Chicago Tribune editor on covering Cubs World Series win: Readers had papers ‘stolen off their porches’

With the fate of the Chicago Cubs’ 108-year championship drought resting on a climactic Game 7 against the Cleveland Indians Wednesday night, the World Series finale was bound to ooze with drama. But no one could have foreseen the coming suspense: the Cubs’ ace closer blowing a three-run lead in the bottom of the eighth; an excruciating rain delay as extra innings began; and a climactic offensive rally and tense defensive stop from the Cubs in the tenth. 

There was also plenty of suspense within Tribune Tower, where the Cubs’ hometown paper of record hustled to meet print deadlines as one of the greatest baseball games of all time finally concluded at 11:47 p.m. local time. I chatted Thursday morning with Chicago Tribune Sports Editor Tim Bannon about how his team managed the pressure of Game 7, what headline options they considered, and how they’re keeping up with huge demand for souvenir copies. The following conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

Going into the game, how did you array your resources? What was the general gameplan?

By the time we got to Game 7, we pretty much knew what our routine would be. We had five reporters and three photographers in Cleveland, and we also had several people working remotely. We also had one guy drive down there yesterday morning because we realized it was just going to be chaos, win or lose, and we needed another body. That brought us to six reporters on the ground.

Obviously we feed the web through the day. And then everybody has deadlines they need to hit, 10:30 p.m. being the first for the earliest edition, a small, Midwest run, and then 11:30 p.m. and 12:30 a.m. for later editions. We knew these games all go very long. Almost every one of them bordered on four hours. 

Going into the bottom of the eighth inning, the Cubs had a 3-run lead, which they proceeded to blow in memorable fashion. Where were you then?

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The thinking beforehand was that if the Cubs had a lead at 10 p.m., and it looked like they were going to win, then the pressroom would wait to get the win in the paper. So right around 10 p.m., the Cubs still had that lead, and all of a sudden it was gone. We had an emergency conference call with the press room and distribution—it’s a very complicated process not just to print stuff but get it delivered—and decided what to do.

We decided, Let’s just print what we have now and as soon as the game ends, we’ll redo it. The headline of our earliest edition says, “NAIL BITER,” with a picture of Aroldis Chapman looking crestfallen. Some people in the far reaches probably got that. 

And then we just waited for it to be over. We had two versions ready to go: a “HEARTBREAK” headline and “AT LAST!” The game ended at 11:47 p.m. our time, so we were able to get everything into a new version by 12:30 a.m. with scores and maybe a quote. 

What about that rain delay after the ninth? What’d you do?

That’s when we had the conference call and decided to run what we had. We didn’t even know how long the delay would be. There was this little window between storm fronts, so it looked like there might be an opportunity to play. But we didn’t know. It could have gone on for hours. At some point, it’s too late.

But then, during this conference call, that’s when they pulled the tarp back and started playing again. And that’s also when our people had to file “win,” “lose,” and “draw” versions of their story—everyone had different pieces ready to go. As soon as the game was over, we were ready to plug it in. All that was really missing at that point was when the game ended and what the score was.

What did the inconclusive stories say?

So the inconclusive front page was “NAIL BITER” next to a picture of Chapman, while the sports front had another picture of Chapman next to “CRAZY ACE: CHAPMAN BLOWS SAVE AS CUBS-INDIANS GOES LATE.” And this was the start of the story:

Cubs fans were subjected Wednesday night to an array of excitement and bewilderment as they watched their heroes challenge Manager Joe Maddon’s “Don’t let the pressure exceed the pleasure” slogan in Game 7 against the Indians in the World Series.

It was without specifics. It hung in the balance and didn’t even get into time and innings and scores, because things could change so quickly.

Related: Stick to sports? These writers say no thanks.

Once it did end, how long until you eventually shipped?

12:15 a.m. was when we had to be off the floor and be done with our stuff, so the printers could have it by 12:30 a.m. They’re still printing right now [around 11 a.m. in Chicago]. There are hundreds of people lined up in front of our building to buy copies.

Part of the problem was that it was so late that papers couldn’t get delivered. We had some people whose papers were actually stolen off their porches. Our plan was to print 400,000 extras, in addition to our normal run [of about 530,000, according to the Alliance for Audited Media]. I’m sure they’re still rolling because the demand will continue for a while. People won’t just collect them here; they’ll probably buy them online as well.

Walk me through the decision to use the headline, “AT LAST!”

We had a few versions. We had one that was “FINALLY!” But the sense was that it had too much negativity to it. We also had “IT’S HISTORY,” “NEXT YEAR IS HERE,” “IT’S HERE,” and “WAIT IS OVER.”

But then someone came up with “AT LAST!,” and that felt right. It was both capturing the victory but also the long wait without too much bitterness.

For you, as a sports journalist, where does this story fit into your career in terms of exhilaration, drama, and history?

People are already debating: Is this the greatest day in Chicago sports history? You got the Bears winning the 1985 Super Bowl, the White Sox winning the World Series in 2005, the Blackhawks winning their first of three Stanley Cups, the Bulls winning their first or their sixth NBA Championship in the 1990s. Right now, we’re still basking in the glow of this one, so we need some time to put it in perspective.

What was different about this was the long wait—the drought, the despair of being so close so many other times. That makes it resonate. Also, the nature of this whole postseason was so dramatic. There was the Cubs’ four-run ninth inning to clinch the National League Division Series. They were down 2-1 in the National League Championship Series. They were down 3-1 in the World Series, and they blew a lead in the eighth inning of Game 7. The game last night was amazingly agonizing, and I think in some ways it captured the whole season.

Someone said recently that the Cubs winning the World Series was the greatest sports story yet to be told. That might be a bit of hyperbole. But right now, right afterward, it kind of feels like it.

So what time did you get to bed, and how do you feel this morning?

I left here around 2:30 a.m. I feel good now—the coffee helps. But we’ve got special sections to put out, so it’s going to be a busy day. It’s fun, though. You walk into Tribune Tower and see hundreds of people lined up to buy a newspaper. That’s invigorating. 

Clarification: An earlier version of this article suggested that this year’s National League Division Series went to five games, not four.  

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David Uberti is a writer in New York. He was previously a media reporter for Gizmodo Media Group and a staff writer for CJR. Follow him on Twitter @DavidUberti.

TOP IMAGE: Chicago Cubs players celebrate after winning the World Series. (Photo by David E. Klutho /Sports Illustrated/Getty Images)