Only 39 Years To Go

Last night’s World Series finale was an instant classic.  Long after the clocks on the east coast passed midnight, and those of us working stiffs were wondering just how long we would be able to stay up to watch the spectacle, the Chicago Cubs beat the Cleveland Indians, 8-7, in extra innings.

img_3061-1I’m tempted to add “of course” in that last sentence, because beneath my seemingly normal, rationalist exterior lurks a dark baseball fan soul filled with twisted corridors of gloom and doom, jinxes and bad breaks, lowered expectations and grimly anticipated disasters. When you’ve been a fan of a professional sports team for your entire life, and that team has known nothing but ultimate heartbreaks and bitter defeats on the yawning cusp of victory, it’s virtually impossible to think and feel anything else.

But maybe the Cubs’ victory signals that failure is not inevitable, and that fortunes for star-crossed teams like the Indians and their fans can change.  With their gutty victory last night, the Cubs ended their 108-year period of misery.  That leaves Cleveland’s soon to be 69-year run without a World Series championship the longest streak in American professional baseball.  Perhaps the Tribe and their fans have only another 39 years to go before they, too, can know the thrill of hoisting the World Series trophy.

In the meantime, hats off to the Cubs and their loyal cadre of fans, who rooted like crazy and helped to will their team to victory.  And hats off to the Indians, too, for an unforgettable season.  I was proud of the Tribe’s grit, their unwillingness to let a series of crucial injuries thwart their season, and their improbable comeback to tie game 7 in the eighth inning against one of the most dominant relievers in baseball.  A tip of the cap, too, to Terry Francona for being a managerial wizard who pulled every string along the way.

And, hey — this year I got to see my team win the opening game of the World Series with my son and my brother.  That’s something that I’ll always remember with great fondness, even if the Series itself didn’t end up as we all hoped.

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Clash Of The Lovable Losers

Tonight the Chicago Cubs face the Cleveland Indians in the first game of the 2016 World Series.  For most of recent baseball history — say, for the last 60 years or so — if you’d predicted that even one of those teams would make it to the Series, people would have laughed at your brashness.  Predicting that they both would make it would have been viewed as compelling clinical evidence of insanity.

chicago_cubs5That’s because the Cubs and Indians have an unmatched record of futility in major league baseball.  The Cubs haven’t been to a World Series since 1945, and they haven’t won a Series since 1908.  The Tribe, on the other hand, last won a World Series in 1948.  When you’re looking back to the Truman Administration, or the Roosevelt Administration — as in Theodore Roosevelt, not Franklin — for your last Series triumph, that’s pretty frigging sad.  For decades, generations of fans of both teams have experienced unrelieved heartache and losses, have believed in jinxes, and have been convinced that the fates are against them and they and their teams are cursed.

But this year, one of those teams, by definition, is going to win the World Series.  One of those beleaguered fan bases is finally (finally!) going to see their favorite ball club hoist the championship trophy, setting off a celebration that will never be forgotten.  I’m guessing that this year the TV ratings for the Series will be through the roof, not because there are enormous numbers of Chicago and Cleveland fans in America, but because the prospect that one of these lovable losers is going to bring an end to decades of outright failure is just too intriguing to miss.

cz7jxepAnd by the way, it should be a pretty good Series if you’re a baseball fan.  The Cubs are the heavy favorite to win the Series and the overwhelming choice of ESPN’s panel of experts.  That’s not dissing the Indians, but rather recognizing that, this year, the Cubs were easily the best team in baseball, from start to finish.  They won more than 100 games, had a bunch of their players make the All-Star game, have a powerhouse lineup of hitters and pitchers, and have a guy in the bullpen who throws 103 m.p.h.  And, unlike the Tribe, they haven’t seen their roster of starting pitchers decimated by injuries and drone accidents.  If you watched the way the Cubs mauled the Dodgers in the last three games of the National League Championship Series, you’d pick the Cubbies to win, too.

As for the Tribe, they’ve been the scrappy underdogs all year, and the World Series will be no different.  The Indians have made it this far because Terry Francona has managed his tattered pitching staff with historical deftness, and the starters and relievers have performed brilliantly when called upon.  The Indians batters collectively hit just .168 in the American League Championship Series, which is well below the Mendoza line — but the few hits they got were timely hits, knocking in just enough runs to hand the game to the bullpen after the fifth inning.  And, unlike the Dodgers, for example, the Tribe played stellar defense and helped the bullpen make sure that those one- and two-run leads held up.  It was the kind of baseball John McGraw and Tris Speaker would have appreciated.

I’m convinced that tonight’s game is a crucial one for the Tribe.  They’re facing Jon Lester, who was 19-5 in the regular season and has already won three games in the playoffs, and are going with their best remaining pitcher in Corey Kluber.  Given the anemic performance of the Indians’ offense this postseason, the Tribe simply can’t afford to fall behind and count on big innings to catch up late.  Kluber will need to somehow quiet the Cubs’ powerhouse offense, the Indians will need to scratch and claw for a few runs, and the bullpen will have to come through once again.

It should be a great Series.  Go Tribe!

Hillary’s Bar Exam Failure

Recently I was reading an article and ran across the statement that Hillary Clinton had failed the District of Columbia bar exam when she took it back in the ’70s.  I was startled because it was something I’d never heard about her background, so I actually did a search to check on whether the statement was true.

D03G3PBS07 A FEAIt was.  In the summer of 1973, Hillary Rodham took the D.C. bar exam.  817 people took the exam, and she was one of the 261 who did not pass.  She also took, and passed, the Arkansas bar exam, so rather than stay in Washington, D.C. she moved to Arkansas, where she and Bill Clinton later were married.  According to the link above, she kept the D.C. bar exam result a secret from her friends until she made a reference to it in her autobiography, Living History.

I mention Hillary Clinton’s bar exam failure not to bash her for something that happened more than 40 years ago — lots of famous and accomplished lawyers and politicians have encountered an initial failure at the hands of the bar exam — but simply to note how selective the reporting on political figures can be.  Story lines somehow get set, and facts that are inconsistent never get mentioned.  Hillary Clinton is portrayed as a brilliant law student at Yale who worked on one of the congressional Watergate committees, then went on to achieve great success with the Rose law firm in Arkansas before Bill Clinton was elected President.  Her failure on the D.C. bar exam is a clinker in that story line of unbroken accomplishment and gets discarded.  Do you think a failure on the bar exam by, say, a politician like George W. Bush would be overlooked — or that we would hear about it, over and over, as evidence in support of the narrative that he wasn’t really very smart?

This reality is a significant failing by the news media and the punditocracy, and it does a disservice both to political candidates — whether they have a positive narrative or a negative one — and to the public.  It assumes that the general population can’t really sift through the good and bad of a public figure’s life and reach a fair judgment about them, so facts get edited and blemishes get removed until the story line leads inexorably to one conclusion.  We’re told, over and over, that someone is a genius or an idiot — and then, when contrary facts are disclosed, it comes as a shock.  I’d much rather get the facts, good and bad and in-between, and come to my own conclusion.  And by the way, stories where people overcome some adversity tend to be much richer and more interesting than airbrushed sagas of ever-increasing triumphs.  Take Lincoln, for example.

 

For Equal Treatment Of Failure And Success

Two weeks ago I was getting my hair cut by the Recently Blonde Stylist when she inadvertently let slip that she’d received a nice recognition at work.  I congratulated her, and she immediately pooh-poohed her accomplishment.

How many humble people do that, reflexively?  They take their defeats forever to heart but shortchange their successes and rarely talk about them.  They see failures as the direct result of personal shortcomings but treat victories as the inevitable product of luck and circumstance.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to view that approach as pernicious, and the road to unhappiness.  No one wins every battle.  If you carry around every failure and focus only on them, after a few decades of work you’ll be weighted down by a depressing number of mistakes and missteps.  It’s important to leaven those learning experiences with some pride in your achievements, too.  I told the RBS that she should be pleased with her honor, rather than discounting it, and feel satisfaction that she was so good at her job.

I’m not advocating for a world of preening braggarts; we all know them and they are a tiresome lot.  Instead, I’m in favor of a balanced internal approach in which equal treatment is given to positives and negatives.  Learn from your mistakes but recognize that they happen to us all; allow yourself to feel pleasure when you helped a friend or did a good deed or had a successful result in your job.  Life is full of peaks and valleys, and one is not more important than the other.