By Sean McAdam
BOSTON -- It's the hottest Red Sox ticket of the season by a longshot -- tougher than any series with the Yankees, or any September series that could well determine the team's playoff fate.
Everyone, it seems, wants to see the Chicago Cubs at Fenway Park this weekend.
Just one question.
Sure, this is the Cubs' first visit to Fenway since the 1918 World Series, won, of course, by the Red Sox. And sure, the Cubs play in a historic (antiquated), cozy (cramped) and traditional (overpriced) ballpark, just like the Sox themselves.
But the notion that this is some sort of must-see series, a meeting between two tragically star-crossed franchises went out, oh, about seven years ago.
Prior to 2004, when Everything Changed, the Cubs and Sox were indeed united in their misery. No championships for either since World War I. A dedicated but long-suffering fan base. A few oh-so-close calls, falling inevitably just short of The Big One.
That script, however, got thrown out just about the same time that Keith Foullke was fielding a harmless comebacker from Edgar Renteria in St. Louis.
That's when these two franchises took separate paths. And the Red Sox, short on this kind of experience, decided that they such preferred winning to losing that they did it again, three years later.
Who knows? With a healthier Mike Lowell and Josh Beckett a year later, the Red Sox might have been a lot closer to dynasty, with three titles in the span of five seasons, than to the Lovable Losers tag that was affixed to them for 86 seasons.
The Red Sox have happily shed that notion, tossing it aside not once but twice. They're not the jokes you're looking for.
The Cubs' long, futile chase, alas, continues, now stretching out better than 100 years. Hey, the old joke goes: any team can have a bad century.
Upon closer inspection, the similarities between the two were never truly apt.
Both went decades and decades without winning a World Series, but the Red Sox had far, far more close calls than did the Cubs, who haven't won a pennant, for God's sake, since 1945.
Meanwhile, between the Cubs' last trip to the World Series and the drought-snapping win in 2004, the Red Sox went to the Fall Classic four times. Each time, the Red Sox played the National League champion with the best record of that particular decade (the 1946 St. Louis Cardinals; the 1967 Cards; the 1975 Cincinnati Reds; and the 1986 New York Mets). Each time, they extended the misery by losing in the seventh and deciding game.
(And that doesn't count the 1978 one-game playoff game between the Sox and Yankees).
The closest the Cubs came to winning it all was blowing a 2-0 lead in the best-of-five 1984 NLCS, and the infamous Bartman game, when a fan interfered with outfielder Moises Alou and sent the Cubs into a late-game spiral in the 2003 NLCS against Florida.
The Red Sox, for all their collective ineptitude, at least boasted stars: Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski, Roger Clemens. They had a parade of other Hall of Famers (Doerr, Cronin, Fisk), MVPs (Lynn, Rice, Foxx, Jensen), and pitchers with style (Tiant and Martinez).
The Cubs? They had Ernie Banks, Billy Williams . . . and not much else.
Even the franchise's rabid followers were different. While Red Sox fans tortured themselves with re-tellings of 1972, when Luis Aparicio tripped rounding third base, and 1975, cursing umpire Larry Barnett, Cubs' fans were mostly content to self-medicate with another Old Style and one more drunken version of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame.''
At this point, the Cubs' misery may go on forever. They're no closer to a championship than they were a decade ago, or the decade before that.
The franchise which boasts "Wait 'til next year,'' as its unofficial rallying cry has turned its procrastination into an art form.
Who knows why Major League Baseball waited so long to match up these teams in the mid-season pageant that is interleague play? When the Sox finally got around to getting to Wrigley for a weekend series in 2005, they had already won a Series.
Perhaps the schedule-makers, with knowledge of the team's histories, figured there was no rush in matching the franchises up. Cubs-Red Sox? Nah, let's wait 'til next year.
And now, they've waited too long. The script doesn't make sense any more.
So enjoy the throwback uniforms, and the tales of the last Boston meeting between the two clubs.
But don't make the mistake that this is some sort of cosmic baseball get-together, because it isn't. When it comes to playing Lovable Losers, that part fits only one team at Fenway this weekend.