THIS HAS BEEN as tumultuous a year as our republic has dealt with in decades, and I'm not just talking about Prince's dying. Future historians will look back at 2016 as a pivotal year for our planet, one that, like 1929, '68 or 2001, schoolchildren have to commit to memory. Twenty-sixteen is going to live forever—because of all that happened in sports, of course. And it's going to be immortal for one reason: The Cubs won the World Series for the first time since 1908.
This was sports' last frontier, and now it has been conquered. Chicago, baseball, sports, Earth will never be quite the same.
Except: Within one week of the title, with the detritus from the victory parade still littering Grant Park, almost all the Cubs fans I know, fresh from etching their late relatives' names on that wall on Waveland Avenue, began fretting about 2017. The hangover started before the party even ended. How were they going to replace closer Aroldis Chapman? How would they untangle the outfield logjam? And last week when they resolved both issues—getting Royals reliever Wade Davis for outfielder Jorge Soler—concern turned to the rotation: Where are all the young arms? The Cubs had just given their fans what they and their parents and grandparents had waited their whole lives for. It bought them roughly a week.
In this age of instant gratification and infinitesimal attention spans, championships are like a drug you can't get enough of. And that can lead to an addiction that often brings out the worst in us.
The Red Sox won the World Series in 2004 and then another one in '07. Boston was so enthralled by the success brought by Theo Epstein (page 110), the local kid who had built the franchise's first champions in over eight decades, that the organization came to favor team-building strategies contrary to Epstein's preferred methods. As a result he quit in October '11. The Giants won three World Series titles in five seasons at the start of this decade, for crying out loud, and you should have heard what some fans were calling San Francisco's bullpen in October.
This is hardly limited to baseball. LeBron James (page 32) was getting questions about whether or not he could match Michael Jordan's six NBA titles mere minutes after bringing Cleveland its first championship in 52 years last June. Alabama's Nick Saban is going for his fifth national title in 10 years in Tuscaloosa, and Crimson Tide fans would still consider a 10--2 season a major disappointment. Heck, Kentucky has declared a state of emergency because the Wildcats have gone four full seasons since John Calipari led them to an NCAA basketball crown. Flags may fly forever. But forever seems to fly by pretty fast these days.
This is to say: Fans, deep down, are never going to be happy, or at least not for any extended period of time. Remember how George Steinbrenner would lose his mind and start firing people left and right every year the Yankees didn't win the World Series? Remember how unreasonable we all found him? Well, now everybody is George Steinbrenner. We are all Yankees fans now. Sure, you just ended a 108-year curse that the entire sports world thought would last until we were all long dead. But what have you done for me lately?
This new reality can be instructive for the men tasked, like Epstein, with building and maintaining a championship contender. Dave Dombrowski, the Red Sox' president of baseball operations, felt the need to trade away a large chunk of Boston's future—including Baseball America's top prospect, infielder Yoan Moncada—to get All-Star lefty Chris Sale from the White Sox last week, in order to bring a championship back to Fenway Park after an interminable three-year drought. If the Red Sox don't win with Sale, it won't have been worth it. But if they do win, in this new landscape, even that won't buy Dombrowski any time. That title will just demand more short-term moves to win another one, immediately.
This short-term attention span theater of the fan ultimately argues for constantly thinking about the long term. The odds are against your winning a championship anyway—because they're always against your winning a championship. Long-range planning, the Cubs' way, the Patriots' way, heck, even the 76ers' way, would ideally allow for perpetual contention, staying in the hunt for a title every year, even if it's not all riding on this particular year. The Cubs have built a franchise that can compete for the next decade, and while they were doing that, hey, check it out, they just won the World Series!
After the Red Sox got Sale, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said, "Boston is the Golden State Warriors of baseball now." It was a reference to the Dubs' adding Kevin Durant last off-season to a team that had won a title in 2015, then, the next year, set the regular-season record with 73 wins. Putting aside the irony of such a comment coming from the Yankees' GM, Cashman hit on a universal truth he knows well from his decades in the Bronx. Fans don't just want one championship. They want them all.
Assists and zero turnovers for Clippers point guard Chris Paul last Saturday in a 133--105 win over New Orleans. He's the first player with those numbers since Utah's Rickey Green on Feb. 14, 1984.
Consecutive years Mount Union (Alliance, Ohio) reached the Division III championship game, a streak that ended with a 14--12 loss to Mary Hardin--Baylor in the semifinals last Saturday.
Games, postseason included, for the Canadiens since they scored 10 goals before a 10--1 win over the Avalanche last Saturday. Montreal's previous 10-plus-goal game came on Feb. 24, 1990, just five games after the one before that.
Faces in the Crowd