Over the weekend, hip-hot artist Jasiri X posted this image on his twitter feed. It’s taken from the front page of the New York Daily News’ website. Note the screaming headline and the sympathetic caption: “Accused killer Dylann Roof had one chance at a stable family life — and his abusive dad ruined it for…
Baseball is a game of absurd complexity and equally absurd superstition. It has nearly unfathomable regulations, like the infield fly rule or what constitutes a balk, and there are at least seven different ways for a batter to get on base other than by getting a hit. That is, if you count offensive interference and defensive interference as separate methods of getting on base … which you should, when you really think about it.
But it’s the sheer goofiness of baseball lore that makes it the idiosyncratic, byzantine and yet uniquely American phenomenon that it is. And there is no greater cornucopia of Baseball Legend than the Chicago National League Ball Club, Inc., better known as the Cubs. From Babe Ruth’s (possibly apocryphal) “called shot” at Wrigley Field during 1932 World Series to the black cat crossing the Cubs’ base path – or, more accurately, sitting in the on-deck circle – at Shea Stadium in August 1969, there’s no team in the majors with a more storied history of superstition than Chicago’s North Siders. And perhaps the greatest legend in the Cubs’ mythos – one that was, for a time at least, statistically verifiable – is the Ex-Cub Factor.
Writing on the eve of 1990 World Series, Cub-Fan-in-Chief, Chicago’s then-Greatest Citizen, legendary Chicago Daily News and Chicago Tribune columnist Mike Royko explained it thusly:
[Chicago writer Ron] Berler is something like a mad scientist. He loves to pore over heaps of baseball statistics and history, trying to find hidden truths and secret meanings, looking for that great discovery.
A few years ago, he did it. He discovered the Ex-Cub Factor, one of the most amazing baseball statistics in modern times. And one of the most embarrassing, if you are an ex-Cub.
The Ex-Cub Factor goes this way:
Since 1946 baseball has seen 13 teams go into the World Series with three or more former Cubs on the roster.
Some of these teams were thought to be clearly superior to their opponent. Others weren’t. But in the end, it made no difference. All but one of those teams lost.
Eerie, but true. If a team has three ex-Cubs, they might as well not bother to show up. Only the 1960 Pirates were able to overcome The Factor.
In 1990, the Ex-Cub Factor held. The Cincinnati Reds, winners of the National League pennant with a respectable but modest 91-71 regular season record, swept the mighty Oakland A’s, the American League champions who entered the playoffs with a sterling record of 103-59. As Berler told Royko on the eve of that fateful Series, the A’s “had the arrogance to defy the Ex-Cub Factor …. They already had the best team in baseball, but for some bizarre reason they went out and got Scott Sanderson, a pitcher they didn’t need, but who became the fatal third ex-Cub. He will be their undoing.”
So it was written. So it was done.
If memory serves, Royko was so convinced of the Ex-Cub Factor’s validity that he once predicted the Cubs would beat the San Francisco Giants in the playoffs because the Cubs had fewer ex-Cubs than the Giants. Sadly, he was wrong. And as it happens, the Factor itself has been overcome on a few occasions since the Pirates defied the baseball gods in 1960 – specifically, ex-Cub-laden teams won the Series in 2001 (Diamondbacks), 2006 (Cardinals), and 2008 (Phillies).
But I still believe in the general principal that Cubness, like a virus (to use Royko’s metaphor), infects teams in ways subtle and not-so-subtle. Dare I mention the name of a certain former Cubs first baseman who played for the 1986 Boston Red Sox. You know the one. It begins with a B and ends with an –uckner.
But I digress.
This year’s World Series, which kicks off tonight in Kansas City, features two pristine, ex-Cub-less ball clubs: The Royals, who made the playoffs via the American League Wild Card Game with a regular season record of 89-73, and the San Francisco Giants, the National League Wild Card winners with a regular season mark of 88-74. No ex-Cubs, no problem, right?
Well, maybe. But it’s worth noting that the Giants have a special assistant known as Shawon Dunston. Yep. That Shawon Dunston – the first pick in the 1982 draft, selected by the Cubs over pitching phenom Dwight Gooden to the consternation of many a North Sider. But he had a pretty solid career at the Friendly Confines, as it turns out. And he played on the Cubs’ 1989 Central Division Championship team that lost to … the San Francisco Giants in the NLCS.
Now, I know it’s not consistent with Berler’s theory – having just one ex-Cub, and not as a player or a regular coach, but merely as a special assistant. Still, by comparison to the Giants, the Royals are a veritable clean room, devoid of any hint of ivied, North Side contamination. So, with all else being even, in a match-up between two second-place teams with nearly identical records during the regular season, you have to think it’s possible – just possible – that Dunston’s association with the Giants, however tenuous it may be, might just tip the cosmic scales in favor of Kansas City.
Oh, and did I mention? I always loved Shawon Dunston.