We all know people who said before Nov. 2, 2016, ‘‘If I get to see the Cubs win the World Series just once, I can die happy.’’
We heard them say it and know they truly felt it.
But it’s doubtful the sentiment stuck because that would defy the nature of sports fans. It doesn’t matter the team or the sport, the city or even the history: Fans who’ve tasted a championship long to taste another because nothing else comes close to being as sweet.
It’s that easy to become spoiled. Does anyone even talk about the Cubs of 2017, who made it to a third consecutive National League Championship Series, or the Cubs of 2018, who won 95 games and made it four postseasons in a row at Wrigley Field? No, not really. Those teams are remembered with tempered appreciation, at best, and even some bitterness. One championship, one parade, from that group of Cubs was less than what could have been.
‘‘The mind, once stretched, has a difficult time going back to its original form,’’ manager Joe Maddon said, in a nod to Ralph Waldo Emerson, late in his lame-duck season of 2019. ‘‘We’ve stretched the minds a little bit.’’
Ol’ Joe was right, and the minds of Cubs fans haven’t snapped all the way back. That’s why the 2023 team can be this close to the finish line of the regular season, on the verge of making the playoffs but still in serious danger of missing them, and our collective disposition toward the whole thing seems to be guarded almost to the point of being dispassionate.
Will the Cubs get in? Sure, they might. Or not.
Can they win the whole thing? Come on, no. The Braves and Dodgers are too good, and that’s just on the NL side.
Isn’t this incredibly exciting? Perhaps in an alternate dimension or universe.
Indeed, times have changed. The innocent romances of pre-2016 playoff years for the Cubs are relics. It must be impossible anymore to fully lose oneself in the exploits of a wild-card-or-bust squad or to pin wide-eyed hopes for a title on such a squad without feeling like a rube.
Sad? No. Just the way it is.
But do keep something in mind as you watch the Cubs try to win enough times on a six-game, regular-season-ending trip through Atlanta and Milwaukee to finish in front of the Diamondbacks and/or the Marlins for a wild-card spot: Sometimes, it’s the rubes who have all the fun.
Let’s remember what the Phillies did in 2022. They were so bad early on that they cut manager Joe Girardi loose and replaced him with Rob Thomson. And — like this Cubs team — they had a jarring 3-10 slide in September, theirs ending with three consecutive losses at Wrigley.
‘‘We’re still in it,’’ star Bryce Harper said after being swept, not looking so much like he believed it.
But the Phillies had seven games to go and won four of them, and it was barely enough to slip into the third and final NL wild-card spot. An 87-victory team was an afterthought in an NL field with the 111-win Dodgers, 101-win Braves and 101-win Mets, not to mention the star-laden Padres and the division-winning Cardinals, but who got to the World Series? The Phils.
The 2021 Braves won only 88 games during the season and needed to close it with a 12-2 stretch just to get to that modest number. But they — not the 107-win Giants, not the 106-win Dodgers, not the mighty Astros on the American League side — reached the mountaintop. Go figure.
The 2019 Nationals had a rocky first half, like these Cubs, and a brutal few weeks in September until only eight games remained. So what did they do? They won all eight to go into the playoffs as a wild card on a sudden, serious roll. Along the way to their parade, they took down the 106-win Dodgers and the 107-win Astros in epic fashion.
These things can happen. That’s the point.
The Cubs were 50-28 from June 9 to Sept. 6. The team that did that — winning series after series like it was nothing — needs to show up again. It’s got to be in there somewhere.
The Diamondbacks were 6-1 against the Cubs in September and, with their blazing team speed, expert defense, excelling bullpen and youthful enthusiasm, might seem pretty formidable. But they’re also below .500 in the second half of the season. The Marlins have been a subpar, depleted team during the second half. The Reds, the straggler of the remaining wild-card contenders, are down to their last couple of breaths. This is whom the Cubs are up against, a who’s-who of so-so.
It’s not the sweetest-tasting thing, this position the Cubs are in, but you know what? There was a time we would have enjoyed it a lot more. Ask your inner rube. It’s in there somewhere, too.