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Dan Shaughnessy

Cubs almost twins

Series features teams with much in common

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By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Columnist / May 19, 2011

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The Cubs and Red Sox are baseball cousins. Along with RBI, ERA, and OPS, the Cubs and Red Sox share DNA. Stephen King once told us that a Cubs-Red Sox World Series would be a sign of the apocalypse.

Truth be told, the only thing missing when the Red Sox finally won the World Series in 2004 was the Cubs. It was nice facing the tradition-steeped Cardinals, but it should have been the Cubs.

Apocalypse now. The Cubs play at Fenway Park tomorrow night for the first time since Sept. 11, 1918, when Carl Mays stopped them on three hits and the Red Sox won the sixth and final game of the World Series in front of 15,238.

Babe Ruth was the Sox’ best player back then. The Bambino pledged, “I’ll take care of these National League bums,’’ and backed it up with two wins (extending his string of World Series scoreless innings to 29 2/3) and a triple off Cub Lefty Tyler.

The Cubs never win the World Series. Think waiting 86 years was bad? The Cubs are at 103 years. And there is no end in sight.

The Sox and their fans changed when Boston finally won. The Cubs haven’t changed. They have gone more than a century. They’re still lovable losers, carping about the Billy Goat Curse, a black cat by the dugout at Shea Stadium, and Steve Bartman and the foul ball.

Chicago has given to and taken from our very best in sports. Bob Cousy was originally property of the Chicago Stags. Bobby Orr finished his career with the Chicago Black Hawks. Doug Flutie played for the Chicago Bears. The Patriots’ first Super Bowl team was routed (46-10) by the Chicago Bears. Carlton Fisk, the greatest catcher in Red Sox history, and a New Englander to boot, wound up playing more games for the Chicago White Sox than for Boston.

There are a number of individuals immersed in both Sox and Cub lore. Dennis Eckersley is one. He was traded from the Red Sox to the Cubs in 1984.

“It was a beautiful thing,’’ recalls Eck. “The Wrigley experience is a lot like coming to Fenway. It’s a unique place and the fans were nice. You don’t skip a beat going there from Boston. They have so much passion.

“The ballpark is hard to pitch in, just like here. It’s a major sports town and you get that downtown experience. They have the desperation to win. It was like a soap opera, and let me tell you, with the Cubs, we had every bit the following that Red Sox Nation has now.’’

Eckersley’s first year with the Cubs saw them win 96 games and make it to the National League Championship Series. When they lost to the Padres, a key play was a ground ball that slithered between the legs of Cubs first baseman Leon Durham.

Remind you of anything, Sox fans?

Of course, the player the Red Sox acquired from the Cubs in exchange for Eckersley was . . . Bill Buckner.

There’s more in this ghoulish cosmic connection. Eckersley was a 20-game winner with the 1978 Red Sox team that gave new definition to “collapse.’’ Don Zimmer was the infamous skipper of that Sox nine.

And who was the first guy Eck saw in a Cub uniform when he got to Wrigley?

Don Zimmer, of course.

“Zim was third base coach of the Cubs that year,’’ says Eck. “That was kind of nice. I felt a connection there.’’

Always. No Six Degrees of Separation here. It’s all right in front of your eyes.

Think it’s cool that the Red Sox are the first team this century to win two World Series? The Cubs were the first team of the 20th century to win two World Series (1907 and 1908). And they haven’t won since.

The Sox and Cubs were on a collision course in 2003, but everything unraveled when Bartman grabbed for the foul ball and Grady Little lost his mind in Yankee Stadium. Grady was fired a half-hour after the World Series ended and came back to big league baseball a year later as a scouting consultant and assistant general manager of . . . the Cubs.

In 2004, Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein made the boldest move of his career, sending iconic shortstop Nomar Garciaparra to the Cubs in a trading deadline deal largely credited with propelling the Sox to their first World Series championship since 1918 (when they beat the Cubs, in case you forgot).

There is plenty more. Ferguson Jenkins, who won 20 games for the Cubs in six straight seasons, wasted a couple of years in Boston, where he was mismanaged by Zimmer. Calvin Schiraldi, the lazy righty who lost the sixth and seventh games of the 1986 World Series for the Sox, was traded to the Cubs (for Lee Smith) after the 1987 season. Terry Francona played for the Cubs in 1986. Sox lefty Rich Hill pitched for the Cubs from 2005-08.

The Sox like to think they’ve cornered the market on celebrity fans, but the Cubs can come at you with Bill Murray, George Will, and Hillary Clinton.

All-time best players? That’s easy. Ted Williams forever will be the greatest Red Sox player of them all. At Wrigley, it’s Ernie Banks, Mr. Cub. Ted always wanted to be known as the greatest hitter who ever lived. Banks just loved baseball. His motto is, “Let’s play two.’’

When they came to Boston in 1918, the Cubs stayed at the Brunswick Hotel at the corner of Boylston and Clarendon Streets. The Brunswick is long gone, but the Cubs are back. For the first time in 93 years.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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