky
F------ Dent, and Yankees suck. Their most famous fan is a horror
novelist, Stephen King, which makes sense: The Sox lose because
dark forces are aligned against them.
Wrigley's signature bars are, in name at least, cute and sunny:
Murphy's Bleachers and the Cubby Bear. Fenway's is dark and
downright medieval: the Cask 'n' Flagon.
Boston's media are sometimes hysterical, playing Chicken Little
to Grady Little. "Do you think Grady Little can show his face in
this town again, under any circumstances?" asked a columnist in
the Globe last week. The ALCS Game 7 loss to the Yankees was, in
a single subhead, EPIC and APOCALYPTIC. The team's one-named
stars--Pedro, Manny and Nomar--don't usually speak to the media.
Coverage in Chicago is, generally, more benign, and not because
the Tribune and the Cubs share an owner. It's just that in the
respective ways they are presented, Red Sox futility is out of
Homer, Cubs futility out of Homer Simpson.
For a moment in the NLCS, Cubs fans seemed more like Red Sox
fans, forcing into exile, Buckner-style, a 26-year-old fan named
Steve Bartman, who inadvertently kept the Cubs from catching a
foul ball in Game 6. He received so many e-mails the next morning
that his employer's computer system nearly crashed. There were
death threats and worse: a phone call from Diane Sawyer. Sox
fans, meanwhile, with their cowboy hats and their Cowboy up and
their--oy--Bennifer, seemed momentarily to lack their customary
But then as we all saw, both teams, after advancing to the verge
of the World Series, reverted to unspeakable form. The Cubs' two
aces, who hadn't lost consecutive games all season, lost
consecutive games at home to lose the pennant. The Red Sox,
meanwhile--in the house of their tormentor, Babe Ruth--built a
lead like a Jenga tower and then awaited its inevitable collapse.
They had all but won, and you could be forgiven for thinking the
next morning that they really had. The World Series logo was
painted on the field at Fenway, and the New York Post printed an
editorial (accidentally, in 200,000 copies of Friday's paper)
lamenting the Yankees' loss to the Red Sox. DEWEY DEFEATS MATSUI.
But, of course, they hadn't, and the Red Sox and the Cubs are
left to this, a World Series of Suffering, a Pratfall Classic:
Chicago versus Boston, L versus T, Big Shoulders versus Big Dig.
We're seeing, granted, what isn't there, but then that's what
baseballs do, too--seeing not the legs of Bill Buckner or Leon
Durham but the oblivion between them. And so the Cubs and the Red
Sox are endlessly returned to whence they came, outside looking
in, forever on the brink, awaiting a turn that never comes. It's
not the circle of life, exactly, but something more poignant.
It's the on-deck circle of life.