By Mark Paulette
A wise man once dubbed Cleveland, “America’s Gem.” Tonight that gem gets to host the most magnificent spectacle in all of sports; a game seven. It will mark just the fifth time a World Series has gone the distance this century, and does so to decide a winner which many took for granted all year.
The Chicago Cubs were the titans of Major League Baseball in 2016 from day one. Actually, from before day one, in Spring Training many were anointing this loose band of Cubbies the best team in baseball. They had offensive firepower anchored by corner infielders Anthony Rizzo and MVP-candidate, Kris Bryant. A pitching staff led by 2015’s Cy Young winner, Jake Arrieta, and which features veterans Jon Lester and John Lackey, not to mention Kyle Hendricks, who emerged with 16 wins and a league-best 2.13 earned run average at the back end of the rotation and while making a bid to keep the Cy Young in Chicago’s clubhouse. With a tea-sippin’, earflap wearing manager whose unorthodox ways have led to great success, and $50-million-dollar General Manager Theo Epstein, who is familiar with nixing curses thrown in the mix, this Cubs’ squad has it all.
What do the Cleveland Indians have? Enough “talent” to earn them an 83-79 record according to Sports Illustrated when it published its team previews on March 25. They possessed a promising, yet largely unproven pitching staff outside of ace, Corey Kluber. Besides a young phenom in shortstop Francisco Lindor, their lineup is constructed of aging vets on 1-year contracts and utility players looking to carve out roles at the big league level. Not to mention, once the season began, the Tribe lost their best hitter, Michael Brantley, for the year to shoulder and biceps injuries after just 11 games.
But that is the beauty of baseball, a sport where any man can beat another and luck plays as much of a role as skill. It’s a sport that anyone can relate to. It’s not played by giants; you don’t have to run a 4.5 40-yard dash or be able to bench press your body weight. A great team is proven mortal an average of 65-70 times a year. All it takes is a pitcher with a hot hand who can shut down the best team on any given day. An eighth of an inch can be the difference between a pop out to the catcher and a 400-foot home run. These are some of the reasons why the Indians winning the World Series would be good for baseball. It reaffirms a theme that this is a sport where anyone can knock the giants off their feet. (And even knock the San Francisco Giants off their feet in an even numbered year!)
The Tribe played the 2016 season with a payroll of under $84 million which ranked 26th-out-of-30 teams, compared to the Cubs who assembled their squad by spending $116,264,024 million. This is not a figure which is comparable across professional sports due to salary cap limitations in the NFL and NBA. Just imagine the Jacksonville Jaguars knocking off the Patriots in the AFC, or the Sacramento Kings going toe-to-toe with the Golden State Warriors. Can’t imagine it? That’s because it’s a phenomenon unique to baseball. Other North American professional sports are set up with salary caps to increase parity, yet it rarely works out that way. Baseball is set up to reward the mighty and allow the rich to get richer, yet every year a small market team escapes the shadows of the giants. (Figuratively, the San Francisco Giants have won 3 World Series titles since 2010.)
Besides reminding us that in the magical world of baseball anything is possible, the biggest reason an Indians win would benefit baseball doesn’t involve them. Rather, it would involve the losing Cubs. While a game seven loss would make for yet another winter of pain and misery for Cubs nation, amplified by coming innings away from a first title since 1908, the drought of titles and the chase for the holy grail offers an avenue for MLB to exploit.
In an age when baseball plays second fiddle to football, a sport losing viewers for a multitude of reasons, the heartache and despair of Chicago’s fortunes adds storylines and intrigue to each season, especially now that the Cubs have established themselves as potential perennial pennant winners for years to come. The storyline extends outside of Cubs nation, boosting ratings as people tune in to see if they can witness an event that has become far rarer than Halley’s Comet traversing the sky. Witnessing a Cubs world championship is literally something that few people on the planet can attest to seeing, and with the curse extending to a 109th consecutive year, it will only make people all the more eager for the day it happens.
So I apologize to any Cubs fans out there, but I will be rooting for the Indians tonight at 8 p.m. and baseball should be as well. If this slingshot wielding bunch, led by the bubble gum-chomping, ice cream devouring and future Hall-of-Famer, Tito Francona, can stave off the Cubs tonight, it will embody everything that is good about America’s Pastime.
Mark Paulette is the Production Value Coordinator of The Drive, weekdays 4pm to 6pm on 92.9fm The Ticket and streaming live at DriveShowMaine.com. Follow us on Twitter, @DriveShowMaine and “Like Us” on Facebook, Drive Show Maine.