Month: October 2016

The Cubs Are Winning – Or Are They?

 Written by Barry Steiger:

I heard my first baseball game in 1945 on the car radio during a car trip with my parents. The Chicago Cubs were playing and I decided I would become a Cub fan because bear cubs are so lovable. I was ten years old and this was the beginning of a lifelong love of baseball.

I grew up in Danville, IL, 120 miles south of Chicago and the signal from the radio station that broadcast the Cubs’ games was very weak. Then I discovered that I could get the station by holding my finger on the aerial button on the back of the radio. Fortunately there weren’t any local thunderstorms during the games since I had made myself a lightning rod.

The Cubs made it to the 1945 World Series because their players were older and all the really good players on other teams had been drafted during WWII. In spite of this advantage, the Cubs lost the series four games to three to the Detroit Tigers and I was devastated. The only saving grace was that Hank Greenberg played third base for Detroit. Although he was too old to be drafted, he was still a superhero, especially to Jewish boys. Greenberg was not only a great baseball player, but he was also Jewish, an oddity in major league baseball as athletic skills weren’t associated with Jewish culture. However, he was subjected to the same kind of abuses that Jackie Robinson, the first African/American player, experienced.

I was in high school before I saw my first baseball game at Wrigley Field and I still remember the excitement of being there. Before the game I had thought that the wooshing sound I heard on the radio after a foul ball landed behind home plate came from the ball hitting the net. I had even argued this point with a classmate. At the game, I learned that the wooshing sound was made by fans and it was a tradition.

I went to college in Chicago and could get to Wrigley Field easily on the El, the part-elevated, part-underground Chicago subway system. At that time, Wrigley Field did not have lights so all games were in the afternoon. During one spring quarter I had a political science course that was well known to have irrelevant lectures and tests based solely on the book. I spent those afternoons in the left field bleachers. The Cubs were especially bad that year but it didn’t matter; Cub fans were used to bad teams. I only attended one lecture and for the first time the political science final exam was entirely based on the lectures. Whoops

Wherever we lived, I remained a Cub fan which isn’t unusual as there are many fans rooting for the Cubs in all the other team’s ballparks. What is unusual is why some of us remain so loyal to a team that has failed to get to the World Series in 71 years and has broken our hearts so many times. In 1984, they led the San Diego Padres two games to none in a five-game National League Championship Series but lost three in a row. In 2003, they were again one win away from advancing to the World Series. When they were leading in the 8th inning of the third game, a fan, Steve Barnhorn, interfered with a catchable foul ball. The Miami Marlins rallied, won that game and the next two to eliminate the Cubs. The unfortunate fan became the human incarnation of “The Curse”. He had to leave Chicago and has remained in hiding.

Yes, there is a curse. In the 1945 World Series, Billy Goat Tavern owner Billy Sianis was asked to leave game four of the World Series at the Cubs’ home ballpark, Wrigley Field. He had bought two tickets as he had many times before, one for him and one for his pet goat, Murphy. This time he was asked to leave because fans were complaining about the strong odor coming from his pet goat. He was outraged and declared “Them Cubs, they ain’t gonna win no more.” This curse meant the Cubs would never be in another World Series game at Wrigley Field and the Cubs, who have not won a World Series since 1908, have not been there since.

There have been many bizarre attempts to remove the “Curse of the Billy Goat”. For example a Greek Orthodox priest sought to end the curse during the 2008 playoffs by spraying holy water in and around the Cubs’ dugout. In 2013, a severed goat’s head was delivered to the Cubs’ owner in a possible effort to lift the curse. In 2014 four men consumed a 40-pound goat in 13 minutes and 22 seconds at a restaurant “Taco in a Bag” in Chicago. There have many more failed attempts. None have worked. At away games, fans of the opposing home team often wear a goat mask

It isn’t just the “Curse of the Billy Goat”. In 1969, the Cubs were leading their division as the end of the season approached. A black cat visited the dugout and the Cubs lost that game, followed by a long losing streak. Cub fans have their own folktale. Two cub fans were so frustrated after watching the last game of another losing season they drank too much, crashed into a tree and ended up in hell. The Devil came to see them and found them roasting ballpark hot dogs and telling each other jokes. The Devil asked them “how can you be happy in this miserable place?” They said “it’s OK, we are used to it; we are Cub fans.” The Devil turned off the heat to make them suffer more. He came to check on them and found them surrounded by ice and high-fiving, laughing and dancing. He said “how can you be even happier in this frigid cold?” They said, “We have never been happier. We are going to the World Series! Hell has frozen over.”

This year, the Cubs have the best record in Major League baseball and were the first team to qualify for the playoffs that would lead to the World Series. They won the first two games of the five game playoffs with San Francisco and lost the third game. Last night was the fourth game and they were losing 5 to 2 at the end of the 8th inning of the fourth game. I turned off the TV and went to bed certain that it was happening again. I dreamt about Billy Goats.

This morning I learned the Cubs scored four runs in the 9th inning and won the series. They still have to win the divisional playoffs to play in the World Series. But I know what is happening – once again the curse is going to end it. Just like Moses led the Jews through the desert to the edge of the Promised Land but died before entering it, we will be taken to the edge of baseball glory only to again say “wait until next year”.

It’s OK. I’m sure that many of us Cub fans would not be able to handle the shock of getting to the World Series let alone winning it. We thrive on rooting for the perennial underdog. We get satisfaction from loving losers. We are baseball masochists. I am going to see a psychiatrist and try to understand what is wrong with Cub fans.