Curse of the Billy Goat
- This article is about the "curse" affecting the Chicago Cubs. For the United States Naval Academy mascot, see Bill the Goat.
The Curse of the Billy Goat, or Billy Goat Curse is the name of an urban myth, superstition, or scapegoat used to explain the World Series drought that Major League Baseball's Chicago Cubs have had to endure since their last appearance in the 1945 World Series, and their last World Series championship in 1908.
The beginning of the curse
As the story goes, William "Billy Goat" Sianis, a Greek immigrant who owned a nearby tavern (the now-famous Billy Goat Tavern), had two $7.20 box seat tickets to Game 4 of the 1945 World Series between the Chicago Cubs and the Detroit Tigers, and decided to bring his pet goat, Murphy, with him. Sianis and the goat were allowed into Wrigley Field and even paraded about on the playing field before the game before ushers intervened. They were led off the field. After a heated argument, both Sianis and the goat were permitted to stay in the stadium occupying the box seat for which he had tickets. However, before the game was over, Sianis and the goat were ejected from the stadium at the command of Cubs owner Philip Knight Wrigley due to the animal's objectionable odor. Sianis was outraged at the ejection and allegedly placed a curse upon the Cubs that they would never win another pennant or play in a World Series at Wrigley Field again (Sianis died in 1970).
The Cubs lost Game 4 and eventually the 1945 World Series, prompting Sianis to write to Wrigley, saying, "Who stinks now?" Following a third-place finish in the National League in 1946, the Cubs would finish in the league's second division for the next 20 consecutive years, this streak finally ending in 1967, the year after Leo Durocher became the club's manager. Since that time, the cursed Cubs have not won a National League pennant or played in a World Series--the longest pennantless drought in Major League history.
In 1969, the Cubs opened an 8½-game lead in the National League's Eastern Division during the second week in August, but faltered badly thereafter, ultimately finishing second to the New York Mets, who then went on to win both the National League Championship Series and the World Series. In a game against the Mets in 1969, a black cat somehow got onto the field at Wrigley Field, and crossed 3rd baseman Ron Santo's path as he was taking practice swings. In 1973 the Cubs fell apart in the second half of the season in an even worse fashion, losing 49 of their last 76 games to finish next-to-last in the division after having led it for much of the year. The Cubs would finally win the division for the first time in 1984, but they then lost to the San Diego Padres 3 games to 2 in the NLCS after having won the first two games of the series, this collapse doing much to revive popular interest in the curse. In the pivotal 5th game of the 5 game series, Cubs' 1st baseman Leon Durham let a ball through his glove, leading many fans to blame the curse again. In 1989 the Cubs won the NL East, but lost in the NLCS that year too, 4 games to 1 to the San Francisco Giants (the League Championship Series in both leagues having been lengthened to best-of-seven from best-of-five in 1985).
The curse seemed to be fading in the 2003 playoffs. In the National League Division Series, the Chicago Cubs beat the Atlanta Braves three games to two, winning Game 5, 5-1, at Turner Field in Atlanta, the first time in 95 years they won a playoff series. The curse seemed to be on the point of extinction when the Cubs led the eventual World Series champion Florida Marlins three games to two in the National League Championship Series at Wrigley Field, and held a 3-0 lead in Game 6, with only five outs between them and a trip to the World Series. In fact, T-shirts proclaiming the Chicago Cubs as National League Champions were waiting outside Wrigley to be worn by Cubs fans.
However, this bedlam for the Cubs would not last. In the top of the eighth inning, with one out, Luis Castillo of the Marlins hit a high foul ball to left field where it was heading into the stands. The Cubs' Moises Alou, thinking he could nab the ball for the second out, headed toward the stands with his glove held high and was just about to fit his glove around the ball when Cubs fan Steve Bartman interrupted Alou's poise and the ball deflected off his hand and into the stands. Even though the Cubs tried to get a fan interference call, the field umpire labeled it foul, declaring it "up for grabs". (In one of the odder baseball media events, the actual ball was eventually bought by a local restaurant Grant DePorter, who had it exploded into shreds by Academy Award-winning special effects expert Michael Lantieri in a nationally television event. The remnants of the ball, infused in vodka and beer, were used to flavor a special "Foul Ball Spaghetti", which was then sold to some 4000 diners, Cubs fans all.)
With a chance at a second out eliminated, the Cubs unraveled. Cubs pitcher Mark Prior walked Castillo. Afterwards, Marlins catcher Ivan Rodriguez singled to score Juan Pierre. Miguel Cabrera then hit a ground ball to Cubs shortstop Alex Gonzalez, who led all National League shortstops in fielding percentage. Instead of fielding the ball cleanly, however, Gonzalez closed his glove a split second early and the ball dropped harmlessly into the dirt, loading the bases.
The Marlins would go on to score seven more runs in the inning to take an 8-3 lead and win the game. The series, instead of ending with the Cubs being NL champs, was now tied at three games each. In Game 7, the Marlins would have to face Cubs pitcher Kerry Wood, who was arguably the best pitcher in the National League. This made Cubs fans feel a little bit better...for a moment. The Marlins, even though down 5-3 in the bottom of the fifth, came back and with little resistance took a 9-6 win, thanks to aggressive hitting and eventual World Series MVP Josh Beckett. The Marlins were declared the National League Champions and moved on to the World Series, where they eventually beat the New York Yankees in six games.
The Cubs, trying to put the heartbreak behind them, eventually traded for Derrek Lee from the Marlins in the offseason and destroyed the Bartman Ball, hoping to finally end their continuing misfortunes. But as the eighth inning of Game 6 of the 2003 NLCS proves, it seems that the curse of the billy goat continues to live on.
In fact, the curse showed up again in 2004, when the Cubs led 1 and a half games in the NL wild card with only one week remaining. Playing the New York Mets, they won the first game but lost the next two games. In the second game, the Cubs led 3-0 going into the ninth inning before the Mets railled for a three-run homer in the ninth and a solo home run in the 11th inning to win the game. Victor Diaz, who grew up in Chicago as a Cubs fan and famously was a guest at Sammy Sosa's house as a high-schooler, hit a 3 run blast with 2 outs in the bottom of the 9th inning to tie the game. Diaz had only been called up to the Major Leagues 11 days earlier. The Cubs never recovered and went on to lose two games against the Braves on the last weekend of the season to be eliminated from playoff contention. The Cubs' divison rivals, the Houston Astros, won the NL wild card with a win over the Colorado Rockies.
Former Cubs who won a World Series title elsewhere
Another factor that may play a role in the curse is the number of players who won World Series titles after leaving the Cubs. These players include Andy Pafko (who, coincidentally, was a member of the Cubs' 1945 World Series team), Don Hoak, Dale Long, Lou Brock, Lou Johnson, Jim Brewer, Ken Holtzman, Bill North, Bill Madlock, Manny Trillo, Rick Monday, Bruce Sutter, Willie Hernández, Joe Niekro, Dennis Eckersley, Joe Carter, Greg Maddux (who has since returned to the Cubs), Joe Girardi, Glenallen Hill, Luis Gonzalez, Mike Morgan, Mark Grace, Mark Bellhorn and Bill Mueller.
The other "cursed" team in Major League Baseball, the Boston Red Sox, also came within 5 outs of reaching the 2003 World Series. The following season, however, the Red Sox were finally able to break free by sweeping the Cardinals in the 2004 World Series. For more details, see Curse of the Bambino.