CLEVELAND — The last time the Cleveland Indians won the World Series, Dewey led Truman in the polls. The Chicago Cubs’ last title was 13 days after the first Ford Model T car was completed.
Lovable losers known for decades of defeat meet in this year’s championship, a combined 174 seasons of futility facing off starting Tuesday night at Progressive Field.
Cleveland’s last title was in 1948, when 16 teams from the East Coast to St. Louis competed in a just-integrated sport. The Cubs are trying to win for the first time since 1908 , a dead ball-era matchup at a time home runs were rarities along with telephones.
No player is alive from the last championship Cubs or even the last to make a Series appearance — Tuesday marks the 25,948th day since the Cubs’ Game 7 loss to Detroit in 1945. One player remains from the 1948 Indians, 95-year-old Eddie Robinson.
“It seems like it’s just forever,” Robinson said Monday from his home in Fort Worth, Texas. “When we got home from Boston, there was a monumental parade. It just looked like everybody in Cleveland came out on Euclid Avenue.”
One team’s fans will let loose with the celebration of a lifetime. But while history weighs on the supporters, Cubs manager Joe Maddon focuses his players with a now-centered battle cry of “Win the Inning!”
“Air conditioning is popular right now. So is color TV,” he said. “You’ve just got to change with the times.”
Both teams worked out under cloudy skies as the new 59-by-221-foot scoreboard behind the left-field seats — the largest in the major leagues — trumpeted the Sisyphean matchup. While the Cubs play in Wrigley Field, the 102-year-old brick-and-ivy jewel on Chicago’s North Side, the Indians are in a 22-year-old throwback-style ballpark originally called Jacobs Field.
Led by Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo, the Cubs led the major leagues with 103 wins during the regular season, then beat San Francisco and Los Angeles in the playoffs. But since the playoffs expanded in 1995, only four teams with the best regular-season record won the title: the 1998 and 2009 New York Yankees, and the 2007 and 2013 Boston Red Sox.
“I promise you, our guys are going to be in the present tense,” Maddon said. “I think we all have a tremendous amount of respect for history and what’s happened before us or not happened before us. But, you know, you go in that room right now, they’re very young. Really not impacted by a lot of the lore.”
Jon Lester, 7-1 in his career against Cleveland, starts for the Cubs and Corey Kluber opens for the Indians. Lester is 2-0 with a 0.86 ERA in three postseason starts this year and 3-0 with a 0.43 ERA in a trio of Series outings. He learned to prepare from watching Curt Schilling and Josh Beckett in Boston.
“They prepared the same way for this start as they would for a regular start during the season,” he said.
Kluber pitched shutout ball twice in the playoffs before allowing two runs in five innings in Game 4 at Toronto. His father, Jim, was born in Cleveland and rooted for the Indians growing up in suburban Highland Heights.
“I think every parent is excited if their kid has a chance to play in the World Series,” said the 30-year-old right-hander, who could win his second AL Cy Young Award in three years.
Both teams were dealing with injuries that caused changes in planning. Indians manager Terry Francona, juggling all year because of health mishaps, said right-hander Danny Salazar will be on the World Series roster, which must be submitted Tuesday morning. Salazar has not pitched since Sept. 9 because of forearm tightness but threw a simulated game Sunday.
“Nothing’s official, so if we have another drone incident or anything with model airplanes or anything, we reserve the right” to change, he said, a reference to the injury that limited pitcher Trevor Bauer to two-thirds of an inning in the AL Championship Series.
Chicago appeared likely to include outfielder Kyle Schwarber, out since tearing knee ligaments on April 8. A person with direct knowledge of the situation told The Associated Press on Monday that Schwarber was traveling to Cleveland, but the person did not know yet if the slugger would be on the roster.
The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the roster won’t be announced until Tuesday.
Schwarber returned to action last weekend in the Arizona Fall League.
“Reports are good,” Maddon said. “He’s swinging the bat well. He’s running really well.”
Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis was dealing with a sprained left ankle, hurt when he jumped and shortstop Francisco Lindor accidentally stepped on his foot while celebrating the last out of the ALCS.
“He might not be 100 percent, but I don’t think it’s going to get in the way,” Francona said.
Cleveland fell three outs short of the 1997 title when Jose Mesa blew a one-run lead in the ninth inning of Game 7 at Florida and an error by second baseman Tony Fernandez led to the Marlins’ winning run in the 11th.
The Series starts just after a ceremony across the street when LeBron James and the Cavaliers receive championship rings before their opener celebrating this year’s NBA title, the first for Cleveland’s big league teams since the NFL’s Browns in 1964.
“It’s a pretty neat set of circumstances,” said Indians reliever Andrew Miller, the ALCS MVP. “Obviously the fans wish they had won quite a bit previously, but I think the Cubs are even going to overshadow us in that history.”
While Chicago has many famous fans, among them actor Bill Murray and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, Cleveland is rooted on by Tom Hanks and Drew Carey. And the Indians’ losing history received nationwide attention in the 1989 film “Major League,” featuring Charlie Sheen as Ricky “Wild Thing” Vaughn.
Maddon prepared for the Series while watching some baseball movies, “42” — “we had to beat the Dodgers before I could watch it” — and “Field of Dreams.”
“I’m that guy,” he said. “I cry easily, so the connection to the past is very important, very important.”