Ten years is long enough.
Ten years can sometimes feel like an eternity. And yet, for an event that took place almost a decade ago, the 2003 NLCS still feels close at hand. That’s because we have collectively frozen the moment in time, as if to preserve it somehow. It’s a natural response to something that seems like it should have never happened, but unfortunately it did.
The best parallel for this from a movie is Top Gun. The death of Anthony Edwards’ Goose character, as a result of a plane election gone wrong, has a profound effect on Tom Cruise’s Maverick. To mourn the loss of his friend, Mav carries around Goose’s military dog tags, and they comfort him on some level.
But they also serve as a distraction, in a flight scene where Maverick disengages from a combat exercise. Maverick’s head was not in the game, because he was thinking about Goose instead. And that put everyone at risk.
The emotional catharsis comes later in the movie, when Mav throws Goose’s dog tags into the sea. It was a very difficult, but also very necessary, act of letting his friend go. Since his friend was not coming back, Maverick chooses to release his friend’s memory, thus freeing himself up to shoot down some bogies and cover Iceman’s ass. And yes, I know all about the movie’s gay subtext, too.
I hope that all Cubs fans who still carry Goose’s dog tags, in a metaphorical sense, get to the point where they can finally cast them into the sea. As crushing a loss as 2003 was emotionally, we need to put it aside, and realize that we’ll never move forward until that burden is lifted.
The first step in this process is to go back and revisit the entire series. For many people—particularly those who aren’t even Cubs fans—the NLCS was a single, winner-take-all affair that happened in Wrigley Field on Tuesday, October 14, 2003, Mark Prior started that decisive game, and pitched with great skill until the eighth inning rolled around. And then an unfortunate play happened in the left field corner, and the one-game series was irretrievably lost. It’s as if the Cubs didn’t even bat in the bottom of the eighth inning that night, and the ninth inning never happened, either.
But there was a full baseball game played that night, just as there had been five full games before it. There was even another game played the following night, and that one actually was the winner-take-all game that Game Six is often presumed to be. And in the course of each game, there were several moments where things could have gone the other way on the field.
Over the next few months, I’ll identify those moments, ponder what they mean for the series as a whole, and demonstrate that the professionals—both on the field and in the dugout—decided what actually happened back in 2003. The fans in the stands–every last one of them–had nothing to do with anything, in the big picture that I’ll be laying out.
I’m aiming for the whole series to be nothing less than cathartic, so that fellow Cubs fans can make their peace with it and then move on. But for now, just think about Mav and Goose.