Curses! Cubs haunted by history
Franchise continues to fight against its past misfortunes
CHICAGO -- Derrek Lee knows the story.
After all, he helped write it.
"Well, it's something [where] you have to answer the questions," said Lee, the Cubs first baseman who led the Marlins past his present team in the 2003 National League Championship Series. "Obviously you're going to get that. But it's something you can't concern yourselves with. It's something that we have no control over.
"You know, we're just here in 2007 trying to win a championship. All we can concern ourselves with is the things we can take care of and handle, and that's in between the white lines."
In between those white lines, and once in 2003 just outside of the white line down the left-field side of Wrigley Field, the Cubs have been unable to do whatever it takes to win a world championship every year dating back to 1908. But they about make their first postseason appearance at Wrigley since Lee and those Marlins somehow knocked them out, and in some respects it doesn't really matter if they win their NL Division Series against the Diamondbacks or indeed if they ever win it all.
It's just such a great story.
And there is always a moral.
1908: Pay or you'll pay
The Cubs team that won the 1908 World Series was one of the mightiest in the game's history, becoming the first repeat champ and setting the foundation for supposed greatness. But that five-game World Series also was the most poorly attended Fall Classic in history. There were only 6,210 fans for the finale in Detroit. No one cared. Attendance in Chicago reportedly was harmed by a ticket-scalping scheme that fans accused the club's owner of participating in, and the Series was boycotted to an extent.
Moral of the story: Go to the games. Which they do nowadays.
1918: Curse of the Bambino
Everyone knows that the Red Sox ended the Curse of the Bambino by winning the 2004 World Series. But what few people realize is that a curse like that doesn't get eliminated, it just gets handed off. It was given to the Cubs. After all, it was in that 1918 World Series, the last one Boston had won until 2004, that Babe Ruth won two games, including a 1-0 complete-game shutout in the opener to start off a six-game Series victory. The Cubs, who had posted the Majors' best record at 84-45 in a war-shortened season, settled into a groove of near-missing that became their trademark. And Ruth, sold by Boston to the Yanks, would eventually hit his famous "Called Shot" home run at Wrigley in the 1932 World Series. In hindsight, it's the Cubs' curse.
Moral of the story: Buy or trade for a Babe Ruth if one's out there. The Cubs acquired key free agents like Alfonso Soriano, Ted Lilly and Mark DeRosa for 2007, and they found a pretty big-name manager in Lou Piniella. Add them up and it's been almost Ruthian.
1945: Curse of the Billy Goat
"They should be concerned," Sam Sianis told MLB.com this week in an interview at his Billy Goat Tavern in Wrigleyville. "I don't think the curse is going to be broken."
He was talking, of course, about the Curse of the Billy Goat. Yes, this club now has two curses working against it, one original and one it just inherited. Sianis' uncle, Billy Sianis, is credited with this one. Billy owned the tavern and had a pair of $7.50 box seats to Game 4 of the 1945 World Series against the Tigers. He wanted to bring along his pet goat, Murphy. They both showed up and were even paraded around, but they were tossed out of the park before the game's conclusion because owner Phil Wrigley reportedly objected to the goat's smell. Irate, Billy Sianis is said to have placed a curse on the Cubs, who went on to lose the game and the World Series -- their last one to date.
Moral of the story: Put a little permanent goatpen inside Wrigley Field and have a goat there for every game played until the Cubs win it all. This seems like a no-brainer for John McDonough, often considered the giant of MLB club marketing gurus before ascending this year to Cubs president. It's not about having the goat show up for a game; it's about making a goatpen and being nice to an animal.
"With the time left, they all have to get together, and don't think about this or that. If they do good, the Billy Goat's going to help them out," Sam Sianis said. "There's still a curse, but sometimes the curse can be over. They have to say something good about the goat, [not] 'Who cares about the goat?' The people, they do believe in the curse."
1964: Brock for Broglio
Arguably the worst trade in baseball history occurred on June 15, 1964. The Cubs gave up on speedy outfielder Lou Brock and dealt him to the Cardinals for pitcher Ernie Broglio as part of a six-player deal. Brock helped the Cardinals to that year's world championship, won another World Series with St. Louis in 1967, and became a Hall of Famer. Broglio was out of baseball by 1966.
Moral of the story: Keep a Lou Brock. The Cubs recently extended the contract of Carlos Zambrano and held onto Aramis Ramirez as well. You never know. Maybe one of them will become a Hall of Famer.
1969: The black cat at Shea
The Cubs held a nine-game lead on Aug. 16 over both the Mets and Cardinals. Entering their game with the Mets at Shea Stadium on Sept. 9, the lead was down to 1 1/2 games. During the first inning of that night's game, a black cat made its way on to the field and ran in front of the Cubs' dugout and right past third baseman Ron Santo, who stood in the on-deck circle. The Mets won the game, 7-1, and gave the Cubs their sixth loss in a stretch in which they dropped 11 of 12 games. Those Amazin' Mets, meanwhile, won their fourth game in a run of 10 straight, and later won nine in a row to clinch the division on the way to their first world championship. The Cubs finished eight games back.
Moral of the story: Spay or neuter your pet.
1984: Through Leon Durham's legs
After winning the first two games of their best-of-five series with the Padres in lopsided fashion, the Cubs needed just one win to make their first trip back to the World Series. As fate would have it, the North Siders lost all three, the coup de grace coming when Tim Flannery's pinch-grounder went through Durham's legs at first. San Diego scored on the play to tie the game, and went on to a 6-3 victory.
Moral of the story: Get home field advantage. These things don't happen inside the Friendly Confines.
You don't even have to say the first name (Steve) anymore. "Bartman" has become an adjective and a verb, however you want to use it. Cubs fans know what you mean. Diamondbacks fans in Arizona simply held signs that read "Bartman." After all this time, facts don't even seem to matter in the story. It's almost like he single-handedly ended the Cubs' season in that NLCS against Florida. Those who were there will recall that the Cubs blew the game all by themselves, and that he made for a pretty nice scapegoat. (Speaking of goats.)
The Cubs went back from Florida to Chicago with a 3-2 series lead, and with aces Mark Prior and Kerry Wood lined up next as starters, it seemed like a formality that Chicago would be in a World Series again. But in the eighth inning, left fielder Moises Alou tried to reach into the stands to catch a foul and Bartman, the guy with the Walkman and the windbreaker, was among several fans who reached for it (inside the stands, according to enhanced photos). It hit Bartman's hands, Florida got a second chance, and Alou threw his glove down like an angry Little Leaguer. The Cubs totally lost their cool, shortstop Alex Gonzalez blew a tailor-made double play, Prior melted down, the Marlins scored eight in the inning, and Florida won that game and Game 7.
Moral of the story: Accept blame. Alou is among those who did that in subsequent years, yet the Bartman legend remains.
Lilly, who started Game 2 for the Cubs, didn't have to be told the story when he came to Chicago. It has been passed along to just about everyone by now.
"Cubs fans haven't seen a World Series champion in 98 years," he said, "and they're still here with a lot of passion, enthusiasm -- and a lot of patience."
That kind of patience is just one of the lessons that you can learn from a story like this. Losing isn't always a bad thing; it's how you appreciate winning.
Mark Newman is enterprise editor for MLB.com. Associate reporter Marc Zarefsky contributed to this story. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.