Dubbed “the loveable losers,” the Chicago Cubs have not won a World Series in 107 years. Maybe it is the “Curse of the Billy Goat” at work. Or the trot of a black cat during their 1969 collapse. Or perhaps it is the result of Steve Bartman’s ill-advised reach.
In the last 12 years, however, the Cubs have been one of the most pitiful teams in baseball and are seemingly without a curse to blame.
But in 2015, baseball’s hierarchy shifted.
The Houston Astros have a comfortable lead in the American League West. The Kansas City Royals are proving that their 2014 AL pennant was not a fluke. Meanwhile, formerly elite teams like the New York Yankees and the Los Angeles Angels are struggling to remain above .500. And the Boston Red Sox and the Philadelphia Phillies have plummeted since their World Series titles in 2013 and 2008, respectively.
And here, the beloved Cubs sit at a respectable 39-33; and it is the first time since 2009 they have had a winning record this late in the season.
So what is behind this revitalization of a team that finished with the worst record in its division for the last two seasons?
For one, the Cubs are playing in a recently updated Wrigley Field.
Built in 1914, Wrigley has already undergone multiple renovations. However, when the Ricketts family bought the Cubs and Wrigley Field in 2009, they were committed to updating the beloved park, which had not seen any changes since its expansion in 2006. The 1060 Project is the realization of this goal.
The 1060 Project is a four-part renovation plan, and while it is not expected to be completed until 2018, the first installment of the plan was finished this spring. Both outfield bleachers have been expanded, and a 3,990-square-foot video board has been added to left field. Within the project, the club will also update both the home and visiting team clubhouses, add another video board to right field and create more outfield signage.
Historically, teams playing in a new or updated stadium have enjoyed success in its inaugural season.
In 2009, the Yankees moved across the street into a new Yankee Stadium and won the World Series after missing the playoffs in 2008. The Cardinals relocated to the new Busch Stadium in 2006; that season they won their first title since 1982 after being swept by the Red Sox in the 2004 World Series. And those 2004 Red Sox? They were playing in a newly updated Fenway Park.
But this is not just a present-day phenomenon.
When the Toronto Blue Jays moved into the Rogers Centre in 1989, they won their second division title. The Red Sox won the World Series in 1912, Fenway Park’s inaugural season.
Of course, this isn’t to say all renovations lead to success.
Even Jose Reyes, Hanley Ramirez and a new ballpark could not prevent the 2012 Miami Marlins from finishing 69-93, their fifth-worst record in franchise history. San Francisco missed the playoffs when AT&T Park opened. Citi Field has yet to host a playoff game. And it took the Tampa Bay Rays 10 years to make the playoffs.
Renovations, however, are indicative of something else: a team’s commitment to improvement. These stadiums and renovations cost millions or even billions of dollars, and they take years to plan and build. With this investment, management surely wants a team that justifies it.
Take the Yankees. Preceding the 2009 season, the Yankees made a splash in free agency. They reconfigured their starting rotation, signing starting pitchers CC Sabathia, AJ Burnett, Chien-Ming Wang and Andy Pettitte. They also solidified their lineup and secured a premium first baseman, signing Mark Teixeira to an eight-year deal. All of these acquisitions were crucial to the Yankees’ first Series win since 2000.
Similarly, prior to the Red Sox’s historic 2004 postseason run, they acquired Curt Schilling, Keith Foulke, Mark Bellhorn and Orlando Cabrera, all integral components of the American League Championship Series and World Series wins.
The Wrigley renovation is estimated to cost $575 million. In 2011, the team nabbed the general manager behind the Red Sox’s recent titles, Theo Epstein. And then Epstein went to work. He made trades, built the farm system, signed a proven manager in Joe Madden and secured Jon Lester, a long-term ace.
The Cubs likely will not end the 106-year drought come October. But with an updated Wrigley, supportive ownership and a strong foundation of players, they will not be the “lovable losers” for long.
Carolyn Maguire is a rising senior in the College. The Wind-Up appears every Saturday.