Those of you who read my blog (thanks, Mom) know how fascinated I can be with bad sports teams. As amazing great sports teams can be, I find bad teams more interesting. As it takes a certain amount of planning, competency, and just plain luck to be a team of greatness, it requires those same elements (in considerably different amounts) to be a team of unbelievable badness. Incompetence in professional sports can take so many forms within each sport, it's like a performance art piece televised to the American rabble. One bobbled catch here, a wild pitch there, and you have the makings of a ballet of sheer ineptitude. I've said in the past that it takes considerable effort to be truly terrible at something: an entire team of athletes, being paid millions of dollars per, performing badly requires the kind of effort and energy that great generals utilized to win entire wars, artists used to create masterpieces loved centuries later. How can consistent incompetence not be beautiful? In this way, the Chicago Cubs have become a thing of inept beauty.
There have been worse sports teams - in 2008, the National Football League's Detroit Lions lost every one of their games. To be fair to the Lions, however, an NFL team plays only sixteen games over the course of the regular season. The NFL playing comparatively few games can tempt one to believe in the power of bad luck. Perhaps, given the law of averages, the Lions could have won a few had they played more games. Baseball teams, however, have no such excuse. You can't use bad luck as a crutch for a 162-game season. Even a mediocre baseball team with a bad case of Cracked Mirror Syndrome can expect to win forty percent of their games. To be a truly bad sports team, you have to be truly, truly horrible.
Oddly, although Chicago is known for its unsuccessful baseball teams - two World Series victories in the last 100 years, compared to smaller cities (5 in Philadelphia, 7 in Boston, 11 in St. Louis) - it's not necessarily a town full of bad baseball. Take a gander at this list of the worst baseball teams in history; note the lack of Chicago representation. The Cubs and White Sox aren't bad teams; they're just consistently so-so. This year, however, the Cubs are making a go at historical badness.
The team is currently 49-80, second-worst team in baseball. According to the baseball-reference.com (the Holy Bible of online baseball stats), this season is currently the fourth-worst in the team's history. To non-sports fans, you may shrug and ask, "Who cares?" And that's a legitimate question. Keep in mind, however, the Chicago Cubs have been around for 141 years. They're the same age as the nation of Germany. You have to be truly bad to break the top five in worst performances over 139 seasons (the team didn't play for two years due to the Great Chicago Fire. That's how old the team is), and they actually have a shot at being number one. The Cubs lost 103 games in 1962 and 1966; this year's model would have to go 9-24 the rest of the way to pull that off. Given, they've won only six of their last 28 games; this is not beyond the pale for them. Statistically, they've got the talent to do it; they're near the bottom in batting, pitching, and fielding.
I expressed a dream back in the spring that the Cubs and White Sox together would lose 200 games. That obviously will not come true (damned White Sox and their playoff-caliber season), but the Cubs having their worst season since the Great Chicago Fire would make a nice consolation prize. Historically speaking, of course.