Outside of the obvious, the Cubs’ long-awaited World Series title brought with it a couple of very interesting byproducts. The first is that legions of children in third-world countries now get to use of all those defunct 1908 jokes. Even better, it looks like Kevin Costner won’t be making that Cubs movie after all.
In many cases, a Hollywood screenplay uses a true story as the kernel of an idea, a skeletal frame upon which to lump a few jokes and some gripping storylines. Given that we’re talking a sports story, you’ve got to have a ruggedly handsome leading character or six, at least a couple quirky odballs, and a handful of role players who fill the screen but don’t steal the show. And there’s got to be an improbable comeback, preferably with some form of deus ex machina at the crux of the climax (not sure I’ve ever alliterated with “x” before).
But in the case of the 2016 Cubs, the script would’ve been rejected for being both an obvious ripoff of several other beloved sports flicks and for being entirely too unbelievable. It’s Hoosiers, Rocky IV, Major League, Field of Dreams, and The Natural all rolled into one. Certain moments were lifted straight from those various movies, while others were magnified to such a level that not even the most gullible viewer wouldn’t be able to participate in the full-on suspension of reality required to enjoy them.
You’ve got the wacky manager who’s a genius but has a few loose screws, the grizzled catcher trying to capture just one last moment of glory, the soft-tossing bookish cat who somehow overcomes his lack of velocity, the unlikely return of a player who was thought to have signed elsewhere, the curmudgeonly pitcher who sets aside his misanthropy for the good of the team, the sparkly-eyed star who’s great at everything, and the list goes on. There are just too many characters, too many stories, to make it work because you can’t give them all enough screen time.
Take, for instance, the scene in which Anthony Rizzo used Matt Szczur’s bat to club his way out of slump and help the Cubs even the NLCS at two games apiece. Might as well have been Roy Hobbs telling Bobby Savoy to pick him out of a winner. So unoriginal. Or what about Dexter Fowler taking Andrew Miller deep in the 8th inning of a losing effort in Game 4 of the World Series. That was Rocky clipping Ivan Drago and making him bleed in what had been a walkover to that point.
Before the season even started, Fowler played the role of Jimmy Chitwood when he unexpectedly returned to the team and spurred them forward. The list goes on and I’m sure you too can see the parallels with various other movies. In an industry that celebrates reboots and sequels, even this feel-good story hews too closely to several that have come before it.
Game 7 alone was laden with more tired tropes and over-the-top explosions than a Michael Bay movie. Would you really believe that the young stud second baseman who made two critical errors early on would come back to chase the Cy Young-winning starter with a home run in the 5th inning?
What about the catcher playing in his last game making a big error of his own, compounding it by looking every single day of his 39-plus years when he fell over trying to recover a wild pitch that allowed two runs to score? Okay, that part you might believe. But then he comes up in the VERY NEXT INNING and hammers a home run to center off of Miller, the untouchable juggernaut who Fowler had made human three games prior.
Oh, and then you’ve got the Cubs’ own fireballing phenom allowing extra-base hits to the first two batters he faced, allowing the Indians to tie the game in the 8th. The big blow, a two-run homer from Rajai Davis, came with the batter choking up like an undersized Little Leaguer and just barreling up a dead-red fastball. That was it, done. Rocky was on the mat, time was ticking away, the game might as well have been over.
This is, after all, the Cubs we’re talking about. The other cleat had finally dropped and we were going to add yet another woeful entry to a series of box office flops (hey, maybe it’s a Costner movie, after all). But wait…is that…rain? Are they bringing out the tarp and allowing our protagonists the opportunity to regroup and circle the wagons for one final push?
A voice barked out an order in an authoritative baritone that belied its owner’s reputation for eschewing leadership.
“Guys, weight room,” the big outfielder commanded. “Won’t take long.”
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but Jason Heyward then dropped the mother of all locker room speeches, filled with talk of this team being the best and of winning for your brothers probably some other clapping and yelling. I heard they even measured the height of the rim. And dammit if they didn’t go right there and follow his orders to a tee.
You don’t need Paul Harvey to tell you the rest of the story because you’ve seen it a million times before. If it was just about that, about what we’ve all seen before, this World Series might not have meant as much. No studio would have picked it up because it was just too perfect, too full of cheesy narratives and lucky bounces and fairy tales. But for us, those who’ve lived it and loved in spite of all the heartache, Game 7 was the perfect ending.
This was for everyone who wasn’t able to watch with us, for those who took us to a matinee every summer afternoon and who imprinted this team onto our very DNA. Corny? You’re damn skippy, it is. And that’s exactly why a script that would never be put into production is exactly how the Cubs should have won. How they needed to win.
It still would have been fun had they marched over the Giants and Dodgers and Indians with no resistance. The celebration would still have come. But by dragging us through the entire emotional gauntlet through most of October, then tossing us into a four-hour crucible on a Wednesday night in early November, we were able to truly feel it. I’m talking epic, Greek-tragedy-level catharsis where you reach into the fabric of your soul and rend entire chunks from it, tossing them onto the fire as a burnt offering.
Then you wash it all down with a cocktail of mixed metaphors and call it a day. Except you don’t punch the clock on the celebration, not yet anyway. You keep drinking it in with gusto, never concerning yourself with a hangover because this nectar won’t produce one. And the extra large popcorn bucket comes with free refills that they bring right to your cushy recliner before you even have to push the little button on the armrest.
So enjoy it. Watch this movie over and over and over if you like (DVR is a wonderful thing). Talk about it until people tell you to shut up and then talk about it a little more. And make sure you’re comfortable, because, whether Hollywood picks up on it or not, I think we may be getting a sequel in short order.