Belfast Telegraph

It took 108 years but Cubs' curse is finally shattered

By Rupert Cornwell

The Chicago Cubs, being the Chicago Cubs, naturally did it the hard way - on the road, a blown four run lead, a rain delay, and finally a nail-biting extra innings victory.

But their epic game seven triumph over the Cleveland Indians to clinch the World Series may be the best thing that's happened to baseball in decades.

By any yardstick, the 2016 Series was one for the ages, a constant ebb and flow between two perfectly matched teams. As the whole world now knows, a 108-year drought, the longest suffered by any team in US major league sport, is over. Curses have been shattered, and entire volumes of Cubs jokes must be rewritten. Wait until next year? This is next year.

The significance however extends much further. Chicago will surely be a force in the game for many years. The Cubs became the first team since 1985 to come back from a 3-1 deficit, and the first this millennium to put up the best regular season and then win the World Series. They weren't some lucky wild card that got hot at the right moment. They are simply the best team in baseball. And ,with a beguiling mixture of wise heads and youthful prodigies, they look set to stay that way.

Time and again this post season the stage was set for a typical Cubs collapse: first when they were on the brink of losing a pivotal game four against the San Francisco Giants - only for them to score four runs in the ninth to secure a thrilling 6-5 victory and clinch the division series.

They wobbled again in the pennant series against the Los Angeles Dodgers, who shut them out twice to take a 2-1 lead, only for the Cubs to reel off three straight wins. And now the come-from-behind triumph over the Indians.

This is not the Chicago of yesteryear. This is a disciplined and focused club that has no time for curses.

But the whole of baseball is the winner. The Cubs' century of travails had made them America's favourite franchise. A warm glow of happy ending extends from coast to coast. Pity the poor Indians who were trying to break a 68-year drought of their own. Who would have forgiven them if they had ruined the best story line in US sport?

And for baseball, it could get better still. The TV ratings for Game 7 aren't yet in. But Sunday's World Series Game 5, when the Cubs were fighting to stay alive, was watched by a third more people than tuned into the rival Sunday Night Football - something that hasn't happened in years. For decades, football (the American version thereof) has been the real national pastime. Just possibly, baseball now has an opportunity to regain its throne.

The decline in the NFL ratings may be a passing squall. Some put it down to the presidential election. In 2016, politics is an even more brutal sport than gridiron. Others (including Donald Trump) blame it on the celebrated refusal of San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick to stand up for the national anthem which, they say, has turned off fans of a game usually synonymous with flag-waving patriotism. But football has more basic issues.

The on-field product, by common consent, is lousy this year. Barring the New England Patriots' Tom Brady, there are hardly any glamour names out there. TV coverage has reached saturation point, while constant commercial breaks and a proliferation of penalty flags are taxing fans' patience. Baseball has its longueurs of course. But this year it's produced real drama and real stars, like the Cubs' Kris Bryant and Addison Russell, both only in their early 20s.

Maybe too, the NFL's deepest-rooted problems are finally catching up with it: the procession of off-field scandals, involving domestic violence and spousal abuse, that the League has failed to deal with; and above all the risk of long-term brain damage, which has turned off so many parents of would-be players, and has some predicting football here will ultimately go the way of boxing.

Either way, the NFL's loss is baseball's gain (and, incidentally, basketball's too; NBA ratings are their highest in years.)

And the amazing World Series of 2016 will have done nothing to change the pattern.

Belfast Telegraph


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