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Cubs still waiting to break through
10/28/2004 10:24 AM ET
The Boston Red Sox have finally won a World Series, ending an 86-year drought. Their fans can celebrate along with their fathers and mothers, their grandfathers and grandmothers. And the Chicago Cubs can only wait.

The Cubs have not appeared in a World Series since 1945, and have not won one since 1908. The 2005 season will mark 97 years since the Cubs last won a world championship, the longest drought in the Major Leagues. It's not an honor the team, its fans or players cherish.

"I've got a positive look at it -- if the Red Sox break their jinx this year, the Cubs will break theirs next year," said Glen Hobbie, who pitched for the Cubs from 1957-64 and lives 60 miles from St. Louis. He's been teasing his friends that he's rooting for the "Boston Cubbies."

"If the Red Sox can break through, why can't we?" said Pat Hughes, the voice of the Cubs on WGN Radio. "Their fans are just like Cubs fans -- they've had their hearts broken more times than they can count, and it's been going on for three or four generations of fans.

"They are the Cubs of the American League, and we've been brothers in suffering," said Hughes. "And you know what? I am happy the Cardinals are losing."

This World Series did have a Chicago angle. The Red Sox made the Cubs faithful feel good because Boston beat their arch rivals, the St. Louis Cardinals. Cubs fans have been temporarily switching sides and loading up on Red Sox gear at Chicago-area sporting goods stores.

"You know why that is? They want to beat the Cardinals," Hall of Famer and former Cubs outfielder Billy Williams said.

"I really didn't want a Cardinals-Yankees series because I didn't know who to root for less," said Ed Hartig, a Chicago baseball historian and expert in Cubs lore.

This World Series is the next-best thing to being there for Cubs fans. A Red Sox win means the Cardinals lose. The Cardinals romped to victory in the National League Central Division, while the Cubs blew their lead in the National League Wild Card race and fell out of the postseason picture, losing seven of their last nine games.

In downtown Chicago, Harry Caray's restaurant has been serving chowder and lobster to celebrate the Red Sox reaching the World Series. For four games, Chicagoans could cheer for former Cubs like Bill Mueller and Mark Bellhorn.

"Everybody's talking about it, saying if the Red Sox break [the curse and win], maybe there's room for the Cubs," Williams said. "I just believe you have to get the players to perform."

Williams played for the Cubs from 1959-74. He doesn't believe in jinxes or curses or billy goats or black cats. Williams would have every right to believe in those things. He ranks fourth on the all-time list behind Rafael Palmeiro, Andre Dawson and teammate Ernie Banks in terms of most games played without reaching a World Series.

"I don't believe in that," Williams said of the so-called jinx. "You get some guys who can hit the ball, get some guys who can drive in the ball, get some pitching, which we'll get with everybody getting healthy, and you can win. We had it [this year], but we didn't swing the bat at the end of the year.

"We were so close," Williams said of the 2004 Cubs. "That [disappointment] lingers with you a long time. When you look at the [postseason] games on television, you think about how close the Cubs were. I've always said, if we had gotten there, with our pitching staff, we could've gone a long way."

Hartig also doesn't believe in curses.

"If you believe you're cursed, then in some ways you are," Hartig said. "The Red Sox played like a team that didn't believe it was cursed. Down, 0-3, to the Yankees, no one would've blamed them if they packed it up 'til next year. But they didn't. Instead, they picked up a few timely hits, made the routine plays and got some good pitching when they needed it. There's no reason the Cubs can't do the same."

"If the Red Sox can break through, why can't we? Their fans are just like Cubs fans -- they've had their hearts broken more times than they can count, and it's been going on for three or four generations of fans."
-- Pat Hughes, the voice of the Cubs on WGN Radio

It's been tough for Williams to watch, always thinking how close the Cubs came.

"Yeah," Williams said. "I'll watch [the games], then I'll do something, then I'll watch, then I'll do something."

The Cubs aren't looking forward to having the longest World Series losing stretch. Sports Illustrated picked the Cubs to win the championship this year in its preseason issue. Since Dusty Baker took over as manager, there's been a different attitude at Wrigley Field. The Cubs won the NL Central Division last year and the 2003-04 seasons mark the first back-to-back winning seasons for the club since 1971-72.

"The expectations the last couple of years has gotten real high," Williams said of the Cubs, who were five outs away from reaching the World Series in 2003, but lost the NL Championship Series to the Florida Marlins.

"That [lovable losers image] has to be disassociated with the Cubs," he said.

"I'm tired of the lovable losers label," Hartig said. "There's nothing lovable about it."

The Red Sox have even stolen some of the sparkle from the Cubs. When Baker was hired as the Cubs manager in November 2002, he was asked about the team's position as perennial losers. "Why not us?" Baker responded during his introductory news conference. It's been one of the Red Sox rallying cries.

"The people in Boston stole Dusty's saying," Williams said.

A spokeswoman at Chicago Sports and Novelty on Addison Street, east of Wrigley Field, doesn't see the Red Sox win as making any difference for Cubs fans. They're still buying Cubs hats and shirts.

"The Cubs stuff sells," she said. "It doesn't matter how they do. When they're doing crummy, we still do great."

But the store had gotten a lot of calls from people asking for Red Sox hats. Sports Distributors Inc., another sporting goods store on Addison Street near Wrigley, also had people buying Boston merchandise. What about the Cardinals' gear?

"No way," a store spokesman said.

"That's the only good thing," Williams said of the 2004 World Series. "You get in this situation, you don't care who wins as long as it's not the Cardinals."

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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