Rooting for the Goat

Well, the Cubs won the Pennant. After nearly a century of being the losing-est team in baseball, Chicago’s blue-eyed darlings defied convention, broke the spell, and are headed to the World Series. Cubs fans, now scattered across the globe, can be found yelling gleefully at strangers something about a goat.

Because you see the Cubs, for the last seven decades, have not just been a bad baseball team. They’ve been terrible. So bad you could forgive their coke sniffing frat boy fan base for being so irritating because the team was just so damn pathetic. They’ve been plagued by losing seasons and bad luck for so long that the only conceivable culprit at this point is witchcraft. Voodoo. A curse.

The last time the Cubs played in the World Series was 1945. Things were looking up, the Cubs led the seven game series 2-1 heading into game four at Wrigley Field, until William Sianis showed up with his pet goat and insisted they both be seated. The usher denied the goat access, allegedly on the grounds that the animal smelled bad. Sianis threw up his hands and swore that “The Cubs ain’t gonna win no more.” They went on to lose the game and then the series.

After the final game Sianis sent a telegram to the team reading, “Who stinks now.” The spell was cast. The Cubs have not won a World Series since.

curse-of-the-goat
PC: Nick Merrell – The curse of the goat.

Baseball is a game fraught with superstition. Pitchers won’t step on the lines. Players don’t wash the luck out of their jocks. But even for baseball the Curse of the Goat runs deep. In a pivotal playoff game in 1969 a black cat wandered onto the field and gazed into the Cubs dugout. They lost momentum and lost the Pennant race.

In 1986 the curse followed Bill Buckner to the Red Sox. In the 10th inning of a World Series game, he committed a Little League level blunder that led to his team’s loss. He was wearing a Cubs batting glove under his mitt.

But nothing compares to the bad luck of 2003 (the Chinese Zodiac year of the Goat). It was the 7th inning of the fourth-of-seven games in the National League Champion Series. The Cubs led the series 3-2 and the game 3-0. A high foul ball left the bat of Luis Castillo for an easy out into the glove of left fielder Moises Alou. Instead, the now infamous Steve Bartman leaned across the wall to catch the ball, interfered with Alou, and watched the Cubs go on to lose the series.

This curse, it seems, is the real deal.

And it’s why this recent spate of Cubs good luck is so bittersweet. The Curse of the Goat, more than a winning team, is something to rally behind. For our entire lives, the Cubs have been the essential underdog, the original Bad Luck Bears.

The annual Sisyphusian trudge through the regular season is as essential to the Cubs experience as the ivy covered walls at Wrigley Field. The Cubs without the curse is like contemplating Thanksgiving without turkey. Sure, it’s kind of the worst part of the whole thing, but it needs to be there.

Without the Curse, the Cubs are just another sports team, adrift in a city that loves its sports. Championships come and go, and the fair weather zealots (looking at you, Blackhawks fans) drift from franchise to franchise based on a complicated algorithm of athletic merit and nearby dive bars.

The Curse is a part of old Chicago. Of Al Capone, and deep dish pizza, and Meigs Field. To see it go is like seeing the Sun-Times give way to the Trump International. It’s the cruel wheel of progress that values glamour over tradition.

So yeah, like any expatriated Chicago kid, I’ll probably keep an ear tuned for news on the World Series, even if I haven’t seen a baseball game in years. And maybe that makes me a bandwagon fan. Maybe. Except that this midwestern expat is rooting for the goat.

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