CHICAGO — Before Game 3 of the World Series on Friday night, the first such game played here in Wrigley Field in 71 years, a huge American flag covered almost all of the outfield of The Friendly Confines as “God Bless America” was sung, followed by the national anthem. Theology aside, baseball is doing an admirable job of providing a civil, joyous and unifying example of intense but fair competition at a time when such a thing does indeed seem like a blessing.
Baseball’s central therapeutic quality is that it has always been there when you need it. The game, at times, seems to be a friendly confine of its own. From the solitary child seeking connection with a larger world to the senior citizen in danger of feeling disconnected, baseball offers a companion. To many of us in bleak times or to the seriously ill, baseball has always been the sport of first resort for solace ever since Babe Ruth visited sick children in hospitals and promised a home run — for them. Baseball does not sell itself as a refuge and touchstone, but it is. Who knew that baseball could also be there when an entire country needs it?
The Wrigleyville street party began about 12 hours before game time. When the sun came up, the fans came out in their Cubs Blue. Vendors had all topical subject matter of this moment in history well covered. Right next to a Ghostbusters-styled T-shirt that said, “We Ain’t Afraid of No Goats,” was another that said, “Nobody for President.” Both cost $20.
There is no connection or comparison between this World Series and our presidential election, but there is surely contrast.
As has been the case since 1871, baseball, even in front of a deeply partisan, often breathlessly anxious Chicago crowd, had no difficulty in respecting all participants, reaching agreement on basic facts and even abiding by the final score.
In the first inning, Cubs pitcher Kyle Hendricks picked the Tribe’s Francisco Lindor off first base, but umpire Marvin Hudson called Lindor safe. The Cubs challenged. As the huge scoreboard showed Lindor out on replay, Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo patted Hudson softly on the back — we know you tried to get it right. In an NLCS game, Rizzo headed to first on what he thought was ball four. Umpire Angel Hernandez said, “Strike.” Later in the game, the cameras caught Rizzo — don’t worry, this isn’t “Access Hollywood” or WikiLeaks — saying to Hernandez, “I’m sorry. I wasn’t trying to show you up.”
Perhaps I am not alone in feeling that America deserves the temporary balm of this particular World Series, one which is preordained by the nature of its protagonists to have a fabulous, satisfying ending, and a loser deserving of praise, just as clearly as we don’t deserve an election that feels like a personal humiliation and a national embarrassment.
Can this World Series between a town that has not won a World Series in 68 years and another that has not won in 108 years please go six or seven games?
The Tribe did its part Friday, backing starter Josh Tomlin, who got 14 outs, with Andrew Miller (four), Bryan Shaw (five) and Cody Allen (four) in a 1-0 win that ended with Cubs on second and third base and NLCS co-MVP Javier Baez at bat. With 41,703 standing and pleading, Allen fanned Baez with high heat for Cleveland’s fifth shutout in 11 playoff games. Wait 71 years, lose 1-0. Breathe, just breathe.
Give us something to watch — together and happy, not divided, not angry, not irrational, rooting passionately while disagreeing civilly — as long as possible.
For perhaps the only time, November is not too late on the calendar to be playing baseball. A Game 7 on Nov. 2 and a parade in Wrigleyville or Believeland a day or two later would work fine.
Earlier this year, David Axelrod, former advisor to President Obama, wrote an essay on “The Most Pleasing Campaign of 2016,” which, in his view, was clearly the “campaign” of his beloved Cubs. In recent weeks, conservative columnist George F. Will, an old baseball friend, has been scrounging tips in the Nats press box for hot hitters to use in “Beat the Streak” — an MLB contest for fans to try to pick hitters who bat safely in 57 straight games. “ ‘Beat the Streak’ and the Cubs — that’s what I’m using to take my mind off this awful election,” said Will, fairly seriously.
It’s been baseball’s good fortune to have one of the best World Series story lines in history. And it has come at the very moment when America’s dominant sport, pro football, has never looked more violent, less competently led or more arrogant.
Sometimes, sports prosper because they are in sync with the tone of the times. And sometimes, when the times are bad, they suffer when they resemble it.
All towns go crazy for their own World Series, but Chicago is a bulldog that’s snapped its chain. The scenes here today testify to a moment of opportunity for baseball. The neighborhood of Wrigleyville was a communing ground for thousands of blue-decked fans who couldn’t dream of purchasing tickets to a game that were going for a median price of more than $3,000, according to the Chicago Tribune, reporting with undisguised civic pride.
By Game 5 Sunday, a single ticket may break the all-time StubHub median-price record of $3,700 for any U.S. sports event (the 2016 Super Bowl). A pair of tickets to a potential Game 7 in Cleveland have been sold to a Cubs fan for more than $23,000 — apiece.
The Cubs are the moneyed crowd. If this Series goes back to Cleveland, the atmosphere may feel almost pro-Cubs. That’s a comment on Cleveland economics, not Tribe fans. On Friday, Progressive Field was almost filled to capacity just to watch a game on a scoreboard that was played more than 300 miles away.
The character of the neighborhoods around Wrigley Field is already in the midst of unalterable change as wealthy owner Tom Rickets is duplicating what the Red Sox did with the Fens — buy everything in sight and turn it into a profit center. Not too much was lost in that process in Boston, but the community around Wrigley Field has had its own shot-and-a-beer identity for generations. Say goodbye to that. There is even a two-square-block hole across the street from Wrigley for construction of an “upscale” hotel. Chicago White Sox fans — you know, the ones whose team already broke its 88-year drought in 2005 — have already named it: Heartbreak Hotel.
We go without the game for stretches because we do not especially need the qualities it offers, like its calm pace combined with explosive action. Or it’s green-and-white geometry, its fields both orderly and yet as idiosyncratic as Wrigley Field with its “baskets” above the outfield walls to snatch a home run an instant before it reaches an outfielder’s glove.
Then one day the game seems like just what we need again — proud of itself, but not self-infatuated.
Fun, but not without manners and codes. We remember its essential playfulness, the teasing and jokes that ballplayers can’t keep themselves from cracking even when they are playing for the highest stakes.
Yes, slightly-silly self-effacing baseball, waiting for us, like Indians Manager Terry Francona showing up at Wrigley at 11 a.m., eight hours before game time. He found the streets had already been crowded with Cubs fans since 7 a.m. So, there he was, the Leader of The Other, in Cubs country. What happened?
“I got up and swam, came to the ballpark with my jacket . . . and swimming trunks. All the people out there, I didn’t sign one autograph,” said Francona. “They probably thought I was coming to get the garbage.”
For more by Thomas Boswell, visit washingtonpost.com/boswell.