For better or worse, Cubs all in to end 108-year championship drought
Despite PR recriminations, the acquisition of dominant but troubled pitcher Aroldis Chapman could be final piece in puzzle
When the Chicago Cubs acquired Cuban relief pitcher Aroldis Chapman from the New York Yankees last week, there were many numbers to consider.
Chapman’s pitching numbers of course, which are dominant across the board, his salary number, the number of players (4) the Cubs sent to the Yankees and even the number of the police report in Florida last year when Chapman was accused of domestic violence.
There is also the number of games Major League Baseball subsequently suspended Chapman for (30) on a “personal conduct violation”. However, in the end there is only one number that really matters: 108.
It has been 108 years since the Cubs last won a World Series. It’s an incomprehensible drought that hangs like a plague over Chicago and can often precipitate desperate actions.
One of the world’s truly great cities, Chicago, Illinois is the largest and most significant American city not next to the Atlantic or Pacific Ocean.
It is also a city that knows sporting title droughts, but that all changed when Michael Jordan came to town in the mid-80s. Jordan and his Bulls would win six championships in eight years and become a global phenomenon.
The Blackhawks would endure a 49 year drought before lifting three Stanley Cups already in this decade and even the crosstown White Sox ended their own 88-year run of futility by winning the 2005 World Series. But these days the Cubs, the so called loveable losers, are blessed with deep pocketed ownership and absolutely loaded with talent at both the major and minor league level. This year they are the best team in baseball and with the addition of Chapman they just got better.
Regardless of how guarded and pessimistic Cubs fans have become over the last century or so, the lid is off – This is the year! And it better be because nothing less than a World Series title will do for a franchise that has not even been in one in 72 years.
In 2009 investment banker Thomas Ricketts and his siblings bought the team and eventually hired Theo Epstein as president. Epstein proceeded to hire Joe Maddon as manager and both he and Maddon are among the very best in the game at what they do. They are progressive, bold and extremely media friendly and savvy. Every year Ricketts speaks to the team before the season and emphasises that while winning is important, character is paramount.
Understandably there was a fair bit criticism and intrigue when the Cubs acquired a guy whose girlfriend claimed he choked her and that he fired eight bullets into a wall in a fit of rage. Eventually, she relented and refused to press charges, as victims often do in domestic violence cases. In fairness to Chapman he is technically innocent despite MLB finding enough evidence of misbehaviour to suspend him for a month. However, domestic abuse is a hot button issue so Epstein and Ricketts spoke together on the phone with Chapman about behaviour standards. Cubs management assured one and all that Chapman expressed deep remorse and was committed to becoming a changed person. But there was only one problem. At his chaotic opening press conference, where the bullpen coach acted as a Spanish translator, Chapman said he could not remember the conversation with Cub’s brass because he had just woken up when they called. Ouch. The spin doctors spun rather quickly and Chapman later said that he was indeed remorseful and that things had been lost in translation.
Chapman is a towering, terrifying presence on the mound. His pitches routinely pop the 100 mph barrier. Routinely. The hardest thrower in baseball history, Chapman’s job is to get the last three outs of the game and in that regard he is dominating and efficient.
If the team breaks their seismic 108-year drought this year it could very well be Chapman on the pitching mound finishing up the job. Good, bad or indifferent, his alleged transgressions from a year earlier would be largely forgotten, at least temporarily, because this is professional sports. This is the Chicago Cubs and this is a 108-year-old drought. It won’t be important what Aroldis Chapman did. All that matters will be what he does because these days a large part of sports fandom is conveniently remembering how and when to plug your nose, particularly after 108 years.