Every spring, Cubs fans search their bottomless well of delusion, hoping for good omens. Every fall, they find a new goat. In 1945, Billy Sianis’ curse began. In 1969, a black cat shifted momentum to the Amazing Mets. In 1984, Leon Durham and Lee Smith sprouted chicken wings in San Diego.
In 2003, the spirit of Harry Caray was guiding the Cubs to the promised land until foulball snatching Steve Bartman and the Florida Marlins blew destiny into the chilly waters of Lake Michigan.
As the Cubs opened Cactus League play Thursday at Hohokam Park against the Oakland Athletics, there was no shortage of preseason optimism.
But this year, the Cubs faithful have turned to astrology for inspiration.
The thinking goes this way: If the major leagues’ other longtime losers, the Boston Red Sox and Chicago White Sox, could snap 88-year title droughts in successive seasons, it must be in the stars for the Cubs to quench their majorleague-leading 98-year thirst in 2007.
If that logic seems tragically flawed, well, you just don’t understand the haunted mind of a Cubs fan.
“I’ve heard that argument before. It comes from a voice deep inside,” said Fountain Hills resident Joe Skehen, 69, an Oak Park, Ill., native and longtime Cubs fan.
“There’s a little part of me that wants to believe it,” Skehen said, “a little part that says, ‘Yeah, you bet it’s our turn.’ “
True Cubbie blues can recite a litany of practical reasons why the Cubs will win this season.
The revamped outfield of Juan Pierre, Jacque Jones and Matt Murton has to be better than 2005's woeful version.
Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez are budding stars at the corners.
Ryan Dempster is the closer of the future.
And pitchers Kerry Wood and Mark Prior?
“They’ve got to stay healthy this year,” said Gold Canyon resident Gary Harvey, 61, who used to ride the Erie-Lackawanna railway two hours from Rochester, Ind., just to watch the Cubs play. “If they do, that starting rotation is awfully good.”
There’s also the rivalry with the south-siders to consider.
The White Sox and Cubs have a long history of oneupmanship, although most of the trumping has come on the wrong end of the success scale.
When the White Sox’s “winning ugly” team won the AL West in 1983, the Cubs responded with a division title in 1984 and an NLCS berth that ended with three nightmarish games in San Diego.
When the Cubs won the division again in 1989, the Sox followed suit by winning 94 games in 1990 and the division title in 1993.
And when the Cubs came within five outs of a World Series in 2004 — Bartman hasn’t been heard from since — the Sox responded in 2006 with their first Series title since 1917, blowing through the Red Sox, Angels and Astros.
All are pragmatic arguments for a Cubs uprising, at least to a Cubs fan. But when you’ve suffered through a century-long curse, supernatural intervention seems far more fitting.
“We’re hopeful because we’re due,” said Phoenix resident Darlene May, 72, who grew up outside Chicago. “That’s all there is to it.”
Anatomy of a curse
A look at the key moments in the Chicago Cubs’ tragic history:
1945: Greek tavern owner William Sianis and his pet billy goat were kicked out of Game 4 of the World Series against the Detroit Tigers after complaints of the animal’s odor. Sianis then placed a hex on the Cubs, saying, “Never again will the World Series be played in Wrigley Field.” After losing the Series, Sianis wrote team owner Philip Knight Wrigley, saying, “Who stinks now?”
1969: Running away with the NL East, the Cubs suffered one of the greatest collapses in baseball history, squandering an 8 1 /2-game lead in the middle of August to the eventual World Series champion New York Mets. Prior to the collapse, a black cat crossed the path of Cubs third baseman Ron Santo during a game against the Mets at Shea Stadium. 1973: After leading the division into the second half of the season, the Cubs went 27-49 the rest of the way to finish next to last.
1984: In Game 4 of the NLCS, closer Lee Smith allowed a game-winning home run to San Diego’s Steve Garvey. Then, in the fifth and deciding game, first baseman Leon Durham watched a grounder roll through his legs (a la Bill Buckner), costing the Cubs a series they had led 2-0.
1989: The Cubs find their way to the NLCS again but fall 4-1 to San Francisco.
1998: After winning a one-game tiebreaker for the wild-card spot, the Cubs were swept 3-0 by pitching-powered Atlanta.
2003: The Cubs won their first playoff series in 95 years, downing the Braves in five games. Leading 3-0 in Game 6 of the NLCS against the Florida Marlins, the Cubs were a mere five outs away from the Series when the curse struck again. A fly ball down the left-field line was touched by fan Steve Bartman, preventing Moises Alou from catching it. After the Cubs recorded another out and yielded a run, Alex Gonzalez, the best defensive shortstop statistically in the NL, dropped a routine ground ball, sparking a seven-run rally for the Marlins, who went on to win Game 7 against Cubs ace Kerry Wood.
2004: Holding a 1 1 /2-game lead in the wild-card race, Chicago needed to play .500 ball down the stretch yet went just 3-7 in the last 10 games and failed to make the postseason.
— Nick Gayes