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The World Series And Mortality

Cubs fans finally have the prospect of seeing at least one World Series win in their lifetime, but those who already have are almost gone.

This year the Cubs are in the World Series for the first time in more than 70 years. Next, the team will try and win it all for the first time since 1908.

Cubs fans talk about wanting to see just one World Series win in their lifetime. With a losing streak at 108 years, the team is getting close to not having anyone left who was alive for that last win.

How do we know? The World Series mortality tracker — a tool we built to show how many Americans were alive following every Series win by every Major League Baseball team — tells the tale. If you rifle through all of the teams, you see not just the rise and fall of franchise empires, but the rise and fall of the American population and, hence, potential fans.

You can’t help but notice, though, that the Cubs’ line is particularly bleak. Every year the number of people who could say "My team won!" is rapidly dwindling.

When the Cubs last won in 1908, the Census Bureau estimates 88 million people were living in the United States. Survivors of that cohort have experienced two world wars, put a man on the moon and saw the election of the nation’s first black president. The dwindling remnant has witnessed no other celebrations at Wrigley Field. And, as each season has come and gone, that group of potential witnesses has kept losing members, down to fewer than 50,000 in 2008. (See how we got these numbers).

With the Cubs back in the World Series for the first time since 1945, there's a great chance the drought will end (around 70 percent according to our model). If it doesn't, the team may soon run out of time. The Social Security Administration estimates the mortality rate of people older than 108 at more than 50 percent, so the team loses half of its potential witnesses each year. Within the next decade, there won’t be a human being on Earth older than the Cubs’ streak of futility.

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Use the dropdown at the top of the chart or click a line to select a team.

How did we get these figures?

The tracker is based on yearly population estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau. For each year we found the most recent season a team had won the World Series, and added up all residents born in that year or later. The Census Bureau doesn’t release numbers for individuals older than 100, so starting in 2008 the estimate for the Cubs are all people listed as at least 100 years old. There were around 50,000 Americans at least 100 years old in 2008, the last time the Cubs could claim all of them.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Lahman Baseball Database
Baseball icon by Grant Fisher from the Noun Project