From Cursed To First
As the rain began to fall at Progressive Field in Cleveland, Ohio on that cold November evening, the ominous feeling of dread was inescapable. It was Game 7 of the World Series and the Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indians were tied 3 games each. Neither team had taken home a World Series trophy in a combined 176 years. The Chicago Cubs had the longest drought in baseball history, 108 years, and many fans believed that drought was due to a local tavern owner and his goat were asked to leave a game at Wrigley Field because in 1945 because the smell of the goat was bothering other fans. The tavern owner was said to have placed a curse on the Cubs as revenge for being asked to leave. So now in 2016, it was a huge deal that the Chicago Cubs were even in the World Series, since their last appearance was in 1948, a year in which they lost.
For the 2016 Cubs squad, having won an incredible 103 games in the regular season, the best record in baseball for that year, fans were optimistic that the curse was finally over. Or would something happen like it always did to derail their efforts.
During the 2016 postseason playoffs, the Cubs managed to beat out the San Francisco Giants in the National League Division Series, 3 games to 1. Next, they had to beat the Los Angeles Dodgers for the National League Championship Series. They managed to emerge from the series victorious with a 4 games to 2 victory, a feat not accomplished by a Cubs team since 1948! Sixty-eight years the Cubs had waited to advance to the World Series and now, they’d finally done it.
The Cubs started Game 7 strong with leadoff hitter Centerfielder Dexter Fowler delivering a homerun in the top of the 1st. By the 5th inning the Cubs were riding high on a 5-1 lead over the Indians. But when Cubs Pitcher Kyle Hendricks walked a batter, Cubs Manager Joe Maddon made an abrupt pitching change, pulling Hendricks out and replacing him with Jon Lester. This mistake on Maddon’s part began to unravel the Cubs precious lead over the Indians. Before the inning finished, Lester would give up 2 runs and between he and Veteran Catcher David Ross, they added two major errors to the inning. Things seem to stabilize a bit when Catcher David Ross hit a homerun in his last Major League Baseball appearance before retiring. The score was now 6-3. Fans back at Wrigley Field were watching the game on a jumbotron and were anticipating a win of the World Series, and as strange as it sounds, it’s something no living Cubs fan has ever experienced.
In another unorthodox move, Cubs Manager Joe Maddon pulled Pitcher Jon Lester in the top of the 7th to put in his closer, Aroldis Chapman who would be pitching on only 3 days rest. Closing pitchers are typically used to close out the 9th inning, and are rarely brought in so early, or on such short rest. Maddon’s gamble quickly turned advantageous for the Indians. The Indians managed to get two men on base and one of their star hitters, Rajai Davis hit a home run tying the game 6-6.
All any Cubs fan could think about were the “curse” that has plagued this team since 1945. Were the Cubs really going to blow their chance at victory? Would this be yet another heartbreaking and disappointing loss? Every Cub fan is thinking, “Here we go again, so close to victory and it falls apart! Again!” The score stayed tied through the 9th inning and because the Indians were the home team, they get the last at bat. In the 10th inning it began to rain. The rain was getting heavier so the grounds crew at Progressive Field decided to initiate a rain delay and cover the field. The Cubs players hung their heads as they exited the field, worried that this may in fact not be their time. Cubs fans were thinking, “was it the curse preventing them again?” If the rain passed and they were allowed to resume, and if they lost, would it be because that a tavern owner and his smelly goat were asked to leave Wrigley Field some 71 years ago?
“The Curse” or “Curse of the Billy Goat” began in 1945. Billy Goat Tavern owner, William Sianis brought his pet goat to Wrigley Field to watch the Cubs play. The Cubs were in the middle of Game 4 of the World Series against the Detroit Tigers, and had not been to the World Series since their win in 1908 (37 years prior) when Sianis was asked to leave the stadium because fans were complaining about the smell of his goat. Upset by being asked to leave, Sianis allegedly declared, “Them Cubs, they ain’t gonna win no more.” The Cubs lost Game 4 and ultimately lost the World Series that year. Accounts of this incident differ and the Sianis family claims that after he and his goat named Murphy were “kicked out of Wrigley Field”, William sent a telegram to Philip K. Wrigley that stated, “You are going to lose this World Series and you are never going to win another World Series again. You are never going to win a World Series again because you insulted my goat.” While no one truly knows for sure what really happened that day in Game 4 of the 1945 World Series, the effects of this incident certainly played a part in the psyche of the Cubs players and their fans for the better part of 71 years.
An incident with a black cat in 1969, a supposed wet glove and Cubs fan Steve Bartman in 2003, only added weight to “curse” lore. During a critical game against the New York Mets at Shea Stadium in September of 1969 in the race for the pennant, a stray black cat walked between Cubs captain Ron Santo, who was on deck at the time, and the Cubs dugout. After that incident, the Mets pulled ahead of the Cubs in that pennant race and would go on to win the 1969 World Series. In 1984 during a playoff game in the postseason, the Cubs had a two game lead over the San Diego Padres in a best-of-five series. However, in game five, first baseman Leon Durham allowed a ground ball to blow past him in the 7th inning, citing the occurrence was due to a “wet glove”. That crucial error allowed the Padres to turn the momentum of the game and go on to score four more runs, resulting in winning the series. The most notorious incident that most people will remember today is that of Cubs fan Steve Bartman. On October 14, 2003, in the 8th inning of Game 6 of the National League Championship Series, the Cubs were ahead of the Marlins 3-0, while holding a three games to two lead over them in the best of seven series. When Marlins 2nd baseman Luis Castillo hit a foul ball, Cubs fan Steve Bartman reached out to catch it, diverting Cubs outfielder Moises Alou’s attempt to catch it and delivering the 2nd out to the Marlins. The Cubs would have been just 4 outs away from winning the National League Pennant, which would have advanced them to the World Series, something they had not accomplished since 1948. This incident marked a turning point in the game and the Marlins went on to score 8 runs with the Cubs losing the game 3-8 and in turn also losing Game 7 as well.
Decades of Cubs fans have lived with the lore of the curse and had adopted the mantra, “Maybe Next Year”. In fact, when Cubs fans saw each other in passing wearing a Cubs shirt or hat, they would often speak those words to each other, “May Next Year.” Despite the resolute acceptance that the Cubs are the “Loveable Losers”, loyalty to this ball club is like none other. Games at Wrigley Field are almost always sold out. There is never a sea of open seats in the stadium. Cub Nation remains strong. Even attendance at away games, Cubs fans are ever present. Year after year dedicated Cubs fans hope and pray that the mantra of “Maybe Next Year” will turn into “This Year!”
January of 2009 turned out to be the year that the Chicago Cubs began their journey to the 2016 World Series when Tom Ricketts, the owner and CEO of Incapital LLC and director of Ameritrade, an investment company his father started when he was just eight years old, led his family in the bidding process to acquire the Chicago Cubs from seller Sam Zell. Ricketts became a Cubs fan when he moved from Omaha to attend the University of Chicago with his younger brother Peter. The brothers used to attend games frequently. Tom also met his wife Cecelia in the bleachers within the “Friendly Confines” of historic Wrigley Field, the home to the Cubs since 1914. The sale of the Chicago Cubs to the Ricketts Family was approved unanimously by the owners of the other 29 Major League Baseball Teams and Tom Ricketts was introduced as chairman of the Cubs on October 31, 2009. Two years later on October 12, 2011, Tom recruited Theo Epstein as President of Baseball Operations and former general manager of the Boston Red Sox. Under Theo’s leadership in 2004, he helped the Red Sox end an eighty-six year drought and alleged curse of their own. Plagued with the “Curse of the Bambino”, referring to the sale of Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees in 1918, the Red Sox finally won a World Series Championship. Rounding out the Cubs front-office lineup was Jed Hoyer as General Manager. For the years of 2010-2014, the Cubs went through a period of “Decline and Rebuild” as they ushered in the youth movement by slowly building a team of young but skilled players. The Cubs also focused on replenishing their minor-league system. The final piece to the puzzle occurred in November of 2014 with the addition of former Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon. With a strong front office and strong roster beginning to form, would the Cubs have what it takes to break the supposed curse that has plagued them for so long?
Game 7 of the 2016 World Series…
After blowing their lead against the Cleveland Indians, and going into the 10th inning tied at 6-6, the players exit the field for the rain delay sullen. Immediately Cubs right fielder Jason Heyward calls a team meeting in the weight room. Heyward delivers an inspiring speech to his fellow teammates, “No! Don’t do that! Don’t hang your heads. WE NEVER QUIT! This has been our motto all season long. Let’s go back out there and do this! THIS is OUR time!” Heyward’s speech was exactly what his teammates needed to hear. What started out as an ominous rainstorm that rolled in and swallowed up any hope of winning, turned out to be just what the team need? That 17-minute rain delay was enough wash away 108 years of frustration and 71 years plagued by a supposed curse. The Cubs emerged from that rain delay energized and ready to finish what they started.
First up was Outfielder Kyle Schwarber who rendered a base hit into right field. Pinch runner Albert Almora Jr. is called in to run for Schwarber and represents the tying run on 1st base. Earlier in the season in April, Schwarber and Fowler were involved in a collision in the outfield, resulting in Schwarber having to have a complete left knee reconstruction. After months of rehabilitation, Schwarber was cleared to play in the NLDS against the Dodgers and now, he was in his first World Series. Next up 3rd baseman and 2016 MVP Kris Bryant gets out on a fly ball. The Indians pitcher walks first baseman Anthony Rizzo. Seasoned and multifaceted player Ben Zobrist was up and delivered a much-needed base hit that sends Almora Jr. in to score. Now the Cubs lead 7-6. The Cubs were able to push past the tough moment of doubt. Next up Miguel Montero gets a base hit and sends Rizzo home. Cubs now hold a 2 run lead over the Indians.
The Indians fail to come back from the 2 run deficit in the bottom of the 10th with their last at bat. With 2 outs, a ground ball is hit to Cubs 3rd baseman Kris Bryant. He scoops it up just has he as done in so many plays before this, but his foot slips on the wet grass mid-throw to 1st base. Anthony Rizzo steps up and elevates himself slightly on the bag to catch the throw from Bryant and it’s the 3rd out. Game over! The Chicago Cubs won the 2016 World Series. The players on the field and in the dugout ran onto the field in exuberant shock and joy. It’s an amazing feat. 108 years of drought is finally over and the curse of the goat is finally over as well.
Cubs overcome the Cubs curse. Bryant simply replied, “We are all too young to know anything
about that. I guess it was our time.”