It’s official. After waiting over a century, the team everyone enjoys feeling sympathetic for has finally won the World Series. Curses and bad luck be damned, the “Lovable Loser Chicago Cubs,” long-time champions of ineptitude, finally sit atop the sports championship world. While it took the team 108 years to win a title, they should have only been granted the “Lovable Loser” moniker for 107.
The Chicago Cubs should never have been viewed as the little guy this season, let alone in a World Series that took place in Cleveland, The Mistake by the Lake. The Cubs lacked an underdog quality from the get-go. Entering opening day, Chicago was the odds-on betting favorite to win the World Series. The Cubs traversed the regular season with ease, winning a league-high 103 games, most of which were without the player who is arguably their best hitter, Kyle Schwarber. The Cubs jumped out to the league’s best record and never looked back once they were on pace to set several offensive records.
Much of the romantic narrative surrounding the Cubs would have you believe they built this team from the ground up, that they did it the right way and that most of their talent was homegrown.
That narrative could not be further from the truth.
In 2011, the Cubs brought in former Red Sox General Manager Theo Epstein, the architect who helped end the Red Sox’s own 86-year World Series title drought in 2004, to be Chicago’s president of baseball operations. Epstein went straight to work and whipped out the checkbook. This season, the Cubs owned the league’s fifth-highest payroll of $186.4 million. Meanwhile, their World Series counterpart, the Cleveland Indians, owned the league’s 21st highest payroll of $114.3 million. Having a payroll comparable to the Dodgers, Yankees and Red Sox is hardly consistent with an underdog story. The Lovable Losers didn’t just get lucky this year. They spent their way to the top.
The Cubs had behemoth contracts on their books. Their ace pitcher Jon Lester is signed to a $155 million-dollar contract. They essentially signed Jason Heyward to a $184 million-dollar contract to come off the bench and bat eighth this postseason. Money was no obstacle as they traded for their best bullpen pitcher, flamethrowing Aroldis Chapman, whom they acquired from the Yankees this July. By the end of the season, they had the fifth-highest payroll in the league.
Underdogs are also always physically inferior to their opponents. For the Cubs to maintain their Lovable Loser nickname, surely their roster must have been far from impressive. Again, the Cubs were quite the opposite, as Chicago has arguably the best roster with the brightest future. No underdog team wins the NL Central by 17.5 games.
The Cubs started six players under the age of 25 in Game 2 of the World Series. Just imagine their future success with the likes of 22-year-old Addison Russell, 23-year-old Kyle Schwarber and 24-year-olds Kris Bryant and Wilson Contreras. Bryant already has a NL Rookie of the Year trophy on his mantle and will most likely add this year’s MVP trophy.
Throw in Anthony Rizzo and Ben Zobrist with Bryant and Russell, and the entire Cubs infield started the 2016 All-Star game in San Diego. In all likelihood Ben Zobrist, this year’s World Series MVP, won’t even start next year for the Cubs, as he is likely to be replaced by a more talented 23-year-old Javier Baez. The Cubs are so flush with talent that they will likely have to make trades this offseason just to clear up room for better players to receive adequate playing time.
Even Mother Nature helped the Cubs out this World Series. Just when the Indians had seemingly seized all momentum in Game 7 of the World Series, the skies opened up and forced a rain delay. The delay was just enough time to take the wind out of Cleveland’s sails and to allow the Cubs’ Jason Heyward to deliver a rousing motivational speech to his team. The Cubs had everything going for them this year, even the weather.
The real lovable losers of this series were the Indians. They were without the help of their best hitter, Michael Brantley, for nearly the entire year. They lost their starting catcher, Yon Gomes, halfway through the year and had a likely trade replacement in Jonathan Lucroy turn them down because he felt the Indians were just no good. The Indians even lost two of their best pitchers in the final month of the season, not to mention another starter nearly lost his finger performing drone maintenance. And, like a typical loser, the Indians blew a 3-1 series lead.
As we move forward to 2017, Cubs fans rejoice. No longer will you be celebrated as lovable losers. Rather you will be despised as reigning champions.
Thomas Schlarp is a sophomore in the School of Nursing and Health Studies. The Stove appears every Tuesday.
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