Baseball Judgments

Baseball Judgments |
The curse of the goat

Curse or management phenomenon


By Roger Weber


Some baseball stories just develop, and such is the case with the Cubs and Wrigley Field. In 1945 the Cubs lost the World Series to Detroit, blowing a 2-1 series lead in the process. But the fact the Cubs lost isn't surprising. They had lost in their last six World Series appearances in 1910, 1918, 1929, 1932, '35 and '38. But this time was different. With a simple refusal the Cubs launched upon themselves a curse they have yet to break.


According to the legend, William Sianis, an immigrant, had two tickets to game four of the World Series, one for him and one for his pet goat, Murphy. Although they were allowed on the field as a sort of parade before the game, Sianis and some ushers got into a fight before the game, the ushers claiming Sianis couldn't bring the animal into the stadium. Although Sianis and the goat were eventually allowed to stay in the park, both were ejected in the middle of the game because of the goat's terrible smell. Sianis was outraged. After the Cubs lost game 4, Sianis sent a letter to Cubs' owner Philip Wrigley that said "Who stinks now." Sianis also supposedly cursed the team to never win another pennant.


The Cubs haven't made it back to the World Series despite some close calls. But they have had their share of near misses. In 1969 and 1973 the Cubs blew what looked like sure playoff opportunities. The 1969 collapse is most remembered, though, for a black cat that ran across Ron Santo's path, an omen of failure to many Cub fans. In 1984 the Cubs finally made the playoffs and won the first two games of the NLCS with San Diego before losing the last three. Legend says that the Cubs planned to bring the goat back for game 5 but that the players refused claiming they wanted to win on their own. The Cubs lost in the playoffs again in 1989 and 1998, and then again in 2003 in the famous collapse that included the Cubs losing three straight games, a famous fan interference play and an Alex Gonzalez fielding mistake.


Of course, there are practical explanations for much of the Cubs' losing that involve their ballpark. Since 1916 the team has played in Wrigley Field, a venue known for its fierce winds that can create games like the famous one in May of 1979 where the Phillies beat the Cubs 23-22. In the slugfest there were a combined 50 hits and 11 home runs.


For years the Cubs for some seemingly unknown reason had excellent offensive statistics and terrible pitching numbers. Players like Ernie Banks capitalized on Wrigley's offensive characteristics – Banks slugged over 500 home runs and is regarded by many as the greatest shortstop ever. So the Cubs would trade away their pitchers in exchange for other' teams' pitchers. And surprisingly the new pitchers wouldn't fare much better. Meanwhile mediocre offensive players would be allowed to remain in the lineup because of their inflated stats due to the Wrigley effect.


But whatever the cause of the Cubs' misfortune the legend of the curse has brought about they mystique of a famous underground tavern, the Billy Goat Tavern. Located just off of Chicago's most well known street, Michigan avenue and a level underneath Chicago's Magnificent Mile, William Sianis' tavern is now filled with memorabilia about the curse. And as popularized by "Saturday Night Live," the restaurant's order taker shouts the lines "Cheezborger, cheezborger, cheezborger" when the order is specified.  The dark tavern usually has a line out the door for lunch and is a very fun, open place to catch a meal.


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