There still is joy in Wrigleyville -- though the mighty Cubs have struck out.
And out and out and out. In fact, they led the majors in strikeouts with a team total of 1,518. But what if they’d won anyway? What if with all those K’s and a lineup averaging less than 25 years of age and the boatload of errors, bad decisions and bonehead plays they made at the end, they’d still won it all? What then?
Exactly. Wouldn’t they have a bad case of “what do you do for an encore?” Or worse, “Is that all there is?” No, these boys have some learning to do.
Even the brilliant twenty--three-year-old third baseman Kris Bryant who, with twenty-six home runs and ninety-nine RBI’s is the probable Rookie of the Year; the brainy right fielder Jorge Soler who learned more about the strike zone in a half season than some guys do in a career; the built like a brick outhouse catcher/outfielder Kyle Schwarber who can hit opposite field home runs when he’s been fooled and is bailing out on the pitch; the beautiful (and I mean beautiful) kid shortstop Addison Russell who takes your breath away as only the very best can.
No, they weren’t ready, but I had more fun watching them get ready than I’ve ever had in nearly sixty years as a baseball fan. In all that time I’ve never had a team that put their heads down and started charging at the beginning of August and didn’t stop until they hit the wall half way through October. Their record for the last two months was 42 and 18 and on the season they had thirteen walk-off wins. The number of walk-offs they had the year before: 0.
Be careful, you are saying. It may not happen again. I know. The Cubs or any team are always just (pick any two) a sore arm or broken bone or head case or drug problem or dugout fist-fight away from mediocrity. Look at the Nats. We could be them.
Still, I say, the Cubbies weren’t ready. It would have been too easy. Even if the chance never comes again, they need a worry line or two, a few gray hairs, a slight infusion of Kirk Gibson or Pedro Martinez or, well, Daniel Murphy. They need some character. Some more of the stuff Starlin Castro showed when after being unceremoniously benched in August because he had the lowest OPS among twenty-two eligible big league shortstops, he came back to play a new position almost flawlessly and lead the league in hitting in September with an average of .426.
But for me the enduring image of this remarkable season is the fawn face of the twenty-one year old shortstop Addison Russell when asked what his feelings were when he heard he’d been traded to the Cubs. “I thought the A’s were mad at me,” he said. “I thought I’d done something wrong.”
It’s still a child’s game. Or perhaps it is again. – Peter Ferry
Peter Ferry is the author of the novels Travel Writing (2008) and Old Heart (2015).