AT THIS MOMENT, the most feverish baseball fan in America has to be Ron Berler, a Chicago writer and teacher.
No one has more at stake on this World Series. Others may have big bets or a psychological attachment. But Berler's claim to baseball immortality hangs in the balance.
Berler is something like a mad scientist. He loves to pore over heaps of baseball statistics and history, trying to find hidden truths and secret meanings, looking for that great discovery.
A few years ago, he did it. He discovered the Ex-Cub Factor, one of the most amazing baseball statistics in modern times. And one of the most embarrassing, if you are an ex-Cub.
The Ex-Cub Factor goes this way:
Since 1946 baseball has seen 13 teams go into the World Series with three or more former Cubs on the roster.
Some of these teams were thought to be clearly superior to their opponent. Others weren't. But in the end, it made no difference. All but one of those teams lost.
Eerie, but true. If a team has three ex-Cubs, they might as well not bother to show up. Only the 1960 Pirates were able to overcome The Factor.
"And if you look at the statistics in that World Series," says Berler, "you'll see that the Yankees scored a ton more runs. The Yankees would win their games 14 to 2, then the Pirates would squeak through 3 to 2. But somehow the Pirates won, even though they were outscored, outpitched, outplayed and shouldn't have."
The Yankees learned their lesson. The next year, they unloaded their ex-Cubs and played the Cincinnati Reds, who had three ex-Cubs. With the Cub monkeys on their back, the Reds lost.
But now Berler's Ex-Cub Factor faces its greatest challenge.
"No matter who Oakland plays," he says, "they will be the overwhelming favorite to win . . . Oakland is already being touted as the dominant team of this era -- a dynasty team.
"And that's understandable. Look at the way they polished off the Red Sox in four straight. And last year, they swept the Giants in four straight in the World Series.
"But as good as they are, they will lose. Yes, you can count on it. And they can blame their own arrogance."
At this point, Berler's voice trembled with emotion. But that is not uncommon among mad scientists, eccentric geniuses and goofy baseball fans.
"They had the arrogance to defy the Ex-Cub Factor. Last year, they had only two ex-Cubs, so they were safe. But they couldn't leave well enough alone.
"They already had the best team in baseball, but for some bizarre reason they went out and got Scott Sanderson, a pitcher they didn't need, but who became the fatal third ex-Cub. He will be their undoing. Even if he doesn't play, just by being there he will do it."
That is part of the Ex-Cub Factor. The three ex-Cubs don't even have to get in a game. They can just sit around on the bench scratching their groins and spitting. But their presence is enough of a curse.
Berler believes all ex-Cubs carry a debilitating virus that he calls "Cubness." And when there are three of them, this horrible virus comes together and multiplies and becomes so powerful it makes the other players weak, nearsighted, addle-brained, slow-footed and lacking in hand-eye coordination.
Most baseball experts dismiss the Ex-Cub Factor as nonsense. They say it has no scientific basis. But as the late Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley used to say: "Experts? Whadda duh experts know?" There is something to that question. Our auto industry is run by experts. So is our economy. And the federal government. For almost half a century, the Cubs have been run by experts. Just what do the experts know?
Berler says that when (not if) the powerful Oaklanders lose, the blame will rest with Tony LaRussa, their manager.
"Baseball writers think he is so smart because he is also a lawyer. That shows how easily baseball writers are impressed. But LaRussa is also an ex-Cub himself. And I think he is trying to overcome that sad episode in his life, that curse, by challenging the Ex-Cub Factor. And that's why the tormented fool went and got Sanderson. He thinks that if he can overcome The Factor he will somehow erase his own shameful stain. How foolish and how sad."
I hope Berler is right. Which just shows how sad it is being a Cub fan. For almost half a century, we haven't even been in a World Series. So now it's come to this. We get to cheer for a mysterious virus.