When the Chicago Cubs come home to Wrigley Field today after a little road trip, they'll probably get booed.
Hardly seems fair. Wasn't it just a hundred years ago yesterday that the Cubs beat the Phillies at West Side Park for their 18th straight victory.
How soon they forget.
Wasn't it just 40 years ago that they got to the World Series? Wasn't it just last year that they won the National League playoffs? Ooops, sorry about that.
Well, wasn't it just two weeks ago that the Cubs were in first place by 3 1/2 games with a torrid .642 pace.
What's a little thing like 12 losses in a row between friends?
Did somebody say "12," as in a dozen?
Sure, things go wrong for other teams. But things don't go wrong for anybody the way they do for the Cubs.
Wanna know how bad things are going for the small bears? They've scored 12 runs in their last nine games. And they've drawn Dwight Gooden today, when they can tie the club's all-time streak of 13 straight losses, set in 1944 and tied in 1982.
Somebody want to call up the Cubs pitching staff and get a volunteer for that one? Can't you hear Manager Jim Frey on the phone to Scott Sanderson saying this? -- "Sure, I know we've been shut out five times in two weeks. Yes, I know Rick Sutcliffe has lost his last three starts, 2-0, 2-0 and 2-1. Okay, okay, Scott, I know you pitched against Gooden last week and lost, 1-0.
"But look at it this way. Couple of walks, a bunt, they drop a pop-up and we might score."
For two weeks, the Cubs have been a perfect example of synchronicity. When they hit, they don't pitch. And when they pitch, they don't hit. It's hard to lose 11-10 and 1-0, but the Cubs have during this streak.
Of the 12 defeats, nine have been by one or two runs.
The good news is that the Cubs' hitters -- the meanest group in the majors last season -- can't possibly stay dormant much longer. On their recent week-long trip, Chris Speier had three RBI -- which was more than Davey Lopes, Ryne Sandberg, Gary Matthews, Leon Durham and Ron Cey (the first five men in the order) combined.
The bad news is that the Cubs pitching figures to collapse pretty soon. The team ERA is 2.97 -- the third best in baseball this season. And better by far than any in the history of Cubs teams in Wrigley Field.
Last year, Sutcliffe's ERA was 2.69 and the Cubs scored so many runs for him that his record was 16-1 and he won the Cy Young Award. This year, his ERA is 55 points better; his record is 6-6.
It's tough being a Cub. Now, or anytime. Catcher Steve Lake has been waking up during the losing streak with a recurrent nightmare. "I keep seeing (250-pound reliever) Lee Smith hitting me between the eyes with a fast ball while my mask is off," says Lake.
Former Cub Jim Brosnan once analyzed the team malaise thus: "It's hard to put your finger on it. You have to have a certain dullness of mind and spirit to play here. I went through psychoanalysis and that helped me deal with my 'Cubness.' "
Or, as Jose Cardenal, who once missed a game because crickets had kept him awake all night, said to Manager Jim Marshall in 1975, "I need a few days off. My eyelids are stuck open."
Since the Cubs are still only 4 1/2 games out of first place, you might think it's not too late for a World Series in Wrigley this year.
There have been 70 losing streaks of 13 games or longer in the 20th Century and not one of those teams came close to finishing in first place.
This losing streak -- all of it against the Cubs' main division rivals from Montreal, St. Louis and New York -- is going to hang over the team every day like a 10-ton "what if."
This wasn't exactly baseball's "I'm okay, you're okay" team to start with. These guys come to the park equipped with ghosts. The club motto should be, "You're okay, but I'm a Cub."
The Cubs are always the team least likely to recover from anything. To them, a rain delay's a bad break because it gives them a chance to look down at their uniforms and remember. After what happened to this particular team last October in San Diego, these bruins are not merely innocent inheriters of the Cubs tradition. They're its epitome.
That's not fair, to be sure. Nobody should have to carry the memory of Lou (the Mad Russian) Novikoff and Piano Legs Gore with them for eternity. These are the good Cubs, not the guys who set records for bad like the '75 bunch that lost a game 22-0 or the '68 crew that went scoreless for 48 innings or the '69 Days of Rage bunch that blew a pennant.
But when you're a Cub, everybody remembers. Every little detail seems fraught with "Cubness."
Even for the Cubs, allowances must be made for extenuating circumstances. True, the Cubs have had, perhaps, the best pitching in team history this year. And they are second in the National League in home runs. And they are stealing bases at an amazing 210 pace.
Yes, on the surface they would seem to be likely candidates for group hypnosis. How can a team with pitching, power and speed lose 12 in a row?
It helps if Matthews misses 34 games and Bob Dernier 16. If your top three starters -- Sutcliffe, Sanderson and Steve Trout -- have missed a total of 10 starts already, it does confuse matters. Lopes in center field and Speier at short might make the Worst Glove team. In fact, the Cubs are 4-13 with Speier at short, which makes you think Frey should stop feuding with Larry Bowa and play him.
With 47 different lineups in 65 games this year, the Cubs were struggling and improvising even when they were winning.
Needless to say, Cubs nerves are frayed. Frey, given a lucky horseshoe on a huge plaque recently, said, "What am I supposed to do with this thing? It looks like a surf board."
Bob Ibach, who works in the Cubs front office, even has tried desperate bizarre reverse hexes.
"I was an usher in RFK Stadium in the '60s when the Washington Senators lost 13 straight one year and 14 another," said Ibach. "After we (the Cubs) lost No. 12, I went home Sunday night, got out my old Senator usher's uniform and put it on. My little boy said, 'Daddy, what are you doing ?'
"I said, 'Son, I'm not quite sure.' "