Cubs 101 Pt. 5 - The 1945 Cubs and the Curse of the Goat
There is no such thing as the Billy Goat Curse. Let's get that out of the way first and foremost. Even if curses were real it would take more than a Greek tavern owner getting tossed from the stands with his pet for them to occur. There'd have to be blood and ceremony. Long-forgotten daemons would need their names to be invoked. Sacrifices would need to be made. Tribal dances around a midnight fire would need to be enacted. But try to tell that to a Cubs fan.
The 1945 Cubs were the last "great" Cubs team - and even then, the circumstances of their ascention have more to do with the war depleting the league of its stars. But there were a few legendary Cub players on the '45 squad who may otherwise avoid mention in this series, so let's take a look at them first.
A Chicago-born Cub, Cavaretta got his start with the team as a 17-year-old in 1934. He'd respond to that opportunity with a triple, a homer, and 6 RBI in 7 games and at the age of 18 ascended into a starter's role with the Cubs. He'd be their first baseman for close to two decades.
In 1945 Cavaretta was 28-years-old and the league's MVP. He'd lead the NL with a .355 AVG, a .449 OBP, and he'd drive in a career-best 97 RBI. Half a century later he remains one of the legendary Cubs, with only three first basemen playing more games for Chicago since his era.
Chances are he'll get more mention when we write about Phillip Knight Wrigley. Pafko was one of the last great center fielders to play in Chicago who was traded for a song in 1951. As a 24-year-old he led the '45 Cubs with 110 RBI and finished second on the team with 12 homeruns. In center field the Cubs eventually replaced him with Rick Monday and nobody else.
His name was William Sianis and he was a Greek owner of the Billy Goat Tavern in Chicago; the goat was named Murphy according to some legends. For whatever reason Sianis took to his goat and began to cultivate his own physical appearance to look billy-goatish. Sianis would travel around the city with Murphy, promoting his tavern in the process, and wisely or not also began taking Murphy to games at Wrigley Field.
During the regular season -- and the stories are that Sianis and Murphy made many regular season appearances -- it wasn't an issue for the goat to be in the park. It wasn't a big deal for him to sit in the stands. After all, baseball in the 40's - and especially in 1945 - was not as well attended as it is today. Nobody would have to sit close to Sianis, and if they were seated near him and noticed the now-legendary stink of the goat they could simply move. But that was not the case in October of 1945. Seven years removed from their last trip to the Series and with a war ending, Cub fans flocked to Wrigley like it was a Baseball Mecca and filled the park to its brim. When Billy-Goat Sianis appeared that day with Murphy - adorned in a "We Got Detroit's Goat" cape and permitted to circle the field before the game - despite having paid for his goat's ticket to the game, the stink became an issue.
Even then Cub fans at the game patiently put up with Murphy's stink for seven innings before finally they complained to the attendants and asked that Sianis be escorted from the stands. The story goes that it was P.K. Wrigley himself who personally issued the ejection. Furious about the expulsion, it was then that Sianis uttered the famous words, "Never again will a World Series be played in Chicago."
And they haven't.
64 years later after several harrowing near-misses (which would often occur under mysterious, heart-breaking circumstances) and there are absolutely rational people who, at the very least, take pause when talking about the Goat Curse. After all, did you not see the Black Cat of '69 and the collapse of the Cubs? Did you somehow miss the fact that the Cubs once held a 2 games to 0 lead over the Padres in '84 and carried series-clinching leads into the 5th inning or beyond over the course of three consecutive losses? Weren't you there when the invincible-looking Cubs held a 3 games 1 lead over the Marlins in 2003 as a lazy foul ball fell into the glove of Moises Alou only to be deflected by the notorious Steve Bartman?
Haven't you seen it happen? The bad luck, the unlikely circumstances, the heartbreak? All because of a damned goat!?
There are stories about tribal societies in which if the death hex is put on somebody who believes, sure enough that person will die in a matter of days. Sometimes the act of belief is enough to transcend reality. If enough Cub fans believe in the curse, if the players themselves feel it and believe it too - even a little bit - then doesn't that make it real?
The answer is "maybe." Even though Sianis did not practice dark magic on that autumn day in 1945, even though there was no blood, no summoning of Baezelbub, no curse issued because of an expelled, stinky goat, the Goat Curse is real in the hearts and minds of perhaps millions. The good news is that we've seen such strong curses broken - the Red Sox just did it a few years back and the White Sox immediately followed. But whether it's real or not, imagined or dreamt, the Goat Curse has defined an organization far more strongly than the real culprit of the problems we've seen - P.K. Wrigley. We'll touch on his story next time.
Check Coast to Coast Tickets for Hall of Fame Game tickets and more!