The Cubbies Win the Existential Pennant! The Cubbies Win the Existential Pennant!

A few days ago someone sent me an e-mail asking me if I was at all concerned that the Chicago Cubs, who finished at the top of the National League, would go all the way to the World Series and win, thus rendering obselete a comment that one of my characters made in Old Man’s War, defending the Cubbies despite their then at least two centuries of championship futility. I wrote back and said this was one of those things I really didn’t worry about. One reason I didn’t worry about it is that there are no explicit dates noted in OMW, so I could just say that those two centuries of futility begin whenever it is the Cubbies win their last one.

But the other reason is even simpler, and that is because I firmly believe that the Cubs, when pressed, will always find a way to lose in the clutch. It is their destiny and heavy responsibility to be the sport’s designated losers — a destiny they previously shared with the Red Sox, but which they now carry alone, which of course makes it an even heavier responsibility. As I’ve noted before, if the Cubs were to win, what would they gain? A sports championship, to be sure, but how special can a World Series win actually be if even the Florida Marlins have won it? Twice?

But the Cubbies’ reign of futility — well, see. What other team could replace them? Among teams who have ever won a World Series, the next longest drought is held by the Cleveland Indians, at an insignificant 60 years. Among those who have never won the World Series, the Texas Rangers are mere pups at 47 years of age. No offense to Indians and Rangers fans, but the futility of these teams is pedestrian and banal compared to the futility of the Cubs. They are H0-scale version of existential dread. The Cubbies are the full-sized runaway train, hurtling headlong toward the burned-out bridge over a yawning, bottomless chasm. And the train is filled with adorable kittens.

You don’t just throw that sort of distinction away on something so obvious and common as a World Series championship. They give one of those out every year. The Cubs’ streak, on the other hand, is a century in the making. There is nothing else like it in the history of North American professional sports, and it’s made even more poignant by the fact that the Cubbies are so often good, as they were this year. They could have gone all the way. You could even argue that they should have gone all they way. But they didn’t. And now they won’t. And this is as it should be.

And so when the Cubs were swept in three games by the Los Angeles Dodgers (whose own streak of World Series futility is a mere 20 years long — a pup, as these things go), I was not surprised, and for the sake of Cubs fans, I was somewhat relieved. ‘Twere best it was done quickly, and all that; no point dragging those poor men and women through one or two more series just to compound the heartbreak. I understand that Cubs fans may feel differently, of course, but I think they may be too close to the subject.

The fact that I was born and raised in Southern California and am a nominal Dodgers fan has nothing to do with this, either. It could have been any team that stood in the Cubbies’ way. And if the Dodgers go all the way, what of it? What’s another World Series win to a team that already has six? They have their moment in the sun, and then it’s back to the relentless, cyclical grind. Meanwhile, the Cubs, and their streak, continue — a testament to persistence, to futility as Sisyphusian high art: Yea, a statement about the very condition of man. Perhaps a statement best read at a distance, as Cubs’ fans might agree. But even so.

I for one admire the Cubs’ position in sports and in history, which is why in Old Man’s War I see their streak continuing well into a third century. World Series wins come and go, but the Cubbies’ streak — well. That endures, my friends. That endures.

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