Wisch: 2003 NLCS Didn’t Change Cubs, It Changed Cubs Fans
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By Dave Wischnowsky –
(CBS) Unless you were, I don’t know, wearing headphones all day, there was no missing the news on Monday that it was the 10th anniversary of the Chicago Cubs’ so-called “Bartman Game.” And to mark the occasion, the headline above Rick Morrissey’s column in the Sun-Times read, “Cubs changed forever by Game 6 in 2003.”
“It has been 10 years since the sky fell on the Cubs,” Morrissey wrote, recalling that fateful October evening when unfortunate fan Steve Bartman’s palms met both horsehide and infamy. “If you think that’s overstating things, then you weren’t at Wrigley Field the night everything fell apart.
“That was the night the Cubs were five outs away from going to the World Series. It was the night they found out how far away they really were.”
I was there at Wrigley on that night, and I don’t think that Morrissey was overstating anything about the impact of Game 6. But I do believe that he perhaps did misstate things. Because, I don’t think the Cubs were changed by that epic NLCS collapse anywhere as much as Cubs fans were.
After all, the Cubs of 2003 haven’t changed. They’ve vanished. These days, there’s a new owner, a new team president, a new general manager and a new manager – or, well, there will be yet another new one soon. The Cubs roster today is also completely different from the one that lost that series to the eventual World Champion Marlins.
But all of that’s just baseball. The faces on the field and in the front office always change. What doesn’t change are a team’s fans. Although, I’d argue, that when it comes to Cubs fans, they very much have.
Prior to ’03, in spite of both franchises’ championship droughts, Cubs fans bore a difference from their cursed cousins out in Boston. Red Sox rooters were the fatalistic fans that expected to lose, whereas optimistic Cubs fans hoped to win.
That was significant.
In 2003, however, the Cubs collapsed in the NLCS. And in 2004, the Red Sox finally won the World Series. Since then, Boston’s fans have experienced a change for the better as their team has become a perennial power, while Cubs fans have taken a turn for the worse, with the wounds of ’03 exacerbated by the team’s late-season failures in 2004, 2007 and 2008.
Long gone are the days of Cubs fans simply going to Wrigley, soaking in some sunshine, sipping some suds and watching Sammy Sosa hit a home run. Win or lose, it was said, they would head home happy.
That description of Cubs fans was never wholly accurate, but it wasn’t wholly untrue, either. Cubs fans were always resilient and upbeat in spite of their setbacks. Even the playoff disappointments of 1984 and 1989 didn’t dampen their generally sunny dispositions.
But after 2003, things changed. Since then, Cubs fans have demanded more, and they’ve been more surly when they haven’t gotten it.
Back in October 2003, prior to Game 6 at Wrigley, I also attended Games 4 and 5 of the NLCS down in Miami. And after Game 5 when Marlins fireballer Josh Beckett baffled the Cubs 4-0 to send the series back to Chicago with the Marlins down three games to two, my buddy Ryan said in all seriousness from his seat next to me at Pro Player Stadium: “That’s it. The Cubs are done.”
I laughed out loud at him and told him to get off the ledge. There was simply no way the Cubs were going to lose both Games 6 and 7 at Wrigley with Mark Prior and Kerry Wood pitching. No way, I said.
Two days later, of course, I swallowed my words – and Cubs fans swallowed a bitter pill that they haven’t coughed up in the decade since.
During that time, the Cubs haven’t really changed. They still lose, just like always. But now, the fans notice those losses a whole lot more.
That’s what’s really changed since 2003, and stands as the true legacy of Game 6.
If nothing else, Dave Wischnowsky is an Illinois boy. Raised in Bourbonnais, educated at the University of Illinois and bred on sports in the Land of Lincoln, he now resides on Chicago’s North Side, just blocks from Wrigley Field. Formerly a reporter and blogger for the Chicago Tribune, Dave currently writes a syndicated column, The Wisch List, which you can check out via his blog at http://www.wischlist.com. Follow him on Twitter @wischlist and read more of his CBS Chicago blog entries here.