Reporting David Elfin
At first glance, the Washington Nationals and the Chicago Cubs don’t seem to have a lot in common.
The Cubs, who are visiting the Nats this week, compete in the National League Central. The home team belongs to the NL East. Despite Washington’s current 16-7 tear, neither figures to be a serious playoff contender.
The Cubs began playing in the Windy City in 1876, an unmatched record of continuity in professional sports. The Nats’ tenure in the nation’s capital dates only to 2005.
Chicago has been to 10 World Series and won two championships. Washington has yet to finish with a winning record. Thirteen Cubs are enshrined in the Hall of Fame. It will obviously be quite a while before any Nat makes his way into Cooperstown.
But delve a little deeper and there are plenty of similarities beyond the fact that the Cubs and Nats compete in two of the dozen markets that boast teams in Major League Baseball, the NFL, the NBA and the NHL.
Despite playing in Chicago since just five years after Mrs. O’Leary’s cow ignited the Great Fire of 1871, the Cubs don’t own the city’s most passionate fan base. That belongs to the NFL’s Bears. It’s the same story in Washington where the Redskins rule.
Jim Riggleman, who shockingly resigned as Washington’s manager on June 23, managed Chicago from 1995-99. Riggleman’s replacement, Davey Johnson, finished his playing career with the Cubs in 1978.
Chicago outfielder Alfonso Soriano starred for Washington in 2006, his lone season with the Nats, hitting 46 homers, stealing 41 bases and recording 22 assists, making him the first 40-40-20 player in major league history. He signed with the Cubs that November.
Fellow outfielder Marlon Byrd was also a Nat, playing for Washington in 2005 and 2006. Cubs bench coach Pat Listach was the Nats’ third base coach the past two seasons. Chicago manager Mike Quade’s ended his playing career in 1982 with the Class A Alexandria Dukes, now the Potomac Nationals.
But more important than all those connections is the Cubs’ status as loveable losers. During its best post-World War II period, Chicago won five division titles but no pennant from 1984-2008. The Cubs haven’t reached the World Series since 1945. Coincidentally, that was the same season that Washington last fielded a contender as the Senators pushed the Detroit Tigers to the final day before losing the American League flag.
Of course, those 1945 Cubs lost the Series, part of an unmatched span of failure to capture the championship that extends all the way back to 1909. Even Washington, which was without a team from 1972-2004, won the World Series more recently, albeit way back in 1924.
In just their seventh season in the nation’s capital, the Nats aren’t loveable losers just yet, but only Baltimore, Kansas City and Pittsburgh have gone longer without finishing over .500. With fireballer Stephen Strasburg back and slugger Bryce Harper likely to be called up in 2012, perhaps Washington will become a latter-day Amazin’ Mets, who soared from the dregs to the top in their eighth season, 1969.
Naturally, the team that New York overcame to win the NL East that year was the Cubs, who were enjoying their best season since 1945 before collapsing down the stretch.
The Mets have been to three more Series since, winning one. The Cubs are in their 66th season of waiting for a spot in the Fall Classic. The Nats probably don’t want to model themselves after the Mets, who are in financial disarray, but they sure don’t want to be the Cubs either. Not even Charlie Brown likes being a loveable loser.
David Elfin has covered sports since he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School in 1975. He is the Washington representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and is the former President of the Pro Football Writers of America. A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan during the 2010 Redskins season, he returned to the station as its blogger in March.