The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away.
– Job, 1:21
CHICAGO – And so hath the Chicago Cubs.
Oh that I might have my request; and that God would grant me the thing that I long for!
– Job, 6:8
Job believed, like nobody else, in the power of God. He believed, even as his riches were taken away and his 10 children died and he was afflicted with head-to-toe boils. He believed when his wife told him not to and when friends questioned his motives and when he himself started having doubts. Job believed for the same reason Chicago Cubs fans believe: What other choice is there?
Right now, there is reason: The Cubs own the best record in baseball. They have been the best before, too, and left millions of faithful at the altar, jilted brides all. The Cubs have not won a World Series since 1908. This year marks No. 100, an anniversary more mourned than celebrated.
The true believers, the ones bordering on Jobian fervor, have adopted a saying: "It's gonna happen." To which the cynic answers, "No it isn't," and the realist answers, "Sometime," and the Wrigley Field denizen answers, in interrogatory form, "The Cubs?"
Yes, these Cubs are good, even with their highest-paid player, outfielder Alfonso Soriano, on the disabled list with a broken hand, and with Carlos Zambrano, their ace, to miss his next start with shoulder discomfort, and with their rough trip to Tampa Bay this week that ended in a three-game sweep. Chicago scooped up outfielder Jim Edmonds off the free-agent heap in mid-May, and the moment he arrived he noticed a will to win, the same kind he saw winning a championship in St. Louis.
"It just seems like that's what they're ready to do, what they're accustomed to doing," Edmonds said. "From the first day I was here to now, it's been the same. Everybody's got a job to do and everybody's pretty excited going about their business. We've got a great team."
On the day he uttered these words, the Cubs were playing for the first time without Soriano. Panic had saturated Wrigley Field. Pitcher Ryan Dempster joked he would "go golf the rest of the year and hang out. I mean, everybody else is writing us off, so we might as well, too."
Edmonds stroked a game-tying home run in the ninth inning. Two innings later, the Cubs won on a bases-loaded hit-by-pitch.
"I don't believe that things go your way," said Lou Piniella, the Cubs manager. "I believe you make things go your way."
Thine hands have made me and fashioned me together round about; yet thou dost destroy me.
– Job, 10:8
It's 11:57 a.m., and Lou Piniella looks like he needs an Ambien and a pillow. The bags under his eyes sag. Piniella's paunch hangs over his belt like cheddar oozing out the crust of a grilled cheese sandwich. He tries to perk up as the camera lights flick on. It's no use.
Managing the Chicago Cubs does something to a man, aside from the de rigueur, which is turn him into an instant deity, a celebrity nearly unparalleled in one of the country's great cities, a guy who films a commercial for a car company, in which he, a 64-year-old Floridian of Spanish descent, raps, and a huge crowd of strangers gathers. The cross-town Chicago White Sox's manager, Ozzie Guillen, the one who led his team to a World Series championship three years ago, participated in a different shot for the same commercial, and no one bothered to stop and watch.
"Lou," Guillen said, "is (bleeping) awesome."
The job is consuming, the stress like a piranha, and so a lot of things, such as sleep, run the 5k in Piniella's marathon life. He spends hours tinkering with lineups in his head, balancing the yin and yang of his team and trying to account for the oddities unique to Wrigley that he named earlier this spring: "Cubbie occurrences."
"He knows our strengths and weaknesses," said Mark DeRosa, the Penn-educated utilityman. "Lou knows us."
So this Soriano thing – it keeps him up, trying to fashion new puzzles from the pieces he knows best. It is the job every manager hurdles, and yet Piniella's comes with a different type of twist than New York, where there's scrutiny, or Los Angeles, where the sport plays second fiddle, or even Chicago's south side, where the White Sox are the Cubs' little brother.
He contends with 100 years of losing. And that's something no manager has ever had to do.
Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him: but I will maintain mine own ways before him.
– Job, 13:15
On the day he was hired, when he looked spry and ready to bring Chicago a championship, Piniella took all kinds of questions with a smile. About his past as a manager and a player and how he would be different than the man he replaced, Dusty Baker, and on and on. And then somebody asked Piniella about the Curse of the Billy Goat, and you'd expect something rehearsed or recycled, except this is Lou, and his truth matters.
"There are no curses," he said. "Come on."
How long will ye vex my soul, and break me in pieces with words? These 10 times have ye reproached me.
– Job, 19:2-3
1. After an early-century dynasty in which the Cubs won back-to-back World Series in 1907 and '08, they reload with a team that won four pennants between 1929 and 1938. They lose all four World Series.
2. Babe Ruth's famous called shot came at Wrigley Field during the 1932 World Series. The Yankees sweep the four-game series.
3. In 1945, a man named William Sianis, who owns a local pub called the Billy Goat Tavern, attends Game 4 of the World Series. He brings his pet goat. The Cubs refuse to let Sianis and his goat stay. He casts a curse on the Cubs: Never again would they win a World Series.
4. In 1969, with Hall of Famers Ernie Banks, Billy Williams and Ferguson Jenkins, the Cubs blow a big August lead and lose the National League East lead to the Miracle Mets.
5. Twice in the 1980s the Cubs win division titles. And twice more they can't advance to the World Series.
6. Outfielder Sammy Sosa hops and jumps and hits all kinds of home runs. He is later caught using a corked bat and explains that his 50-pound weight gain, at the peak of steroid use in baseball, came naturally.
7. As a rookie, Kerry Wood ties a major-league record with 20 strikeouts in a game. In his second season, Mark Prior wins 18 games and finished third in Cy Young voting. Under manager Dusty Baker, both blow their arms out and never return to form as starting pitchers.
8. Steve Bartman, a 26-year-old Cubs fan, interferes with a foul ball when the Cubs are five outs from reaching the 2003 World Series. Death threats ensue. Souls, on all sides, remain vexed.
9. Arizona sweeps the Cubs in the first round of the 2007 playoffs, Piniella never living down pulling Zambrano from Game 1 after just 85 pitches because he wanted to rest him for his next start. There isn't one.
I cry unto thee, and thou dost not hear me: I stand up, and thou regardest me not.
Thou art become cruel to me.
– Job, 30:20-21
Third-base line. Oct. 6, 2007. Empty seats surround a woman. No one wants to see the end of another season. Except maybe her.
"I flew all the way from San Diego for this?" she says. She is incredulous. And probably drunk. But she keeps cheering, all the way to the last out, because she had flown 2,000 miles, and she had done that because she was a Cubs fan, and she understands that no matter the situation, Cubs fans – real Cubs fans – believe.
Out of the south cometh the whirlwind: and cold out of the north.
– Job, 37:9
Starting this afternoon, the Cubs, pride of the city's north side, host a three-game series against the White Sox, representatives of the south. The Cubs were supposed to be good this year. The White Sox, even with a $121 million payroll that exceeds the Cubs' by $3 million, were not.
So to see both leading their divisions is odd and edifying. Tickets on the subway system advertise the games. There's the commercial with Piniella and Guillen. Everywhere you look: go Sox, go Cubs – always go someone.
"Some things you can make bigger than others," White Sox outfielder Nick Swisher said. "This series isn't one of those things."
As big a deal as the White Sox are – and as the White Sox's championship was – the Cubs rule Chicago. The kind of fanaticism that brought fans to Wrigley when they played only day games now permeates the stadium daily. It is full of people drunk on Old Style and life. Wrigley is the place to be in Chicago.
And some people lament this. There is only so much misery to share. True though that may be, the resource that helped Job survive is a natural and in abundance, and to be a Cubs fan today, it is all you need.
So the Lord blessed the latter end of Job more than his beginning.
– Job, 42:12
The story of Job takes place in the land of Uz, which is far, far away from Wrigley Field. It is a place where Job suffers deeply and still never loses faith, and in the end God rewards him handsomely, with health and livestock and children to replace his old ones. And, the story goes, that satisfies Job enough to wash away all of the pain he endured.
Whether the same will go for the Cubs remains dubious. The cynic, the realist and the denizen are sometimes the same person; it's the trifurcate of Cub fandom. They butt heads, clash, feud, and yet they all share one sentiment – belief – that continues to prevail.
Because sometimes there's nothing else.
- Lou Piniella
- World Series