Columnist George Will once remarked that Cubs fans are “99.44 percent scar tissue.” Never was that observation more appropriate than today. As the Cubs open their National League division series with the Diamondbacks, the blue boys are more than 99 percent of the way to a century of futility.
Chicago has not won the World Series since 1908, the longest drought in North American professional sports by a wide margin.
Some fans believe this has to be the Cubs’ year, reasoning that 100 years of suffering is enough (as if reason has anything to do with the Cubs).
Some believe the karmic wheel is finally set to spin in the Cubs’ favor, just as it did for the long-suffering Red Sox in 2004, and the White Sox in 2005.
Far be it for me to rain on my brethren’s victory parade, but there is a century’s worth of evidence to suggest this black cloud is thicker than any other.
Nobody cast a curse over the Red Sox for trading Babe Ruth, or the White Sox for donning those horrid pajamas in the 1970s. Their fans simply conjured them.
But according to legend, there is a very real hex hanging over the Cubs, and the only man who can remove it is dead.
Cubs fans have tried everything to reverse the curse. They’ve brought a goat to Wrigley. They’ve killed mock black cats. They’ve blown up the infamous Bartman ball.
And still: 100 years of solitude.
It might be time to exhume Billy Sianis.
After all, he started this whole mess.
1945: THE CASTING OF THE CURSE
According to legend, Sianis, a Chicago barkeeper, placed a curse on the team after he and his goat were ejected from Wrigley Field during Game 4 of the 1945 World Series. Some versions contend the goat’s entrance was blocked at the gates, but others insist Sianis entered and even paraded the goat around the field with a banner that read: “We got Detroit’s goat,” only to have Cubs owner Philip Knight Wrigley toss both Sianis and his pet on account of the animal’s foul scent.
That’s when Sianis transferred the stink to the team, yelling that a World Series would never again be played in Wrigley. The Cubs lost that game and the Detroit Tigers won the series. The Cubs have not played in a World Series since and have endured a whole lot of freaky events.
1969: THE BLACK CAT AND THE AMAZIN’ METS
Leading the New York Mets by nine games on Aug. 16, the Cubs appeared headed for the postseason for the first time in more than 20 years. But by Sept. 8, the lead was down to 2½ games heading into a two-game series against New York at Shea Stadium. In the first game, a black cat strolled onto the field and circled Cubs third baseman Ron Santo as he stood in the on-deck circle. The Mets won both games and took over the division lead on Sept. 10. The Cubs dropped 12 of their last 20 games to finish eight games behind the Mets.
At least the Mets know what it feels like now after choking away a big lead on Philadelphia this season.
1984: HOME-FIELD DISADVANTAGE AND THE GATORADE GLOVE PLAY
Behind Cy Young winner Rick Sutcliffe (16-1) and NL MVP Ryne Sandberg, the Cubs ran away with the NL East title and appeared headed to an easy NL pennant after taking both games at Wrigley against the Padres, 13-0 and 4-2.
But because Wrigley had no lights and could not host games in television’s prime time, Major League Baseball stripped the Cubs of home-field advantage, making it crystal clear where its priorities stood.
Back in San Diego, the Padres rebounded with an easy 7-1 win in Game 3, then scored two runs off Cubs closer Lee Smith in the bottom of the ninth in Game 4 to even the series.
Still, Sutcliffe took a 3-0 lead into the bottom of the sixth in Game 5, and a 3-2 lead into the seventh before the curse resurfaced.
Carmelo Martinez walked on four pitches and Garry Templeton sacrificed Martinez to second. Tim Flannery then hit a sharp grounder that trickled through Cubs first baseman Leon Durham’s legs for an error, opening the floodgates for four San Diego runs and a Padres berth in the World Series.
The play became known as the Gatorade Glove Play because Gatorade had been spilled on Durham’s glove before he left the dugout to start the seventh.
The Cubs’ thirst for a title was not quenched.
2003: STEVE BARTMAN AND THE ROUTINE DOUBLE-PLAY BALL
Steve Bartman grabbed the headlines as the infamous fan who snared Luis Castillo’s foul ball away from Cubs left fielder Moises Alou with one out in the eight inning of Game 6 of the National League Championship Series at Wrigley. The Cubs led 3-0 at the time with ace Mark Prior on the mound. The play helped fuel an eight-run Florida rally, the Marlins went on to win the game and the series and Prior hasn’t been healthy since.
What isn’t remembered about that game is that the Cubs still could have escaped the eighth inning had shortstop Alex Gonzalez not bobbled a routine doubleplay ball with the Cubs leading 3-1. Gonzalez entered the game with the best fielding percentage of any shortstop in the National League. He left it with a special place in Cubs infamy.