Lordy, doesn’t this week’s World Series test that theory? You could play Six Degrees of Lou Merloni with the Chicago Cubs’ and Cleveland Indians’ rosters and unearth nary a player, manager or front-office guru who isn’t somehow linked to 2004, 2007 or 2013.

Let’s just focus on the obvious ones.

Cleveland’s journey to the doorstep of escaping baseball purgatory has featured contributions from Mike Napoli, Coco Crisp, American League Championship MVP Andrew Miller, and, of course, manager Terry Francona.

Chicago’s attempt to exorcise a century-plus of lovable loser-hood rides upon the shoulders of John Lackey, Jon Lester, David Ross, and future Hall of Fame franchise architect Theo Epstein. Since Anthony Rizzo once was traded for Adrian Gonzalez, who was later shipped to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the addition-by-subtraction deal that made 2013 possible, we’ll include him too.

It’s the New England birthright to harbor ill will against any athlete who wears a different uniform than Sox/Pats/Celts/B’s after making his mark there. This tendency is magnified a million times when the offender in question dares to wear the dastardly Yankees’ pinstripes after his time at Fenway is through.

Somehow I found forgiveness for Johnny Damon and Jacoby Ellsbury, and to a lesser degree the late-blooming Miller. It’s probably because they gave me the joy and peace that Carl Yastrzemski, Jim Rice and Roger Clemens never provided.

They spared me the fate of my grandfather, who was born in 1920, died in 1996, never made it to the earthly Promised Land, and never ceased calling his favorite team the “Red Flops,” even in his dotage.

Not everybody achieves my level of tolerance, or even indifference. I’ve encountered all points on the spectrum during this playoff dance from which the current Red Sox checked out early. Of course, that made an endless month of baseball longer; let’s not forget that the Dave Roberts-led Dodgers stuck it out for six games with the Cubs in the NLCS.

There is the tired “How come the Sox can’t get players like that?” take. There has been the “I’m pulling for Tito and/or Theo” theme, offset by the “to heck with those guys” approach. I’ve even seen such puzzling social media posts as “Coco Bleeping Crisp,” as if it’s his fault Epstein and others miscast him as something greater than the fourth outfielder he has always been.

Where you fall in this discussion most likely is determined by how you view the chicken-and-beer fiasco of 2011.

That September swoon finished Francona, who took the fall for a presumed lack of institutional control and was subjected to a despicable smear campaign regarding his marriage and his alleged use of painkillers. It also did no favors for Lester, who was viewed as Mr. July in the manner of David Price at the time, and Lackey, who looked in the moment like the worst free-agent signing in history.

The two pitchers never completely recovered in the public-relations department. Never mind that Lester and Lackey were bulldogs for one-October-wonder John Farrell (oops, did I just break my own rule?) in 2013. Less threatening objects such as Napoli’s beard, Jonny Gomes’ tattoos and David Ortiz’s “This is our … city” speech reap most of the credit.

It’s too easy to take our time with these gentlemen for granted and to forget where we were before the decade that gave Yawkey Way a permanent mood makeover.

Look, I had to spend an entire childhood saying that the Cardinals were “my National League team” or that the Minnesota Twins were “my other American League team” in order to make the Fall Classic tolerable. My heart doesn’t exactly bleed for anyone who has to plug their nose, suck it up and cheer for a manager, general manager, pitcher, slugger or role player who represents a love affair gone sour.

I will watch this World Series comforted by the knowledge that I’ll be happy with the conclusion, no matter what. One long-suffering fan base will put to rest a lifetime (in the Cubs’ case, darned near two lifetimes) of misery.

As a guy who polished off an entire bottle of wine by myself the night of October 27, 2004, I will celebrate the fact that baseball lifers in either Chicago or Cleveland can put away their bottle of whine forever. And I’ll rejoice in the fact that a few really good dudes had a hand in it.

Kalle Oakes was a 27-year veteran of the Sun Journal sports department. He is now a sports editor in Georgetown, Kentucky. You can reach him by email at [email protected]


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