CHICAGO (CBS) — It was a party 108 years in the making, and it didn’t disappoint.
Over the past 31 years, the city of Chicago has celebrated the Bears winning a Super Bowl, the Bulls winning six NBA titles, the White Sox winning their first World Series in 88 years and the Blackhawks winning six Stanley Cups, but all of those parties paled in comparison to the blowout at Grant Park for the world champion Chicago Cubs on Friday.
The weather was perfect, with sunny skies and temperatures in the mid-50s as massive crowds packed Wrigleyville, the Magnificent Mile, and Grant Park to pay tribute to the 2016 World Series champs.
Hutchinson Field at Grant Park, which also hosted two of the three Blackhawks’ rallies, was filled to capacity, a sea of Cubbie blue, even before the first wave of trolleys and double-decker buses began carrying Cubs players, coaches, staff, and families from Wrigley Field to downtown.
Dutchie Caray, the widow of legendary Cubs broadcaster Harry Caray, said he “would be in heaven” to see so many Cubs fans celebrating a World Series title.
“He would be so elated,” she said.
City officials estimated the crowd at 5 million people for the parade and rally, far beyond the victory celebrations in recent years for the White Sox and Blackhawks.
Kicking off the rally in Grant Park, Cubs owner Tom Ricketts said the guys who won the title will forever be known as more than just players.
“They are going to be Chicago baseball legends,” he said.
Cubs president Theo Epstein thanked Cubs fans for their decades of patience and support, especially in the first few years when he was running the team, as the team focused on developing young prospects, while sacrificing wins at the major league level.
“We’ve asked asked a lot of you, and we put you through a lot over the last five years — 101 losses, trading players you’ve come to know and love for guys you’ve never heard of, trading 40 percent of the rotation three years in a row, asking you guys to follow the draft and follow the minor leagues,” Epstein said. “Let’s be honest, for a while there, we forgot the ‘not’ in ‘Try not to suck,’ but you stayed with us.”
Humble as ever, manager Joe Maddon credited the players and his coaching staff for doing the bulk of the work on game days and praised the team’s scouts for helping build the “finished product” fans saw on the field.
“I stand in the corner of the dugout and try not to screw it up the best as I possibly can,” he said.
Epstein and Maddon each reflected upon the manager’s hiring in early November 2014, after a famous meeting in Florida along the beach and next to Maddon’s RV.
“When he crushed a shot and beer at his opening press conference, I knew we were in good shape at that point,” Epstein said of Maddon.
Hall of Fame Cubs second basemen Ryne Sandberg was among several Cubs alumni who joined the parade. He said the World Series run was a “pretty incredible ride,” especially after falling behind the Indians, 3-1.
“This team had its back against the wall,” he said. “Favorite coming in, but they came through when they had to, and they did it by sticking together, and their character, and they enjoyed playing the game of baseball. They had fun. I think that was the biggest thing. They were able to stay loose in those moments and have bounce-back games, which it took for them to get to this point,” he said.
Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo brought the ball that secured the final out in Game 7 on Wednesday and presented it to Ricketts on-stage. Rizzo had put the ball in his back pocket upon recording that final out.
Dexter Fowler, Jon Lester, Kyle Schwarber and David Ross also spoke to the crowd. Rizzo got choked up talking about Ross and the leadership he brought to the team. Ross is retiring now.
Sandberg won an NL MVP, nine Gold Gloves, seven Silver Slugger awards and was a 10-time All-Star for the Cubs, but he said seeing them win the 2016 World Series was “the last feather in my cap.”
“Three things off of my bucket list: Cubs to a World Series, Cubs win a World Series and then a parade down Michigan Avenue,” Sandberg said. “All in a week’s time, can’t beat that.”