Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The First Time Ever!

Starting tonight, at 8:00 PM Eastern time, 7:00 PM Central time, etc., people all over the world (not just Americans and Canadians) will be able to turn on their TV sets, mobile devices, computers, and so on, and experience something unprecedented:

They'll be able to watch live coverage of a World Series involving baseball's Chicago Cubs.  

Last Saturday night, Joe Maddon's club beat the Los Angeles Dodgers, 5-0, to win this year's National League Championship Series, four games to two
...and, at long last, snare the team's first NL flag since 1945. (That year's World Series- won by the Detroit Tigers, four games to three- could've been the first time a television network brought viewers a Fall Classic...if a date almost four years earlier hadn't gained infamy and, among other things, halted the progress American TV had been making.) 

Well now, here in 2016, the Cubs- after losing National League pennant series in 1984, 1989, 2003, and 2015- have to push the American League's best team, the Cleveland Indians, out of the way to grab major league baseball's biggest prize for the first time since 1908.

In 1908, you couldn't even turn on your radio and thrill to the Cubbies' four-games-to-one triumph over that earlier edition of the Tigers. America's first radio station- KDKA in Pittsburgh, PA- was twelve years away from signing on for the first time. (To follow MLB back then, you had to trust your local newspaper.) 

Speaking of trust...I had more faith in Terry Francona's team to get to this year's World Series than was the case with Chicago's NL squad. 

Francona, after serving as the Philadelphia Phillies' field manager from 1997 to 2000 (285-363 and Philly good for no better than third in the NL East in 1998 and 1999), got the Boston Red Sox' job in 2004...and took them right to the top of the sport, guiding his new team to that famous four-game WS sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals to end that 86-year drought between World Series titles.

Boston proved it all was no fluke by going back to the Fall Classic in 2007, when the Red Sox swept the Colorado Rockies...one of the fourteen teams formed in the majors after the Cubs appeared in what turned out to be the Cubs' final World Series of the 20th Century. 

The Red Sox were Francona's gig through 2011 (he left Beantown 744-552 and with those two Commissioner's Trophies); two years later, the Indians hired him...and he was named AL Manager of the Year after he guided Cleveland [the team he played on in 1988; his dad, John (better known as "Tito"), was with the Tribe from 1959 to 1964] to one of the two AL wild-card slots.   

And so, while the 2016 Indians were sailing past the Toronto Blue Jays, four games to one (the clincher was a 3-0 win), to get their first AL championship since 1997, I kept looking at this year's NLCS- and how the Cubs blew NLCS leads in 1984 and 2003- and thinking: "I hope the Cubs win it...but I've got the feeling Dave Roberts' club's gonna pull it off."

The Dodgers didn't pull it off. 

This time, the team with MLB's second-oldest current park (the oldest facility in the NL by 47 years) came through.  

Maddon, like Francona, knows a thing or two about transforming a hard-luck baseball team.

After two interim spots with the California/Anaheim Angels (1996 and 1999; combined mark: 27-24), Maddon got hired by the then Tampa Bay Devil Rays in 2006. Two years later, that club knocked the Devil out of its nickname, changed its team colors, and...won it all in the AL. (Okay, the 2008 Fall Classic didn't work out for the Blue and Gold; the Phils stopped them, four games to one.)

But Maddon won the 2008 AL Manager of the Year award, duplicated that in 2011, and left the Tampa-St. Pete area with a record of 754-705 in nine seasons in charge of the local American League team- the only winning record by a Tampa Bay skipper thus far.

Tom Ricketts and his team's general manager, Theo Epstein (the same Theo Epstein who helped the Red Sox get the 2004 and 2007 World Series titles as their GM), took a look at Maddon's record...and had him catch a plane to Chicago in time for the 2015 campaign.

Joe guided the Cubbies to a wild-card spot in his new league, an NL Division Series triumph over the Cards, and...was named NL Manager of the Year last year. 

And now, the Chicago Cubs are getting ready to take on a team that hasn't won a Fall Classic since 1948 (just the second WS berth ever for the Tribe; the first was in 1920)...and since 1948, got to the Series just three other times in the 20th Century: 1954, 1995, and, of course, 1997. 

Anyway...it should be an interesting World Series for 2016. 

Okay...that's a real understatement.

Especially if you're a Cubs fan.  

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