Friday, October 7, 2016

The "Curse of the Billy Goat" - It's not what it once was.

Take Heart Cubs’ Fans – there is no curse – it was lifted in 1950.

The Daily Clintonian (Clinton, Indiana), January 5, 1951, page 7.
As the Chicago Cubs, owners of the best record in Major League Baseball for 2016 with 103 wins, get ready to face the Wild-Card San Francisco Giants in the first game of the Division Series, many Cubs’ fans (and perhaps players) may be worried about shaking the “Curse of the Billy Goat.”  But take heart, Cubs’ fans, there is no curse.  

Billy Sianis – or rather his goat – lifted the curse in September 1950.  If the Cubs fold in this post-season, it may be for the same reasons they have folded every season since 1951 – namely bad luck, random coincidence, or (perish the thought) poor play.

The curse arose before game four of the 1945 World Series between the Chicago Cubs and the Detroit Tigers.  An usher refused Sianis’ goat admission to Wrigley Field despite having a valid, paid ticket.

As recalled in 1976 by a reporter who had covered the event thirty years earlier: 

“They smell,” was his reason.

Whereupon Billy Goat smote the Chicago Cubs with his legendary curse that has caused grown men to weep, shudder and carry on stomach conniptions.  He pointed a gnarled finger and decreed that the Cubs would win no more pennants and that the Detroit Tigers would win four straight.

The Detroit Tigers won four straight.

The Cubs haven’t won a pennant since.

Billy Goat sent a cryptic three-word telegram to P. K. Wrigley: “NOW,” was is triumphant message, “who stinks.”

Ed Hercer, Delaware County Daily Times (Chester, Pennsylvania), July 1, 1976, page 6.

Sianis may have been particularly bitter, since he had used his goat to taunt the Detroit Tigers in a publicity photo of the goat, “draped in a banner reading, ‘WE GOT DETROIT’S GOAT’”.[i] 

(At the time, the expression, “Get My Goat,” did not exclusively mean “to get someone angry”; it was also used to express the sense of sapping someone of their will to fight, or getting them out of their game. See my earlier post, Getting Goats, Losing Goats, Stable Goats and Navy Goats – a History and Etymology of “Get My Goat”.)

Jim Gallagher, the Vice President of the Cubs, explained the circumstances of the origin and lifting of the curse in a widely reported wire-service story in January 1951:

Chicago (INS) – The Chicago Cubs are looking forward to their best baseball season in five years because the hex of William “Billy Goat” Sianis has left them.

The curse befell the Cubs during the 1945 World Series with the Detroit Tigers.  The Chicagoans lost that series.  The next year they fell to third, then sixth in 1947. In 1948 and 1949 they were eighth.  Last season they finished seventh.
Vice President Jim Gallagher [(of the Cubs)] explains that the trouble came to the club when Sianis purchased two tickets to one of the World Series games.  One ticket was for Sianis and the other was for his billy goat.

But the Cubs refused to admit the goat despite the ticket.  This angered Sianis and he shouted that the Cubs would never win another National League pennant nor a World Series until they apologized.

Four years passed and the Cubs went from bad to worse.  Then near the end of last year the little Chicago bar owner with a beard like a billy goat wrote a letter to one of the city’s newspapers.  He asked:

“Why don’t owner Phil Wrigley and Vice President Jim Gallagher of the Chicago Cubs apologize to my goat and let their team win games again instead of staying in or near the basement?

“My goat is ready to accept the apology and take the hex off the Cubs.”
A letter of apology came from Wrigley to the goat in the last two weeks of September and Sianis and the goat once again wished the Cubs good luck.
. . .
Gallagher says there is “just no telling what might happen in 1951 without the billy goat hex.”

 The Akron Beacon Journal (Ohio), January 7, 1951, page 33 (International News Service).

Wrigley's apology paid immediate dividends:

Last week, in desperation, Wrigley wrote Sianis asking him "please extend to Murphy my most sincere and abject apologies - and ask him to remove the hex."

Sianis read the letter to Murphy.  Since then the Cubs - now in seventh place - have won several ball games.

Minneapolis Star (Minnesota), September 22, 1950, page 44.

If the Cubs do fold in the post-season, well, they can always “Wait’ll Next Year.”

If this season is not enough to sate your appetite for Cubs’ successes, relive those thrilling days of yesteryear with “Tinkers to Evers to Chance.”

Just don’t blame it on the goat – the curse was lifted sixty-five years ago.

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