A World Series is all the more memorable when there are other storylines working in the background to make the games even more compelling. The pairing of the Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indians is almost story book in its effectiveness to write all sorts of entertaining subplots to the games themselves.
Here’s just a little look at what else is at stake in the series.
The Chicago Cubs have not been in the World Series since 1945, three years before the Indians won their last title, and have not won it all since 1908. The Cubs won back-to-back World Series matchups in 1907 and 1908, but have been runners up in each of the seven trips that they have made since the last victory.
Cleveland’s baseball teams had made it into three World Series in that time since, losing in 1954, 1995, and 1997, before their trip this year.
Fans of the Cubs have clung to the 71-year World Series drought and the 108-year title drought for their club, but sports fans in general in the Windy City have had plenty of other successes over that span from the other major professional sports teams in town.
The NFL’s Chicago Bears won Super Bowl XX in January of 1986 and lost Super Bowl XLI in February of 2007, but were also eight-time champions of the NFL before the Super Bowl moniker came into use. Their NBA team, the Chicago Bulls, put together a pair of three-peats in the 1990s, winning the NBA Finals in 1991, 1992, and 1993, and again from 1996 to 1998. Even the NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks are six-time Stanley Cup winners, bringing home the hardware in 1934, 1938, 1961, 2010, 2013, and 2015. And for those in Chicago who don’t pick sides between the Cubs and White Sox and can juggle clubs in the Junior and Senior Circuits, the Sox were champions in 2005, ending their lengthy World Series drought dating back to 1959 and their title drought dating to 1917. The Pale Hose also won the third World Series ever in 1906.
For Clevelanders, their drought had extended back to 1964 when the NFL’s Browns last brought home a championship. The Indians have made two trips to championship series since then and three total since their last title in 1948, a 68-year absence, trailing only the Cubs in futility. The city’s span without a championship parade ended in June, when the NBA’s Cavaliers upset the Golden State Warriors with a comeback from a 3-1 deficit in the NBA Finals to end Cleveland’s 52-year major sports title drought.
FRANCONA AGAINST HIS FORMER BOSS
Theo Epstein is the man in charge of the Chicago Cubs, rebuilding the club into a perennial contender now after years at the bottom half of the National League. But his legacy was established during his years in Boston bringing the Red Sox to prominence and, ultimately, the promised land, ending the team’s 86-year curse. It started with the hiring of manager Terry Francona.
Epstein became the general manager of the Red Sox at just 28 years of age in 2002. After a disastrous 2003 under Grady Little, Epstein had current Cubs manager Joe Maddon on his short list to skipper his ship, but ultimately turned to Francona. The first year was the best year for Francona in Boston, as he became the man to end the curse with a 98-64 season and a World Series sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals to make history in Beantown.
Francona led the Sox to another sweep in 2007, knocking off his former and future club in the Indians in a memorable ALCS comeback before taking four straight from the Colorado Rockies for the title. He was gone from the organization after his eighth straight winning season in 2011, and Epstein followed shortly thereafter, resigning from his role as GM a few weeks later to become the president of baseball operations for the Cubs.
Now, the two men who worked together to end the drought in Boston are on opposite sides of the field as each looks to end another long-standing absence of a World Series clinching victory.
FRANCONA AGAINST HIS FORMER CLUB
It may be much less the storyline, but Francona has some history in the city of Chicago.
Before he put on an Indians uniform as a player in 1988, Francona kicked around the National League. He debuted with the Montreal Expos in 1981, just one year after the son of a former Major Leaguer was taken with the 22nd overall pick in the 1980 June amateur draft. But he was actually drafted prior to that season, as he was taken by the Chicago Cubs in the second round of the 1977 draft but opted not to sign and instead headed to the desert and attended the University of Arizona.
Francona’s career path brought him back to Chicago in 1986 after he was a late spring cut by the Expos. He signed with the Cubs a month later and was headed back to the minors for the first time since 1981. He joined the Cubs for 86 games over the course of the season, hitting .250 in 133 plate appearances. He hit free agency following the season and signed with the Cincinnati Reds in the final week of March in 1987 and joined the Indians the following offseason, splitting time between Triple-A Colorado Springs and Cleveland while hitting .311 with a homer and 12 RBI in 62 games for the Indians. He spent parts of the next two seasons in Milwaukee with the Brewers to end the playing portion of his Major League career.
PROTECTING THE PERFECT RECORD
The Indians have been dealt just one loss so far this postseason, dropping Game 4 in Toronto against the Blue Jays in the ALCS. But Tuesday night’s game will be their first World Series effort with Francona at the helm and he has a blemish free mark in the championship round, boasting an incredible and improbable 8-0 record in the World Series in his first two trips with the Red Sox.
Those are the five injuries that still linger as questions for the Indians. The losses of Michael Brantley (shoulder) and Carlos Carrasco (finger) already put the club in a hole before the postseason arrived.
Look. The Indians have dealt with injuries and issues all season long. When it wasn’t Carrasco’s finger, it was his hamstring. When it wasn’t Gomes’ wrist, it was his shoulder. Salazar was shut down. Josh Tomlin was ineffective. Juan Uribe got old quick. Abraham Almonte and Marlon Byrd got a little too PED-y.
They prevailed all season long, holding on to the top spot in the American League Central for a good chunk of the season before winning seven of their first eight playoff games this postseason. The hits keep on coming and the hits keep leaving their bats. They have found a way, the will, to succeed, and will need to continue to do so over the course of the seven games to come over the next nine days.
Kipnis grew up just outside of Chicago and he and his family have been Cubs fans. That comes to an end as his team faces off with the beloved Cubbies for all the marbles.
The Indians will need a stronger Kipnis, like the one with a healed and healthy ankle from the ALDS against Boston, in the final round of the playoffs, rather than the one that was on the field during the ALCS. After hitting .275 with a .343 on-base percentage during the regular season, Kipnis slashed .364/.417/.636 in the ALDS against the Red Sox, but had just one hit in 19 at bats (.053/.100/.211) in the ALCS against the Toronto Blue Jays.
For several players, there may even be a little bit of extra motivation riding on the matchup.
Indians outfielder Brandon Guyer, acquired by the Indians at the trade deadline from the Tampa Bay Rays to be a left-handed masher, was originally drafted by the Chicago Cubs (In a what could-have-been moment, exiled outfielder Byrd also spent time with the Cubs from 2010 to 2012 while making his only All-Star team and had Bryd remained PED-free, Guyer may not have landed on the Cleveland roster). Guyer was a fifth rounder by Chicago in 2007 but was dealt to Tampa in an eight-player swap that included former Indians minor leaguer Chris Archer heading to the Rays and veteran starter Matt Garza coming to the Northside in Chicago.
Cubs reliever Hector Rondon was a former Indians draft pick who was allowed to escape the organization after missing significant time in 2010 and 2011 with Tommy John surgery and a fractured elbow during his recovery. He pitched briefly late in 2012 and was working in winter ball when the Cubs selected the unprotected Rondon in the Rule 5 draft and have kept him on the roster since.
Adam Warren, who appeared in 29 games in relief for the Cubs this season, was drafted in the 36th round by the Indians in 2008, but did not sign. He is not around for the World Series matchup. Former Indians set-up man Joe Smith was acquired by the Cubs from the Los Angeles Angels at the trade deadline for a minor leaguer and worked in 16 games for the club, posting a 2.51 ERA and 1.12 WHIP after overcoming a rough Cubs debut in August with a much better September, but he has been left off of all three rounds of playoff rosters for Chicago.
Game 2 starter Bauer’s departure from the Arizona Diamondbacks in the offseason of 2012 came with no tears shed by his former battery mate Miguel Montero, who made his share of comments about Bauer on the mound and as a teammate. The former two-time All-Star Montero is now one of three catchers on the Cubs roster, coming off of a notably bad season at the plate (.216 average, .327 OBP, eight homers, eight doubles, 33 RBI).
BIG TIME FAVORITES VS. UNDERDOGS
Even though it has been a long time coming, the Cubs are back in the World Series for the first time since 1945 and even more noticeable, they are the nation’s beloved child, the favorite son come home to the Fall Classic to take home the trophy.
Not so fast.
The Indians have thrived in the role of the underdog. They were thought to have a rotation good enough to be a legitimate playoff contender, but the offense and the bullpen were not believed to be enough to sustain a long run. Six months later, the rotation is banged and bloody and bruised and broken while the offense has found a way to put up big numbers with little names. And that Andrew Miller thing happened to the bullpen and erased all questions there.
Every negative comment and post and story has become just more fuel in the gas tank that has driven this collective Cleveland Indians machine through the regular season on into the playoffs and now onto the biggest stage of all. If you think the Indians are scared of a matchup with the heavily favored, 103-win Cubs, you have overlooked every single thing that they have done in 2016.
Photo: Topps 1987 trading card