Back in January, before the big blizzard hit and baseball seemed a long way away, Ernie Banks passed away. My first thought when I heard that news is that he never got to see it, and every Cubs fan alive today knows exactly what “it” refers to.
I last saw Ernie Banks alive when he was onstage at Wrigley Field, singing the song that he had once asked Eddie Vedder to write. The way that Eddie explained it, when Ernie asked for a song to describe what it meant to be a Cubs fan, the task seemed impossible. But when Ernie Banks asked for something, the Cubs fan that Eddie Vedder is felt duty bound to honor the request. And singing it together with 40,000 strangers on a summer night at Wrigley Field remains my top moment from a lifetime of following the Cubs.
But the moment that Eddie and Ernie and the rest of us longed for hasn’t arrived yet. The faith that it will arrive is what keeps us all going, year after disappointing year. I described what that feels like–or at least I tried to–in a piece published in Zisk Magazine later that year. If you haven’t yet read it–and that seems like a pretty safe assumption–go and give it a read, if you want to.
But just a few days after the Wrigley sing-along, a long-time Cubs fan named Dennis Farina passed away. He wasn’t the first Cubs fan, or the last, to go to his grave without seeing that moment that Eddie Vedder wrote about. It just so happens that we knew Dennis Farina’s name, and what his baseball allegiances were. So I wrote about that for another website, and speculated that all Cubs fans were hoping that we’ll live long enough to see the rebuild bear fruit. Again, every Cubs fan alive today knows what that fruit is, too.
In 2014, a few months after the Cubs finished dead last in the N.L. Central, Harold Ramis–another devoted Cubs fan–also passed on to whatever comes next. Again, there were lots of other Cubs fans who we didn’t know that had also been denied seeing the Cubs in a victory pose. We had been treated to a simulated version of it–remember that ad?–but the real thing still felt so very far away.
The early months of 2014 were tough. More losing, less hope, and the moment Eddie Vedder wrote about seemed as far away as ever. But the team seemed to improve toward the end of the year. They never escaped the cellar of their division, but things started looking up, with the young talent starting to arrive at the major-league level.
But then, after Joe Maddon had been brought aboard and some significant player acquisitions had been made, came the news about Ernie Banks. One more Cubs fan–Mr. Cub, for crying out loud!–had lost out on the chance to see the Cubs triumphant at the end of the baseball season.
In my despair at the death of Ernie Banks, I made the decision–on this website, even–that every single year had to be important. And I don’t mean making the wild card game and getting knocked out and still thinking of the season as a success, either. The Cubs won a wild card spot back in 1998, and at least they got to play three games before Atlanta swept them away to end the season. A wild card spot is a consolation prize, and nothing more than that to me.
Nothing less than a World Series title is going to do for me as a Cubs fan. Not even winning a division title will do, since I’ve seen five of those already. Each and every time, the Cubs have found a way to crush my hopes for the moment that Eddie Vedder and Ernie Banks sang about two years ago in Wrigley Field.
Does this all or nothing approach mean that I will be disappointed? Perhaps it does, but I hope not. To borrow a line from the Beastie Boys, my crystal ball ain’t so crystal clear, on that or anything else. But I do know this: If the Cubs come up short this season, at any level of the playoffs, it means that some Cubs fans–whether we know their names or not–won’t be here whenever next year finally does arrive (in both the literal and the figurative sense).
So don’t mention Next Year to me ever again. Next Year is now, and it will be until I go and meet Dennis Farina and Harold Ramis and Ernie Banks. And I’m fully expecting to see a World Series title before that happens.