07/22/2004: A Tale of Two Pities....
Michael Wilbon of the WaPo has an excellent column on the ups and downs (mostly downs) of being a Cubs or a Red Sox fan:
I know what's wrong with the Sox. I know what's wrong with the Cubs.
They're cursed. They're both cursed, but not by a goat (in the Cubs' case) and not by the trading of the Bambino (in the Sox's case) but by the weight of expectation.
We should have known back in the spring, when the Red Sox put together the second-most expensive roster in Major League Baseball and when the Cubs were toasted on the cover of Sports Illustrated as the team to beat in the National League, that both franchises were headed for doom. It's too much for either to handle, the sell-out crowds night after night, the opening-night atmosphere that surrounds every home game. The Cubs and the Sox aren't just ballclubs anymore; they're cultural phenomena in which people all across America are emotionally invested.
And while the players are hardly ever from Chicago or Boston, they can't help but feel the weight of those desperate expectations when they drive to the ballpark every day -- or for that matter when they go to the dry cleaners or to dinner. It's heavy. Hall of Fame ballplayers have been crushed by the weight of these burdens for decades and counting.
It's going to take some supernatural star surrounded by an exceptional cast of players to break through the culture of losing in both places. And neither team has that now. The bat-throwing incident involving Boston's David Ortiz and the back-to-back ejections of Cubs pitchers Carlos Zambrano and LaTroy Hawkins demonstrate exactly how ill-equipped the two teams are to handle huge expectations.
Manager Dusty Baker says the Cubs aren't melting down, that the ejections prove how passionate the Cubs are. Another interpretation would be that anger, in this case, doesn't equal passion. What it really illustrates is understandable frustration bordering on rage. Ortiz, Zambrano and Hawkins can see their seasons slipping away. Oh, they care. They can't leave their homes without being told how much people in Chicago and in New England care, and they take on the same sense of desperateness to win.
What we've got now in the case of the Cubs is players wearing their raw desperation on their sleeves. Why else would Zambrano, after getting lit up for a home run, follow Jim Edmonds around the bases wagging his finger and screaming at him? What ails the Cubs is more than a trade for Garciaparra can fix, and what ails the Red Sox is more than Randy Johnson can fix if the trade winds blow. Don't tell me Theo Epstein is a genius in February; he's not the first Red Sox executive to put together a lineup of mashers and great pitching. The only way he'll earn that status is for his Red Sox to win in October.
The Cubs, meanwhile, pose no threat, not physically, emotionally or psychologically, to the Cardinals, who -- and God do I hate to admit this -- are everything the Cubs aren't. The Red Sox appear to have more fight in them than the Cubs, but not enough to overcome both great expectations and the Yankees.
Len on 07.22.04 @ 12:10 PM CST