Ghosts of 2003 still haunting Cubs
Friday, October 3, 2008 at 04:10PM
Lovable Losers Literary Revue

By Randy Richardson

You keep hearing it on sports gab radio, or at the water cooler, that this Cubs team playing the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League Division Series isn’t the same one that cruised to the league’s best record.

They’re right. It isn’t the same team. The 2008 Cubs have been replaced by the same team that took the field in the eighth inning of game 6 of the 2003 National League Championship Series against the Florida Marlins. I was there at Wrigley Field on that day, October 14, 2003, when the Cubs were just five outs away from making their first trip to the World Series since 1945, the year the organization gave the boot to a billy goat.

Like the team that took the field for the Cubs in the first two games of the 2008 NLDS, the team that took the field for the Cubs in the eighth inning of game 6 of the 2003 NLCS bared no resemblance to the team that had played in all the games that year before it. I’ve tried to forget that game, but I can’t. The scars it left are permanent. After the seventh inning, when it looked all but certain that the Cubs were finally going to get past that black cat and that goat, me and my three buddies took a picture on my digital camera. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a picture where I look so happy, at least not in my adult form. I can’t look at that picture any more. It hurts too much. It only serves as a cruel reminder of what happened afterwards.

That 2003 team led the series 3-2 and through 7-1/3 innings pitcher Mark Prior appeared in complete control. But then that other team showed up after that fan, Steve Bartman, reached for a foul ball hit by Luis Castillo off Prior, preventing Cub outfielder Moises Alou from catching it. Castillo proceeded to walk and Prior and the Cubs never recovered from the incident. Aided by Castillo’s walk and later an error by Cubs shortstop Alex Gonzales on a potential double-play grounder, the Marlins went on to score eight runs in the inning and won the game 8-3.

Even though the Cubs had another ace, Kerry Wood, pitching the seventh game, I knew even before he took the mound that the Cubs were not going to win. They were no longer the same team. They couldn’t field, the couldn’t hit, they couldn’t pitch. They lost that game 7 by a score of 6-3.

The Cubs that took the field in the eighth inning of game 6 and then again in game 7 of that 2003 NLCS were not the same team that had gotten them to those postseason games. They were instead the ghosts of all the worst of Cubs teams past, the 1966 team that lost 103 games, the 1980-81 teams that for a period went 52-110, the 1969 team that collapsed in September.

Since that 2003 series, the Cubs have played 5 more postseason games, three in 2007 and 2 so far in 2008. They haven’t won any of them.

The reason is simple. The Cubs are not putting the same team on the field that got them to the postseason. How else do you explain Ryan Dempster, a pitcher who had been almost unbeatable at Wrigley Field, suddenly unable to find the strike zone? Or an offense that had led the league in runs scored per game going impotent? Or an infield defense that had been as good as any in baseball making 4 errors in a game – one for each position?

Nobody recognizes this team as the one that got it to the postseason because it is not the same one. They’ve been replaced by the Ghosts of 2003, a team that only comes out in the postseason and carries with it the chains of all the worst Cubs teams in history – a team that can’t hit, or pitch, or field. Outwardly, they might look the same as the team that brought them to the postseason. But don’t be fooled. That team is not the same one that put a record eight players on the All-Star team.

That Ryan Dempster who took the mound in game 1? Sure, he looked pretty much like the same Ryan Dempster who posted a 17-6 record during the regular season, except for that new-growth beard on his face. But that wasn’t him. His body had been invaded by the spirit of Wayne Schurr, a right-handed relief pitcher who threw in 26 games for the Cubs, all losses, in 1964.

These are not the Cubs of 2008. They're the Ghosts of 2003, coming back to haunt the Cubs once again.

Randy Richardson , author of Wrigleyville murder-mystery Lost In The Ivy, is a Regular Loser. He is a frequent contributor to Chicago Parent magazine and his work has recently been anthologized in Chicken Soup for the Father and Son Soul and Humor for the Boomer's Heart. He serves as president of the Chicago Writers Association.

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