(USA Today Sports)
If you like storybook endings, baseball might not be for you.
As former commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti once said, it is a game designed to break our hearts. It now features more strikeouts than hits, a labor arrangement only as sound as the next deal and a playoff system that crowns one champion and seeds the 29 others with regret before sending them off into the winter.
Even the storybook endings don't have storybook endings.
That's why I'm writing this as the story that became a Chicago legend on November 2, 2016 ends with a transactional thud on a muggy July week five years later.
You know the news by now. Anthony Rizzo was shipped to the Yankees on Thursday for a pair of prospects. Kris Bryant will likely be a Met or a member of another team by today's 3 p.m. deadline.
That would leave Javy Baez and Willson Contreras as the lone usable position players from that World Series team, but even that is far from a sure thing.
The only certainty is that the party — at least on the field — is over.
"All good things come to an end," said Rizzo as he made a surreal exit that included an onfield press conference and an ovation from fans who didn't get the chance during Thursday's 7-4 loss to the Reds. (Both Rizzo and Bryant sat and neither received a pinch-hit opportunity.)
The newest Yankee — man, that's weird to type — is right, of course. Particularly in baseball. The 27th out always comes. The best backyard games get called on account of darkness.
Plus, just try and list the Chicago baseball legends to actually retire in a Chicago uniform. Billy Williams and Ron Santo didn't. Neither did Frank Thomas or Mark Buehrle. Mark Grace was exiled for a bit and Sammy Sosa remains that way.
Over my life as a fan, there's only been Ryne Sandberg and Paul Konerko. There was also Carlton Fisk (though his last game was a joyless affair after a multi-year war with management) and Kerry Wood (who'd returned from trips to Cleveland and New York for a late-career encore).
Baseball just isn't set up to create moments like Derek Jeter's final hit in the Bronx. Careers are long and teams can be unsentimental, admitting to a decline long before the player. These divorces aren't uncommon.
But that's not really what's at play here, is it?
As both ends of the final World Series putout walk out the door — something that should already have been made into statues on the streets of Lakeview — none of this feels right.
Time for a quick personal story.
I was on vacation in 2015 when Kris Bryant was finally called up midway through April, the end of a service time saga that would permanently keep player and team at arm's length from each other.
My older daughter was only nine months old at the time and I watched the game on an iPad as I played with her. When Kris Bryant came up to bat, I told her to turn around and take a picture by the screen on the off chance the prospect turned into a rookie of the year, NL MVP and the guy who'd smile as he made the throw to end 108 years of frustration.
It'd be a cool picture to show her 20 years down the road if Bryant ever got his own Jeter-like sendoff at Wrigley.
Just over six years later, my daughter is about to head into first grade (and really doesn't show a lot of signs of being a 20-year-old who would've been interested in that picture, if I'm being honest).
Bryant, 29, is already heading elsewhere.
Three out of four isn't bad, I guess.
The Rizzo move I can begin to understand.
He'll turn 32 next week, doesn't play a premium position and has a bad back. While it's been enjoyable to watch him serve several terms as mayor of Wrigleyville, no one wants to hear from the Ricketts three years from now that they can't sign any free agents because of the $80 million extension they handed Rizzo. We'll be able to keep his seat warm here. He'll still be able to help children at Lurie's no matter what team he plays for.
Bryant is a different story. While this moment was preordained given his representation (Scott Boras) and the team's service time tricks, the Cubs really are going to part ways with the type of player they might spend the rest of our lives chasing.
What was the point of turning Wrigley Field into a cash-printing machine if you're not going to keep Kris Bryant past his player control years?
Actually, don't answer that.
And so it ends.
There's no question the franchise needed a little shakeup. Things never went the way we thought they might after that night in Cleveland and the Cubs never found a way to "thread the needle" and re-arm on the fly. A worldwide pandemic and baseball's changing labor situation didn't help things.
Where the Cubs go from here, I have no idea. You'd feel a little bit better if you could identify a foundation that Jed Hoyer could pivot on without taking things down to the studs again.
But the two cornerstones that just supported the greatest era in Cubs history are being flipped in hope the prospects are as valuable as the players they were traded for.
Hard to see how they'll ever be.
* * *
Next for the Cubs: A weekend series with the Nationals, who are also busy dismantling themselves. The good news: They won't be seeing Max Scherzer.