The Cubs raced out to a 3-0 lead in the sixth
game of the National League Championship Series as they attempted
to their first trip to the Fall Classic in 58 years. Then somebody
notified the billygoat, resurrecting a curse that has been
the franchise since 1945. This time though, the billygoat turned
itself into a scapegoat, coming to life through one of the
Cubs own fans.
It was the top of the eighth inning. Wrigley
field was abuzz with the feeling of finally beating the curse.
Then a foul
fly went down the left field line. Moises Alou, the Cubs left
gave chase and appeared ready to make the catch as the ball
dropped into first row of the stands, when a fan’s hand
suddenly grabbed the ball before it reached Alou’s glove.
That play, and a costly error by shortstop Alex Gonzales, led
collapse for the Cubs and a historic comeback for the Marlins.
When it was over, the Marlins had scored eight runs en route
to an 8-3 victory.
That fan, 26-year-old Steve Bartman, suddenly
turned into the most-hated man in Chicago and the most famous
Gov. Jeb Bush offered Bartman a free three-month oceanfront
retreat in Pompano Beach if he needed to get out of Chicago.
Even Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich
joined the fans of Chicago in issuing a statement. “Nobody
can justify any kind of threat to someone who does something
stupid like reach for that
ball,” said Blagojevich an in article done by ESPN.com.
Bartman, a youth baseball coach,
was escorted out of Wrigley Field by security guards
after he was threatened
with debris. When he got home, police guards were posted outside
his home to make sure things didn’t get worse.
I had my eyes glued on the approaching ball the entire time
and was so caught up in the moment that I did not even
Alou, much less that he may have had a play,” Bartman
said in a statement.
The Cubs haven’t won a
World Series since 1908, and they haven’t played
in one since 1945.
Can the Chicago faithful really blame Bartman for nearly
a century of misery?
Or can they blame the billygoat
that started the Chicago curse?
The legend of the curse began
when a bar owner named William Sianis bought a ticket
for his billygoat for
game four of
the 1945 World Series against Detroit. The owner of the Cubs,
Wrigley, wanted the goat out of Wrigley Field. As legend
has it, Sianis cursed the Cubs as he left the stadium saying
there will never be a World Series played at Wrigley Field
again. The Cubs went on to lose the series and they haven’t
been back since.
Since then, the curse has struck
the Cubs in several crucial moments in the team’s
history. In 1969 the Cubs had a nine-game lead in the
middle of August when a black cat ran
in front of
the Cubs dugout. The Cubs promptly went on a season-ending
losing streak and missed the playoffs. The curse also made
during the 1984 NLCS when the Cubs had to win only one game
against the San Diego Padres but failed. The Padres won the
games to move onto the championship series. And now, in 2003,
that old curse showed up again.
Cub’s fans can never assume
thing, and they can’t assume that
Alou was going to make the catch. Yes, the ball was in
the stands but only by a few inches. Yes, Bartman had
right to the ball as the player. Should
Bartman have realized that the game was on the line and that Alou had a chance
to catch the ball to record the out? Sure he should have, but his instincts
as a ballplayer kicked in and he went for the ball. Chances
are Bartman did what
any fan would have done sitting in those seats, go after the ball. So we
really don’t know if Alou would of made the catch or
not. But try explaining that to the entire town of Chicago.
The Cubs themselves are not
taking the easy way out and blaming Bartman, but they
are looking at what slipped
away from them. They were up 3-1 in
and had to win just one game out of the last three to unchain that billygoat.
They failed to do so. The Cubs even had two of their best pitchers going
for them in game six and seven and had the leads in both of the games, but
Marlins managed to overcome the deficit to make it to their second World
Series in their
Hopefully the Cubs won’t have to wait for another
58 years to go the Fall Classic.
Enter the late Robert Stack in his
trademark trench coat and cool “Untouchable” hat, with a voice
that could make mysterious a Burger King commercial. Lots of ominous music
plays as he purposely ambles toward center
stage. Quick visuals of Porky Pig in pinstripes, Saturday Night Live’s “Goat
Boy” munching on a baseball cap, a solitary black cat running through
the grass. Stack, the consummate television detective type, stops on cue. The
music dims; he looks into the camera and addresses the audience with his staccato,
Good evening. In this episode of “Unsolved Baseball Mysteries,” we
will learn of billy goats, the Great Bambino, fate, destiny, irony, angst,
tragedy, and such baseball strategies as knowing when to take your ace pitcher
go to the bullpen. Is there a curse that keeps two of the games most-storied
franchises from winning the Fall Classic? Or are they merely seasoned experts
in the art of choking? And how many more bottles of Tums antacid were sold
this October in Boston and Chicago compared to similar markets?”
Slow fade and CUT to Subway commercial.
OK. All of us who have been holding our
breath for a Cubs-Red Sox World Series on the 100th anniversary
of the Classic, and
the inevitable world Apocalypse
that would surely follow, can relax. Hold onto your mortgage, and forget
precious metals. It’s safe to come out of the bomb shelters. After
weeks of high drama, disappointment, and downright throwing stuff across
the room, the 2003
World Series ended up pitting the New York Yankees, a team everybody loves
to hate (except their dark legions of evil fans), and the Florida Marlins,
League wild card entry. (For those of you who hate the Yanks, Yeah, I know…It’s
hard to root for a Fish? But we have no choice.)
Admit it. Everyone wanted to see
the Red Sox and Cubs. You, me,
especially the Fox TV executives who dreamed of viewer ratings
that would rival the first man on the moon and the last episode
Instead, we are left with the Bronx cheers,
I mean Bombers, and something that belongs on the bad end of
nice fishing tackle. Not that
are a good ball club: after falling in game one, they beat the San Francisco
Giants in three straight in the NL Divisional Series, and held off elimination
in the LCS by winning three straight over the Cubs.
For those of us who scoff at superstition,
maybe a little head scratching is in order. The Cubs and the
Sox were each five
outs away from clinching
to the 2003 World Series. The deciding game seemed to be in hand for both
teams. But curses aren’t easily broken. If they were, Indiana Jones
would still be a school teacher. If Robert Stack were still alive, I can
just picture him
pacing the foul line. Pacing and wondering.
The Cubs have their curse of the “billy-
goat,” and the Red Sox have
the “curse of the Bambino.” The Red Sox won five of the first
15 world series championships. In 1918, they won the Fall Classic against
with Babe Ruth pitching two of the victories. In 1920, Boston owner Harry
Frazee sold Ruth, “the Great Bambino,” to the Yankees for $125,000
and a $300,000-plus loan. They haven’t won a championship since “the
Ruth went on to slug 54 home runs for the 1919 Yankees, and New York won
all of its world championships after the Bambino became a Yankee.
The Red Sox didn’t make it back to
championship play until 1946, when they fell to the St. Louis
Cardinals four games to three. Boston had similar
in the 1967 series against St. Louis, in which Cardinal ace Bob Gibson pitched
three complete-game victories. Not bad for a pitcher who missed two months
of the season with a broken leg.
But probably the biggest case for
a curse was the 1986 World Series against the New York Mets.
Game six was deadlocked in a 3-3 tie after nine innings. In
the top of the 10th inning,
Boston’s Dave Henderson drove in
a leadoff homer and Wade Boggs later scored on a Marty Barrett single, putting
the Sox up 5-3. In the bottom of the 10th, Boston pitcher Calvin Schiraldi
retired the first two batters and it seemed the 68-year-old
curse would be lifted. But
Schiraldi gave up three straight singles and the Mets cut the lead to 5-4.
Boston reliever Bob Stanley came into the game, threw a wild
pitch, and the score was
tied at 5-5. And then came the play that personifies the agony of every Red
Sox fan. Still seeking the third out that would extend the
game, Stanley got New
York’s Mookie Wilson to a full count in a 10-pitch battle. Wilson grounded
right to Red Sox first base man Bill Buckner on what looked like a routine
out. But the ball went between Buckner’s legs, and the Met’s
Ray Knight came home to score the winning run. Boston fell 8-5 in Game 7,
been back until this season.
As the AL Wild Card entry, Boston drew the
rival Yankees in
the LCS, and the media had a heyday. Talk of the curse added
drama to an already tight series, but the actual results have
more to do with what happened
the field than with some mysterious outside force. In game seven, Boston
its ace, Pedro Martinez to match up with the Yanks’ Roger Clemens.
The Sox had a 5-2 lead in the bottom of the eighth inning, five outs away
trip to the Fall Classic. With runners at second and third, Red Sox manager
Grady Little went to the mound and talked with Martinez. Despite Boston’s
resurgent post-season bullpen, Little stuck with his ace. Martinez gave up
three runs before
leaving the game with the score tied at 5-5. The Yankees went on to break
heart in the bottom of the 11th inning when Aaron Boone hit a walk-off, game-winning
homer, giving the Bronx Bombers their 39th American League pennant.
So do these teams have a curse?
Or is it a creation of the media?
Perhaps all the media hype piles even more pressure on teams
that already feel the pressure of postseason play. One things
for sure: the anguished
the Red Sox and Cubs will have to wait at least another year. And although
Robert Stack is no longer with us, you can bet that the “Unsolved Baseball
Mysteries” will still be around then as well.