Blame the Florida Marlins.
If not for them, nobody would be talking about the ineptitude of the Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians. If not for them, there would be no mention of the fact the Indians haven’t won a World Series since 1948 and the Cubs will be playing in their first since ’45.
There would be no such storyline, thanks to the Marlins.
It was they who won the 1997 World Series over the Indians, and they who stopped the Cubs from getting there in 2003 — the only two times the Marlins ever reached the postseason in their 24 years of existence.
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Had both of those seven-game series gone the other way, the futility of the two major-league franchises wouldn’t be the discussion topic that it is now.
“To make both connections there, it’s odd,” acknowledged Jeff Conine.
Conine would know about that better than anyone. He is the lone common denominator in the Marlins’ part of the Cubs-Indians equation, the only person to play on both of those spoilers.
As such, the former outfielder has been as much a curse to the two teams’ concurrent droughts as any billy goat, black cat or Steve Bartman, just to name a few of the ones that haunt the Cubs.
“Yeah, I’m a curse — the ‘Conine Curse,’ ” Conine said with a chuckle.
At least he’s off the hook as far as the Cubs are concerned. Their period of World Series darkness — 71 years in duration — ended finally when they knocked off the Dodgers to reach the Fall Classic. (The Cubs haven’t actually won the Series since 1908, but that’s another story.)
But as he watched the Cubs and Indians advance through the playoffs, the Marlins’ role in the plot didn’t escape Conine.
“I thought about it when I watched all the playoff games,” Conine said. “When the Indians made it to the Series, I thought back to the last time they were there and thought, ‘Yeah, we beat them.’ ”
Even more memorable to Conine was the ’03 National League Championship Series, when the Marlins recovered from a 3-1 deficit to prevail in seven games, with the final two wins coming at Wrigley Field.
Conine made the catch for the final out in Game 7.
“I totally remember that,” Conine said of an otherwise routine catch on a lazy fly ball. “It was the hardest, easiest fly ball I ever caught. I was thinking, ‘This is clinching the game. Just catch it and squeeze it.’ ”
Conine remembers the deathly quiet atmosphere in Wrigley Field as the Marlins celebrated on the field, squealing and jumping as the speechless crowd looked on.
“It was like a vacuum had sucked the entire life out of Wrigley Field,” he said. “We were celebrating near the mound. I remember just kind of taking a step back and looking up, and seeing that everybody was in complete shock. People were crying and mouths were hanging open.”
Conine said he is happy for both the Cubs and Indians.
But he will be pulling for the Cubs.
“I’d like to see the Cubs win for that city,” Conine said. “I don’t think there is a more loyal fan base, even after all their heartaches.”