Much has been written about the Cursed Cubs—maybe too much. Apparently only supernatural causes can be responsible for more than a century of World Series futility. Forget bad management, cheap and shortsighted owners, superstition, and maybe, just maybe, a fan base that actually enjoys the whole cursed lovable losers myth and wouldn’t know what the hell to do if the Cubs suddenly became winners. Look what happened to the Red Sox post 2004 after they broke the curse Babe Ruth allegedly placed on them after he was sold to the Yankees. They went from charming and unassuming to the second-biggest assholes on the east coast. (The Yankees will always be the biggest assholes.) This cursedness has become almost as good a marketing ploy as Beautiful Wrigley Field. Especially that goat.
Where would the Cubs be without a curse? They would be like the Cleveland Indians or the Pittsburgh Pirates or the Philadelphia Phillies (the first MLB team to rack up 10,000 losses): losers, but not especially lovable to anyone outside their city. Or they would be like the White Sox, not even lovable to the majority of people within their city. Would we feel differently about the Sox if they’d been cursed instead of just bad?
Herewith a list of the alleged curses. First, the most lingering:
The story goes that William “Billy Goat” Sianis, owner of the Billy Goat Tavern, attempted to bring his pet goat—named Murphy or Sonovia, depending on which account you read—to Wrigley Field for the 1945 World Series against the Detroit Tigers. The goat was denied admission. Enraged, Sianis placed a hex upon the Cubs that lasts until this day and gives Cubs fans an excuse to buy goat-themed merchandise, which they enjoy because goats are pretty cute.
According to the historical record, also known as the Tribune, our city’s Paper of Record, Sianis did, indeed, attempt to bring his goat to Wrigley Field on October 6 for Game Four, the first game in Chicago. The Cubs were ahead, two games to one. Arch Ward reported in his In the Wake of the News sports gossip column the next day:
The Cubs went on to lose the Series in seven games. The goat was not mentioned as the reason for their defeat. The only other time the word “goat” appeared in the Tribune‘s baseball coverage was in relation to Tigers slugger Hank Greenberg, who had been unjustly charged with an error in game six.
The goat, in fact, was not mentioned again in conjunction with the Cubs for nearly two decades. Because of the Billy Goat’s proximity to Chicago Stadium and, after its move to its present location on Lower Wacker in 1964, Tribune Tower and the old Daily News/Sun-Times building, Sianis was well-known to the city’s sportswriters and provided them with lots of colorful copy that, not incidentally, mentioned his bar. In May 1962, on the eve of the Liston-Patterson fight at the Stadium, Sianis reminisced to David Condon, who was now writing In the Wake of the News, about his past adventures.
The question remains: Why didn’t he curse Veeck and the Sox?
By 1967, the taunting telegram had expanded into a full-fledged curse. In a profile of Sianis on the occasion of a new addition to the bar, including a Billy Goat “Wall of Fame,” William Granger wrote,
The lifting of the curse had allegedly occurred in 1950. The Cubs lost so often throughout the 1950s and early ’60s, a reasonable and disinterested person might conclude there had been no curse and they were just a lousy team. But Sianis was a businessman, and sportswriters always needed copy. So in the spring of 1969, Condon reported that not only had Sianis placed a hex in 1945, he’d never lifted it, not in 1950 or ever.
In 1969, you may recall, the Cubs were so good that there was talk of another World Series appearance. That April, Sianis wrote to Wrigley requesting four tickets, one for himself, one for Murphy, and one each for his two other goats, Onassis and Agnew. Condon did not report whether his request was granted, but in August, Charlie-O, the mule mascot of the A’s, invited Murphy to watch the Cubs-A’s World Series from a box in Oakland as his special guest. (Probably not coincidentally, Sianis and the A’s owner, Charles O. Finley, were pals.) As it happened, neither team made it to the World Series. Condon checked in with Sianis in late September after the Cubs’ final collapse, when they were overtaken by the Mets.
Sianis died in 1970. He was mourned and eulogized by reporters all over Chicago, many of whom attended his wake. His nephew Sam took over Billy Goat’s. In 1973, when the Cubs were briefly in first place, Sam Sianis attempted to bring his own goat, Socrates, to Wrigley Field. They were kicked out. The hex was renewed. The Cubs immediately went on a losing streak. Sianis claimed that when he brought Socrates to a 1981 Chicago Sting soccer game and Socrates was allowed to do the opening butt, the Sting won.
In the late fall of 1981, the Cubs got a new general manager, Dallas Green. By then the Curse of the Goat had become firmly established in Cubs lore. Trib sports columnist John Husar reported:
Green sent an emissary to the Billy Goat.
At the beginning of the 1982 season, with great ceremony, Sianis and Socrates together lifted the curse on the Cubs. The Cubs finished the season in fifth place. In succeeding years, members of the Sianis family, both human and goat, have made appearances on the pitchers mound at Wrigley Field. This has usually had no effect, except to generate more publicity for both the Cubs and the Billy Goat.
By now, the Curse of the Goat has become so entrenched in Cubs mythology that the Sianises have become almost incidental. The Tribune noted that, according to the Chinese zodiac, 2015 is the Year of the Goat and pointed out several other mystic connections between the Cubs and goats. Last month, in another attempt to vanquish the curse, a group of competitive eaters banded together to consume an entire 40-pound goat.
And now there is Littleton the Goat, pet of U. of I. sophomore Evan Maranis, whose grandfather worked at Billy Goat Tavern, and the Cubs’ latest caprine savior. Isn’t he adorable? Would anyone care if he were, say, a chicken?
The dwarf goat has become a local celebrity, particularly beloved by U. of I. sorority girls, and has his own line of T-shirts and replica jerseys.
The Black Cat
In September 1969, someone let a black cat onto the field at Shea Stadium near the Cubs’ dugout, where it walked across Ron Santo’s path. Unlike the goat incident, the Tribune actually reported on it at the time. But nobody held it responsible for the Cubs’ collapse. As Billy Goat Sianis put it, “the New York Mets played like hell.”
In an interview last weekend with DNAInfo’s Kelly Bauer, George Castle, a local sports historian, makes a convincing case that the Cubs eventually lost to the Mets because of Leo Durocher’s terrible managing. Durocher sent the same players out every day without rest, sneaked out in the middle of games, and made no allowances for the Cubs’ odd playing schedule (at the time, Wrigley Field had no lights, so the Cubs played during the day at home and at night on the road; they found this exhausting). “He treated the young pitchers like whipped puppies,” Castle told Bauer.
The Bartman Ball
The 2003 collapse is largely attributed to Steve Bartman, a fan who absentmindedly snatched a fly ball away from outfielder Moises Alou and then, very shortly after, had to flee for his life. The ball itself was destroyed in February 2004, as (naturally) a publicity stunt at Harry Caray’s restaurant to raise money for charity; you can visit its remains at the Chicago Sports Museum at Harry Caray’s.
The Ex-Cub Factor
Discovered by journalist Ron Berler and publicized by Mike Royko, the Ex-Cub Factor theory posits, as Berler put it, that “the Cubs are the Moonies of baseball, that the ballclub possesses eerie, bewitching powers over its players,” and that in every World Series, the team with the most ex-Cubs on its roster will lose. This does not apply to the Cubs, since there can’t be any ex-Cubs currently playing on the Cubs, and anyway, that particular curse has been broken at least three times, most recently by the 2011 Cardinals.
But if you’re not entirely willing to chalk the Cubs’ perennial failures up to bad luck or psychological issues here are a couple more as-yet-untested curse theories:
My father has an astonishing amount of baseball trivia crammed into his skull—the other day, he rattled off the names of all the Cubs managers in the past 40 years just because he could. He came up with his own curse theory this season, when he first realized that Joe Maddon’s team was better than anyone had expected them to be, and explained it to me one afternoon this summer while we sat in the stands at Wrigley Field watching the Cubs play the Tigers.
“Think about it,” he said. “Ernie Banks joined the Cubs in 1953, and they were terrible. And then last winter, he dies, and now they’re good!”
He pointed out that even after his playing days, Ernie would appear at Wrigley Field on special occasions, notably playoff games. He was a far more consistent presence than the goat. If you want to be more positive about it, Ernie is better equipped to help the Cubs from the afterlife than this one.
Even if Ernie himself isn’t the curse, he’s a reminder of how the Cubs often cursed themselves.
In a feature story last year, Reader writer Steve Bogira pointed out that the Cubs were relatively slow to add African-American players to their roster. Although P.K. Wrigley hired a Negro Leagues scout back in 1942, Wrigley didn’t feel the world was ready for a black major-leaguer. The Dodgers brought up Jackie Robinson in 1947; it took Wrigley five more years to sign Banks. By then, the aging Cubs had begun their precipitous slide while the Dodgers, who in subsequent years added Roy Campanella and Don Newcombe, were dominant. “During the 26 seasons before the Dodgers integrated, the team won a single pennant,” Bogira wrote. “In the ten seasons from 1947 through 1956, Robinson, Campanella, and Newcombe helped them win six.”
If only the Cubs had integrated sooner!
On Saturday night, in the middle of the first depressing Cubs-Mets playoff game, Bogira, a lifelong Sox fan, posted on Facebook:
On Sunday, he had an update:
And finally this, on Monday afternoon:
If the Cubs win Tuesday night, this should prove one thing to all Chicagoans: Steve Bogira is more powerful than any of us thought.