I've got a terrible secret - I actually haven't been a Cubs fan for all that long. I grew up as a Cubs fan (and pretty much a baseball-only sports fan), but I never really knew anything about the team. I imagine that's the way it goes with most kids growing up, especially if they don't live near the team that they root for. I knew that Ryne Sandberg was the best player on the team and I knew the names Mark Grace and Andre Dawson but that's about it. My baseball fandom really just amounted to watching the World Series and watching the home run chase in 1998. Since I was basically just watching the playoffs, I enoyed watching the Yankees teams in those years, kicking ass and taking names in the height of their mini-dynasty. It wasn't until my cousin got me hooked on fantasy baseball back in 2001, not to mention the fact that when I got to college I suddenly had easy access to WGN and had the time to actually watch a decent number of games, that I took another look at this whole baseball thing.
I loosely followed the ups and downs of the 2001 and 2002 teams, but 2003 (and what might have been in the playoffs that year) is when I was really drawn in. What a team that was - Cubs legend (and soon to be shamefully treated Cubs pariah) Sammy Sosa was declining but still carrying the sub-par offense on his back, Hendry fleeced Pittsburgh in the Ramirez trade and brought in Kenny Lofton to spark the offense, and the pitching, oh, the pitching. The Cubs had a pair of aces in Wood and Prior, backed up by an on-his-game Matt Clement, some goofy Venezualan kid named Carlos Zambrano, and, inexplicably, Shawn Estes. It was just my luck that Estes was pitching the only game that I saw in person that season. It's no conicedence that this team had my three favorite Cubs players of all time (Prior, Sosa, Z). It sucks that it didn't work out for that team, but as Santo likes to say, that's baseball.
What got me thinking about this, though, is the 1998 Cubs. A year or so ago, my in-laws bought me a cd that was made at the end of the 98 season with various audio clips and songs from the season (and of course, Go Cubs Go) and listening to it makes me both really nostalgic about that team and bummed that I completely missed out on it. It feels strange to feel this nostalgia even though I didn't experience any of this stuff at all, aside from the HR race.
- The 98 HR race between Sosa and McGuire
- Getting to the playoffs for the first time since '89
- Kerry Wood's rookie season
- Kerry Wood's 20-K game
- Harry Caray's death before the start of the season and the ensuinge tributes to him
- Rod Beck being Rod Beck
- And probably half a hundred other things that I've forgotten or don't know about, because I wasn't there
Maybe it's just because I still know who many of these players are that I'm feeling this, I don't know. After watching This Old Cub, the '69 Cubs are also up there too but I just don't get that same shiver I get when thinking about the '98 or '03 Cubs, even though I suspect that the '69 club was a better team than both of them.
I just went back and looked at the '98 Cubs roster and am floored. Despite all the nostalgia that team had going for it (above), that was NOT a great team. Any Cubs team since the 2003 run (excluding 2006, which we all should try to block out of our minds) was better than that one.