I usually find these kinds of posts annoying, but I’m feeling nostalgic today. Maybe it’s the thought of the Cubs clinching the division in St. Louis that has me feeling so light on my feet. That couldn’t be it, could it? Anyway, this will only be the 6th time in my 30 years of fandom or so that the Cubs will clinch a division, to go along with two other playoff appearances. It doesn’t sound like a lot, and certainly isn’t compared with the Cardinals or Yankees or Braves. But then it’s more than a lot of other teams. So maybe it’s never been as bad as we all think.
Anyway, I thought I’d go through the division clinchers in my life, simply because it’ll be a good time.
2008: This one is my favorite, so I’ll start with that. One, it came against the Cardinals. Two, Kerry Wood closed it out. Three, it was a week early, which I had certainly never seen as a Cubs fan. Fourth, it felt like the first in what was supposed to be a series of affirmations that the Cubs were the best team in baseball. Because they were that year. Because they took the last week off, they didn’t get to win 100 games, which they should have. They were really that good. Never before in my life had the Cubs been the best team in baseball. It really felt like something.
Little did we know that the Cubs basically tanking it against the Brewers in the last weekend would force the Mets out of the wild card, the Brewers into it, forcing the Cubs to play the Dodgers, and we all know how that went. It all could have been so different, and should have been. But at least on that Saturday, everything felt all right with the Cubs world for once.
I also remember during the celebration, Ryan Dempster was asked how he felt about pitching the next day hungover. “Done it before.” God I love baseball.
1989: The first one, at least for me. I was too young for 1984, and am kind of thankful for that after seeing my brother never recover from that trauma. Though my exact memories of this team are getting hazier, I remember it was delightfully weird. And anyone my age can still see Mitch Williams asking to appeal on a check swing and then wildly pumping his fist when Mike Fitzgerald got rung up. And then all the Cubs streaming out. You always remember the first. And in my eight-year-old mind, trying to comprehend what it would be like to see the Cubs in the playoffs. Which obviously I couldn’t. I hadn’t before. And then Will Clark happened, and I was pretty sure I never wanted to see the Cubs in the playoffs again. This was less than a year later after Joe Montana and Jerry Rice carved the Bears into plasma in the NFC Championship game. It’s a wonder I’ve ever been able to bring myself to go to San Francisco.
2016: This one would be higher if it wasn’t for the fact that the Cubs weren’t playing when they actually clinched. The Cards lost in San Francisco after the Cubs had lost to the Brewers. What was really wonderful is the Cubs had a party anyway the next day, and Miguel Montero hit a walk-off to kick it off. It was basically the same feeling as 2008, except this time we were more sure. And they were even more dominant. And they were so silly.
2003: It’s hard to remember anything about this year fondly. It’s also easy to forget that at the trade deadline, the Cubs were under .500. They were 50-51. They would close out the season on a tear, but it was a team that took a while to get going and believe in. It took until the last weekend, and you’ll recall the Friday game was rained out. But everyone had come down so ready to celebrate they just stuck around anyway. The doubleheader the next day was on a cooler, gray day. Prior suffocated the Pirates in the first half. Clement did the same in the second half. It all ended on a double-play. This was more an exhalation than exhilaration. It just took so much effort for the Cubs to get there, but they did. Let’s not talk about anything after.
2007: The perfect metaphor for this team. They lost in Cincinnati, and had to wait around for the Brewers to lose too. And that’s basically how that division race went the whole year, with neither Milwaukee or the Cubs really wanting it. It was more like, “Well, if you’re not using it I guess I will” kind of race. And that’s how the Cubs kind of did everything that year. They never really surged, they were never quite terrible, and they just were kind of there until they got horribly exposed by Arizona (Rich Hill and that fucking first pitch…). There really wasn’t a clincher to remember for a team that really shouldn’t have been all that well-remembered either. Weird quirk about those playoffs is every NL series was a sweep, and so was the World Series. Some drama.