October 2, 2009

End of the Bench: After a season of frustrations, the World Series can wait

October might be my least favorite month. We’re back at school and the O-Week honeymoon is over. The weather gets nice and depressing again.

Most importantly, Cubs fans meet face-to-face with futility—that enormous, Cardinals-hat-wearing wall that, for the past one-hundred-and-who-cares-about-the-exact-number-when-you’re-into-triple-digits years, has stood between the North Siders and a World Series Championship.

In 2007 and 2008, October meant the worst kind of heartbreak for Cubs fans, complete with sleepless nights and “Love Is a Battlefield” on repeat. (If the ladies reading that line will please forget they ever read that, or at least choose to remember me as something other than “the Pat Benatar guy.”)

Meanwhile, we have to watch other teams move on. The Red Sox won it all in 2007, and the Phillies got their rings last year. And it just never seemed to make any sense.

Did anybody really think the Dodgers were better than the Cubs last year? When it came down to it, the Dodgers were really only better for three games, and those happened to be the three playoff games that counted.

My brother came into this season with a new philosophy. Along with his annual “this is our year” prediction, he said the regular season wouldn’t matter at all, offering the simple reason that “playoff baseball never makes sense.”

By that, he meant that a lot of the time, the best team doesn’t win the championship. A lot of the time, the best team doesn’t even make it to the championship game. Nobody really thought the 2007 Rockies were the best team in the NL that year. And this season? Well, we’ll know his theory was right if the Tigers get the champagne shower at the end of the month.

This season, it seemed like that’s all that Cubs fans had to hold onto: The completely nonsensical idea that somehow, in the face of endless injuries, no hitting, a grumpy right fielder, an underperforming left fielder, and a record that showed all of the team’s problems right on the scoreboard, the Cubs would sneak into the playoffs and end this era of not-so-good feelings.

So it’s come to outright denial and delusion on the North Side. But would we really want the Cubs to win it all in a season like this?

(All of the Cubs fans in the room just started questioning my sanity. Of course we’d want to win in a season like this; we’d want to win any way we can.)

For the good of baseball, I say the answer has to be “No.” Sure, the best team doesn’t always win, but that doesn’t mean a really bad team should win. You can’t lose 10 games in a 13-game stretch in August and expect to compete. It just doesn’t happen. It’s harsh and sad and I know how all those people holding “It’s Gonna Happen” signs are feeling, but this wasn’t the team.

We should have seen it when Aramis Ramirez got hurt, or when Alfonso Soriano forgot how to hit, or when Milton Bradley forgot that playing pro ball means being a professional.

At the end of it all, at least we know that baseball kind of makes sense. There will always be incredible runs like the Rockies had in 2007. But, to me at least, it also makes sense that those kinds of things don’t happen on the North Side.

When it’s the Cubs’ year, we’ll know it by how they play all season. We’ll be able to recognize their championship swagger from a distance. So let’s just try to ignore that faint sound of Joe Buck’s voice crowning some other team this October and look ahead to the happier months of the winter, when we’ll all be too busy in the Reg to care about why the Bears aren’t winning either.

And hey, at least the White Sox are gone, too.