If The Chicago Cubs Win The World Series, That Will The End Of The Lovable Losers. What happened When The Red Sox Won The World Series — Twice? Don’t We Enjoy The Jinxes And The History? What Would Ernie Banks Think? Mark Knudson Addresses This All-Important Issue
By MARK KNUDSON
Talk radio types look for any way to stir the pot. That’s their job. Occasionally they land on something that may sound crazy at first, but turns out to be worth really exploring. This week, more than one has pushed the idea that the Chicago Cubs winning the 2016 World Series would be a bad thing for Major League Baseball.
The premise is simple: Since the Boston Red Sox ended the “Curse of the Bambino” in 2004, only the Cubs century old “Curse of the Billy Goat” remains as a dramatic subplot to every MLB season. They’re pushing the idea that something like this is needed to draw in casual sports fans to the sport. TV execs are hoping for a seven game series between Chicago and Cleveland that could draw huge ratings, largely on the appeal of the Cubs. But are the sports talkers correct? Is that appeal based solely on the misery factor? Viewers love that drawn out anguish, right? A big part of the national appeal of the Chicago Cubs for the past seven decades has been that “loveable loser” tag they’ve been dragging around since 1945, and the World Series title drought that’s now 108 years old is something that non-Cubs fans almost marvel at. Sympathy? Nah. Opposing fans have enjoyed every bit of it. What would happen to non-Cubs fans if that misery ended? Are the Red Sox less interesting as a franchise now that they’ve won a couple World Series titles and Bill Buckner can actually show his face in New England? Perhaps a little, ya.
So if the Cubs win this World Series, and the ongoing soap opera that surrounds them is effectively cancelled, can baseball continue to thrive even without an on-going and ever compelling story line?
Of course it can. And it will.
The argument that Major League Baseball has effectively become a “regional” sport is basically true. Fans who watch on TV at home are less and less likely to watch and be fans of teams from other markets than they used to be, due mainly to the growth of local television broadcasts. Prior to the 1980’s baseball fans got one, maybe two televised games per week. TheSaturday afternoon “Game of the Week” drew large audiences, and when they added “Monday Night Baseball,” it did well, too.
Then “Superstations” WTBS in Atlanta and WGN in Chicago decided to take their local teams national on cable television nearly every night. The nation had a lot more Cubs and Braves fans after that. By the 1990’s local stations in other markets got into showing the home team regularly – regardless of whether or not the game was a sellout – and the local TV thing developed strong roots. Now local TV broadcasts – which happen every night during the regular season – are far more popular than the national broadcasts which happen several nights per week.
Add game attendance, which also continues to grow and thrive, and it’s easy to see why baseball has “localized.” And that’s not a bad thing. As an industry, baseball is very very healthy. And when it comes time for the post season, baseball blows away its competition. From the one-game Wild Card “play-in” game to the dramatic best of five division series all the way through October, no other sport comes close to the drama created by the MLB post-season. And that is with or without the Chicago Cubs.
Still, there critics who believe the regular season is too long (and they have a valid point) and that there needs to be something like the on-going saga of the Cubs not winning the World Series to keep people interested. But history shows us that this is not true. There are countless examples of franchises with long suffering fan bases who finally win a title and whose popularity actually grows. Look no further than the Cleveland Cavaliers. Is there any reason to believe that just because the Cavs ended the city’s decades long championship drought last June that the Cavs popularity will suddenly drop off? Of course not.
Major League Baseball is like every other sport. It has its issues that need to be addressed. The pace of action in games needs to get better, as demonstrated in game two of the series when for some reason neither team’s catcher could resist frequent visits to the pitcher mound. More frequent action plays will keep the interest of more fans. And perhaps the regular season is a bit too long. Fortunately, Commissioner Rob Manfred is very open and willing to listen to ideas and proposed solutions on these topics, so baseball will be just fine.
This World Series match-up is great for baseball. And if the Cubs win it, there will be long overdue and enormous celebration in the Windy City that will be just as epic as the one we saw in Denver last February and in Cleveland last June. Long suffering Cubs fans will deserve to rejoice. But as soon as the champagne has dried and the locker room carpets have been steam cleaned, everyone from fans to players to front office personnel will begin talking about what has to happen for the Cubs to repeat. That will be the new and compelling story line. That’s how it works in sports. When one story ends, another begins…especially on talk radio.