originally published June 20, 2012
I’m going to stand up and walk three times around my chair before I write this article, for fear I’ll fall into a slump and won’t find a way to link my daily topics to bacon for months on end.
Whew! As the above image of bacon-and-lobster-stuffed deviled eggs will demonstrate, today’s topic is baseball. And, because it’s almost Halloween (well, it’s closer to Halloween than to Christmas), it’s also about curses. Spooky, scary curses.
You’re probably familiar with the Curse Of The Bambino, under which the Boston Red Sox were punished for having traded away Babe Ruth, forbidden to win a World Series until Bill Bellichek found a way they could cheat.
I’m kidding of course – the Red Sox win (and the one three years later) was legit; I mean no offense to Bostonians (though seriously, fuck the Patriots). I’m more interested in some of the lesser-known curses. The Chicago curses
Like the Ex-Cubs Factor.
Ever since 1945, when the Cubs were last in the World Series, any team that reaches the Series with three or more former Cubs on their roster is doomed to fail. It’s known as having a “critical mass of Cubness”. The theory wasn’t developed until 1981, and when journalist Ron Berler looked back on the statistics, he was somewhat surprised to see that it held up.
With one exception. The 1960 Pittsburgh Pirates had a trio of one-time Cubs on their roster, and they managed to slug their way to victory over the New York Yankees in the last inning of Game 7.
The 1981 Series featured a Cub-heavy Yankees losing to the LA Dodgers. Berler kept watching the stats every year after that to see if the curse held true. Even a heavily favored 1990 Oakland A’s team couldn’t overcome the curse, dropping four straight to the Cincinnati Reds. The curse was finally broken by the 2001 Arizona Diamondbacks, who also won in the final inning of Game 7, and also against the Yankees.
Of course the Pirates and Diamondbacks both fell into nasty slumps after their wins, perhaps atoning for having upset the sacred Baseball Gods.
This curse, of course, doesn’t affect the good people of Chicago. Why should they care if another team with their former players wins that glorious and unbelievably fragile-looking trophy?
Chicagoans are more concerned with the curse that may have cosmically created the Ex-Cubs Factor: the Curse of The Billy Goat.
That squishy sound you just heard was the collective eye-roll of thousands of desperate Cubs fans, none of whom are likely very eager to hear this story again. But for those who don’t follow the game, here’s what happened.
In 1945 the Cubs were playing the Detroit Tigers in the World Series. Local pub-owner and Cub fan Billy Sianis went to Wrigley Field to watch a game, purchasing one ticket for himself and another for his pet goat. You see, his bar was called the Billy Goat Tavern, so he thought he should… okay, I don’t exactly know why he brought the damn goat. He hung a sign around its neck that stated “We Got Detroit’s Goat”, and was allowed to walk around the field, no doubt to enthusiastic applause, before the game. I guess it’s a good thing that expression isn’t “We got their ferocious bear.”
The problem was, the goat had an odor about it. An unpleasant odor. Sianis was asked to leave during the fourth inning, at which point he declared that the Cubs would never again win a World Series. They had insulted his goat.
The Cubs were up two games to one in the ’45 Series, but bungled their way to a loss. Sianis renounced the curse before his death in 1970, but was it really lifted?
Sam Sianis, Billy’s nephew, has been brought in to Wrigley Field on numerous occasions (always with a goat) in an attempt to break the curse. The Cubs brought him in for opening day in 1984 and 1989, and again for a wild-card game in 1998.
In 2003, a bunch of Cubs fans drove to Houston and tried to gain entrance to an Astros game with their own goat. After being refused, they unraveled a scroll and declared that the Billy Goat Curse was hereby reversed. It didn’t work – the Cubs actually made it to within five outs of reaching the World Series that year, but it didn’t happen.
I’m not going to dwell on this guy; he’s suffered enough. The Cubs didn’t make the World Series that year, some would say partly because of Steve Bartman.
The Cubs were up 3-0 in the game that could have sent them to the Series, when Bartman snagged a foul ball. Had he let it go, Moisés Alou would have caught it, and the Cubs would have only been four outs away from a win. Instead, it was considered a mere foul ball. Bartman has been near-crucified in Chicago for having cost the Cubs the series that year, but in all fairness, the eight runs that Florida scored after that incident, plus the fact that there was another game (also won by the Marlins) should be taken into account.
As should the Billy Goat Curse.
One fan hung a butchered goat from the Harry Carey statue at Wrigley Field in 2007, hoping it would produce some sort of magic. It didn’t. When the same thing happened again in 2009, the Cubs didn’t even make the playoffs. Priests have been brought in – somehow that didn’t work either.
In 2011 a group calling themselves Reverse The Curse started a campaign to donate goats to needy families in developing countries. They probably fed a bunch of people, which is great, but the kind gesture didn’t lift the curse. In February of this year, five Cubs fans (and a goat) walked from Mesa, Arizona, to Wrigley Field. They arrived in May, while the Cubs were mired in a 12-game losing streak. While they were in Chicago, the Cubs bounced back with four straight wins.
Did this group, who called themselves Crack The Curse, have any effect? I suppose we’ll find out in October. They raised money for cancer research, so it was anything but a waste of time.
According to Sam Sianis, the only way the curse will be broken will be when the Cubs allow goats into Wrigley Field – not for publicity reasons, but because they genuinely have a love for goats. Until then, Chicago fans are nearly 70 years into a curse that could have been avoided if people had simply ignored an unpleasant smell. A curse so foul, it adheres itself to all Cubs players, and follows them throughout the rest of their careers.
There’s a lesson there somewhere.