Baseball, it has been said, is a metaphor for life in this country, and it is true that the sport has much in common with America. There are rules, boundaries, procedures, lines, labor, management, singing and beer. Chicago and Cleveland are classic American cities, and their clubs in the World Series represented baseball Americana at its finest. The series was messy and exceptional in a nation proud of its messy exceptionalism, and the teams were known underdogs, like most of us, not dynasties.
That the Chicago Cubs, a team that hadn’t won the World Series since the Theodore Roosevelt administration in 1908, won in the 10th inning of Game 7 after a 17-minute rain delay makes the outcome all the more poignant. Throw in locusts and it would have been almost biblical. But the Cubs rose above their history. They were down three games to one and fought back to win in seven, although even in the final game, they seemed fully capably of blowing it all again.
The Indians had not won a title since Truman was president. In front of the hometown crowd, Rajai Davis, a 36-year-old .267 lifetime hitter with all of 55 career home runs, blasted a two-run shot that tied the game, off Aroldis Chapman, the Cubs’ 100-mile-an-hour flamethrower. Davis, a former Giant and Oakland A, gave hope to all journeymen players who plug away day after day, spending a career learning a trade.
And at the risk of stretching the metaphor, in this election year, when the country is so deeply divided, the two teams seemed at times to offer a flicker of hope that this country can still rejoice in something together. Witness Bill Murray’s rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” in Game 3, and it’s hard not to feel there’s still hope that this country can be unified.
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Of course, we shouldn’t forget that these teams are also corporate entities with a public trust, though that, too, is a sort of American reflection. The family that owns the Cubs, which gave $1 million to an anti-Hillary Clinton super PAC, assembled a winning team with a player payroll pushing toward $200 million. The injury-plagued Indians operated on a shoestring, comparatively, with a payroll of less than $100 million.
But let’s also look at the managers, for they offered a lesson in leadership at a time this country could use it. Joe Maddon, the Cubs’ skipper, was the model of cool in crisis. What leader wouldn’t feel the crushing weight of being down 3-1? And the Indians’ Terry Francona was the epitome of class after the end of the series.
Nothing was rigged, no wild accusations. It was just a quintessential demonstration of something right in this country. Imagine the possibilities, were our politics to recall that example: A hard-fought contest, well-played, with respect for the game, the stakes and the contenders, followed, at last, by grace on both sides.