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KNOCKING WOOD DOESN'T HELP.
October 17, 2003

by Bill Hogan

 

 
 

I've never made a conscious effort to avoid a black cat. I don't purposely step over sidewalk cracks. When I spill salt on the table, I don't pick some up and throw it over my right shoulder – or is it the left shoulder. I don't carry around a lucky rabbit's foot or a four-leaf clover.

I don't have a lucky shirt or lucky boxers that I wear while watching my team. And it has never dawned on me that if I say "boy, I sure hope he doesn't strike out" out loud, I've all but guaranteed that the batter will be gone after three pitches.

 
 


So I guess it's safe to say that I'm not a superstitious person – especially when it comes to the outcome of a sporting event. That's why I have a hard time believing that a 58-year old "curse" put on the Chicago Cubs by the owner of a goat has anything to do with any of the team's colossal postseason collapses.

Chicago tavern owner Billy Sianis bought two tickets to game four of the 1945 World Series to watch the Cubs take on the Detroit Tigers. One ticket for himself, one for his goat. When the goat was denied admission, an incensed Sianis prophesized that the Cubs would lose the series to the Tigers – which they did – and never again return to another World Series – which they haven't.

The "Curse of the Billy Goat" took root 1945 and, through a string of inexplicable postseason debacles, has grown into the mother of all hexes. To the point where many Cubs fans truly believe that some mystical being is controlling the grim fate of their beloved team.

If this notion seems like utter nonsense, that's because it is. But their acceptance of this preposterous anathema has, for the most part, been harmless. That is until Steve Bartman became the mortal embodiment of the hideous demons that are preventing the Cubbies from returning to the Fall Classic woe these many years.

In case you're just emerging from the underground eco-pod, Bartman is the poor sap that interfered with a foul ball that Cubs left fielder Moises Alou was about to gobble up for the second out of the eight inning in game six. The Cubs were up 3-0 at the time and five outs away from going to the World Series.

There was one out and a man on second when the schlemiel in the stands down the left field line stuck his hands out to try and catch a foul ball. After the incident, there was still one out and one on when the Marlins went on a tear and scored eight runs before the inning ended.

But it wasn't bad pitching and awful fielding by the Cubs that led to the Marlins' onslaught. It was that &*%$# fan that perpetuated the "curse" that led to the Cubs downfall. It was the fan's fault the Cubs lost game six. It was the fans fault the Cubs lost game seven.

Bartman was doused with beer, insults and threats. He needed a police escort to get from his seat to the Wrigley Field security office unharmed. Other fans went after him with the kind of vengeance normally reserved for serial killers and child molesters. He feared for his life.

The next day, he stayed away from his place of business and had his phone disconnected. His home was besieged by the media. He's been lampooned by late-night comedians. Sports reporters and radio talk show hosts berated the young man. Chicago Sun-Times columnist Jay Mariotti fueled the fire by calling Bartman "the Idiot Fan" and "the Goof in the Cub Cap."

Because this unfortunate schmo made a mistake, he now has to consider entering a federal witness protection program. You'd have thought the guy was caught selling uranium to North Korea or bilking elderly investors out of their retirement nest eggs.

The idea that Bartman may be the subject of an upcoming episode of Unsolved Mysteries is not inconceivable. Those seeking retribution are the very same lunatics that believe a vindictive goat is the only thing standing between the Cubs and a World Series Championship.

It was the Marlins that beat the Cubs with good pitching and timely hitting; not a Billy Goat or a black cat; and not some poor schlep who didn't know enough to sit on his hands.

Now, about that "Curse of the Bambino"…

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