I have gone on record before that the Cubs need to own the curse if they are to ever break it. Whether you believe in supernatural forces or not, the psychology of the curse has a grip on this team that ends up playing a role in how the players play in crucial situations.
I'm certain that the players don't believe that ghosts will prevent them from accomplishing their goals, but I'm also certain that players' egos (which are necessary to be an athlete at the professional level) allow the notion to sneak into their brains that it would be really damn cool to be the one to be the hero that finally delivers the team a championship. When you try to be the hero, you lose focus on the situation at hand, and the odds of failure rise dramatically.
Thus my stance that the Cubs need to acknowledge the curse in some form, and decide to tell it to go f---itself because they have work to do. I stole the framework of President Obama's inaugural speech to do it:
"So let us mark this day with remembrance, of who we are and how far we have traveled. In the year of 1983, in the coldest of Aprils, a bad team was 5-14. Strategies were abandoned. The losses were mounting. The scorecards were littered with errors and strikeouts. At a moment when the success of the team was most in doubt, the manager uttered these words to the people:
"F--- those f---in' fans who come out here and say they're Cub fans that are supposed to be behind you rippin' every f---in' thing you do. I'll tell you one f---in' thing, I hope we get f---in' hotter than sh--, just to stuff it up them 3,000 f---in' people that show up every f---in' day, because if they're the real Chicago f---in' fans, they can kiss my f---in' a-- right downtown and PRINT IT."
Cubs fans, in the face of back-to-back failed playoff performances and 100 years of futility, in this April 1983 of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words. With hope and virtue, let us f---in' stuff it up the f---in' gods' a--es, and endure what storms may come. Let it be said by our children's children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not become White Sox fans nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and Harry's grace upon us, we carried forth and finally celebrated a World Series title."
I also got pissed off and less eloquently told the Baseball Gods to suck it in my own words:
"I've come to the conclusion that no amount of kow-towing or groveling is going to be good enough for the baseball gods. They hate the Cubs and that is all there is to it. So you know what? The baseball gods can suck it...
...I've had enough. The gods deemed that the Red Sox have paid off their debts for selling Babe Ruth to finance a musical. They have forgiven the White Sox for throwing a World Series! But the Cubs have not been forgiven for refusing to let a smelly goat into the bleachers for a World Series game. How is that the biggest crime in baseball history? So the goat can suck it too."
So you would think that I would be a big proponent of Kevin Millar getting a spot on this year's roster. Afterall, as Gordon Wittenmyer reminds us today in the Sun-Times, Millar has broken a curse before:
"What's certain is that Kevin Millar has done what nobody in the Cubs' clubhouse has done -- end a curse -- and he's willing to share the formula his self-proclaimed ''bunch of idiots'' in Boston used six years ago to bring down the Curse of the Bambino."
I'll save the Cubs a whole lot of trouble and a roster spot to someone who can't hit, run, or field with any degree of competence by sharing that formula right here:
Johnny Damon in his prime + 'roided up David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez - Nomar in a wheelchair at shortstop + eventual Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez + (Curt Schilling x Fake blood on his sock) + a bullpen where just about everyone had the best year of their lives = World Series championship. Notice that Kevin Millar doesn't enter into the equation at all and that was when he was still a useful player. He most certainly shouldn't be a factor in any equation the Cubs are putting together this year.
Mostly because the core of that championship equation centered around the factors being good at playing baseball. Not just good. There needs to be greatness factored in. Mediocrity, whether you feel good about it or whether you feel bad about it is not going to win championships.
That isn't what Millar thinks though. He just thinks guys need to believe in themselves:
''You get a group of guys believing, and you get a group of guys that don't worry about a lot of stuff but winning games,'' Millar said. ''We'll see what happens.''
"If you believe, clap your hands! Don't let the Cubs die!"
Sadly, Wittenmyer agrees with him:
That's as big a part of the formula as anything. But it also includes about six parts swagger, two parts big-stage experience, three parts slowing down the heart rate and one part ignoring the press clippings -- along with just a dash of timing and an occasional shot of whiskey.
So the theme of Spring Training last year was poking Milton with a stick every damn day to try to provoke the man into doing something volatile and exciting enough to sell newspapers. This year, the theme is kicking Milton's ghost in the rear every day as a subtle reminder that the reason this year's team chemistry is so good is because Milton is gone. Nevermind that they did everything in their power to antagonize him into being a nuisance in the clubhouse.
It is shocking that the media continues to take this angle. It's not just Paul Sullivan. In fact, at least Paul Sullivan (whether you agree with its place in journalism or not) has the balls to come right out and say he thinks Milton is an idiot and imply that he is glad Milton is gone. Everyone else in the media just hints around at it, but that theme underlies just about everything that is written this Spring. Marlon Byrd: good teammate. Milton Bradley: bad teammate.
I will concede that life on the Cubs will undoubtedly be a bit easier this year with Milton's frowny face in Seattle. I will also allow for the possibility that Millar is merely not mentioning having elite talent as a foregone conclusion in any team seriously discussing a championship run. However, the end conclusion people get after reading crap like this is that the "intangibles" are as big a part of putting together a quality team as finding players that are better at playing baseball than most of their peers.
You know who else had some good intangibles? Aaron Miles. That man took crap from every angle last year and I never heard a word of complaint from him. Not one. Sure his performance warranted the heat, but so do most of the guys who take heat and that doesn't stop guys from mouthing off about fans not understanding the game or the media never having played the game. I never heard a peep from Miles. he showed up, did his job as best as he could, sucked at it, and then went home after another crushing defeat.
Kevin Gregg sounded like a pretty stand-up guy too. After blown saves, he would sit there at his locker and explain how it was his fault for allowing the latest crushing homerun. He would take all the blame for blowing a game that his teammates had worked so hard in to provide him with a lead. He never referenced his bad knee. He never said anything about how Lou having to use him repeatedly for multiple-inning saves might have been detrimental to his late-season performance. He sat there and took the heat like a good teammate does.
So whether Milton was an idiot, an asshole, a dick, a psychopath, some combination of those, or just plain misunderstood did not cause the Cubs to miss the playoffs last year. The Cubs didn't play well because they got hurt a lot at crucial positions where they had no depth and because every single decision Hendry made last off-season ended up being a terrible decision. A laundry list of tangible baseball reasons shouldn't have to be re-hashed to point out that guys feeling good about themselves and their teammates probably had very little to do with the outcome.
Soto will not hit better this year because he's getting slapped on the butt more by teammates. Soriano will not start laying off the breaking ball low and away because the guys in the dugout are now REALLY pulling for him. Marmol's ability to throw strikes should not be improved by having guys behind him who are ignoring press clippings.
All of this talk about the improved chemistry almost makes me want the Cubs to fall on their faces again this year. Then no amount of holding hands, singing kumbaya, or other Millar nonsense will mask the fact that Jim Hendry tied his own hands with stupid contracts with no-trade clauses and a farm system that can't develop impact players.
It will almost assuredly happen if Kevin Millar is given a roster spot.
Quick! If you want Millar to get cut and go away, clap your hands!