Cubs fans can blame the system

It’s sad, but that’s just the way it goes in the major sports leagues in North America.

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The Cubs (and David Bote) have taken a tumble, and their 2016 World Series championship seems like it took place in the distant past. 

The Cubs (and David Bote) have taken a tumble, and their 2016 World Series championship seems like it took place in the distant past.

Nick Wass/AP

I was listening to one of Chicago’s sports-talk radio stations Friday, the day of the Great Cubs Sell-Off, and an 80-plus-year-old woman came on the phone line.

She was so angry, she told the hosts she would never watch another Cubs game. And, she added in a nasty tone, Cubs president Jed Hoyer had better get home security for safety.

That shocked me.

We’re all used to outrage from fans. They are passionate. They go up and down like elevators. Understood.

But even with hyperbole, after what we saw Jan. 6 at the Capitol in Washington with rioters calling for elected officials to be harmed, you don’t say this stuff about fellow citizens — even in a snit.

And in your ninth decade?  

Maybe a little decompression is needed here. Starting with grandma. Maybe for all Cubs fans.

It’s a good time to remember how baseball — actually, all elite North American pro leagues — works. We’re talking Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League. 

These leagues are closed entities, with 30 to 32 franchises, in all the major cities, with very little if any outside competition, essentially members of legal cartels.

There are rules, drafts, salary caps, players’ unions, trade deadlines, fines, revenue-sharing, etc.  

And nobody else can get in. Leagues that try to compete — well, good luck. Check the United States Football League and its sad history for evidence. 

It’s a contained and arbitrary business, in a sense, totally rigged. That is, somebody within each cartel is going to win the championship each year, and a bunch of teams are going to be mediocre, and some are going to be terrible, and no team from anywhere else has a chance.

The worst teams then get the highest draft choices and the best young players. And the top teams slowly (or rapidly) fall out and previous losers rise. (Who thought the Royals would win the 2015 World Series?)

It’s nice and certain and predictable. All leagues want the semblance of parity, and their rules guarantee it.

Teams take the names of their chosen cities — Miami, Boston, Detroit and so on — as if they belong to those cities. They don’t.

You invest in the franchises because they’re “your’’ teams, but their loyalty to you is paper-thin.

The Los Angeles Lakers started in Minneapolis, remember. Jazz in Utah? (Try New Orleans.) And the Raiders have called three cities home in the last three decades.

Cubs fans with Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant and Javy Baez jerseys surely are feeling that abandonment now. It hurts. It’s unfair.

But it’s the system. Rich star players almost always end up being traded. Partly because they’re so good, they bust the payroll.

If Jake Arrieta had been decent as a starting pitcher, if the Cubs hadn’t lost 11 consecutive games from June 25 to July 6, if Jason Heyward weren’t batting under .200, if pitcher Adbert Alzolay weren’t 4-11, if Rizzo were hitting more homers . . . maybe the Cubs would have gone for it all instead of folding. 

That 11-game skid did it. The Cubs were tied for first in the National League Central on June 24, in fourth place on July 6.

We waited 108 years for the 2016 World Series crown, and here we go again. 

Yeah, it’s sad. Yeah, it’s giving up. But for now, let’s assume this is Hoyer’s strategy, his disaster plan.

One fact: The Cubs’ title team that should have started a mini-dynasty lost its mojo. Most championship teams do. No excuse, but it’s a fact. Consider that in the last seven years, there have been seven different World Series winners.

The White Sox are now the hot Chicago team, general manager Rick Hahn the new genius. (Thanks, Cubs, for Craig Kimbrel!) But the Sox had five winning seasons in the last 15 years. And it’s funny how all those bad teams after the 2005 World Series championship are now forgotten by Sox pilgrims.

Try to win, tank, rebuild. It’s the baseball formula, done over and over. Yep, done even by the beloved Cubs just before that 2016 championship.

I remember talking with Leslie Epstein, Theo Epstein’s dad, back in 2014 in New York, when the Cubs were throwing out a 73-89 fifth-place club.

“Just wait,’’ Leslie said earnestly. “Give him time. It’ll happen.’’

I snorted. But it did happen.

Maybe it will again. It’s baseball.

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