The Waiting Game
“Now I can go to my grave a happy person.”
It’s a morbid thought, but people were all right with it because they had lived long enough to see their favorite baseball team win the World Series. Unfortunately, so many fans haven’t lived long enough to see a championship.
After the Chicago Cubs won the World Series in 1906, it took the club 110 years to win its next title, with Billy Goats and Bartman in between.
After winning the World Series in 1918 and selling Babe Ruth to the Yankees, the Boston Red Sox were as close to being a cursed franchise as baseball could fathom. Following the debacle of the 1986 World Series loss to the New York Mets, one Red Sox fan said of the team: They did it to our fathers and now they’re after us. It took the Red Sox 86 years to win another title in 2004.
Coming close – the Cubs in 1969, the Red Sox losing four World Series, all in seven games – made for painful fandom, but was it more painful than being a fan of a club that was terrible for decades? After winning the pennant but losing the World Series in 1915, the Philadelphia Phillies began a downward spiral for the next 30 years. It became the first professional franchise to lose 10,000 games. From 1918 to 1947, it had a losing season every year but one.
Had enough? There’s more.
In 1964, the team was in first place, leading the league by 6.5 games with 12 games to go. World Series tickets were printed and mailed to season ticket holders. The club then lost 10 straight – and the pennant. Thirteen years later, the Phillies were a powerhouse – and with nobody on base and two outs in the ninth inning, the team was one out away from taking a 2-1 lead against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLCS, only to lose the game that became known as Black Friday. They lost the series the next day. Except for the St. Louis Browns, who won a World Series after relocating to Baltimore in 1966, the Phillies were the only one of the original 16 major league teams that had never won a World Series. Even the upstart New York Mets won a championship only seven years into their existence.
But thanks to Pete Rose and some other additions, the Phillies won its first World Series in 1980, a 97-year wait.
Howard Goodman, Peter Filicetti and John Rossi are avid baseball fans but each paid a price: they lived in Chicago, Boston and Philadelphia, respectively, and didn’t see a championship well into adulthood. Goodman was 67 when he saw the Cubs win it all. Filicetti was 68 in 2004 and Rossi, theoretically the most fortunate, had to wait until he was only 44 in 1980.
After the Cubs won the World Series in 2016, I asked Goodman what it meant to him to see his team be champions. “I was born in 1949, almost four years after the Cubs’ last Series appearance. So, I was 67 in 2016. Sixty-seven years of drought!
“For so many years, so many decades — ever since we were kids, baseball-crazy kids — the Cubs stunk. Losing was our fate. And when the team came close to winning something, like in 1969, or with Bartman, there’d always be some devastating collapse,” he added.
Philadelphia: World Series Most Valuable Player, Mike Schmidt, of the Phillies, is hoisted into the air as the Phils celebrated victory, October 21, 1980, over Kansas City.
“You learned that every hint of hope held the seeds of doom,” he said. “As my lifelong friend Barry, who is far more Cub-obsessed than I could ever be, says, ‘You learn to take the bad with the bad.’”
Goodman said, “I was at Game Five at Wrigley when the Cubs, facing elimination at 3-1, won the game and sent the series back to Cleveland. It was the last game in Chicago of the magical season, and the fans wouldn’t leave. We were all singing the Steve Goodman song, Go, Cubs, Go, and the sound could be heard for miles through the North Side night.
“I don’t know how much of the last two games you watched, but that Game 7 was just too tense and twisty and dramatic,” he recalled, but, “Oh my God, the joy. The texts. The phone calls. The hugs, the tears, the drinks, the recollections, the relief of shedding the lifelong burden of loser.”
The universe was surely off its axis, he said.
“And one of the great things? That they still play in modest old Wrigley, the ballpark I inhabited as a kid.”
Peter Filicetti said of the Red Sox championship in 2004: “I cannot adequately express my excitement to see the Red Sox win their first World Series in 86 years. As a fanatic fan since childhood, I thought about all those frustrating years when they were on the cusp of getting into the Series and the years 1946, 1967, 1975 and 1986 when they did and lost. After that miraculous comeback against the Yankees (in the ALCS), I was getting myself ready for another frustration. The Curse of the Bambino always came to mind in a die-hard Red Sox fan.
“When they won that fourth game I almost came to tears,” said Filicetti. “I thought about all those people in New England who were thinking of their loved ones who had spent their whole lives rooting for the Sox, hoping they would see the Sox win a World Series. I remember hearing about parents getting their children up from bed to see the celebration. Others went to their parents’ graves placing Sox memorabilia.”
Boston Red Sox celebrate after winning game 4 of the World Series Boston Red Sox vs St Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium in St Louis, Missouri on October 27, 2004. The Red Sox beat the Cardinals 3-0 to win the World Series 4-0. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/WireImage)
For John Rossi, the Phils’ championship in 1980 “was a major thrill for me, especially as I had suffered through two Phillies let downs. In the 1950s the Whiz Kids got my hopes up only to peter out badly as the decade wore on. The next good Phillies team ended in a crash in 1964, and that was hard to take as I was older and a more serious fan.” A retired history professor, he later wrote a book about the season, The 1964 Phillies: The Story of Baseball’s Most Memorable Collapse.
“By the time the next Phillies solid squad began to develop (in) 1973, I was caught up in its development, especially as the team produced solid players each year: Larry Bowa, Greg Luzinski, Steve Carlton, Mike Schmidt, Dave Cash, etc. The teams of 1976-1978, but especially the ‘77 team, which was the best Phils team I ever saw up to that point, broke your heart,” he said.
By the start of the 1980 season, Rossi didn’t expect much from the team.
“I thought they were over the hill. If you remember, they only started playing good ball in mid to late August. I had a hunch they were better than the (Montreal) Expos. but the end of the season was too close.” The team clinched the NL East by beating Montreal on the next-to-last day of the season.
The Phils’ come-from-behind victory against the NL West champs Houston Astros convinced Rossi they would win the World Series.
“I thought they were better than Kansas City. I was shocked when the Royals won two in a row to tie the Series. The Sunday game when the Phils won (game five) in the 9th with Carlton scheduled to pitch game six left me believing the Phils would win the Series. When they did it was like a big burden being taken off your shoulders, especially as it reversed all the negativism of what went before, in 1964 and Black Friday,” he said. “I must admit I didn’t find that team particularly likable, unlike some of the 1970s squads, so that mitigated some of my pleasure in the win. It was just nice to be Number One in something given Philadelphia’s reputation as being a town of losers.
“By the way,” he added, “despite 1980 and (another title in) 2008, I’ll never forget 1964 in a way like you never forget your first great love.”
The Chicago Cubs celebrate winning the World Series at the end of Game 7 of the World Series between the Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians Thursday, Nov. 3, 2016, at Progressive Field in Cleveland, Ohio. (John J. Kim/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)
This trio has plenty of company in other cities.
The Cubs’ win in 2016 came at the expense of another franchise that has made its fans wait. The Cleveland team won a World Series in 1948, and 73 years later have yet to win another. They went into the bottom of the ninth against Florida in Game 7 of the 1997 series leading the Florida Marlins by a run, but eventually lost the game and championship in extra Innings. It was one away from winning it in 2016, when the Cubs became the team of destiny.
The Washington Senators won a single World Series title in 1924, the only one in its existence (1901-60) before relocating to Minneapolis. Another Senators franchise started in 1961, but never won anything before moving to Texas in 1972. Baseball returned to the nation’s capital in 2004, but people had to wait another 15 years before winning a World Series. That’s two championships among three teams in 118 seasons for baseball fans in the nation’s capital.
The Pittsburgh Pirates “We are Family” squad won a title in 1979, then saw it set a record for the most consecutive losing seasons; then won the National League East three years in a row before losing in the playoffs. Free agency broke that team up, and the Bucs twice have lost the one-game playoff between wild card teams. It’s been 42 years since a flag has been raised in the Steel City.
The Texas Rangers were one out away from winning its first-ever World Series but saw that slip away and it’s now been 49 years since the Texans have been waiting for a title.
St. Louis Browns rooters never saw their team win one in its 51-year existence. Brooklyn Dodgers fans had to wait 65 years before they saw their Bums win a championship – their only championship – in 1955, then saw the team leave three years later for the west coast.
Followers of the Montreal Expos watched their team for 35 years and never saw a title, but saw the team move to Washington, D.C. and take the world series in 2019. The San Diego Padres made it to the World Series only 15 years after it joined the league, but lost in 1984, and haven’t won since. Seattle baseball fans had a major league team with the expansion Seattle Pilots in 1969, only to see the team leave after one season to become the Milwaukee Brewers. Seattle got another team in 1977, but it’s never been a champion. After 52 seasons in Wisconsin, there’s never been a parade in Milwaukee. The Colorado Rockies entered the majors in 1993, and have made it to one World Series, which they lost. The Tampa Bay Rays joined the majors in 1998 and have won two pennants – but lost both World Series in which they played.
I guess this is why baseball fans say, wait until next year… or hope springs eternal. Just ask Howard, Peter and John.