One Hundred and Six Degrees of Separation: Dealing with a Century-Plus Title Drought

Six degrees of separation is the theory that each of us is no more than six people away from every other person on Earth. Somewhat related, though far more specific in its scope, is the concept of six degrees of Kevin Bacon. But when it comes to our beloved Chicago Cubs, it’s time, not connections, that are at the heart of the separation.

While we’re at it, let’s bring in a few more “ation” words here: frustr-, Cubs N-, releg-, even masterb-. In case you’re linguistically challenged, what I’m saying is that the century-plus of the separation of Cubs Nation from title celebration has been cause for frustration, if not outright relegation to master…ing the concept of being comfortable in baseball purgatory.

And that’s not an easy thing to do either, finding a way to be at peace with a seemingly unending parade of mediocrity. Sure, there’s the occasional dash of fleeting success or a generous slathering of abject disaster thrown in to prevent the deleterious effects of inertia.

We’ve been opiated by the religion of sport, attending services in a venerated basilica of baseball while our senses are blunted by dogmatic recitation that exhorts us to Wait ‘Til Next Year (and to Be Alert for Foul Balls!). Hymns are sung and the collection plate passed as we commune on beer and dogs in green plastic pews. There’s even an organ!

But there are changes afoot in Wrigleyville as parishioners continue to question the roots of their faith. Gone is the proselytizing force of Harry Caray, the zealot who swayed at the pulpit with the preternatural charisma of the greatest revival preachers. The televangelistic power of WGN has been usurped by choice and change, its intrinsic pull atrophied to near impotence.

And what is there to convert new believers? As reward for following the Lovable Losers, the faithful are blessed with an eternity of lying prostrate in the gray-washed heather of the Meadows of Asphodel. And if that seems to stand at odds with the image of men in bright white uniforms with crisp royal pinstripes playing a child’s game in the verdant confines of Wrigley Field, that’s because it is.

Followers have begun to question their faith, but can you blame them? Years of watching as so many others were granted passage into the halls of Elysium are bound to chip away at even the strongest foundation, eroding it to the point where loss of integrity is a distinct possibility.

But even as many grow weary of wandering in the desert, no longer content with the occasional delivery of manna or rock-water, more still are perfectly content. Perhaps it’s the interminable journey that bolsters faith. Perhaps it’s the flailing, failing, and ailing that drives the masses ever onward, their trudging steps falling in the footprints of those who walked before them.

Because regardless of age, we’ve all experienced the losses of ’69, ’84, ’03 and more. To be a Cubs fan is to be tapped into a Jungian pool of collective memory, a vast subconscious aquifer that both irrigates and irritates as it alternates between fluidity and stagnation.

Perhaps, then, it’s not such a bad idea to stop quenching our thirst with the flouridated, chlorinated product of that aging wellspring. Besides, it does taste a little eggy. That’s not to say we cap it off for good, but rather that we go ahead and sink a new well and perhaps eschew some of the trappings of blind faith for the psalms of science.

There can be little doubt that some sort of voodoo or other brand of necromancy is involved in the continued success of that flock of red birds to the south, but what is magic other than science that we simply don’t yet have a means to understand or explain? After all, what looks to some like prestidigitation in Kansas City is actually cybermetrics.

And while that’s either a lost-in-translation snafu in the Sveumish-to-English dictionary or the title of an unpublished L. Ron Hubbard tome, the fact remains that there are some real principles upon which winning is based. We could argue ad infinitum about whether it’s possible to instill those ideals without the help of video boards and LED advertising, but that’d be like the congregants of a small-town church fighting over the color of the new carpet (it happens).

But enough of the overwrought metaphors. The Cubs’ last world title came 106 years ago today, a span that feels even bigger than the historically arid period it represents. I wasn’t there for 71 of those years, but if Carl Jung’s theories are indeed correct, then I might as well have been.

When it comes to baseball, I’m absolutely a proponent of science. However, I also recognize the presence of, and need for, an underlying sense of faith. Many have lost the latter, having hardened their hearts and replaced mysticism with cynicism. Change, progress, and hope have nearly fallen from their emotional vocabulary.

I’m a proponent of the science of baseball, but that doesn’t mean I’m any less emotional when it comes to this team; in fact, I’d say that my faith has grown with the advent of analytics. I will continue to remain vulnerable in spite of all the times I, we, have been let down. I will maintain optimism, even if that means having my heart kicked in the nuts…again.

Does that make me stupid or naive? Probably. But I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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