2024 marks the 20th anniversary of this Chicago Cub collapse

Arguably no team prior to 2016 had higher expectations in Cubs fans' lifetimes than the 2004 team.

Cubs v Giants
Cubs v Giants / Jed Jacobsohn/GettyImages

It's been 20 years since the fateful 2004 Chicago Cubs season, one which began with sky-high expectations and ended in heartbreak. After unexpectedly making it within five outs of the 2003 World Series, the Cubs entered 2004 with arguably one of the best on-paper rosters any living Cubs fans at the time had ever seen.

General Manager Jim Hendry made two major offseason additions to the team in slugging first baseman Derrek Lee and a reunion with future Hall of Fame pitcher Greg Maddux. Lee joined a lineup that featured Sammy Sosa, Moises Alou, Aramis Ramirez, Michael Barrett, and Corey Patterson. The rotation was the biggest highlight of the team, with Maddux joining Mark Prior, Kerry Wood, Carlos Zambrano, and Matt Clement. They had a lineup with a mixture of slugging and on-base hitters and an elite rotation with a mix of young fireballers and crafty veterans.

The cover of Sports Illustrated for their 2004 baseball preview featured a picture of Wood with the headline, "Hell Freezes Over - The Cubs will win the World Series". Instead of the normal annual "Ths is the year" delusion from local die-hards, the national media was buying into the 2004 squad. With manager Dusty Baker at the helm and a great roster, things were looking promising.

2004 ended with disappointment, injuries, frustration, in-team division, smashed boomboxes, and the end of several notable tenures. 89 wins was one better than 2003, but it did not result in a postseason berth.

Despite having a lead in the Wild Card in late September, not even the midseason addition of All-Star shortstop Nomar Garciaparra could save them from a final-week collapse. They lost seven of their final nine games in gut-wrenching fashion. Five of them by one run. By the end of the season, there was a divided organization. Sosa left the season finale early when he found out he was not in the lineup. A disgruntled teammate reportedly smashed Sosa's boombox in the clubhouse. Longtime broadcaster Steve Stone made critical comments on-air about Dusty Baker's management strategy on September 30, which prompted a meeting between him and Cubs brass. There was also a crazy report involving reliever Kent Mercker taking exception to Stone's analysis during a game in August and calling the booth. Mercker himself told the Chicago Tribune there was no berating of Stone over a call to the booth, he just wanted to relay a question to Chip Caray about why he said opposing pitcher Roy Oswalt had a good game when he gave up six runs. According to Mercker, he and the broadcasters had a calm and civil conversation on the team plane after the report came out.

Many Chicago Cubs fans still feel the sting of the 2004 collapse.

Sosa's departure that October afternoon spelled the end of his tenure in Chicago, as the Cubs would trade him to the Orioles in the offseason. The two sides had had enough of each other and needed to move on, like a divorce. Stone, who was a staple of Cubs baseball for two-plus decades resigned a few weeks after the season was over. Caray also left the Cubs taking a broadcast job with the Braves.

All of this drama does not even include the injuries. Prior and Wood saw the beginning of the end of their days as starting pitchers in the Majors as they both suffered notable injuries that season. Wood pitched 140.1 innings and Prior only 118.2. Sosa had the whacky injury of throwing out his back after a violent sneeze in May, one of the weirder injuries one will see.

The "In Dusty We Trusty" incarnation of the Cubs never recovered. They went on to have losing seasons in 2005 and 2006 before Baker departed. Prior only pitched in 36 more games in the Majors and guys like Patterson battled injuries unfortunately derailing his career. While it is easy to compare how the 2023 Cubs season ended to 2004, the types of losses might be similar but last year's team did not have this level of drama.

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