I will not be good for much for the next few days, or next couple weeks, or next month, depending on how far the Boston Red Sox can advance in the playoffs (or, taken from a darker angle, how physically and mentally debilitating a premature exit by the Boston Red Sox might prove to be). Starting tomorrow, Cardboard Gods will begin serving as Baseball Toaster’s headquarters for Open Game Thread chatter for each of the Red Sox games versus the California Angels. While I may be able to enhance that coverage with some stray memories about the past, I doubt I’ll be launching any wrenching multipart excursions into the wistful days of yore anytime soon. It’s the playoffs, and my concentration is already a little spotty. My primary goal for October is to not get hit by a bus.
Anyway, I wanted to kick off the playoff coverage here at Cardboard Gods by mentioning the team that has the potential to be the biggest story of October 2007. As all baseball fans know, the Cubs have not won a World Series in 99 years, a drought that has gained some added sting in recent years with the long-awaited World Series wins of the Red Sox and, worse, the Cubs’ crosstown rivals, the White Sox. For many years the Red Sox, White Sox, and Cubs sat together at the loser table at lunch, duct tape on their glasses, acne on their faces, making each other snicker joylessly by spelling out ”boobs” and “hELL” on their calculators as the cool guys sat at the Champions table with all the pretty girls. Now the Cubs are all alone at the loser table, nothing to keep them company but their stale peanut butter sandwich and their disappointing memories. As Merle Haggard might have put if he was a Cubs fan: “The only things I can count on now are my failures.”
The Cubs had many years when they didn’t even sniff the playoffs, which in some ways is a less painful fate than getting so close you can taste it and then caving (if you don’t believe me, just ask a Mets fan or a Padres fan today how they’re feeling and then compare the response to the feelings of a Baltimore Oriole fan who long ago turned his attention to building a ship in a bottle or porn or whatever one does when not obsessed with baseball). But there have been some awful Cubs moments, especially in recent years. Before the hideous 2003 playoff collapse and the 2004 end-of-season el foldo there were playoff disappointments in 1998, 1989, and, most painfully, 1984, as well as a monumental implosion in 1969 that turned a mid-August World Smashing 9-game lead into a pitifully meek 8-game deficit by the end of the season.
Eight years after the 1969 flop, the Cubs authored another lesser-known season of disillusionment. In 1977, the heads pictured in the card above combined with their unpictured necks, torsos, limbs, and other below-the-jaw bodily parts to race to a first-half lead in their division that grew as large as 8.5 games by June 28. They went 34-59 the rest of the way, however, finishing 20 games behind the Philadelphia Phillies. They say that when you get beheaded you are aware of what’s going on for a few seconds. You remember that you were once whole and realize that you are no longer. I wonder if that feeling is anything like being 20 games out of the money by season’s end, dead as a doornail, and thinking back for one brief second before the final out of the year, remembering how sweet life was in the middle of summer.