Jeffrey Maier and Steve Bartman: One fan giveth, and one fan taketh away. It's now been 20 years since Maier - then 12 - caught Jeter's HR against Baltimore, electrifying New York City and creating an aura around the Yankees. It's been 13 years since Bartman snagged the foul pop, leaving the sad Cubbies just five outs from the World Series, as close as they've ever been since.
Damn... it used to be so easy: Yanks blessed, Cubs jinxed... That's how I saw it. And the lords of baseball sure recognized a good thing: They sold the Curse of the Bambino and the Curse of the Billy Goat - golden marketing opportunities for a modern age.
Well, these days, we don't look so blessed, and the Cubs sure don't look cursed. In fact, like the Redsocks, Chicago is poised to contend, if not dominate, for years to come. They lost last night, but they have enough talent to rebound, and if they fail this year, their fan base will simply become more wilder than ever (much like the Toronto crowds, who are throwing beer cans.) A few near- misses, as painful as they would be, will give the Cubs a huge gift: The marketable curse.
It's been 12 years since Babe Ruth's "curse" did the impossible - making the Redsocks into an sympathetic underdog to a generation of privileged frat boys. Boston fans overlooked the franchise's country-club history of racism, PEDs, and overspending, and reveled in their new status as a long-suffering Chosen Few. Some still do, though it's a joke. Boston is the dominant franchise, its front office running circles around the Yankees. When Redsock fans cling to scraps of victim-hood, they literally must sing, Where have you gone, Dom Dimaggio, our nation turns its lonely eyes to you.
But let's get back to the Cubbies. As soon as they win the Big Gulp, they won't be "the Cubbies" anymore. They'll be the potential dynasty. Look at their lineup, and you either see multiple championships or a raft of disappointments. They have the money to juice their roster, and an owner rich enough to not care about spending it, and all this Yankee fan blather about signing Aroldis Chapman this winter belies the fact that Chicago might have something else in mind.
Still, to build a marketable "curse," the Cubs need one more historic collapse. It's not enough to lose to LA this week. They must blow a five-run lead in game seven. They need a Bartman, a Javier Vazquez, a Mitch "Wild Thing" Williams. They need the World Series to roll through the wickets of their own Buckner. Then they'll have a legitimate "Curse of the Billy Goat," or "Curse of Bartman," or "Curse of the ESPN Marketing Department," whatever Stay tuned. If they can just lose again, and maybe get a crack at Boston next year, well, the Billy Goat will be working on greatness.