The baseball season began back in April. Eight months later, and the season has now reached its final night. The Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians will play the 37th deciding Game 7 in the history of the World Series. One of these two denied franchises will win their first championship in many years and the other will walk away from a long season in painful defeat. How marvelous.
The excitement and anxiety that a game 7 can produce is unmatched in sports. A season full of attrition and magical performances culminates in a few games played between two great teams with the whole world watching. They both are fighting to win and, in baseball, playing the mental games that no other sport has. They’re trying to keep up with the other guy and not look dumb on the game’s biggest stage. Those are common elements of every Game 7, but this year’s matchup has some extra history attached to it.
The Cubs and Indians are two of the most denied franchises in professional sports. Cleveland last won a World Series in 1948, beating the Boston Braves 4-3 at Braves Field in Boston (which is now Nickerson Field at Boston University).
Chicago, famously, hasn’t won a World Series since 1908. They beat the Detroit Tigers in five games, closing out the series in Bennett Park in Detroit to win their second consecutive World Series. Since then, not much success has come to these Great Lakes area teams.
After 1908, the Cubs went on to win seven more National League Pennants and lose every World Series they played in. They lost some of the most famous World Series ever played. The Red Sox beat them in 1918 before Boston sold Babe Ruth and induced the Curse of the Bambino, Babe Ruth called his shot against the Cubs at Wrigley Field in 1932, and Goose Goslin hit a walk off double in game 6 of the 1935 World Series to put Detroit over the Cubs.
Their last trip to the Fall Classic was in 1945 and it ended with a crushing game 7 defeat at Wrigley to Detroit. In a series heavily affected by the recently concluded World War II, the Cubs and Tigers played the last Series before many of Baseball’s stars, like Ted Williams, Bob Feller, Yogi Berra, and others, returned to the field from battle. It featured players who wouldn’t get a chance to play Major League Baseball otherwise, and they actually produced a pretty good series. It went the distance with Game 7 at Wrigley Field but the Cubs ran out of pitching and caused their own curse. William Sianis, the owner of the Billy Goat Tavern, attended the 4th game of the World Series. He took his pet goat with him to the game (yes this was allowed back in the day, kinda). The goat’s odor was unsettling to many fans around and Sianis was asked to leave. He famously proclaimed that the Cubs would never win again. The Cubs only won one of the four games played at Wrigley Field that series and lost the Series. They started Hank Borowy in both games 6 and 7 (again, yes they did that back then) and Borowy ran out of steam. He only faced 3 batters in game 7, gave up 3 singles, and Detroit got 5 runs in the first inning. The Tigers won 9-3 and until this year, Chicago had not been back to the World Series since then.
Cleveland’s record in the postseason is not much better than the Cubs. After their 1948 Championship, the Indians were most famous for playing in a cold football stadium referred to as the “Mistake by the Lake”. Cleveland Stadium was famous for feeling empty with 40k people, which felt even colder and more empty during the lean years of the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. there was one failure in the 50’s that stung Cleveland badly. In 1954, the Indians won 111 games, a then American League record, and faced the New York Giants in the World Series. They didn’t win a single game. They became a footnote to Willy Mays magnificent catch in game 1 at the Polo Grounds.
After being swept, they didn’t make it to a postseason series until the 90’s. The Indians made a dramatic turn around in the mid 90’s, becoming one of the best franchises in the sport. They got a beautiful new stadium in 1994 and won 100 games and the AL Pennant the next season. The Indians would make the playoffs every year from 1995 until 1999, and set a record for the longest sellout streak at Jacobs Field (Now Progressive Field). However, that era is marked by three painful defeats. First, Cleveland went to the World Series in 1995 and lost to the Atlanta Braves in 6 games, with Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux leading the way over the Tribe.
Cleveland returned to the World Series in 1997 and faced the expansion Florida Marlins and combined for one of the greatest series ever played, capped by a legendary game 7 in Miami. Cleveland took a 2-1 lead into the 9th inning, and looked to win a championship on manager Mike Hargrove’s birthday. And then things unraveled. Jose Mesa took the hill in the bottom of the 9th, and surrendered a run on a sacrifice fly to tie the game. Extra innings followed and the 11th inning still stings for Cleveland fans. Bobby Bonilla led off the inning with a single, and after a botched bunt, Craig Counsel grounded the ball over to 2nd base for a tailor made double play. Except Tony Fernandez (a 4 time Gold Glove winner who set a record for best fielding percentage for shortstops and drove in the only two runs of the game for Cleveland) committed an error and the Marlins were in scoring position. A few batters later, Edgar Renteria drove a single into center field and the Marlins won. Cleveland walked off the field shell shocked.
Two years later, they looked to threaten the powerhouse New York Yankees for the AL Pennant. They led the Red Sox two games to none in the division series and looked to take down New York in the ALCS, except they didn’t get that chance. Boston came back and forced a decisive game 5, and after a few barn burning innings early, Pedro Martinez came out of the bullpen and threw 6 innings of no hit baseball to win the game and the series for Boston. Cleveland would rebuild their team and the dominant 90’s teams were done. Cleveland had one more chance to win in 2007, but blew a 3-1 series lead against the Red Sox and Terry Francona (their current manager), and missed out on the Fall Classic.
I made a prediction for the Division Series earlier this year. I declined to make predictions for the League Championship Series and the World Series and I will NOT make a prediction for tonight’s game. I will appreciate the game, enjoy the competition, and be happy for the fan base and team that wins. Both of these franchises have long and checkered pasts. One of them will win and end their pain. The other will add another chapter to their agony. And it all depends on how the ball bounces in one game. How marvelous.