The fall guys

Alive or dead, it is an impressive array. Besides Chance, there were his double-play partners in poetry, Joe Tinker (1916) and Johnny Evers (1913, 1921), as well as eight other Hall of Famers: Roger Bresnahan, Rabbit Maranville, Joe McCarthy, Rogers Hornsby, Gabby Hartnett, Frankie Frisch, Lou Boudreau and Leo Durocher. There would be another if you counted the day -- May 8, 1973 -- when Ernie Banks inadvertently became the first African-American manager after he took over for the ejected and coincidentally named Whitey Lockman. Hence, the discrepancy about the number of Cubs managers.

It isn't as if they were all incompetent. Hornsby, Frisch, Boudreau, Durocher and Lou Piniella had managed World Series winners before they took over the Cubs, and Joe McCarthy would win seven championships with the Yankees after Mr. Wrigley kicked him to the Clark-and-Addison curb in 1930. McCarthy got his revenge two years later when the Yankees swept the Cubs in the Series.

The Cubs have tried six Jims, a Rabbit and a Fox. They've tried hard guys (Leo "The Lip" Durocher) and softies ("Smilin' Stan" Hack and "Jolly Cholly" Grimm). And they've tried an entire College of Coaches (1961-62). Four of them have managed international teams: Renteria (Mexico), Tom Trebelhorn (Italy), Jim Lefebvre (China) and Jim Essian (Greece). Maybe one of the reasons the Cubs haven't won in so long is because the average tenure of a manager is so short (2.08 years).

Adding texture to this epic fail is the way they've been fired. Owner Charles Murphy canned Chance in January 1912 when the two men argued over players in Chance's hospital room after he had just had brain surgery. Phil Cavarretta was fired 15 days before the start of the 1954 season because, said owner P.K. Wrigley, "Phil seems to have a defeatist attitude." On May 4, 1960, Wrigley literally switched the jobs of radio announcer Lou Boudreau and manager Charlie Grimm.

Even the most recent firing had a funny feeling to it. Dale Sveum, hired by new president of baseball operations Theo Epstein in 2011, was fired by Epstein after two seasons and 197 losses because of "communication issues." Sveum says he was "blindsided," which seems to indicate ... communication issues.

Here's the thing. Each of these men -- most of them good baseball men, many of them good men, period -- began his days as a Cubs manager hopeful (some might say delusional) that he would be the one to bring the denizens of Waveland to the promised land. "I believed it," says Marshall. "We all do. But then August rolls around."

Some have even gotten past August. But the only one to get the Cubs as far as a Game 7 of the World Series was Grimm in 1945. You could blame that loss on the Cubs refusing to allow Billy Sianis to take his goat Sonovia to the game. Or you could be a little more rational and attribute it to Grimm starting an overused Hank Borowy because his best pitcher, Claude Passeau, had broken the nail on his middle finger. Yes, the very digit that fate has given Cubs fans for 105 years.

Deepening the mystery is the passion of a fan base full of people who know and love and support their Cubbies. You would have thought by now that someone would have figured out a way to harness that power.

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