It’s about time we stopped blaming the failures of the Cubs on a poor, dumb creature that is a billy goat.
Mike Royko, March 21, 1997 (his final newspaper column)
The story of the infamous Chicago Cubs Billy Goat Curse, like most urban legends, is rife with inaccuracies and half-told stories that are actually wrapped around a tiny nugget of truth. All that the “curse” really is is a convenient scapegoat (ha ha..GET IT?!?) for people that are unwilling to deal with the real problem: the Cubs are historically one of the cheapest and most ineptly managed teams in baseball.
The Billy Goat Curse was cast upon the Cubs on October 6, 1945. The Cubs were playing in Game 4 (not Game 1, as tes states above) of the 1945 World Series. The team had 2-1 series lead against the Detroit Tigers, and were coming back home after playing the first three games in the Motor City. President Harry Truman was NOT at the game, he was back in Washington signing Executive Order 9639, which authorized the Secretary of the Navy to take control of certain aspects of American petroleum production, but that’s neither here nor there.
Greek immigrant Bill "Billy Goat" Sianis was a huge Cub fan and also owned the Billy Goat Tavern on the city’s Near North Side (the tavern was also the basis for the famous "Cheezborger! Cheezborger!" sketch on Saturday Night Live). As a publicity stunt for his bar, Billy Goat tried to bring his pet goat Murphy into the game with an extra ticket he had bought. When the ushers refused to let him bring the goat to his seat, Billy Goat made a direct plea to Cubs owner P.K. Wrigley. Wrigley told Billy Goat that he could stay and watch the game, but the goat could not be allowed in because it smelled. As Billy Goat was dejectedly leaving the stadium with his pet, he turned back to Wrigley and told him in his broken English "Cubs, they gonna win no more." And with that, the curse was supposedly cast.
The Cubs went on to lose the Series in seven games, prompting Billy Goat to send Wrigley a telegram stating, "Who smells now?" The team immediately went into the crapper after 1945 and didn’t have another winning season until 1963. Billy Goat’s nephew Sam Sianis, who took over the bar after Bill died in 1970, attempted to lift the curse in 1972 and 1983, both times he pulled up to Wrigley Field in a white limousine and rolled out a red carpet so his pet goat Socrates could enter the stadium. Both times he was denied entry. Sam was finally allowed to bring the goat onto the field for Opening Day 1984, where he supposedly officially lifted the curse. That year, the Cubs made it to the playoffs, but lost to the San Diego Padres in the NLCS. In 1994, Cubs manager Tom Trebelhorn, arranged for Sam Sianis and Cubs great Ernie Banks to join a robed group of chanting monastic monks in what was intended to be a curse-cleansing procession around the vine-covered walls of Wrigley Field. Trebelhorn was fired at the end of the season. Sam trotted out the goat again in 1998, but the Cubs lost in the wild card to Atlanta.
I take issue with the “proofs” that people give for the supposed curse that has befallen my favorite team. Many of the Cubs' problems can be attributed to much more mundane reasons.
The Cubs' lack of success right after 1945 can be directly attributed to another thing that ended in 1945: World War II. The Cubs were a dominant team during the war because P.K. Wrigley had filled his roster with players who were deemed 4-F by the draft board. So while other teams were losing their best players to wartime service, the Cubs roster stayed intact. Unfortunately, Wrigley stuck with these players after the war ended, so as the other teams quickly got better thanks to their returning stars, the Cubs only got older and more enfeebled.
P.K. Wrigley was a cheap bastard. Wrigley made gobs of money with his chewing gum company, but he was unwilling to spend it on the baseball team he owned. He was unwilling to spend money to put together a strong minor league system for the team that would have trained better players and might have eased the shock of the post-WWII years. There is also the story that Wrigley Field didn’t have lights until 1988 because Wrigley wanted baseball only played during the day “as it was meant to be.” The real reason was that he just didn’t want to spend the money to install lights. (After installing lights became more economically feasible, the move was continually blocked by the local residents of Wrigleyville, who have heavy clout in the city council.)
P.K. Wrigley was a racist bastard. The Cubs did not sign their first black player until 1953, seven seasons after Jackie Robinson entered the league. By this time the Negro Leagues had been decimated and were ready to fold, and other teams had signed all of the best black players. If Wrigley had been willing to integrate his team quickly, the Cubs might have been competitive.
The Tribune Corporation is a bunch of cheap bastards. After the Wrigley family sold the Cubs to the Chicago Tribune in 1981, the team turned into just another profit stream for a major entertainment conglomerate. The team plays in Tribune Co.-owned Wrigley Field and the games are televised on Tribune owned WGN TV. The Company was unwilling to sign major free agents or to retain the star players they had developed because it would have meant spending too much. For every Sammy Sosa that is kept (even the most forgiving Cub fan would have walked away if they got rid of him) there have been countless guys like Greg Maddux and Mark Grace, who were just dumped off to save money. The company knows that people will still come to games because of the wonderful experience that is Wrigley Field, why bother spending money on players.
I must also refute some of the stories that are offered above.
- Ken Hubbs did win rookie of the year in 1962, however he was probably one of the weakest ROYs ever. Hubbs hit .260 and lead the league in strikeouts, hardly “one of the best rookie years ever played.” He won the award on the strength of his fielding, and had a very good .983 fielding percentage. Hubbs did not die after his rookie year; he played for the Cubs in 1963 too. In ’63 his batting average dropped to .235 and his fielding percentage declined to .974. Hubbs’ young death was tragic, but he was not the player you build a team around.
- The infamous 1969 season was not so much about the Cubs choking, but about the Mets getting insanely hot. In the months of August and September, the Mets went 45-18. While much is made of the fact that the Cubs went 27-29 in that same span, they could have played at they same level they did for the rest of the season, and still would have lost.
- The Cubs traded Dennis Eckersley for three minor leaguers, and on paper it was a good deal. Eckersley was a washed-up starter whose rampant alcoholism had supposedly destroyed his pitching ability. Oakland planned to use him as an emergency long-relief pitcher, but when a freak injury took out the team’s closer, Eckersley had to take over at that position. His dominance came as a complete surprise to everybody.
- Brock for Broglio is one of the biggest bonehead trades ever, but any team with over 100 years of history is bound to make more than a few of those. How come no one remembers Ivan DeJesus for Ryne Sandberg?
Much like the over-hyped Curse of the Bambino, the Cubs' lack of success is not to be blamed on some supposed hex, but instead on poor management, cheap ownership and statistical anomalies.