Since 1908, the question that always haunted the woeful Cubs was how long it would take to win another World Series. But after Wednesday’s 10-inning victory over the Indians, a Game 7 for the ages, everyone is asking something else now.
As in, how many?
Four years ago, the Cubs lost 101 games, right in line with the North Side’s pitiful tradition. But in that relatively short span, they’ve stockpiled so much controllable young talent to go with the deep pockets of the Ricketts family that Wrigley Field soon could be home to a dynasty not seen in Chicago since Michael Jordan’s run of six titles, including a pair of three-peats, with the Bulls from 1991 to 1998.
The only MLB team of this generation to approach that, of course, were the Joe Torre Yankees, who collected four rings in five years, with a three-peat of their own from 1998-2000. They also lost World Series in ’01 and ’03. Those teams included a similar young, homegrown core paired with George Steinbrenner’s cash. For a while, it was an unbeatable combination.
As for the Cubs, their first title in more than a century is only 24 hours old, so the Yankees shouldn’t be too worried about a challenge to their unparalleled legacy just yet. But these freshly crowned Cubs were in the middle of the pack as far as roster age, ranked 16th at 28.2 years — slightly younger than the Mets (28.4) — with twenty-somethings positioned at all the critical spots.
Their spectacular infield alone is stocked with catcher Willson Contreras (24), shortstop Addison Russell (22), second baseman Javy Baez (23) and MVP favorite Kris Bryant (24). The senior citizen among that group is first baseman Anthony Rizzo (27). Add outfielder Kyle Schwarber (23) and this is a crew that should be together chasing titles into the next decade.
For most of them, free agency isn’t even on the radar until after the 2021 season. And that fact has not gone unnoticed among the Cubs themselves.
Minutes after the Game 7 win, Russell stood in the middle of the celebrating clubhouse, with champagne spraying everywhere, and calmly discussed what the Cubs had just accomplished. But not in terms of breaking curses or ending droughts. Russell was talking about the team’s foundation, as if the first title since 1908, captured in crazy fashion on Cleveland’s home turf, was merely the floor.
“It’s definitely going to be another stepping stone,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of young guys that are going to mature throughout the season, throughout spring training. It’s crazy to see the heights we’re going to be able to reach as we continue to improve our work ethic. Just improve our craft and improve our skill overall.”
Mind you, this was not some March conversation happening on a back field in Mesa. The Cubs had just won the World Series. Bill Murray was a few feet away dumping Moet on Theo Epstein’s head.
Russell had just participated in one of the greatest World Series ever played. A day earlier, he drove in six runs, including a grand slam, to keep the Cubs’ hopes alive. He added a sacrifice fly in Game 7. But his composure in the wake of such insanity was a reflection of how coolly the younger Cubs handled this postseason march to glory despite carrying the hopes and dreams of five generations with them to the batter’s box every night.
Schwarber missed all but three games during the regular season because of knee surgery yet returned — ahead of schedule, as the DH — to hit .412 (7-for-17) with a double and two RBIs in the World Series. Russell, Bryant and Rizzo each smacked three homers during the postseason. Baez, a defensive magician, added eight RBIs.
“There’s two elements of that,” Cubs owner Tom Ricketts said. “You think about young players that stepped up into a role where they delivered meaningful hits in incredibly high-stress, high-leverage moments and you think, wow, how does a 22-year-old guy or 23-year-old guy step up in that moment? The second thing you think about is, hey, we’re a young team, we’re an exciting team. We’ve got years ahead of really, really great baseball.”
A dynasty grows in Wrigleyville? Turns out, 2016 might be only the beginning.