Oh Great, Friday the Thirteenth

For those that suffer from paraskavedekatriaphobia this is a day where you just want to stay in bed and pull the covers over the top of you and wait out the clock. Medical and mental health professionals would have you to believe that there is nothing to this myth that Friday the 13th is bad luck (knock on wood). They will tell you that it is a mental block that must be overcome for you to lead a normal and productive life. What kind of normal and productive life could you lead if you were bad luck? No, I am not buying that at all. The concept of luck, both good and bad, has had way too much influence on my life to try and ignore them on a day like today. There is probably no industry that understands this better than baseball. Superstition and baseball go together like the “idiotic Doug Mientkiewicz” and hoof and mouth disease; you just can’t have one without the other. The history of the game is filled with accounts of how luck and superstition have played a role in baseball.

The most well known and most often told story about superstition and baseball has to be the tale of the “Curse of the Bambino”. While the curse was initially described in a jokingly manner, it soon became a mantra for the Boston Red Sox and their fans. There was absolutely no other way to explain how the Red Sox could go 86 years without winning a World Series. Had it not been for Red Sox owner Harry Frazee selling probably the greatest player in the history of baseball to the hated Yankees so that he could finance a Broadway musical, fortunes would have been completely different in New England. Throughout the years people tried everything to “reverse the curse”. They pulled pianos out of ponds, they had voodoo doctors recite incantations hoping to appease the gods, nothing seemed to work. Finally in 2004 the Red Sox were able to beat their demons and the St. Louis Cardinals for the World Championship. What is interesting about that World Series is that it is the first World Series where a total lunar eclipse occurred during the game. Some say it was an aligning of the heavenly bodies that broke the curse. Others claim that the Babe finally winked darkening the heavens signifying that Boston had suffered enough. Whatever the case, the curse was lifted and Boston has enjoyed not one but two championships in the course of 3 years.

The struggles of the Boston Red Sox and their fans pale in comparison with those of the Chicago Cubs. This season will mark 100 years since the Chicago Cubs were last crowned World Champions. What is even worse is that it has been 63 years since the Chicago Cubs were last in the World Series. That is a drought that predates a fairly large chunk of their entire fan base. Ineptitude of that magnitude cannot be accomplished with just one curse. It takes a suite of curses to get you to fail for a whole century. So what is the recipe for a 100-year curse?

You have to start with a strong foundation from which you can build additional bad luck. In the Cubs case they have the perfect foundation, “The Curse of the Billy Goat”. This curse began in 1945 which happened to be the last time that the Cubs made it to the World Series. At that time a Greek immigrant and tavern owner named Billy Sianis had two box seats to Game 4 of the World Series between the Cubs and the Detroit Tigers. Billy didn’t seem to have many friends or at least none that wanted to go to a Cubs game so he decided that day to take his pet goat Murphy to the game. As a season ticket holder who goes to about every game he can, I can totally relate. There are just certain times when it’s hard to find someone to go to the game with you. I have to admit, I have never resorted to taking a goat to a Diamondbacks game. I once sat next to a lady that looked like a goat and I’d love to see Rally Sally eaten by a goat but that’s about as close as I have come. The goat had its own story. It was injured when it fell off a truck and limped into Billy’s bar. Billy nursed it back to health and decided to celebrate his friend’s health with a ball game. Billy had a blanket that he put over Murphy the goat. The blanket said, “We got Detroit’s goat”. That’s a lot more original and funny than Rally Sally’s flags so I would have definitely welcomed the goat with open arms. It appears that the ticket takers at Wrigley Field were of like mind as they allowed both Billy and Murphy to enter the game and head to their seats. The fans were eating this up. Somehow Billy got Murphy down onto the playing field and paraded him around in front of the cheering crowd. Soon though security approached Bill Sianis and asked that he remove his goat, not just from the playing field but from the stadium. There was an argument and the goat stayed. At some point during the game it started to rain. As Murphy got wet he began to emit a very distinct odor that the other fans deemed offensive. Complaints reached Cubs owner Philip Wrigley who insisted that Billy remove the goat. Since Murphy had a ticket Billy felt he should be allowed to stay. There was another heated argument and Billy and Murphy were ejected from the stadium. Billy was outraged at how he and Murphy were treated and he placed a curse on the Chicago Cubs that they would never win another pennant or play in a World Series at Wrigley Field again because they had insulted his goat. The Cubs lost Game 4 of that series and ultimately the 1945 World Series. Billy Sianis who was by then vacationing in his homeland of Greece took the opportunity to write to Philip Wrigley a letter containing the following quote, “Who stinks now?” Since this infamous curse was placed upon the Cubs and Wrigley Field it has remained steadfast.

The goat is not the only animal to play a part in cursing the Chicago Cubs. In 1969 the Cubs had a late season lead of 9 ½ games over the New York Mets. It looked as though the “Curse of the Billy Goat” was finally going to be lifted. On September 9, 1969 the Cubs were playing the Mets and a black cat ran onto the field. The cat immediately made its way to the Cubs side of the field and ran circles around the on-deck circle and a confused Ron Santo. The Cubs would end up losing that game along with 12 of the next 20 and finish second to the New York Mets. It is one of the largest collapses in baseball history. The Mets would go on to play the Baltimore Orioles beating them 4-1 in the series for their first World Series championship. They would go down in history known as the “Miracle Mets”. The Cubs collapse would go on to be known as the “Curse of the Black Cat”.

Curses can sometimes intertwine which makes it even more eerie. Take for example the events of 1984 and 1986. In 1984 The Cubs were primed to go to the World Series. They had made the playoffs and were facing the San Diego Padres. The Cubs won the first 2 games of that series and it looked again like the “Curse of the Billy Goat” and the “Curse of the Black Cat” were finally going to end. The Padres would come back and beat the Cubs in games 4 and 5 to tie the series at 2-2 in a best of 5. In that deciding game the Cubs were winning 3-2 in the 7th inning with the Padres having a runner at second. A ground ball was hit to first baseman Leon Durham who normally would pick the ball up, touch first and keep the Cubs ahead. Inexplicitly, the ball rolled between Durham’s legs allowing the Padres to score. Two batters later San Diego would take the lead and win the game keeping both curses alive. Two years later the Boston Red Sox would be in the World Series playing against the New York Mets. In game 6 of that series a ball was hit to first baseman Bill Buckner who like Durham would misplay it through his legs allowing the winning run to score for the Mets who would go on to win the World Series. That in itself would be an interesting coincidence but there’s more to the story. Close up pictures would show that Bill Buckner, a former Chicago Cub, was actually wearing a Chicago Cubs batting glove. Many believe that it was the Cubs curse that actually cost the 1986 Red Sox the championship and not the “Curse of the Bambino”.

Finally there is the most recent curse in Chicago Cubs history. This one is not so much a curse as a guy just being at the wrong place at the wrong time. Steve Bartman had a ticket to the 2003 play-offs between the Chicago Cubs and the Florida Marlins. Sitting along the left-field line for much of the game, he was enjoying watching the Cubs beating the Marlins. It looked as though these curses would finally dissipate and order would be restored. A foul ball was hit down the line and Cubs outfielder Moises Alou ran over to catch it. Bartman reached over and deflected the ball and Alou missed it. Momentum swung the other direction and the Marlins would erase the deficit and go on to win the game and ultimately the series. Bartman was vilified and ended up going into seclusion after threats were made against his family and friends. As far as the Cubs were concerned, a new curse was born. Alou would finally 5 years later admit that he would not have been able to get to the ball regardless of whether Bartman was there or not. I’m sure Steve Bartman would have appreciated it if Alou would have come forward a little sooner than half a decade later.

So now here we are at almost the mid-point of the 2008 season. The Chicago Cubs have the best record in all of baseball and are leading their division by 3 ½ games over the St. Louis Cardinals. Cubs fans everywhere are projecting that this is the year that these curses will all finally be overturned. No curse can go more than 100 years, can it? On June 12 Cubs left fielder Alfonso Soriano was hit in the hand by a pitch breaking his left ring finger. He will be out 4-6 weeks. At the time Soriano was leading the team in home runs and was in the top 5 of numerous offensive categories. Is this a coincidence or are we about to witness another collapse by the boys on the Northside of Chicago?

I don’t know about the rest of you but I am going to be extremely careful as I make my way to the ballpark tonight. I’ve got my lucky shirt on, I’m wearing my lucky hat, I have a 4-leaf clover in my wallet, my lucky penny in my pocket, and I’m using a new scorebook. I’m not so much hoping for a Diamondbacks win tonight, I am just taking the necessary precautions so that we can survive this game without something catastrophic happening. There are still 95 games to play for the Diamondbacks. Now is not the time to anger the baseball Gods who could invoke a curse that can’t be broken.

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