Staff Editorial 11/18
Who knew that all it would take to get baseball back on America’s frontal lobe was two championship starved franchises (one more than the other) and the curse of a billy goat.
If the 2016 World Series proved one thing, it’s that Americans love heartbreak. Coming into the 2016 Fall Classic, the much maligned Cubs and Indians shared a championship drought of an incomprehensible 176 years. It’s this type of futility that made this year’s iteration of the Fall Classic unavoidable. Everywhere you turned, seemingly neutral fans dug in and took sides, whether they wanted the Cubs to erase the memory of Steve Bartman or if they thought the year of the Clevelander needed to continue. Transplanted Cubs fans sported the blue and red of their beloved Cubbies with pride, and the Cleveland faithful donned their Rick Vaughn jerseys and hoped Major League would come to life.
The anecdotes were incredible. One Cubs fan, Wayne Williams, promised his Navy veteran father that if the Cubs were ever able to win it all, he would listen to the series clinching game with him. Wayne’s father, Wayne Sr., passed away at the age of 53, in 1980. So Wayne Jr. did the only thing he could do. He drove 10 hours, from his home in North Carolina to his father’s grave in rural Indiana, set up a lawn chair, turned on Game 7 and listened. It is these types of unbelievable stories that brought the buzz back to Major League Baseball (MLB).
All series long, the desire of Cubs fans for the century long World Series drought to end was matched by rabid Clevelanders who prayed for their unforgettable year of championships to stay alive. For eight days, millennials put aside their need for instant gratification and buckled into watch all nine, and in the case of Game 7, even ten innings of America’s pastime. For years MLB has struggled with younger viewers, losing viewership to the faster paced NBA and the hard hitting NFL. Game 7 of the 2016 Fall Classic changed that tune and earned a 25.2 rating, which, in layman’s terms, means somewhere between 38 and 42 million people tuned in at some point during Game 7. It was the most-watched broadcast of a baseball game since the Arizona Diamondbacks bested the New York Yankees in Game 7 of the 2001 World Series. Baseball was alive and well.
Never have there been so many subplots in a championship series. You had the obvious. The Cubs’ drought and the Indians’ drought of their own. You had the improbable. Cubs outfielder, and Middletown High School graduate, Kyle Schwarber returning to the lineup and being a major contributor just six months after tearing his ACL in the season’s third game. You had the downright coincidental. After Cleveland was the beneficiary of the Golden State Warriors choking away a 3-1 series lead in the NBA Finals, the Indians turned around and matched it with their own 3-1 collapse (and plenty of Twitter memes to boot).
Game 7 played out like a Shakespearean tragedy. At first it seemed just too good to be true. Cubs outfielder Dexter Fowler led off the game with the first ever lead off homer in a World Series Game 7 to give Chicago a 1-0 lead. The Northsiders built on the quick start and jumped out to a 5-1 lead through four and a half frames. It seemed like a sure thing. The curse was going to end. Then again this was the franchise that has been haunted for so many years by a goat, a black cat and one Steve Bartman. So obviously something had to go wrong, and go wrong did it ever. Rajai Davis belted a two-run homer off of the “unhittable” Aroldis Chapman in the bottom of the eighth to even the game at six apiece, and it seemed as if the plight of the Cubs may just last another year. Then out of all things that could have possibly happened: a rain delay. Fans from both teams laughed, looked up at the sky and said, “Haven’t we waited long enough?” Cubs outfielder Jason Heyward rallied his teammates in a tiny weight room near their locker room and gave a Rudy-esque speech that spurred the Cubs to their first world title in more than a century. It was a script Hollywood could not possibly have dreamt up.
Baseball is back. America’s pastime recaptured the hearts of every sports fan in the country. Outside of Opening Day, baseball can tend to take a back burner in a Cincinnati sports community that is dominated by all levels of football. To hear the conversation between students dominated by baseball brought back a certain form of nostalgia that has been missing, especially with the Reds serving as the perennial National League Central doormat. The 2016 World Series confirmed what we have always known: sports fans love a good story, even if it takes 108 years to come to fruition.