American baseball team, based in Chicago. One of the most futile franchises in all of American sports, not just Major League Baseball. The Cubs have not won the World Series since 1908. They have not won the National League pennant since 1945. Mostly because of the quaintness of their ancient home park, Wrigley Field, the Cubs have a very loyal fanbase despite the fact that they haven't won a title in nearly a century.

I'll say it right now: I don't know what to do with the Cubs. You can't help feeling that you're dealing with some of the biggest losers in all of sports history, not just any losers, but losers who transcend any bounds of human decency and mortal time, losers who as an abstract entity, as a sports franchise, transcend any owner, manager, or individual player's merits. Get that damn Todd Van Poppel off the pitcher's mound, bring in Fassero or Gordon, and they're still losers. Sammy Sosa hits his 400th homer, they're leading their division, and they're still goddamn losers. It's an unshakeable stench that's clung to this team since 1908 worse than the foul drench of Old Style (the only beer the stadium serves).

But let me back up a bit. I went to a Cubs game on Tuesday, my first since the days of Greg Maddux in the early 90's. Ironically, they won. Sammy was out for the game with a strained back-muscle, and they almost ran through the roster in the bullpen trying to compensate for Julian Tavarez's early incompetence, but they won, they beat the Reds 5-3, their second win of the season. This'll be the year, of course. Just like the last 92 years.

It was a miserable night for a game, rain pouring down for a half-hour delay in the middle of the 3rd inning, further watering down the $4.75 - it feels like getting sodomized by the grinning wash-out with the tray hanging off his shoulders - by swill splashing around in my paper cup. I was sitting just about 20 rows from the back, just off the left outfield, getting soaked, and cursing my own lack of foresight in not bringing a jacket, or at least showing up early enough to get a free hat. It was a nice break from the beer when the man behind me offered me a swig of his fifth of whiskey, and while I sat there, slowly getting pickled, I started noticing the actual stadium.

The damn place has History, you know. You walk into the 87-year-old stadium, finish getting grilled by those fascists at the gate frisking you for foreign liquor, and hit a large sign, with two rules: 1) No ties, 2) Any homer hit by the away team gets thrown back. I've never seen anybody break the rules here. This is of course the place where Babe Ruth made the infamous called shot, one of the last parks in the country to get flood-lights for night games, because Wrigley decided he'd donate the lights he'd bought for the park in 1941 to the war effort. The famous Chicago wind flaps through Ernie Banks' #14 on the leftfield foul pole, Billy Williams' #26 on the right, and in the center, from the bleachers, rises one of the last boards in America where the numbers are still changed by hand. It's a great ballpark for such...losers.

They weren't always losers. The team was founded by William Hulbert, then president of the National League, in 1876, nicknamed the Chicago White Stockings - though the name seems to have changed at every away game . They won their first game against Louisville 4-0, and even won the first penant that year. Next year they met up with Louisville again and set the record for the most runs scored by one team in a game, 36-7. A journalist came up with the name Cubs to describe the team of absurdly young players in 1902, the year of their first World Series victory, and the name became official in 1907. 1908 followed with their second, against Detroit, with Mordecai "three fingers" Brown pitching. A glorious 32 years for the team. Philadelphia knocks the Cubs off their World series streak the next year in the final game, and they haven't won one since. (This'll be the year).

But why? The cubs have been the home-team to players like Mordecai Brown, Hack Wilson, Ernie Banks, Billy Wilson, Ryne Sandberg, Gred Maddux, Mark Grace, and now, Sammy Sosa. Maybe it's the ballpark? The Cubs start losing, and in 1914, Wrigley Field, then Weeghman Park, is built. But it's a little unfair, since their losing wasn't so sudden, really. The Cubs managed to win the National Penant in 1876, 1906, 1910, 1929, 1938...I'm sure I'm missing a few (pretty much all 1906-1910). See a pattern? Another famous explanation, and part of Cubs lore, is that it all comes down to a goat. 1945, the Cubs are in the World Series against Detroit, when the Greek immigrant owner of the Billy Goat Tavern decides to go to a game with his pet goat. When they kick him and his goat out, he swears that the Cubs will never win another World Series until his goat is allowed back in. They haven't, of course. In 1983, they tried to bring a descendant of the goat in; they did win the National League East title the following year, if that counts for anything. Does that even count? Doesn't it have to be the original goat? I'm not even sure how these curses are supposed to work, but it seems like cheating. The goat is dead, died 50 years ago, it's head stuffed and mounted above the bar in the tavern across from the Tribune Towers.

This all runs through my head as I take another swig to warm up and half-heartedly watch Miguel Cairo step up to bat again. The man in front of me, dressed to the nines in Cubs apparel covered by a white rain-coat, starts heckling the players, gets bored, starts heckling the row in front of him; I can see his gap-toothed grin as he turns back and smiles at me, enjoying himself immensely. For some reason, 5 men are behind me in the aisles, playing along to the organ with trumpets, a tuba, trombone, clarinet and banjo, competing with the shouts of the Bleacher Bums and the hoots of Ronnie Woo Woo up front.

I guess he takes some explanation, and that's where I'll end. He looks like a homeless man who somehow managed to get a Cubs jersey with the words "Woo-Woo" printed onto the back. Apparently he lives on the near north side, works as a window washer. And every game, rain or shine, night or day, he's at Wrigley Field, somewhere near the front with seats that must have put one helluva dent into that window-washer salary, calling every play. He shouts, "Sammy! Woo! Sosa! Woo! At! Woo! Bat! Woo!" and "Chicago! Woo! Cubs Woo!" (think the first half of Homer Simpson's Woohoo!). Why? Damned if I know, and by this time in the game I'm too drunk to care. But so help me, God, if he doesn't show up to every single goddamn game to watch those filthy losers play ball, and has for at least the past 15 years. He's like every other person here: die hard fans who'll swear on their mothers' graves that This'll Be The Year.

I finally stumble out of Wrigley Field at a little past 11:00. Ronnie Woo Woo ends up walking in front of me as we all herd out towards a man drumming a beat on three garbage pails, keeping time for the horde of dancing, shirtless frat-boys shouting "Cubs Win! Reds Suck!" in perfect rhythm. I eventually make my way, past 20,000 fans, to the Red Line to head back home. And I keep on trying to avoid phrases like Loveable Losers or Chicago Insitution or Hometeam Pride running through my beer-soaked, vaguely conscious brain. It can't just be about a bunch of jocks swinging a stick at a little white ball, then taking off running like a junkie spotted near the district station. Because I can't remember watching much of the game, just the fans around me. I mean, who the hell shows up to the drunken orgies surrounding the Kentucky Derby just to watch the fucking horses, right? But my God, what losers.

I have just read Shovelbearer's writeup. Quod erat demonstrandum.
October 14, 1908: The Chicago Cubs beat the Detroit Tigers 4-1 to win the World Series for the second year in a row. There are a total of sixteen teams competing for the title.

It's 2001, and the Chicago Cubs have had a mighty good year. Of course, watching popular St. Louis Cardinals slugger Mark McGwire spend half the season on the bench due to injuries probably helped things along, but regrettably it didn't help enough. The Cardinals are duking it out with the Houston Astros for first place in the division, leaving the Cubs in third and no longer a contender. Cubs fans' hearts are hurt, but not broken. Everyone knows we're used to it.

October 10, 1945: The Cubs play their seventh game against the Detroit Tigers in the World Series. They lose, nine runs to three. It's not the last time the Tigers play in the World Series. It is, however, the last time for the Cubs.

I remember reading a comic book many years ago (Excalibur, to be precise) where a teenage Chicagoland-born superhero (Kitty Pryde) is awkwardly placed in a British prep school. At one point in a field hockey game, the teenaged superhero invokes the name of the Chicago Cubs to try and rally some team spirit. The class snob rebuffs her by saying, "I know a few things about baseball. Your precious Cubs, they always lose." It was something of a turning point for me to realize that even people who know next to nothing about baseball as a game know of the Cubs' tragic reputation.

October 2, 1969: The Cubs finish second in the National League's East Division, eight wins behing the New York Mets. It's the best finish they've had since winning the National League Championship in 1945.

The Cubs aren't really losers, not like the Baltimore Orioles were with their history-making 21-game losing streak at the start of the 1988 season. But even the Orioles managed to win the World Series earlier in 1983. Meanwhile, the Cubs -- season after season, ever since 1908 -- have usually managed to get close but never close enough to the top. Perhaps it's psychological, but I think it's just dumb luck. There's got to be one team, somewhere, that consistently fails to make it to the top. It just so happens that they live in Chicago.

October 5, 1972: The Cubs finish second in the National League's East Division, eleven wins behind the Pittsburgh Pirates, the same team who beat them for the division title in 1970.

"Slammin'" Sammy Sosa makes the Cubs exciting these days. In 1998 he and Mark "Big Mac" McGwire were both in pursuit of a new Major League record, the most home runs hit in a single season. Roger Maris had held the record since 1961 with 61 homers; Babe Ruth had been the first to his 60 in 1927. When the season ended, however, Sosa was at 66 while McGwire had crested 70. Once again, the Cubs had to settle for second-best. The fact that McGwire's St. Louis Cardinals were the Cubs' longtime rivals didn't help any.

October 7, 1984: In a seventh-inning rally, the San Diego Padres beat the Cubs in the fifth game of the National League Championship series, winning 3 games to 2.

When Harry Caray died in February 1998, long before that season started, the entire baseball community mourned. Harry wasn't just an announcer, he had over the years become the heart and soul of the Chicago Cubs and of baseball itself. Nobody sang "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" like he did, proclaimed "Holy Cow!" like he did, made fans feel like they belonged to something great like he did. Near the end of his career he was old, his voice was no longer sharp, his glasses were so thick you wondered how they could help, but he was still Harry, and it's hard to imagine anyone who loved baseball like that. He wasn't beautiful, not by a long shot. But he was a fan, and you could always count on him remaining one.

October 9, 1989: After a much-celebrated first-place win in their division, the Cubs surrender the National League Championship to the San Francisco Giants in a 4-1 series.

It's 2003, and the Cubs have had a mighty good year. Young pitchers Kerry Wood and Mark Prior are widely credited as the strongest elements of the team's success, although Sammy Sosa's strong hitting hasn't let anyone down yet. When they win the Central Division, fans are overjoyed, even though the Cubs have the lowest win/loss ratio of any Championship contenders. When they beat the Atlanta Braves in six games, the first postseason series the Cubs have won in 95 years, people across the country begin speculating on whether the "loveable losers" of American baseball may finally make it to the World Series....

October 15, 2003: Playing in their first Championship series ever -- the Championships weren't organized until 1969 -- the Cubs soon took the lead three games to one over the Florida Marlins. They then lose the final three games.

Nobody chooses to be a Cubs fan. It's something you're born into by virtue of growing up on the north side of Chicago. (South siders root for the White Sox instead.) But there's something unique about Cubs fans that you almost never see in professional sports. Because of their history, there's no such thing as a fair-weather Cubs fan. Cubs fans are loyal because they love their team, and they remain loyal year after year. Wrigley Field fills its stadium at times when other teams' stadiums are half-empty, no matter how the Cubs are doing that year. If and when the Cubs finally head to the World Series again, Chicagoans who find themselves suddenly rooting for a team they mocked all their lives won't be able to get tickets even at scalper's prices. The real fans will already have them all, and will hoard them all for friends and family out of good old-fashioned spite.

Eamus Catuli

Visiting The Friendly Confines, one will likely notice a particular rooftop venue, over the right field wall, that has the phrase Eamus Catuli above a series of numbers. Many are aware, but perhaps just as many are not clued-in as to what the meaning of the sign is.

Essentially, the Latin phrase itself can be roughly translated as "Let's Go Cubs".

The numbers are preceded by the letters "AC", which can be considered a bastard cousin of the more common "BC" and "AD" - in this case taken to be "The Year of the Cub".

Then come the numbers. Though written as a group of six, they are to be taken as three sets of two (##-##-##), not unlike the common shorthand for today's date (e.g., 06-30-04). In order, they refer to the number of years...:

Since the last Division Title (01)

Since the last National League Title (59)

Since the last World Series Title (96)

Needless to say, the latter two sets of numbers just seem to get bigger and bigger with no end in sight. To clarify, today's sign would read AC015996. Some would chide that they might just as well replace the last two numbers with the sideways eight symbol used to represent infinity - which, while demonstrating one's lack of understanding the concept of infinity, would nonetheless get a snicker or two out of enough people to almost justify doing so.

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