Decade after decade, the Chicago Cubs have either had their season end in July or August due to regular season disappointment, or for the few times they have appeared in the postseason, have had their hearts ripped out from their collective bosom, whether it is due to the actions on field or off. But the Cubs faithful come back, year after year to experience it. Some wear it as a badge of honor, others come back for love of the game and the iconic Wrigley Field which hosts the club. And on the heels of yet another failed season in Chicago, Major League Baseball video (in coordination with A&E) have released their version of the Essential Games of the team (previous sets have included the Philadelphia Phillies and Texas Rangers) for Cub fans.
Spread over four discs, the selection spans several decades and is somewhat impressive. The first disc is from a July 1969 game where the Cubs beat the Phillies 7-4, with six of the Cub runs scored in the second and third innings. Outfielder Willie Smith may have been a notable star with a three-run home run during the third, but the game is notable for including future Hall of Famers Billy Williams, Ron Santo and Ernie Banks in the Cub lineup. There was a fourth on the mound in Ferguson Jenkins, who held off the Phillies over seven innings to earn the win.
The second disc contains (for my money) one of the more entertaining regular season contests in memory, a June 23, 1984 match between the Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals. The Cards took an early lead, scoring six runs in the second to take a 7-1 lead, powered in part by Willie McGee, who hit for the cycle, went 4-6 and drove in six Cardinals. The Cubs rebounded by scoring seven runs in the fifth and sixth innings, though the Cardinals scored two in the sixth and ultimately went into the last third of the game leading 9-8. The Cubs would eventually tie the game in the ninth and then again in the tenth inning, both at the hands of Ryne Sandberg home runs ('Ryno' would finish with five hits and seven RBI). A Dave Owen pinch-hit single in the eleventh would win it for the Cubs 12-11 in a wild affair.
The next two games are a little more recent, with the Cubs winning a one-game playoff and holding off a furious San Francisco Giant rally to win 5-3 in 1998. The last disc includes a 2008 5-4 Cubs win when they clinched the National League Central division, holding off the Cardinals. While in both years the Cubs would be summarily drummed out of the playoffs before reaching the World Series (to the Atlanta Braves in 1998 and the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2008, both in season sweeps), the mere taste of the playoffs is both nice for the fans but also torture, for they seemingly knew the end before the series were even played.
Compared to the other Essential sets whose selections may have been either scant or a little predictable, not only is the Cubs' selection of games has a decent reach, but it hits on some of the better played games in Cubs history. Moreover, they do not remind many Cub fans of the subsequent World Series denials, or the Bartman episode for instance. A discerning baseball fan will consider this particular brand of porridge 'just right,' in large part because it is.
Full frame video on the first three discs, with the fourth one being in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, an understandable choice considering it is from just four years ago. Additionally, the first game is in black and white, which would have been the last time the Cubs were any good (zing!). Disc Two is from the old NBC Game of the Week series of games, and all of the games look as natural as they are going to, without image processing or general touching up that would have been a distraction otherwise.
Two channel stereo rules the day, though specifically on Discs Three and Four, with the first two discs sounding like straight up mono tracks. I cannot say the tracks were revelatory, the action occurred in the front channels in the older games and on the recent games, occasional reproduction in the rear channels, with no low end activity worth touching on. They sound like soundtracks from games more than a quarter century old at times, and there is not much more to say about them. Except for an alternate radio track which can be played during the 2008 game, they are without concern.
Of the Essential Games series that I have seen, the Chicago Cubs set seems to hit the sweet spot of having a fair amount of variety and nostalgia, and to my knowledge these games have not seen the DVD medium yet, making them a welcome choice. Chicago Cubs fans will certainly enjoy the set, and the unique content selection is something that should be looked at if future sets are to be made.