As much a historiography of the Cubs as it is one fan’s tumultuous relationship with a team that often seemed impossible to love but somehow made it impossible not to.
Baseball, perhaps more than any other professional American sport, has been built upon and exists within its own mythological framework. Its heroes and villains are the stuff of legend as are its myriad superstitions. From curses to the yips to rally caps to personal idiosyncrasies designed to help ensure a win or break an unfavorable streak, players, coaches and fans all have their own set of beliefs steeped in the storied tradition of America’s national pastime.
Of course the majority of this belief system is seen as the product of an arcane, bygone era, one in which baseball mattered far more than it does in the 21st century. Much of the blame can be placed on the so-called “Steroid Era” and its tainted superstars like Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Jose Canseco and Sammy Sosa, who robbed the game of its purported innocence and turned it into something far dirtier, far more unsavory and unappealing than it had once been in a simpler time.
Rich Cohen comes at the game from a position more in line with the halcyon days of the mid-20th century, when baseball mattered, players were seen as heroes and cities could live and die alongside their teams. As a life-long Cubs fan, he had, prior to the 2016 season, become accustomed to the disappointment inherent in supporting a club of perennial losers. The Chicago Cubs: Story of a Curse is as much a historiography of the Cubs as it is one fan’s tumultuous relationship with a team that often seemed impossible to love but somehow made it impossible not to.
Going back to the beginning, before they were the Cubs and well before Wrigley Field became something of a baseball Mecca, Cohen traces the trajectory of a team who at the turn of the 20th century was known more for winning than anything else. Here he sheds light on the legendary Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance defensive trio, war-shattered players like Grover Cleveland Alexander and the haunted figure that was Three Finger Brown. It’s in this bygone era of larger-than-life players that much of baseball’s appeal lies, its rich history a fertile landscape for those who enjoy waxing both poetic and nostalgic while conveniently overlooking the white-washing intolerance of the sport.
It’s also where the Cubs last established themselves as World Series champions, taking the title in 1908. In the 108 years that follow, Cohen analyzes every shred of the supposed curse that afflicted the team and prevented them from reclaiming the title despite several close calls. Beginning with the goat that was asked to leave the stadium following several ticket-holders’ complaints during the 1945 season, the so-called curse took on many forms: missed opportunities; crazed fans shooting their favorite players; black cats; questionable calls; a single fan who would become a scapegoat for an entire city as the 20th century rolled into the 21st.
There were, of course, bright spots along the way: Ernie “Mr. Cub” Banks; Bill Buckner’s pre-World Series disaster period; Harry Caray and his inimitable play-by-play. These bright spots helped the team’s appeal shine even in the midst of unenviable slumps, loses and heartbreaks. There are all manner of instances of the curse’s consequences, but, ultimately, Cohen comes to the conclusion that the curse is/was more a mindset than any sort of supernatural phenomena. Once that mindset was purged from the team, the ownership and the fan base, the Cubs were finally able to move forward and win the World Series for the first time in 108 years. It seems that the curse, or whatever you’d like to call it, has been officially lifted, allowing for the heretofore impossible to occur and the Cubs to once again be winners.