Over the years, fans have come to depend on the Chicago Cubs. The team has not won a National League flag since 1945, baseball's longest pennant drought. This fact has not been lost on Cub rooters, who tend to love the club all the more for its failures, much as Met fans once delighted in that team's shortcomings.
But if Chicago's northsiders are lovable losers, shouldn't the Cleveland Indians be too? They haven't won a pennant since 1954 and seldom finish above . 500.Their record merits as much sympathy. They just don't get it.
Why? Perhaps because they've never made losing as much fun as the Cubs, who generally collapse in style rather than just fade away. The Cubs have other advantages. They play in chummy Wrigley Field, where wild, high-scoring games are common, plus they have an intra-city rivalry over bragging rights with the American League White Sox.
These factors have been a stimulus to attendance, which if not particularly good, has usually been better than Cleveland's since the Indians set an American League record with 111 wins in 1954. That was the year names such as Bob Lemon, Larry Doby, and Early Wynn dotted the lineup.
Since then Cleveland has won at a .477 pace, the Cubs at a .461 clip. Both teams have finished second three times during this period, but Chicago leads in third-place finishes 4 to 1.
Retired stars top football list
If you've ever wondered who the best running back and passer in history were, the Pro Football Hall of Fame can supply the answers, at least in purely statistical terms. Each year at this time, the hall compiles a list of the top 20 career leaders in several areas. Otto Graham, rather surprisingly, is still the best passer. Surprising if you missed Graham's act in the 1940s and '50s or are unfamiliar with the quarterback rating procedure, which digests various statistics.
Graham, who quarterbacked the Cleveland Browns in both the All-America Football Conference and the National Football League, has 86.8 rating points. Roger Staubach, with 83.5, comes next, followed by Sonny Jurgensen and Len Dawson. Cincinnati's Ken Anderson, the top active passer, and Fran Tarkenton are tied for fifth.
Graham, it should be noted, would drop to 10th on the list if only his NFL statistics were counted.
Among runners, Jim Brown is the valedictorian. After looking at what he accomplished in nine years at Cleveland, it's easy to understand why some people argue he is the best of all time. No player on the list has more total yards ( 12,312) or a better per-carry average than Brown's 5.2 yards, gained running out of the fullback slot. And talk about a guy who could sniff the goal line! In just nine seasons Brown scored 106 touchdowns, 23 more than anyone else and 45 more than O.J. Simpson, who put in 11 years and is No. 2 in yards gained with 11 ,236. Sampson era in perspective
When Ralph Sampson leaves the University of Virginia in May, he will take a diploma with him, but not an NCAA championship ring. During four college basketball seasons, the 7 ft. 4 in. center never played in the NCAA championship game, and appeared in only one semifinal.
This has led many to wonder just what went wrong, if anything. Why didn't Ralph lead the Cavaliers to a title? No oversimplified answer will ever suffice.
Certainly it wasn't because of a lack of individual talent, for Sampson stocked his personal trophy case with every imaginable award, including three Player of the Year citations. Individual brilliance, however, is not the be-all and end-all in basketball, as Wilt Chamberlain so clearly proved years before. Kansas failed to win a college championship in Wilt's two years on the Jayhawk varsity. The team lost a triple overtime title game to North Carolina in 1957, then missed out on a post-season berth the following year.
Virginia's failure to win a championship with Sampson can't really be pinned to a poor program either. The Cavaliers were 20-8 and 19-10 in the years before he came, hardly signs of disarray. On the other hand, Ralph probably wasn't surrounded with the kind of talent that made up UCLA's supporting cast during the Alcindor and Walton years.
The crux of the matter seems to be that Virginia never found a way to maximize every player's effort with Ralph on the floor.This is not to say Sampson didn't play team basketball, because he was a shining example of just that. It is to say, however, that his presence may have made the other Cavaliers too Ralph-conscious and kept them from fully utilizing their own talents.
This may explain why Virginia, playing with Sampson, could lose to Chaminade in the ''upset of the century,'' but beat powerful Houston without him. Still, Ralph was obviously the main reason Virginia went 112-23 the last four years.
Touching other bases
* In its latest issue, Golf Digest has taken aim at the coming crisis in junior-level play. The magazine sees ''pockets of junior golf activity'' as the exception to the rule. At private clubs, members are generally none too keen about youngsters invading their turf, and at public courses, adults and children are quite often charged the same greens fee. This sort of treatment certainly doesn't encourage budding players, and may help explain why golf participation has grown only 2 percent in the past decade.
* The National Football League's draft of college players, normally a two-day affair, will be condensed into one day, April 26. Club officials aren't too excited about having a marathon session, which could last 17 hours, but feel it's necessary. There's concern that the United States Football League will step in and sign players undrafted during the first day. ''There will be less time for players to be told, 'You weren't picked, so sign with us,' '' explained NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle.