October 8, 2003

Could This Be 'The Year' for Cubs, Sox?

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The year was 1918. World War I was coming to a close in Europe. The Treaty of Paris was signed. More than 20 million people worldwide died of the “Spanish Flu,” the most devastating pandemic in the history of the world.

On the academic front, Max Planck won the Nobel Prize in Physics; Henry Gray’s groundbreaking medical textbook, The Anatomy of the Human Body was published; and a Cornell English professor named William J. Strunk published a small volume entitled The Elements of Style.

It was quite a year, indeed. But the most important event of 1918 was, of course, the Boston Red Sox’ World Series victory over the Chicago Cubs. It would be the last time either team would win the World Series.

Until now. (Perhaps.)

For only the second time since that fateful year of 1918, both the Cubs and Red Sox are in the postseason again at the same time. Except this time, both teams have advanced.

When the Cubs beat Atlanta in the National League Division Series this past weekend, it marked the first postseason series Chicago has won since its 1908 World Series title. Ninety years of being the lovable losers of the North Side could be close to an end.

The Red Sox, on the other hand — well, we all know their story.

In 1918 they beat the Cubs to win the World Series. The very next year, they sell their star pitcher, Babe Ruth, to the New York Yankees, a floundering second-class organization sharing space in the Polo Grounds with the New York Giants. Ruth goes on to become the most famous athlete in the world, almost single-handedly saving baseball from the White Sox Scandal of 1919, while the Red Sox become the most prolific second-place team in baseball, losing several heartbreaking World Series when they don’t finish behind the Yankees in the American League standings.

So now the Red Sox are again in the ALCS, again facing the Yankees. The Cubs are in the NLCS for the first time since 1989, matching up against the Wild Card-winning Florida Marlins. While both teams can’t win this year — and neither likely will — each has a serious chance. Here’s why.

The most important aspect of any baseball team — particularly a team in the postseason — is pitching. The Chicago Cubs have plenty of it. Chicago had the fifth-best ERA in baseball this past season — better than any other team still alive. Their rotation is anchored by Kerry Wood and Mark Prior, two of the best young arms in the game. Carlos Zambrano is arguably the best third starter in baseball. His 3.11 ERA was better even than Wood’s (3.20).

As the Cubs proved during the Division Series against the Braves, superior pitching will win games any day of the week.

With all due respect to the Cornell football team, the Boston Red Sox are the cardiac kids. Boston proved during its American League Division Series against Oakland to never underestimate the power of team chemistry and desire. In three straight games, the AL Wild Card entrant did nothing but battle against the talented A’s.

Intestinal fortitude plays almost as important a role in postseason success as does pitching. The Red Sox had the most extra inning wins in the American League during the regular season (11-5), a feat made all the more impressive by the fact that many of the team’s players were added to the roster this past offseason. Team chemistry takes time to cultivate, but the Red Sox are well ahead of the curve in this regard.

Of course, rational arguments aside, there is still a certain mysticism that surrounds both teams. It will take some serious karma to make 2003 the year that makes us all forget 1918.

Owen Bochner is a Sun Assistant Sports Editor and thinks he’s a baseball historian. In The O-Zone will appear every other Wednesday this semester. Owen can be contacted by e-mail at [email protected].

Archived article by Owen Bochner