Take a break and think about the Cubs for awhile

They'll be coming out of the woodwork, my wife says. Cubs fans, she means.

She's right, too. People will be jumping on the bandwagon if the Chicago Cubs actually manage to win their series with the Atlanta Braves and move onto the next round of baseball playoffs.

And if they get to the World Series? Holy cow.

There's nothing like a perennial runner-up to bring out the casual fans. Witness the decision by Fox Sports to put the Cubs-Braves in prime time for Game 1 instead of the New York Yankees.

It paid off with a 7.5 national rating, the highest for a playoff opening game since 1999. That's 10.9 million viewers.

Even if you're not a sports fan, you may know the Cubs haven't won a World Series since 1908. They had players like Mordecai "Three Fingers" Brown and the double-play combination of legend, Tinker to Evers to Chance back then.

Beating the Detroit Tigers, it was in fact their second World Series title in a row -- the first team ever to do that.

Unfortunately, they didn't do it again for the rest of the century.

It's not that they haven't had good teams since then. Shoot, it was just 1945 when they lost to the Tigers in the seventh game of the Series.

Before you get the idea I'm a Cubs fan, I'm not. I'm a Cubs nemesis -- a St. Louis Cardinals fan.

Where I grew up in central Illinois, there are only two kinds of people. Everyone in my little hometown could tell you -- still can -- which were Cubs families and which were Cardinals families. And should marriage intermingle the two, well, you just shook your head and whispered to your neighbor, "It'll never work out."

But just because I'm a lifelong Cardinals fan doesn't mean I can't root for the Cubs. In fact, it gives me the right.

The Cubs are like having an ugly sister. It's OK for me to make fun of them, but if somebody else does, then I'm going to leap to their defense.

For example, Wrigley Field was known for decades as the only major-league ballpark without lights. People said the owners were cheap or stuck in their old-fashioned traditions.

But they probably didn't know why Wrigley Field didn't have lights. P.K. Wrigley bought lights and was going to have them installed for the 1942 season. But then the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on Dec. 8, 1941, and Wrigley donated the lights to the War Department.

So what if it took another 43 years and a change in ownership to install lights? When they finally did have a night game at Wrigley Field, in 1988, it got rained out.

The characters employed by the Cubs over the years are legion, from the always-smiling Ernie Banks to the ever-scowling Leo Durocher. They've had great players like Banks and Billy Williams and Ryne Sandberg, but you'd have to be a true Cubs fan to remember the tragic story of Ken Hubbs.

Hubbs, a graduate of Colton High School in Riverside, Calif., was the National League Rookie of the Year in 1962. He set a record by going 78 straight games without making an error, becoming the only rookie second baseman to win a Golden Glove award.

Expectations were high for Hubbs. But Hubbs had an extreme fear of flying, and teams by then had adopted the practice of taking planes to all their away games. It might make him a better player if he could conquer that fear, he reasoned.

So Hubbs began taking flying lessons. And in 1964 his plane crashed into a lake near Provo, Utah. He was 23 years old. They still have an awards banquet at Colton High School named in his memory.

Among Cubs legends, the most enduring is the Billy Goat Curse, which was placed on them in 1945 when tavern owner Billy Sianis wasn't allowed to bring his goat to the game. He'd been making it a habit, as a good-luck charm and bit of promotion for his Billy Goat Tavern. But prior to Game 4, Wrigley supposedly told him the goat stinks and ordered ushers to ban it.

Sianis, as the story goes, turned and placed a curse on the team that it would never win another World Series. Attempts to lift the curse, such as Sianis' grandson bringing a goat to a game in 1984, have failed.

I tell you all this not because it's important, but because it's not. I'm tired of thinking about recall elections and war in Iraq and sales-tax figures and whether the Ormsby House is going to be imploded.

I simply wanted to think about baseball for awhile and rummage around in the attic of Cubs' history. I'll be happy if the Cubs win. In fact, I'll be happy just watching some baseball over the next couple of weeks.


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