I first started following the Chicago Cubs in 1962, the summer leading up to my eleventh birthday. They lost a lot of games that year--many more than they won--and you could walk into Wrigley Field at game time on any day and pick up general admission grandstand seats for $1.50. On weekdays, so many seats remained empty that hookey-playing kids could bang the seat next to them as they all chanted in unison, "We want a hit! We want a hit!" They finished eighth in a newly-expanded ten team National League.
The following year, 1963, they were much improved, and everybody was excited. The Cubs went 82-80--an actual winning record--and finished fifth, in what was known then as "the first division." In a pre-playoff era, with only two teams going to post-season play, that was considered a respectable accomplishment. And it was a better year than the Cubs have had during the substantial majority of the 47 seasons that I have been a fan.
There was a brief flirtation with greatness in 1969, of course. When I left for college at the beginning of September they held an eight game lead in what by then was the Eastern Division of the National League. But then they imploded, and the Mets (the Mets!) went to the World Series. Cubs fans of a certain age have never quite gotten over the experience. (We will rejoice indeed when Shea Stadium is razed after this year.)
The next happy time was 1984, when the Cubs won 96 games and took the division. Yet, after winning the first two games in a best-of-five playoff with San Diego, they couldn't win the third. In 1989, as division winners once again, they didn't even get that close. The 1998 season ended with excitement, but they got swept in the first round of playoffs. Then there was 2003, still too fresh a wound for me to write about. Last year they won their division again, but proved no match to the Diamondbacks in the playoffs.
So now we're in the centenniel year of the Cubs' last victorious World Series appearance. I've avoided writing very much because most Cubs fans are highly superstitious about them and we take the notion of "jinx" very seriously. So I'll just say this: As I write, the Cubs are 85-50. There are 27 games left in the season. Do the math. They could lose every game left in the season--more than a whole month's worth--and still finish eight games over .500. Eight games! Worst case scenario.
This year, of course, that would not win them a division championship, or even a wild card slot on the playoffs (though in some years and in some divisions, such a record would result in Ocotber baseball). I fully want and expect them to have the division championship locked up before they arrive in Milwaukee for the final series of the season. Then it will be a matter of luck--who gets the breaks in playoff competition. But it still seems worth noting that, even in the impossible event that they "lose out" the rest of the season, they would still finish with a better record than has been their wont for the last half century.