Lovable losers: The agonizing history of the Chicago Cubs

Chicago Cubs players celebrate after Game 6 of the National League baseball championship series (David J. Phillip/AP)

The agony of baseball’s “lovable losers” is perhaps the sports’ most intriguing narrative.

The Chicago Cubs haven’t won a World Series since 1908. Since then the team has made it to the World Series seven times, the last in 1945 – 71 years ago. A national championship has never been celebrated at Wrigley Field, the landmark bandbox in Chicago’s north side that stands today as a nostalgic reminder of the franchise’s unparalleled history of falling short.

But after posting the best regular season record in the major leagues this season and beating the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLCS, the Cubs finally return to the World Series this week.

They face a Cleveland franchise that hasn’t won a championship since 1948. So either way, the battle of baseball’s longest-suffering teams will be one for the history books.

The Cubs’ 108-year championship drought is the perfect late-October tale. The team’s misfortune can be traced back to a bizarre curse, at least one terrible trade, devastating misplays in the field, and one ill-fated fan’s overeager attempt to snag a foul ball. Will this World Series finally spell the end of the Cubs’ championship famine, or be just another chapter in this historic saga?

Here’s what you need to know:

1907: The Cubs won their first title, defeating Ty Cobb and the Detroit Tigers 4-0.

1908: The Cubs won a second straight championship, again defeating the Tigers. They are the first franchise to win back-to-back World Series titles. The Cubs’ potent infield combination of Joe Tinker, Johnny Evers, and Joe Chance would be immortalized by the phrase Tinkers to Evers to Chance.

1910-1945: Chicago lost in the World Series to the Philadelphia A’s in 1910. The Cubs would post the second-best cumulative record in the majors over the next 35 years, earning six pennants but never winning a World Series.

The team played its first game at Weeghman Park, at Clark and Addison Street, in 1916. It would be renamed Cubs Park in 1920, and then Wrigley Field in 1926 when the team was purchased by chewing gum magnet William Wrigley’s family bought the team.

1945: The Cubs play the Tigers in the World Series again. They led 2-1 heading into the fourth game at Wrigley. A local bar owner, Billy Sianis tried to bring his pet goat, Murphy, to the game for good luck, but Billy and the goat were denied entry by ushers at the stadium. Angry, Sianis proclaimed that the Cubs would no longer win a World Series, as long as the goat wasn’t allowed in Wrigley. The Cubs lost that game – and then lost the series in seven games.

1950s: Despite the arrival of Ernie Banks, the Cubs spiral into mediocrity and fail to make the playoffs in the decade.

1964: The Cubs trade right fielder Lou Brock to the St. Louis Cardinals for star pitcher Ernie Broglio. Several other players were involved in the deal, which would become known as one of the worst trades in baseball history. The next season Brock batted .348 for the Cardinals helping them win the World Series. The Cardinals won again in 1967, as Brock went on to a Hall of Fame career. Broglio went 4-7 with a 4.04 ERA and was out of baseball a few years later.

1969: With a core of future Hall-of-Famers like Ernie Banks, Ron Santo, Billy Williams and Ferguson Jenkins, the Cubs rose through the late 1960s. In 1969 they led the NL East by nine games in mid-August, but managed to blow the lead. During the loss to the New York Mets that gave away first place while playing at Shea Stadium a black cat wandered onto the field in front of the Mets bench. The Cubs wouldn’t regain the lead that season.

1984: After struggling through the 1970s, the Cubs found new hope in the 80s. The Cubs led the Padres in the first two games of the NLCS, but San Diego came back to force a fifth and deciding game – it was the last best-of-five format for the NLCS, before switching to a best-of-seven. The Cubs led 3-2 in the seventh inning of the deciding game when a routine ground ball slipped through the legs of first baseman Leon Durham, allowing the tying run to score. The Padres went on to win 6-3.

1989: The Cubs win won their second NL East title in six years, led by Ryne Sanberg, Mark Grace, Greg Maddux and Rick Sutcliffe. But they can’t get past the San Francisco Giants in the NLCS.

1998: All eyes were on Sammy Sossa as he and the Cardinal’s Mark McGwire battled to break – or spoil, depending on perspective – Roger Maris’ record of 61 home runs in a season. But despite the national attention and an NL wild-card berth the Cubs were swept by the Atlanta Braves in the NLDS.

2003: The Cubs beat the Braves in the NLDS, earning the team’s first post-season series win in 95 years. Facing the Florida Marlins in the NLCS, Chicago took a 3-2 series lead into Game 6 at Wrigley Field. The Cubs led 3-0 with one out in the eighth inning when the curse descended on the Friendly Confines.

That’s when fan Steve Bartman attempted to catch a foul ball while sitting in the front row on the third base line in left field. He interfered with fielder Moises Alou, who would have been able to make the play. Instead of registering a second out, batter Luis Castillo then walked. The Marlins rallied for eight runs as boos and food reigned down on Bartman, who had to be ushered out by security. The Cubs lost the game, and then dropped Game 7. Bartman faced several threats of violence and has never spoken publicly about the incident.

2015: For a while it looked like Back to the Future was correct. Almost as Marty McFly’s adventures in time predicted, it looked like the Cubs had a shot at finally breaking the curse last season after beating the Pittsburgh Pirates in the wild-card game, and toppling the rival Cardinals in the NLDS. But the Cubs ran into the Mets and Daniel Murphy in the NLCS. Murphy – whose last name is the same to Sianis’ goat – hit a home run in each game as the Mets swept away the Cubs.

2016: The Cubs finished with the best record in baseball, winning 103 games. Chicago went on to sweep the Giants in the NLDS, and knock off the Dodgers 4-2 in the NLCS – earning a spot in the World Series for the first time since 1945, and setting off a party in Wrigleyville that was 71 years in the making.

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