“The Last Time the Cubs Won…”

I’m getting off to a slow start today, having stayed up until the wee hours to watch the Chicago Cubs pull out a dramatic, extra innings victory over the Cleveland Indians in a memorable World Series Game 7 that featured a reserve catcher who’s almost as old as me hitting a home run in his last baseball game, the Indians tying the game in the 8th with a homer off an exhausted Aroldis Chapman, a rain delay after the 9th (with a bigger storm rolling in), and the Indians getting the tying run on base after the Cubs put up two in the 10th.

Chicago Cubs players celebrating in the infield after winning the 2016 World Series
Licensed by Creative Commons (Arturo Pardavilla III)

On top of everything, of course, it meant that the Indians could not end a drought going back to 1948, while the Cubs came back from a 3-1 deficit to win two games on the road and celebrate their first championship since 1908.

No other sport has this kind of timeline. (The last time the Cubs won, the only other major sport competing was college football, at a much diminished level. No NFL, no NBA, no NHL.) So on the one hand, it’s a golden opportunity to illustrate publicly the concept of “change over time,” so crucial to historical thinking. Indeed, a Twitter hashtag soon started:

Consult my old post on the spread of new technologies since 1900 and you can generate your own versions of the meme.

Or just look at the rosters, where you’ll see evidence of several significant shifts in American society:

• In 1908 it had been 24 years since Hall of Famer Cap Anson (the leading player for the National League team that eventually changed its nickname to the Cubs) helped engineer the ban of Moses Fleetwood Walker, ushering in baseball’s infamous “color line.” Last night two African American centerfielders hit dramatic home runs: Dexter Fowler led off the game with one for the Cubs, and Rajai Davis tied the game off Chapman for the Indians. Cubs shortstop Addison Russell led the team in RBIs, reliever Carl Edwards, Jr. got the first two outs of the 10th inning, and rightfielder Jason Heyward called a team meeting during the rain delay.

1908 World Series score card
Score card from the 1908 World Series, in which the Cubs beat the Detroit Tigers for the second year in a row — Wikimedia

• In 1908 there were no Latinos in major league baseball. (Cubans like Rafael Almeida and Armando Marsans began to break that barrier in 1911, but only if they were “light-skinned.”) Last night, the combined rosters of the two teams included four players from the Dominican Republic, three from Venezuela, three from Puerto Rico, two from Cuba (plus Cubs outfielder Albert Almora, Jr., whose parents are Cuban), and one from Brazil — actually a bit lower than the 30% of all major league players who come from Latin America.

• In 1908 St. Louis, Missouri was the western and southern outpost of Major League Baseball, which made sense in a time when five in eight Americans lived in the Midwest or Northeast. Almost the same share now comes from the South and West, so it’s no surprise that last night, Cub pitchers from California started and closed the game — with relief from natives of Washington state and South Carolina in between — and a third baseman from Nevada threw the ball to a first baseman from Florida to end the game. Of the Indians who played last night, only three hailed from professional baseball’s original regions.

Of course, we couldn’t observe “change over time” if there wasn’t also continuity. “That’s a big part of baseball’s appeal for me,” I wrote in an Opening Day post I repurposed for Game 6: “everything that happens adds a layer to the archeology of a game that would be recognizable to Abraham Lincoln and Barack Obama alike.” And for some, the name of the Cubs’ opponent was just one reason to recognize the limits of social change:

But for the most part, it’s good to be reminded that America is capable of change, particularly in the days before an election that has been saturated in fear. After all, the last time the Cubs won, most Americans weren’t even able to vote or hold public office.

Or, as I tweeted after the final out:

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