The Chicago Cubs and the Power of Narrative

November 3, 2016

USA Today

It is at times like last night’s World Series Game 7 when sports games best exemplify the gap between the hard reality of life on earth and the otherworldliness they occupy within the human mind. When the two teams stepped on the field Wednesday night, the players, no less mortal than you or I, assumed the roles of characters in a plot, a plot whose script lies not in the hands of any writers, but of its actors. To have watched the 2016 World Series is to have taken in a spectacular drama, with brilliant narratives that seem too wild for human creation.

There was the story of the team itself. 108 years had gone by since the last time the Cubs won the World Series, enough time that the wait to see a victory spanned families, generations, and lifetimes. As the drought went on, the Cubs consistently filled in the role of lovable losers. No matter how hard they tried, the supposed curse that hung over the team kept them from ever tasting the fruits of victory, and so they waited, year after year, for their chance at glory eternal.

That their elusive title should ultimately prove so hard to achieve seems almost like a given. There was no other way for the series to proceed than for the Cubs to come from behind; when a team is battling a curse so strong, it seems ridiculous to think that it would snap so quickly. What’s more, the final game’s extension into extra innings seems only right. When you’ve waited 108 years, would nine innings really suffice?

The rain delay, that 17 minute stretch where viewers caught their breath, only to have to hold it as Joe Buck warned us of worsening weather on the way, seemed to be the perfect final touch. To claim their crown, the Cubs would have to battle nature itself.

Of course I wanted the Cubs to win. How could I not? Their story of overcoming their past struggles and sticking through it to the top is perhaps the ultimate human narrative. For a viewer with allegiance to neither team, rooting for the Cubs was a way to show solidarity with Cubs fans, whose suffering is a sign of their very humanity.

And then there was the stories of the players themselves. Take that of David Ross, the wise veteran who, in his last game ever, hit a crucial home run, determined not to let his errors in the field define his exit. His sixth inning home run cleaned him of sins past, so that he could finally enter the heaven that is baseball retirement.

When Ross’ ball flew over the fence at Progressive FIeld, I jumped out of my seat with excitement. I can only hope that there will be home runs in my future when I make similarly egregious mistakes.

Take Kyle Schwarber, who suffered a brutal knee injury early in the season. After months of rehabilitation, he was finally able to rejoin and contribute to his team as they made their final push for glory. Schwarber’s comeback displayed a toughness and willingness to overcome adversity of which anyone would be jealous.

Of course, to believe a single word written above is to willfully omit some of the key facts in the matter. The Cubs weren’t underdogs in this series. They won 103 games this regular season, making them the best team in baseball. Back in March, this was the team that most experts were picking to win the World Series. A Cubs win should come as no surprise to someone who even took a glance at opening day rosters. In the past, the players who called Wrigley Field home might have lacked talent, but this team certainly did not.

This team also did not just fall together, its members bumping into each other by cosmic accident. The roster was orchestrated by Theo Epstein, the genius who has proven that there is no drought that an insane amount of money and a few brilliant minds can’t overcome.

Even the fans are not spared from the cynical blade of reality. After all, is it really that hard to root for Chicago sports? To think so is to forget that the Blackhawks have won 3 Stanley Cups this decade. It is to forget, as SportsCenter infamously did, that the city was graced with a World Series not that long when the White Sox brought home victory in 2005.

Oh, and it is to forget about a man by the name of Michael Jordan, the most iconic athlete in history who brought the city six championships during his time.

And even though I knew all of this, I rooted for the Cubs, buying into the epic tale that they whipped up on the field. After all, their story was better, regardless of any facts or cynicism that might get in the way.  The beauty of this Cubs team was its ability to master the idea of narrative. The Cubs, after a century of wandering in the desert, had finally found what they were looking for, and I was not going to let anything get in the way of my excitement for them.

Incredible narratives such as these are ultimately why I watch sports. Viewing baseball, especially playoff baseball, is like reading a book. In order to let the plot fully ride, I need a suspension of disbelief. Last night, as I sat with my friends and watched the game, I suspended any would- be talk of WAR stats, salary totals, or the fact that I myself have only ever been to Chicago once. I let the narrative unfold, and boy, was it great.

Chris Dunn
Chris graduated from the SFS in 2019. He is the Voice's former executive opinions editor, and is pretty sure the 2008 Phillies could beat any team in any sport ever.

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