Don't be shellfish...Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+

The date:  October 14, 1908.  The place:  Bennet Field, Detroit.  The event:  Game 5 of the World Series.  On that day, Orval Overall of the Chicago Cubs outpitched the Tigers’ ace Billy Donovan, winning the clinching game of the World Series 2-0.  Overall allowed the Tigers just three hits and had a formidable ten Ks.  Outstanding ballplayers in that series included the incomparable Georgia Peach, Ty Cobb; the immortal infield combination of Joe Tinker, Johnny Evers, and Frank Chance; and ace Mordecai “Three-Fingered” Brown, who would have likely been MVP of the Series if that award had been offered at the time.  There were only 6,210 fans in attendance that day; little did they know that they were witnessing the last Cubs World Series triumph in a century, and still counting.  In 1908, the Cubs had built not only the first baseball, but also the first all-sports, dynasty in the Modern Era.  The Cubs had appeared in three consecutive World Series and had won two back-to-back titles over the Tigers; the only blemish was an inexplicable loss to the Chicago White Sox in 1906 when the “Hitless Wonders” won the title despite batting under .200 as a team.  It should be noted that in 1906 the Cubs had 116 wins, a record that was tied by the Mariners 116 wins in 2001.  Since the Cubs played 12 fewer games that season than the Mariners, their winning percentage (.763) remains the highest in baseball history.

The Cubs won the National League pennant again in 1910, losing to the Philadelphia Athletics 4 games to 1.  Nothing remarkable about that; Connie Mack had painstakingly assembled his own dynasty in Philadelphia, featuring Hall of Fame pitchers Chief Bender and Eddie Plank, second baseman Eddie Collins (the smoothest fielder of his era), and the premier slugger of the Dead Ball Era, Frank “Home Run” Baker.  The Cubs lost again in 1918 to the Boston Red Sox 4-2.  Red Sox ace Babe Ruth set a record for consecutive World Series scoreless innings (29), not to be broken until 43 years later in 1961 by Whitey Ford (33).  They next appeared in the Fall Classic in 1929, losing to the Athletics once again, this time 4 games to 2.  Mack had re-established his Athletics, after selling off his stars, and the team was led by Al Simmons and catcher Mickey Cochrane.  The Cubs again won the pennant in 1932 and were swept by the Yankees; that was the series that Babe “called his shot.”  In 1935, the Tigers beat the Cubs 4-2 for their first World Championship, achieving a belated revenge for their two defeats by the Cubs three decades prior.  The Yankees swept the Cubs in 1938; again, they were a superior team, featuring Gehrig, DiMaggio and Bill Dickey, among others.

The Cubs didn’t appear in another World Series until 1945, playing the Tigers for the fourth time. Up to this point, the Cubs were 2-7 in World Series appearances, losing the last six in a row.  However, most of the losses could be explained as the result of facing clearly dominant teams, especially the two losses to Murderer’s Row and the pummeling by Connie Mack’s Athletics.  In this respect, they were much like the Brooklyn Dodgers of the 40’s and 50’s, a great team facing an even greater one in the Yankees.  Before 1955, no one had ever thought that the Bums were hexed, even though some of their losses were, perhaps, bizarre enough to get you to think twice.  The passed ball by Mickey Owens in the fourth game of the ’41 Series, allowing Heinrich to sprint to first base on what would have been the final out of the game opened the floodgates to a bitterly demoralizing 7-4 loss.

The 1945 World Series had started out auspiciously enough for Chicago; the Cubbies shellacked Tiger ace Hal Newhouser, who had won 25 games that year. (Newhouser remains the only pitcher to win both the Cy Young and MVP in back-to-back years.)  Although slugger Hank Greenberg led the Tigers to victory with a three-run homer in game 2, Claude Passeau pitched a one hitter in game 3, leading Chicago to a 3-0 triumph.

Here’s where things get interesting.  On October 6th, the Cubs were ahead of the Tigers, two games to one.  They needed to win but two of the next four games, all of which would be played at Wrigley Field.  On that date, William “Billy Goat” Sianis, who was a lifetime Cubs fan, as well as the owner of the Billy Goat Tavern, purchased two tickets to the game, one for himself, and one for Murphy, his pet goat, in an attempt to bring good luck to his favorite team.  Ballpark ushers tried to stop him from entering the park, but were unsuccessful.  Once inside the park, Sianis paraded Murphy around Wrigley Field, causing quite an uproar by the crowd.  Again, the ushers intervened, but Billy Goat and Murphy, after a heated argument, were allowed to go to their box seats.  Before the end of the game, Phil Wrigley, the owner of the Cubs, had both Sianis and Murphy ejected.  When questioned as to the reason for this action, Wrigley stated that fans were complaining concerning the goat’s objectionable odor.  (It should be noted that other accounts of the story reported that Sianis and Murphy had never been allowed into the park.)  According to Cubs lore, both Billy and his goat were outraged and Billy was quoted as exclaiming, “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.”  Thus, the curse of the Cubs became official.  Subsequently, the Cubs lost game 4 and three of the four games at Wrigley field, losing to Detroit 4-3.  On October 10th, Newhouser won game 7 by a score of 9-3, clinching the Series.  Little did Cub fans realize that this was to be their last World Series appearance, 74 years and still counting.  Later that day, Billy Goat sent a telegram to Wrigley stating, “Who stinks now?”

Following that Series, for the next twenty years encompassing the remainder of Sianis’ life, the Cubs never reached the first division; fifth place was their best season for two entire decades of what was to emerge as the futility of “The Lovable Losers”.  The Cubs motto became “Wait ’til next year.”  From 1946 to 2008, the Cubs would post a 4250-4874 (.470) record, have only 18 winning seasons (46 losing seasons), finish in first place a mere three times, have no pennants, no World Series appearances, with six post-season experiences (1984, 1989, 1998, 2003, 2007, 2008). Their post-season record since 1945 is 6-20.  Is the curse real?  You decide.

Pre-Curse 1876-1945 — Record: 5475-4324 (.559)
Pennants:  1876, 1880-82, 1885-86, 1906, 1907, 1908, 1910, 1918, 1929, 1932, 1935, 1938, 1945
World Series Appearances:  1906, 1907, 1908, 1910, 1918, 1929, 1932, 1935, 1938, 1945
World Series Victories:  1907, 1908
***The Cubs posted 51 winning seasons and finished in first place 16 times.

Post-Curse 1946-2008 — Record:  4666 – 5270 (.470)
Post Season Experience:  1984, 1989, 2003, 2007, 2008
Wild Card:  1998
Pennants: none
World Series Appearances: none
***The Cubs posted only 18 winning seasons and finished in first place only five times.

Until the late 60’s, the manifestation of the curse was the production of consistently terrible teams, the duration of which was almost unparalleled in Major League history.  The nature of the curse changed in the late 60’s when Leo “the Lip” Durocher was hired as manager.  In 1966, the Cubbies were so bad that they allowed the Mets to escape the cellar for the first time in their short history.  But, Leo instilled his own particular brand of magic, and, for the first time in memory, the Cubs achieved respectability, finishing third in ’67 and ’68.  1969 was, by all appearances, the year that the Cubs would achieve glory for the first time since Teddy Roosevelt resided in the White House.  They had a solid team, led by the iconic Cub, Ernie Banks (“Let’s play two!”), as well as perennial All-Stars Billy Williams and Ron Santo.  Fergie Jenkins led a solid pitching staff.  The Cubs seemed to be an unbeatable squad.  At one point, they had an 8 ½ game lead in the pennant race.  However, the NY Mets, who, according to Baltimore Manager Earl Weaver, consisted of “2 pitchers, a good hitting outfielder, and a bunch of slap-hitters” managed to close the gap to 1 ½ games when the two teams met for a critical series in early September.  In the midst of a particularly critical game, an unknown fan released a black cat onto the field.  Perhaps led by the spirit of Billy Goat, the cat ran directly towards All Star Third Baseman Ron Santo as he stood in the on-deck circle.  Casting a disturbing glare directly at Santo, it then proceeded toward the Cub dugout, riveting its intense glare onto the Chicago players as it lurked back and forth.  The entire stadium watched in amazement.  (It is interesting to note that for many years as an announcer, Santo continued to abhor road trips to Shea.)  Needless to say, the Cubs lost that game, which initiated a complete September collapse; they posted an 8-17 record for that month, losing the NL East by 8 ½ games to the Mets.

Post-Curse baseball for the Cubs has been fraught with frustration.  Three of their series resulted in their getting swept, 3-0.  But, their initial post-season appearance in 1984, almost 40 years after the ’45 Series loss, was a prime example to all believers that the curse is real and ever-present.  The Cubs took the first two games of the NLCS.  They needed only one win to reach the promised land.  After getting trounced in game three, Cub fans saw their lights-out closer Lee Smith allow a walk off homer in Game 4 to Steve Garvey.  (Many of these same fans have recurring nightmares of watching Steve Garvey pumping his fists as he rounded the bases.)  In the deciding game 5, the Cubs carried a 3-0 lead into the sixth inning, with Cy Young winner Sutcliffe on the mound.  A critical error by first baseman Leon Durham led to a ghastly ending of the season.

As bad as this loss was to the psyche of Cubs fans, it was perhaps surpassed in excruciating, unbearable futility in the 2003 postseason.  The Cubs were heavy favorites to beat the upstart Florida Marlins, and won three of the first five games of the series.  In game 6, the Cubs had a 3-0 lead with one out in the 8th inning, as Mark Prior was in the midst of pitching a sure-fire masterpiece.  Champagne was ready to be uncorked in the Cubs clubhouse in celebration of a long-awaited pennant.  But, no win is ever really secure in baseball, especially if a seemingly eternal malediction comes into play.  With Juan Pierre on second base, Juan Castillo hit a deep fly ball down the left field line.  Cub’s left fielder Moises Alou raced to the wall, extended his glove as far as possible, and appeared about to make a tremendous catch.  However, a lifelong Cubs fan named Steve Bartman, reached out his hands and caught the ball right above Alou’s out-stretched glove.  Over 40,000 Cubs fans moaned in frustration and outrage, some of them perhaps sensing impending doom.  Alou’s claims of interference were denied.  What then occurred was perhaps inevitable:  the Cubs completely collapsed in front of a national audience, most of who were rooting for the Cubs to break the schneid.  After the smoke had cleared, the Cubs had allowed eight runs to cross the plate in that inning.  Completely deflated, the Cubs lost the deciding game the next day 9-6, and the legend of the curse continued to grow.

There have been a number of efforts to undue the curse.  Phil Wrigley hired a strange-looking master of the occult for $5,000, plus a bonus of $25,000, if they were to win the World Series, to dance around the stadium and give opposing players the malocchio.  He would sit behind home plate, making wild gestures at the opposing pitchers.  None of this had any noticeable impact on the Cubs prospects.  After Wrigley sold the team to the Tribune Company, ownership invited Sam Sianis to parade a goat around the field when the Cubs were in the midst of an all-to-frequent losing streak.  The streak was snapped, but the curse apparently remained. Twice the Cubs had Sianis’ nephew Sam attempt to remove the hex, without any apparent success.  The Cubs also had a Greek Orthodox priest perform a type of exorcism by spreading holy water in the dugout before a playoff game.  Again, no success.  The fact remains that no other team, not only in baseball history, but in the history of all sports, has gone longer without winning a championship.

  1. Goose

    Goose says:
    (link)

    Don’t we have enough to deal with (Soriano, Zambrano, depression) to be reminded of this?

  2. TommyR says:
    (link)

    No Cy Young Award in 1945/1946. The Yankees won “only” 114 games in 1998 (not counting post-season). Seattle did win 116 games several years ago.

  3. Flubbies says:
    (link)

    I loved this article. Made my day. However 2005 was a better year then 2003!!!

  4. Airweino says:
    (link)

    Thanks for the recap of some of the most painful moments in my life…

  5. northsidegoat says:
    (link)

    I hate that Bartman is ever brought up with that loss. The ball was in the stands. After that (foul ball), Alex Gonzalez made an error and the marlins scored five more runs. End of story.

  6. Nate says:
    (link)

    Treme is a really great show….ya’ll should check it out sometime.

  7. Eddie says:
    (link)

    I hate this team. And I hate myself for loving this team.

  8. Paulie Allnuts

    Paulie Allnuts says:
    (link)

    @Goose:

    I feel your pain. However, perhaps it is good to know that the Cubs perpetual futility is not the fault of managers, owners, or players, but rather a spiritual issue, which will likely require an exorcism.

    @TommyR:

    You are correct – my mistake. in 1944, Newhouser won the MVP, rang up a 29–9 record, leading the league in wins and strikeouts (187). His 2.22 ERA was second in the league, and thus he feel short by a smidgen of winning what is sometimes called the Pitchers “Triple Crown”. Newhouser named MVP.

    In 1945, he repeated as MVP. This time, he won the pitcher’s Triple Crown, leading the American League in wins (25, against nine losses), ERA (1.81) and strikeouts (212). He then won two games in the World Series to help his team to the World Championship, including the deciding seventh game.

    In 1946, he went 26–9 with a 1.94 ERA, again leading the league in wins and ERA. Newhouser was runner-up in the MVP race to Ted Williams.

  9. Graymerica9 says:
    (link)

    Great research, really enjoyed the read!

  10. Paulie Allnuts

    Paulie Allnuts says:
    (link)

    @Flubbies:

    Thanks! Perhaps it was…

    @Airweino:

    The best I can say is that perhaps reading of these events could possibly be a cathartic experience.

    @northsidegoat:

    Perhaps you are correct. Although, being a fan of the Mets, I could assure you that any fan who showed any inclination of attempting to go after that ball would have been mugged before he could act.

    @Nate:

    Will do

    @Eddie:

    I guess it is traumatic to understand that there is no human being alive who experienced the last time the Cubs ruled the baseball universe.

  11. Paulie Allnuts

    Paulie Allnuts says:
    (link)

    @Graymerica9:

    Thanks! Becoming an avid fantasy baseball fan actually set the stage for exploring baseball’s colorful and at times outrageous history.

  12. Fletch says:
    (link)

    @grey: Is J. Upton or McCutchen straight up for Gallardo fair?

  13. HBP in the Gloamin says:
    (link)

    Yeah the fact that Alex Gonzalez booted a routine grounder despite leading all national league SS in fielding percentage that year (.984) is inexplicable. It’s enough to make you believe in curses or something.

  14. Eddy says:
    (link)

    Very nice, Paulie! I can finally say I’m well-versed with the background of the Billy Goat curse.

    And I want to agree with northsidegoat. If you guys caught the countdown of MLB’s greatest 20 games (the Marlins- Cubs game was on there), you would have seen Bob Costas bring up a very good point. If Alou had not reacted the way he did immediately after the catch (he stomped the ground, screamed in frustration and threw his glove on the floor), would Steve Bartman have had less hostility directed toward him? The fact of the matter is that the stadium took it’s cues from Alou. Had he walked away and gotten ready for the next pitch, Bartman probably never hides his face from the public ever again.

    But, hey, it happens.

    And it netted my favorite team a championship and officially got me into the sport of baseball.

  15. This is depressing. Thanks for making me sad.

  16. Josh says:
    (link)

    Wait til next year!

  17. Great report, Paulie! As a life-long Cubs fan and baseball historian, I never can get enough of this outrageous franchise! As sad as this team continues to be, I just don’t know how not to be a Cub fan. Keep the great blogs coming!

    *Luis Castillo, not Juan, of the Marlins, hit that Alou-heat sinking foul ball in that heartbreaking season of ’03.

  18. Paulie Allnuts

    Paulie Allnuts says:
    (link)

    @HBP in the Gloamin:

    Whether there is a curse or not, the Cubs have managed to blow chances in bizarre and almost inexplicable fashion.

    @Eddy:

    There is something quite odd, come to think of it, with the Marlins winning 2 World Championships, and still looking for their first Division Title.

    @freak:

    The Cubs are frequently a source of melancholia.

    @Josh:

    The War-Cry of the Brooklyn Dodgers. And then, 1955 became next year.

    @Paddy Ballgame:

    Thanks. Again, correct; another typo.

  19. AL KOHOLIC says:
    (link)

    once again youve given us a great story for the day,i love when you tail off the main story line to tell us about Ruths scorless streak and such,plus hearing all the hall of famers that were a part of this story,awesome work Paulie thanks. Fox had a special on about Duke tonight,i recorded it and will talk to you later about it

  20. Paulie Allnuts

    Paulie Allnuts says:
    (link)

    @AL KOHOLIC:

    Thanks, Kelly. It was guys like you and Simply Fred who inspired me to go in that direction. In a real sense, Razzball and fantasy baseball pointed my star towards a second career.

    Now, if you guys would stop whuppin’ my butt in our RCL, I will feel much better about things!

  21. wire says:
    (link)

    whats your feeling on mauer? When does he return and what are the realistic expecations?

  22. Mr. Neutron says:
    (link)

    Actually, 1906 was only the fourth-best season of all time….in Cubs history.

    It was the best of the 20th century, though.

  23. Paulie Allnuts

    Paulie Allnuts says:
    (link)

    @Mr. Neutron:

    The Cubs 1906 season was the greatest in modern baseball history, which most historians would state began in 1893, when the pitching mound was extended to 60’6″. Howver, the Chicago team also had a long dynastic reign in from 1880 – ’86. They won the National League pennant 5 times in 7 years from 1880-1886. The 1880 squad had a winning percentage of .798, the best in their illustrious history.They also posted a winning percentage of .788 in 1876, also winning the pennant, and .777 in 1885, the year they tied the St. Louis Browns 3-3 in a nascent version of the World Series.

  24. KCC26 says:
    (link)

    Currently rostering Aaron Hill, Allen Craig, Danny Espinosa, and Brett Lawrie in a league with a middle infield spot and another utility spot. too many 2b here? whos the most irrelevant?

  25. AL KOHOLIC says:
    (link)

    shields finnaly gets hit

  26. AL KOHOLIC says:
    (link)

    @Paulie Allnuts: ha,im up but theres 3 or 4 in position to overtake me if i slipp,tough league,just when i think ive covered my angles we have 2 more big trades that make me reasess my team,great fun

  27. Paulie Allnuts

    Paulie Allnuts says:
    (link)

    @KCC26:

    I would say Craig is the most irrelevant, although it is still unclear when Lawrie will get the call up to Toronto.

    @wire:

    Mauer is probably still 2-3 weeks away from being activated. I would be cautious on expectations; long-term health is the issue. He would, of course, be better off changing positions at this point in his career, but seems adamant about continuing to catch.

    @AL KOHOLIC:

    Thats tough for the Rastard. His pitching is falling apart at the seams. I am empathic with a wrecked pitching staff.

    @AL KOHOLIC:

    Yes, it is a tough league and a great deal of fun, but I would still see you as the favorite going into the All-Star Break. Watch out for Psychotoad!

  28. wiudavis says:
    (link)

    I need a drink! I didn’t even want to read the parts that I have witnessed.

  29. Princess Sparrowhawk says:
    (link)

    Another excellent bit of baseball history told in an informative and humerous way. When’s the book coming out???

  30. Would you trade Grady, Pence and Billingsley for Matt Holiday, Choo and Putz? I might need the saves more than what Bills gives me, which is a some K’s and a headache every week cause I never know when to start him…

  31. Paulie Allnuts

    Paulie Allnuts says:
    (link)

    @wiudavis:

    Again, sorry to have increased the trauma of lifetime fans of the Cubs.

    @Princess Sparrowhawk:

    Thank you Princess! hopefully, the book will be out for the Christmas season.

  32. Lou says:
    (link)

    I hate Steve Bartman…..Cubs win no doubt if Alou catches that ball for out #2.

    Worst franchise in sports.

  33. Lou says:
    (link)

    And anyone who doesn’t think the Bartman play impacted the game (and series) is a god d*mn moron.

  34. AL KOHOLIC says:
    (link)

    @Paulie Allnuts: ha,added trauma,you have a great gift of telling a story and kepping it very interesting paulie,you make it fun to read and i really dont read anything boring,yet ive always enjoyed your article,go for the gold my friend

  35. Paulie Allnuts

    Paulie Allnuts says:
    (link)

    @AL KOHOLIC:

    Thanks again, Kelly; does this mean that you are going to give me a nice deal on a closer?

  36. Chris says:
    (link)

    Fantastic article, Paulie.

    Really enjoyed reading about this Cubs’ history in such detail, especially the stuff that came before the 90’s. Such a long and tortured existence for this franchise these last 100+ years.

  37. Paulie Allnuts

    Paulie Allnuts says:
    (link)

    @Chris:

    Thanks Chris. Although, as a fan of the White Sox, I don’t think that your empathy cuts that deeply:)

  38. Wonko says:
    (link)

    Again, a great read, Paulie! I can see where your niece gets her writing chops!

  39. Dodie says:
    (link)

    What an interesting tale of baseball history. I found it humorous and well-written. Thanks for sharing.

  40. EVILEVIES says:
    (link)

    Love you work Paulie!!

  41. Nate says:
    (link)

    Oh, Paulie Allnuts wrote this article? My bad, you’re old school Razz, sorry for my purposely off-topic #6 post mocking perceived off-topic Razzball subject matter then.

    You sir…are the man. I’ll give you more eyes and less mouth on the next post you write (<— way dirty sounding).

  42. Pete says:
    (link)

    Great article. Love the baseball history & anecdotes! Keep it up

  43. the bat rastard says:
    (link)

    Great Job bro….didnt really know the whole scoop about the goat. And yes shields got bombed. Dont have to rub it in….lol. Gonna put the voodoo curse on Kelly……your going down man…lol.

  44. Paulie Allnuts

    Paulie Allnuts says:
    (link)

    @Wonko:

    Thank you, Wonko. My neice has an awesome life; hopefully, writing skills is the only thing she inherited from me. In fact, I hope that is the case with all of my nieces, all talented beyond my wildest dreams.

    @Dodie:

    Thanks, Dodie! Grey will be excited that he has another female fan. They are in short supply at Razzball.

    @EVILEVIES:

    Thanks, Evil One!

    @Pete:

    Thanks, Pete!

    @the bat rastard:

    Thanks, Rastard. Appreciate the support. All pitchers that are active on your team this week are poison, it seems.

  45. George Lutes says:
    (link)

    Again with the nice work, Paulie. Keep it up. I love reading these.

  46. Cory (Tomahawk Chop) says:
    (link)

    Great article Paulie! I didn’t know the whole story about this beforehand, but found this to be really fascinating. I’m looking forward to reading more of your work.
    Also, I hope your teams are doing well this year!

Comments are closed.