The Chicago Cubs are the consensus pick to win the 2016 World Series, with a team so loaded—2015’s Rookie of the Year, Manager of the Year and Cy Young Award winners—surely no Billy Goat Curse can stop them from ending a streak of 107 seasons without a title.
However, being a Cubs fan is intrinsically linked to suffering, to the point the franchise was at one point known as the Chicago Orphans. (Really.)
So as they lead off their 2016 campaign against the Angels tonight, here’s a little perspective…
Why the Excitement: In 1906, the Cubs won a remarkable 116 out of 152 games (though only two out of six in the World Series). This seemed the year to claim the franchise’s first Series title.
Key Cubs: The double-play combo of shortstop Joe Tinker to second baseman Johnny Evers to first baseman Frank Chance—all three went on to the Hall of Fame.
What Happened: A World Series title! And another in 1908! And… the rest of the century goes less well.
Why the Excitement: While the Cubs lost the 1918 World Series to the Red Sox and their star pitcher Babe Ruth (2-0, 1.06 ERA), they seemed poised for another run.
Key Cubs: Pitchers Hippo Vaughn (the 1918 pitching Triple Crown winner) and Grover Cleveland Alexander (the Triple Crown winner in 1915 and 1916).
What Happened: This was a year the National League literally couldn’t lose the World Series because the notorious Chicago “Black Sox” fixed it. Naturally, the Cubs won nine fewer games, missing the postseason and a certain title.
Why the Excitement: While they lost the World Series 4-3 in 1945, that season saw the Cubs improve by 23 wins over 1944 as they claimed their fifth pennant since 1929. They surely didn’t need to worry about a fan angered over his goat being denied admission to Wrigley Field.
Key Cubs: Outfielder Phil Cavarretta (the 1945 MVP).
What Happened: The dawn of the Billy Goat Curse and the ongoing streak of 69 years without a World Series appearance. Despite the appearance of “Mr. Cub” Ernie Banks in 1953, this era was grim; from 1947 to 1962, the team failed to post a winning record.
Ah, Sandberg: He’ll always be our Most Valuable Ryne.
Why the Excitement: After 39 years without a postseason appearance, in 1984 the Cubs won their division, leaping from 71 wins to 96.
Key Cubs: Second baseman Ryne Sandberg (1984 MVP), pitcher Rick Sutcliffe (1984 Cy Young).
What Happened: Plummeted to 77 wins, finishing 23.5 games back. Next season plummeted some more to 70 wins and 37 games out.
Why the Excitement: Won the division again in 1989!
Key Cubs: Former MVPs outfielder Andre Dawson and Sandberg, 1989 Rookie of the Year outfielder Jerome Walton (c’mon, you remember the hitting streak).
What Happened: Winners of 93 games in 1989, they slipped back to 1988’s 77 wins—and liked it so much they won 77 games in 1991 too.
Why the Excitement: Okay, “excitement” isn’t quite the right word after the heartbreak of Bartman in 2003. That said, so close to the World Series. And so much talent. How could they not have happier days ahead?
Key Cubs: Four-time Cy Young Greg Maddux returned to a staff that included All-Star pitchers Kerry Wood and Mark Prior, as well as soon-to-be All-Stars Carlos Zambrano and Matt Clement.
What Happened: Actually improved a game to 89 wins. Unfortunately, division rivals the Cardinals won 105. Wood and Prior injuries made this team arguably the most bitter “What if?” in Cubs history. (A title for which there is abundant competition.)
Why the Excitement: Division winners in 2007, the Cubbies seemed poised to win their first playoff series since Bartman.
Key Cubs: Pitcher Zambrano, catcher Geovany Soto (Rookie of the Year and an All-Star in 2008).
What Happened: They won 12 more games than in 2007 and won the division again, then got swept in the playoffs. Missed the postseason in 2009, and in 2010 began a run of five straight losing seasons before the success of 2015 (which, despite Back to the Future 2’s prediction, did not end in a sweep over Miami.)
Which brings us up to date.
For Chicago’s sake—the North Side, at least—may the cycle end in 2016.