Cubs carry a devilish burden
By Michael M. Bates
This begins with an apology. Last June a column from your humble servant focused on Barack Obama's refusal, after initially approving the idea, to hold frequent town hall meetings with John McCain. I wrote: "When it comes to confronting McCain, however, Barack folds like the Cubs in September."
I was wrong. Not about the pusillanimous Obama, but about the Cubs folding in September. They made it all the way to October this year before folding like a cheap and, as in Barry's case, empty suit.
In spring training, pitcher Ryan Dempster predicted the Cubs would win the World Series this year. That sounded familiar. A year earlier, pitcher Carlos Zambrano ventured the same prophecy. That was about the time manager Lou Piniella spoke of instilling a "Cubbie swagger" in the team. Bet he'd love to have that line back.
Sweet Lou is no dummy. He's bound to realize that adding a little swagger, or a little arrogance, or a little bluster isn't going to make much difference. Not with the Cubs' unparalleled record of collapses.
For lots of fans, it was 1969 that stuck in the craw. The Cubs were in first place for more than five months. In mid-August, they held a 9½ game lead. Then disaster struck.
They lost 18 of their last 25 games. The New York Mets won 23 of their final 29 games and won the division going away. The Mets were, as advertised, amazin', particularly when you consider that in the franchise's entire history (before divisional play) the team ended up in tenth place for five years and ninth for two.
Cub fans had to wonder if the laughing stock of the league could have so handily dispatched any team other than Chicago. Some conjectured the Cubbies crumpled because of the notorious goat curse of 1945.
That was the last World Series the Cubs played in. The late Mike Royko wrote that in the last year of World War II anyone who could limp fast was in the military. At any rate, the Cubs were matched against Detroit.
Purchasing two tickets, one for his goat Sonovia, was Billy Goat bar owner Billy Sianis. Their enjoyment of the game was curtailed when other spectators complained the animal smelled worse than the Cubs. Sonovia and companion were ejected from the game.
Angry, Mr. Sianis placed a curse on the team. He pledged the Cubs would never again win it all. Though Sianis removed his hex in 1969, even writing a letter to owner P.K. Wrigley advising him of the joyful news, there's long been a suspicion the goat curse was to blame. Other loyalists trace the club's '69 disintegration to a black cat who took a leisurely stroll through the Cubbies' dugout during a game in New York that season.
The goat jinx was reimposed four years later when a Sianis nephew tried taking his goat to a Cubs game. Must be a family thing. By 1981, general manager Dallas Green and board chairman Andrew McKenna were begging for the goat to pay another visit to Wrigley Field to assuage past disappointments and let bygones be bygones.
Opening Day 1984 saw a Sianis goat again invited to see the Cubs. They managed to win their division that year and played the San Diego Padres for the National League championship. Leading by two games in the best-of-five series, the Cubs needed just one victory in the next three games. It wasn't to be.
More recently, the Cubs endured the ignominy of 2003. Five outs away from punching their ticket for the World Series, things developed as per usual. Something or someone had to be blamed. So many Cub aficionados made another fan the scapegoat, as though he were responsible for six unearned runs.
The team piously prepared for this year's playoffs. The Cubs' chairman arranged for a Greek Orthodox priest to sprinkle holy water on their dugout before the first game. A suburban rabbi said she'd been praying for the North Siders' success. A Muslim fan made plans to gather 100 of his coreligionists outside Wrigley Field to ask for Allah's intervention on behalf of their favorite team. A Catholic nun known for her winning football picks predicted the Cubs would fare better in the playoffs than the White Sox.
All the petitions for divine intercession proved futile. The hex that hangs over the Chicago Cubs comes from a much darker, much more potent agency than a spurned goat or a black cat or a fundamental penchant for choking. That may explain some of the failures, but not a hundred years' worth.
It's time to face it. The Chicago Cubs are possessed by the devil. Yes, that devil. Satan. Lucifer. Scratch. Beelzebub. What power other than the prince of darkness could or would have tormented millions of Cub fans for a full century and with such adeptness? It must be demonic possession of the highest order.
Only a full-blown exorcism can provide a reprieve. Exorcism remains a rite of the Church, one that was revised and upheld less than a decade ago. It may be the single act that can turn things around for the bedeviled Cubs. The team should take up a collection from its multimillionaire loafers and use it to find an exorcist willing to confront the devil that has had his wicked way for so many years at Wrigley Field.
Come to think of it, the Cubs might need more than one exorcist to take on the job. The forces of evil on the North Side are that strong.
This Mike Bates column appeared in the October 9, 2008 Reporter Newspapers.