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The Cubs’ real ‘Curse’? It isn’t what you think

After the "Bartman" incident, the Chicago Cubs' sure-handed shortstop Alex Gonzalez made a crucial error in the 8th inning of the 2003 NLCS vs. the Florida Marlins.
Shortly after the “Steve Bartman incident,” the Chicago Cubs’ sure-handed shortstop Alex Gonzalez made a crucial error in the 8th inning of the 2003 NLCS vs. the Florida Marlins.

From the Saturday, Oct. 10, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …

By Dave Wischnowsky

The WISCH LIST

For fans of the Chicago Cubs, October has never been the kindest of months. The tricks usually start weeks before Halloween – and then we never end up getting any treats.

But might this October finally be different? Is it possible, as once foretold by that time-traveling oracle Marty McFly, that the Cubs’ elusive “Next Year” is actually here in 2015?

Great Scott, would that ever be something.

But as the Cubs now mix it up in the postseason with the St. Louis Cardinals for the first time in the two franchises’ 123-year rivalry, the biggest obstacle between Chicago and a World Series championship might not actually be the Redbirds. Or the Dodgers. Or the Mets. Or any team out of the American League.

Rather, it might be the “curse” of history.

Although, I also think that this very well may be just the Cubs team – and manager – finally capable of overcoming that.

Looking back, ever since I sat in the Wrigley Field upper deck watching the eighth inning tragically unfold in Game 6 of the 2003 National League Championship Series, I’ve been convinced that, for the Cubs, a “curse” does truly exist.

No, it isn’t in the form of an actual billy-goateed specter of evil that looms over Wrigley pulling on the Cubs’ marionette strings. But in the sense of the pressure that’s built up for the franchise during more than a century of futility, which can manifest itself in the postseason, there absolutely is a tangible entity that’s haunted the North Side ball club.

In the 12 years since 2003, I’ve told people countless times about the sensation that crept around Wrigley after Steve Bartman reached for that fateful foul ball and Moises Alou promptly flipped his lid. Like a murmuring virus spreading among the fearful fans, it was the eeriest feeling that I’ve ever experienced.

And unless you were actually at Wrigley that night, it’s almost impossible to fully explain. But trust me when I say that you could literally feel the mood shift inside the ballpark.

It was palpable.

And I’m certain that the crowd’s tension cascaded down onto the field, which is why I believe Mark Prior went on to falter on the mound while Alex Gonzalez failed in the field, leading to the Cubs’ epic loss.

Five years later in 2008, that pressure struck again when the Cubs entered the postseason as the best team in baseball, and then slinked out just three games later after a sweep by the Dodgers.

In Game 1 of the NLDS at Wrigley, with the Cubs up 2-0, L.A.’s James Loney belted a fifth-inning grand slam for a 4-2 lead. Immediately, the fans buzzed with “Here we go again” concerns, and the Cubs never rallied. Then in Game 2, with the crowd tension at a fever pitch, all four Cubs infielders committed errors en route to a 10-3 loss.

Past Cubs players may try to deny it, but once the team has reached October, they know all-too-well that more than a century of failure is weighing on their shoulders and that not just a city, but an entire nation’s eyes are squarely upon them.

And as Marty McFly might say, that’s heavy.

For the Cubs to finally win it all, they’re going to have to overcome that century of accumulated pressure. And that’s the team’s actual “curse.”

But that doesn’t mean that it can’t be overcome. What it will take is a truly Herculean effort – or maybe just a team with a young roster so new to Chicago and a manger so quirky that past history won’t even register.

Either way, I’ll take it. And we’ll see.