May 23rd, 2019


Mourning became the Cubs

Paul Greenberg

By Paul Greenberg

Published Nov. 24, 2016

Mourning became the Cubs

Tragedy has many compensations. For it's not how the game is played but how it's lost that counts. Or just not played at all. Especially baseball, which is a game of the mind. People complain about its slow pace, but that's so the devoted fan has time to think -- not just about what might happen on the field but what might happen or could have happened and didn't happen.

All that time isn't wasted, no more than reasoning things out is daydreaming. For in dreams visions are born. There's little enough time to think in this world of instant replays and instant polls. Why pass up the opportunity? Which is just what the Chicago Cubs once offered -- time to think -- before they messed up monumentally by ending an historic losing streak going back to 1908.

There may be joy in Mudville now, but for a certain kind of fan it rings hollow. For here was a decisive game that provided everything baseball should offer and, just as important, time to absorb it fully. And even to conduct a kind of Socratic dialogue about its lessons. For years and years the Cubs never failed to disappoint their fans, and now -- this turnaround. Only conventional thinkers might celebrate; connoisseurs of failure will cry.

There were dramatic turnarounds in the 2016 World Series, for the Cubs had fallen behind three games to one. And, dadgummit, in the final game, they pulled it out. It's enough to break the heart of anyone who relishes a string of unbroken defeats. There was something magnificent about it, and now it's gone.

They don't call baseball the greatest show on dirt for nothing. There was once an epochal quality about it. Ah, for the golden olden days when baseball was still the national pastime, and Americans had yet to be dumbed down by professional football. Our taste in sports had not yet been brutalized by all the shattering impacts on the small screen. The discerning fan had to wonder: Is this a sport or a Roman spectacle?

Chi-ca-go, Chi-ca-go! They did things on State Street in those days they never did on Broadway. And there was still time -- precious time -- to think. And read the newspaper cover to cover instead of watching the news that's streamed across the bottom of your television set in meaningless profusion. Which is why this year it paid to keep an eye on the down-ballot races, featuring once unknown names as the Trumpian tide surged.

Granted, there were certain satisfactions to be obtained by watching the long night's journey fade into disappointing day. Like the retirement of Boss Harry Reid in Nevada, for he's about the meanest, toughest Democratic boss in the country. At least since Mayor Daley the First ran Chicago and Boss Tweed did the same at Tammany Hall in New York in a different century.

All the Mayor Daleys and Lyndon Johnsons needed in the olden days was to know how many votes the national ticket needed in the closing hours of a campaign, and they would soon enough produce them. For they knew it mattered not who cast ballots in an election but who counted them.

In baseball, it still paid to pay attention to the details. It soon became clear that this election would no longer come down to a choice between the devil the country knew all too well and the one who might wind up our own Maximum Leader, complete with the power to make appointments and substitute his judgment for the people's.

But now the Cubs have made all that appear as relevant as yesterday when it is gone. Mourning became Electra, but now she's been reduced to just another rouged, lipsticked, high-stepping and always smiling member of history's chorus.

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Paul Greenberg is the Pulitzer-winning editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.