I approach this column with great trepidation. Jewish tradition has always had a wary respect and regard for the Ayin Hara loosely translated as the "evil eye," (but also often mispronounced as the "Kaynine Hara," which actually sounds more like a dance performed by dogs). As this custom goes, we try to avoid shining a spotlight on any aspect of our good fortune, for fear that greed, jealousy or some type of supernatural force will emerge to spoil our luck or frustrate our success.
Well, a very, very good thing something we have waited patiently for, for more than a century, something bordering on the miraculous, may well be coming our way, and I certainly don’t want to do anything that might threaten or endanger it. No, I am not talking about lasting peace in the Middle East although that certainly would be welcome. Nor am I thinking about drivers on our roads deciding to show courtesy and cheerfully giving way to the other guy; that seems like even too much to ask.
No, I am referring to the very possible prospect that the Chicago Cubs yes, our beloved Cubbies are finally going to make it to the World Series. It has been 71 years since the Cubs last appeared in baseball’s premier event, and a staggering 108 years since the Cubs actually won it all the longest championship drought of any professional sports team on the planet. But now close that Evil Eye while I say this, please the Cubs are tantalizingly close to breaking the spell and going all the way.
They boast the best record in baseball this season, by far, having won 103 games. They have no less than three pitchers who are candidates for the Cy Young award (best pitcher in the league) and two players who are strong candidates for Most Valuable Player (best all-around player). Their Jewish general manager, Theo Epstein, has put together a "dream team," selling out most games and setting dozens of individual team records. They are, by far, the sentimental favorite to win the title as well as Las Vegas’ odds-on bet to take the trophy.
But we Cubs’ fans are, by nature, a jittery bunch. We cannot forget the disaster of 1969, when the Cubs well on their way to the National League pennant completely collapsed in the late going, ultimately losing out to the New York Mets, our perennial nemesis. We still have nightmares over the 1984 championship series, when we outscored the San Diego Padres 17-2 in the first two games, only to lose the next three and be eliminated, despite our starting pitcher in the deciding game having gone 17-1 until that point. And then, of course, there is the lasting specter of the Billy Goat Curse, allegedly placed on the Cubs in 1945 by an irate tavern owner who brought his goat to the game, only to be ignominiously evicted with the animal.
Why do I care so much about this, you ask?
Well, not only did I grow up on the North side of Chicago, rooting for the Cubs since I was a little kid, periodically taking a, well, "un-excused absence" with my high school friends to catch a day game at beautiful, historic, ivy-covered Wrigley Field (the Cubs were, at that time, the only team in baseball that played all their games during the day). Not only was my older brother one of the original "Bleacher Bums," who sat out in the stadium’s hinterlands, season after agonizing season, enduring defeat and disappointment in epic amounts, drowning his sorrow in beer and boasts of "Wait ‘til next year!", encouraging me never, ever to give up.
The Cubs, for me, became the Jews of the sports world. Long suffering, mocked and maligned, preyed upon by Giants, Pirates, even birds and fish, always seeking the Promised Land of post-season play, yet never quite making it there. We had our own heroic leaders - Banks, Maddux, Fergie, Sandberg and Sosa among them - and we prayed boy, did we pray! to someday take our rightful place among the elite. Through it all, in an America that cherished its winners in the national pastime, and denigrated its losers, we never lost Faith in our Cubbies.
And now, finally, we humbly hold on to the hope that our faith will at last be vindicated, that we shall behold these proud and pin-striped players parade to the top. In a game where the playing field is called a "diamond," these are the jewels in the crown we hope to soon wear.
The Talmud lists a number of things which herald the coming of the Messiah. These include the blooming of the long-dormant Land of Israel, and the ingathering of our exiles, signs that we have bless-fully witnessed in our own lifetime. But there can be no surer, positive omen that the End of Days and the Final Redemption is upon us than a Cubs victory in the World Series. Stay tuned, dare to believe and prepare for glory.