Frustration over Cubs’ inertia is stronger than any buzz remaining from 2016 World Series

Standard-issue Cubs fans probably thought the euphoria from the 2016 World Series would follow them into the afterlife, which, as luck would have it, is a blue-themed fun park that looks suspiciously like the annual Cubs Convention. Nothing could feel better than kicking 108 years of futility to the curb, right?

I feel comfortable making a broad generalization: The buzz didn’t last. Eight years later, the faithful seem more frustrated by the franchise’s current inertia than in the mood to reminisce about the 2016 title.

That’s not to say the memories have faded to nothing. Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Javy Baez and Jake Arrieta would be mobbed if they set up a joint autograph session on Michigan Avenue.

It’s to say, what in the world are the Cubs doing?

It would be easy to say that fans’ irritation is a reflection of a me-first society in which no one is satisfied with what they have and that “more’’ is the only answer to the question, “What are you looking for in life?” But their frustration speaks to baseball sophistication, not to nouveau privilege. Where old-timers for decades treated the star-crossed 1969 team like conquering heroes, today’s Cubs fans want to know why a big-market team with big-money owners can’t be consistently good. One-and-done wasn’t enough for them.

That was the mistake in the Rickettses’ calculus when they bought the team. They thought bringing a World Series title to the North Side would make them icons. In another era, it might have. Before the 2010s, the only expectations for the Cubs were that they would keep falling short of the one goal that mattered and that they would keep churning out fan favorites such as Ernie Banks, Ryne Sandberg and Mark Grace. In the peculiar place called Cubs Land, that was enough. The team was meant to be patted on the head and told, “Aren’t you cute?’’ Fans would cheer another statue going up outside Wrigley Field. The garden of the almost-gods.

But winning the World Series stirred something up in the fan base. Maybe it was former president Theo Epstein’s emphasis on creating sustained success. By that standard, winning one World Series could never be the goal. Winning regularly, season after season, would lead to consistent playoff appearances, which would lead to the possibility of multiple titles. That was the goal. More than one World Series was the objective.

It looked like the Cubs were on that path when they won the 2016 trophy. They still had all that talent. But the best they could do was a loss to the Dodgers in the 2017 National League Championship Series.

That was one thing.

What has happened since is another thing. An unacceptable thing.

The former Cub is thrilled to be playing at Wrigley in September for first time since he was traded in 2021.

Since going 95-68 and losing a wild-card playoff game in 2018, the Cubs have gone 381-401 with only one other playoff appearance, another wild-card loss.

That sounds like a franchise that either doesn’t know what it’s doing or doesn’t care as much as it should. At a minimum, it sounds like a franchise that wants you to believe that the cycle of tearing down, rebuilding, winning and starting over again is how life works in today’s Major League Baseball. That’s as much a scam as a guy wanting to pave your driveway for cheap is.

A consistent criticism of chairman Tom Ricketts has been his preoccupation with creating revenue streams. That has meant a focus on projects such as renovating Wrigley, which was needed, and building a hotel across the street from the ballpark, which wasn’t. It hasn’t meant much in terms of payroll. This year, for the second time in club history, the Cubs’ Opening Day payroll was above $200 million. That sounds like a lot, but it put them ninth among 30 teams. I don’t want to get into a debate about whether generous spending builds champions. I would like to emphasize that, for a franchise estimated to be worth $4.2 billion — one that has found a way to monetize anything that moves — $200 million is chump change.

Maybe if ownership jacks up beer prices even more, the club can find some on-field help. That always has been the ruse in sports. Give us more money, and we’ll spend more money. Yet the Cubs remain mediocre whether they pay or don’t. They gave manager Craig Counsell a lot of money to switch to their side in the offseason. It hasn’t made a difference yet. Heading into their game Wednesday against the Giants, the Cubs were in last place in the NL Central.

The 2016 title wasn’t just a long time ago. It was another world.

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