We’re a few short days away from 2017 so it’s a good time to look back at the top 25 baseball stories of 2016. Some of them took place on the field, some of them off the field and some of them were creatures of social media, fan chatter and the like. No matter where the story broke, however, these were the stories baseball fans were talking about most this past year.
That headline notwithstanding, we don’t believe in curses around here. We don’t think black cats released near the on-deck circle or billy goats denied entrance into a ballpark have an effect on baseball games or the men, born decades after the fact, who play them. It’s a lot of fun to talk about such things but if you’re the sort who takes such things seriously, by all means, seek help.
That being said, 108 years between World Series titles is quite a thing. A thing that, over time, would’ve generated enough agita on its own. It was only fitting then, that breaking that title drought — or, if you must, breaking that curse — didn’t come easy.
The Cleveland Indians built a 3-1 World Series lead and not many teams have blown 3-1 leads. But it never felt like they had a handle on it the way other teams with a 3-1 series lead usually have. The Indians only had three starters due to injuries and they had to ride them hard. The 3-1 lead was based mostly on cold Cubs bats and those bats weren’t likely to stay cold forever. Anything can happen in a short series, but the Cubs made it go longer, gutting out at bats and picking up wins in Games 5 and 6. The longer two teams play the more likely it is that the better team will win, and the Cubs were the better team.
Game 7 meant facing Corey Kluber, who had been dominant in the playoffs to date. Unfortunately for the Indians, however, Kluber was gassed, allowing four runs in four innings. But even then it wasn’t easy. The Indians rallied for two runs in the bottom of the fifth and three in the bottom of the eighth, thanks to a gassed Aroldis Chapman, to force extra innings.
You know what happened then, of course. Rain. Kyle Schwarber leading off with a single to right field. Ben Zobrist slapping a double down the left field line, plating the guy who pinch-ran for Schwarber. Miguel Montero ripping a single to left field to make it 8-6. That score would hold and the Cubs would be World Series champions.
They may win more. Their core — Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber, Addison Russell, Javier Baez and Jason Heyward are all young. Willson Contreras is but a baby. The starters are older, but still fantastic. The front office is unparalleled in the game and team revenues will be near the top of all clubs for the foreseeable future. Dynasties are hard to come by in modern professional sports, but the Cubs stand as good a chance as anyone to become one.
But that’s not what makes this the biggest baseball story of 2016. It’s bigger than that. It, admittedly, involves curses. It involves a club’s identity. The one in which the Cubs were such perpetual losers that they became a punchline in movies, TV shows and literature. A punchline so potent that merely portraying them as winners constituted the entire joke. They were shorthand for “sad sack” and tolerable only because their losing was, at times anyway, lovable.
That’s all over now, though. The Cubs are winners. They flipped the script in 2016 and broke the curses. And they will never be seen in the same way again.