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The Curse of the Billy Goat: Fact or Fiction?

Panoramic of Chicago Cubs vs Boston RedSox. Ta...
Wrigley Field

Thousands of fans poured into Wrigley Field on Oct. 6, 1945 to watch their beloved Cubs play in game four of the World Series.

Also in attendance that day was a goat.

On that chilly day 67 years ago an attendee, William Sianis, was asked to leave the stadium because he brought a goat with him. It has been reported that Sianis became disgruntled and said “The Cubs ain’t gonna win no more. The Cubs will never win a World Series so long as the goat is not allowed in Wrigley Field.”

That statement quickly became known as “The Curse of the Billy Goat” and allegedly is the explanation for their lack of post-season success to this day.

But has the goat been milked for too long?

Cubs fan James Maas does believe in the curse because “it continues to build on itself each year. It’s on the minds of the fans, the players and the whole organization.”

Maas cited the 1984 National League Championship Series as one post-season run that has added to the buildup of failed attempts for a World Series birth over the years.

The Cubs dominated the first two games in the series, outscoring the San Diego Padres 17-2 overall.

Both teams migrated west to finish the series, where the Padres benefited from home-field advantage and won the next three games to gain the World Series birth.

Chicago native and Cubs fan Steve Berg doesn’t believe in the curse, rather the pressure on players to be the ones to overcome the drought is what’s creating the shortcomings.

“I do not believe in the curse,” Berg said. “I think the pressure from not winning in so long has affected their performance though. In 2003 the team was awesome…but going into the postseason with the pressure of trying to be the team to break ‘the curse’ I think caused them to choke.”

2003 was the year of the Bartman Ball. For those unfamiliar, in game six of the NLCS against the Florida Marlins, with the Cubs leading 3-0 and heading into the top of the eighth inning, a fan – Steve Bartman – interfered with a foul ball that was arguably catchable and subsequently ignited an eight-run inning for the Marlins and a loss for the Cubs.

Like other instances where the Cubs fell short of a successful postseason, fans began to revert back to the curse as a way to console their broken hearts.

Erin McCarthy teaches Sports History at Columbia College Chicago and thinks the curse and Bartman incident are ways to blame everyone but the product on the field, which is the real reason why the Cubs aren’t successful, she said.

“There are lots of explanations for why the Cubs haven’t won the World Series in over 100 years,” McCarthy said. “But sports fans always want to find an excuse beyond the talent on the field… Even looking at the Bartman Ball, we only look at that moment and blame it, not the earlier moments and errors that could’ve affected the outcome of the game.”

Another excuse that has been used is the historic value of the park and party atmosphere that surrounds each game, distracting fans and tourists from the losses and thus avoiding frustration that would put pressure on management to make a serious over-haul of the team.

Columbia College Chicago student Justin Mackie said he believes the atmosphere at Wrigley Field does impact how fans react to wins and losses, but that could slowly fade.

“It is a tourist attraction and people want to see Wrigley win or lose,” Mackie said. “But I think that in the next couple of years if things don’t change [attendance] numbers will fall.”

Attendance at Wrigley has already begun to decrease.

This year Wrigley Field ranked 10th in highest attendance at a major league stadium with just under 2.9 million for the entire season, according to The Philadelphia Phillies ranked first with over 3.5 million.

Last year the Cubs ranked ninth and the year before that they ranked seventh.

McCarthy and her husband are season ticket holders and they noticed the empty seats this season.

“I think the people have spoken,” McCarthy said. “I’ve never seen Wrigley so empty…People are just not showing up.”

When asked why she thinks people are starting to lose some faith, McCarthy said the approach to handling press isn’t geared towards fans, and priorities of the owners should be reevaluated.

“I think they’ve taken their eye off the ball,” she said. “The business is the product on the field…we shouldn’t be reading about negotiations with city hall…we should be reading about prospects, the farm teams and whatever else that will answer, ‘How are we getting to the World Series?’”

There was a lot of controversy this past May and at the start of the regular season when the New York Times reported the patriarch of the Ricketts family, the family that owns the Cubs, planned to fund anti-Obama advertisements for the 2012 election.

Around the same time of that report the Ricketts had requested taxpayer money for field renovations. Given that mayor Rahm Emanuel is Obama’s former chief of staff the outcome wasn’t good for the Ricketts. At one point the Chicago Tribune reported that Emanuel wouldn’t even return phone calls from the Ricketts.

Press like that is what McCarthy was talking about – press focused on things other than Theo Epstein and the players he’ll be putting on the field.

“I would be putting Mr. Epstein first and saying: ‘Build the winning team and the rest will follow,’” McCarthy said. “If Epstein did it in Boston we should figure out what he did there and what’s needed here. If I were the Ricketts that’s what I would be concentrating on.”

This is a picture I took of Red Sox General Ma...
Theo Epstein

When the Boston Red Sox hired Epstein in 2002 he became the youngest GM in history. At the time they hadn’t won a World Series in 84 years, shy of the Cubs’ drought but still a substantial amount of time. Epstein was brought in and immediately began making changes and rebuilding.

The Sox drought was considered cursed as well, only their curse came from the trading of Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees, not kicking out a four-legged animal.

The Red Sox went on to win the World Series in 2004, breaking the curse that so many people believed in.

So is a curse just something to believe in until the desired outcome prevails? Or is the statement made by a man with a goat 67 years ago why the Cubs haven’t won a World Series?

Perhaps a curse is really just a way point fingers, only to be broken when responsibility is finally taken and a major effort to move in the right direction is made.

Regardless of the real truth, Epstein’s new job with the Cubs has given fans hope that he can turn the Cubs around like he did the Red Sox – he signed a 5-year contract in October 2011 as the president of baseball operations.

For those that are superstitious, and it’s safe to say Cubs fans know a little about that, he completed the task in Boston in two years, meaning he has one more season to turn the Cubs around from a team that finished this past season with 101 losses and into World Series champions.

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