By no means is Divac a Cubs fan nor am I celebrating a Cubs World Series championship in any way (although some of my associates are attempting to cash in on a two-year-old punishment for losing a yearlong all-sports pool called “The Gaettysburg Address” by making me wear Cubs gear to the parade. I really should have made it a point to fulfill that punishment much earlier). Simply put, I am a lifelong White Sox fan and I hate the Cubs. This will never change.
With that said, I have great respect for what the true, diehard Cubs fans have endured over their lifetimes that make this 2016 World Series even more special. Here are five random players that contributed to that and who Cubs fans can now look back and smile about after winning possibly the greatest single baseball game I’ve ever witnessed as an unbiased fan of baseball.
Being nine years old at the time, Brant Brown dropping the ball to cost the Cubs the 1998 Wild Card outright is one of my earliest baseball memories. Brown had made an impression with the Cubs in his first full season, batting .291 with 14 home runs which included a three homer game in June. However, Brant Brown will always be remembered for what happened on September 23 when the Cubs were tied with the Mets for the NL Wild Card with only three games remaining. The Cubs held a 7-5 lead with two outs in the bottom of the ninth when Geoff Jenkins drove a ball to left field with the bases loaded. Brown easily got under it near the warning track only to drop it, allowing three runs to score.
Fortunately for Brown, he was saved from a Bartman-like fate as the Cubs still managed to claim the Wild Card in a one-game playoff with the Giants, thanks in part to Gary Gaetti.
After the Bartman play, the Alex Gonzalez error, and the Derrek Lee double in the 2003 NLCS Game 6 against the Marlins, the Cubs were still within a run down 4-3 with two outs when Mike Mordecai stepped up to the plate with the bases loaded.
A 35-year old, seldom-used bench player with only 89 ABs on the season and a total of 8 RBIS, Mordecai launched a Kyle Farnsworth pitch off of the ivy in left field extending the lead to 7-3 and ending any hope that the Cubs could rally back in their final two at-bats. The Marlins of course would go on to win Game 7 and the 2003 World Series.
A Chicago kid out of Roberto Clemente High School, Victor Diaz was in the midst of his first and only full season in the MLB for the Mets in 2004 when his team made it’s way to Wrigley Field to take on the Wild Card contending Cubs. A year after the debacle in 2003, the Cubs had acquired Derrek Lee and Greg Maddux in the off-season as well as Nomar Garciaparra at the trade deadline to seemingly bolster an already strong team.
On September 25, the Cubs had a chance to extend their Wild Card lead to 2.5 with only eight games remaining when closer LaTroy Hawkins, another new addition during the off-season, took the mound with a three-run lead in the ninth inning against the Mets. After putting two on base, the aforementioned Diaz stepped up to the plate and launched a three-run home run to tie the game. The Mets would win in extras and the Cubs would squander away the 2004 Wild Card finishing three games behind the Houston Astros. Hawkins would never be forgiven and ended up being traded to the Giants in 2005.
As for Diaz, he had only 111 career at-bats after 2005 and was out of the league by 2007. He will forever go down as that no-name who ruined the Cubs playoff chances in 2004 and potentially a chance at ending the curse 12 years earlier.
Robby Thompson was a little better than the other players on this list (a two-time All-Star and Rookie of the Year), but the Giants second baseman did his part in extending the Cubs drought in the 1989 NLCS. First baseman Will Clark was the Series’ MVP for the Giants, but Thompson’s two home runs, including the game-winner in Game 3, helped the Giants reach the 1989 World Series at the Cubs’ expense. There’s no video of Thompson doing his damage, but there is some of Will Clark singling home game-winning runs in Game 5.
I have no idea why there is somebody there waving a broom in Game 5, but Thompson couldn’t follow up his big NLCS in the World Series as he only got one hit in what was an Oakland Athletics’ sweep of the Giants in four games. Maybe the broom was just a really good prediction into the future by an A’s fan attending the Giants game that day.
Unlike the previous four Cubs “villains,” Paul Bako is anything but that. In fact, Paul Bako is the f***** GOAT. His status as Greg Maddux’s personal catcher for the Cubs in 2003-04 solidified him as a Cubs all-timer and thinking about Paul Bako will guaranteed make this Cubs World Series even more special for Cubs fans. Other than a really big missed opportunity to introduce the “Doritos Locos Bako” to the world, Paul Bako has presumably lived a perfect life and should be given a World Series ring retroactively for just being Paul Bako.
I’ll say it one time and one time only, congrats to the Cubs on their World Series. All of these players helped to make this Cubs World Series in 2016 even more special in their own special way. It’s time for the lifelong Cubs fans to look back on all the “villains” of past and smile about how they played their own little part in making 2016 possible. I’ll leave you with a quote from one of my good, lifelong Cubs fan friends:
“For the thousands of hours of brutal Cubs baseball. For all the innings of Jason Marquis and Glendon Rusch. For all the at-bats of Jose Macias and the errors of Neifi Perez, it’s just starting to hit me now. What a ride. A lifetime in the making. To Brant Brown, Alex Gonzalez, LaTroy Hawkins and Victor Diaz. Mark DeRosa, my freshman year fan, and Milton Bradley among so many others: thanks for the greatest emotional roller coaster of all-time. It was all worth it.”
(NOTE: RIP to my friend’s freshman year, dorm room portable fan. I was there to witness it’s death and it was unjust. It’s unfortunate it didn’t live long enough to witness this moment).