Mysterious Island: THE CURSE OF THE BILLY GOAT

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 This is the story of a goat.  Or more precisely, it is the story of a goat and a professional baseball team.

If you are a baseball fan, you know exactly what I’m talking about.  I am referring, of course, to the “Curse of the Billy Goat” and the Chicago Cubs, pride of the Windy City.

While the “Curse of the Billy Goat” has little if anything to do with Catalina Island (some have said the goat was originally from Catalina), the connection between the Cubbies and Catalina is the stuff of local legend.

 This is the story of a goat.  Or more precisely, it is the story of a goat and a professional baseball team.

If you are a baseball fan, you know exactly what I’m talking about.  I am referring, of course, to the “Curse of the Billy Goat” and the Chicago Cubs, pride of the Windy City.

While the “Curse of the Billy Goat” has little if anything to do with Catalina Island (some have said the goat was originally from Catalina), the connection between the Cubbies and Catalina is the stuff of local legend.

Beginning in 1921 and continuing for the next three decades, William Wrigley Jr., and later his son Philip, would bring their beloved Cubbies to their beloved island for spring training.  

With the exception of the war years, the town of Avalon celebrated the arrival of their hardball heroes each spring with parades up and down Front Street, parties galore and a string of exhibition games at Catalina’s own version of Wrigley Field, which was located just this side of the golf course.

And it was during those years that “the curse” first reared its ugly head. From 1876 to 1945, the Chicago Cubs were one of the most successful and celebrated baseball teams in the nation.  During that era, they would have 51 winning seasons, win 16 National League pennants and go to the World Series ten times. During one season in particular, they racked up a record 116 wins (tied only in 2001 by the Seattle Mariners) and posted a winning percentage of .763, a record which still stands today.

Then the goat thing happened.

On Oct. 6, 1945, a gentleman by the name of William “Billy Goat” Sianis, came to see a Cubs game at Wrigley Field with his pet goat, Murphy.  Sianis was a Cubs fan and the owner of the Billy Goat Tavern at 1855 West Madison Street in Chicago.

This was no ordinary game, mind you.  This was Game 4 of the World Series and the Cubs were up two games to one over the Detroit Tigers. Two more wins and another World Series title would belong to the City of the Big Shoulders.

While there are a number of accounts of what happened next, the differences between them are minimal.  It went something like this: Park ushers at the gate at Wrigley Field barred Sianis from entering with the goat stating that no animals were allowed in the park.  Apparently, P. K. Wrigley himself was standing nearby and Mr. Sianis begged him to let the goat in, claiming that Murphy was a “lucky goat” and would bring fortune to the Cubs.

“Let Billy in,” said Mr. Wrigley.  “But not the goat.”

Sianis, somewhat flustered, asked “Why not the goat?”

“Because the goat stinks,” came Mr. Wrigley’s reply.

According to the legend, and just about every account I could find, Sianis threw his hands up in the air in frustration and blurted out, “The Cubs, they ain’t gonna win no more.”

With those eight words, it was official:  the Cubs were cursed.  Chicago not only lost the game that day, Game 4, but were swept at home and lost the remaining games of the Series.

But it didn’t end there.

Reportedly, Sianis later sent Mr. Wrigley a telegram further expounding on his curse:  “The Cubs will never win a World Series so long as the goat is not allowed in Wrigley Field,” he supposedly said.

For the next 20 years, which amounted to most of the rest of Sianis’ life, the Cubs would finish each season in fifth place or lower.  From 1946 to 2003, they would only have 15 winning seasons and finish in first place only three times without a single pennant to show for it.  Though they went to the World Series 10 times before 1946, they have yet to go back there even once in the intervening 70 years.

There have been a number of attempts to “reverse” or somehow lift the curse over the decades, including one attempt in 1973 when Sianis’ nephew, Sam Sianis, escorted a goat named “Socrates” (a descendent of Murphy, the original goat) to Wrigley Field in a white limousine.  “All is Forgiven.  Let me lead the Cubs to the pennant,” read a sign they carried. Incredibly, the ushers once again denied entrance to the goat.  The result?  The Cubbies saw their mid-season first place position whither away to another dismal season.

The year 1984 saw the first glimmer of hope:  the Tribune Company, the team’s owners at the time, invited Sam Sianis and his goat out onto the field.  This was an official invitation.  No being turned away by ushers this time.At the agreed upon moment, Sam raised his hat and said “The curse is lifted.”  It evidently worked, as the Cubs won their way to their first post season play and division title in nearly 40 years.  They took the first two games of the N. L. Championship series against the San Diego Padres and were only one win away from their first World Series (and three games to do it in) when disaster struck.

When it came time to travel to San Diego for the game and their appointment with destiny,  Sam and his goat waited for the call from the team to go along.  But the call never came.  Sam and his goat were completely forgotten and left behind in Chicago. The Cubs lost the next two of three games, but were leading the Padres 3-2 in the seventh inning—only 2 1/2 innings from the World Series—when an eerie chain of botched plays resulted in the Padres sweeping the Cubs out of their chance.

There have been a number of other close calls over the years; near misses with greatness.   

But the fact remains that the Chicago Cubs have yet to see another pennant, let alone another World Series.

Editor’s Note:  Jim Watson is the author of “Mysterious Island: Catalina,” available on Amazon, Kindle and in stores in Avalon.

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