The Chicago Cubs still have a long way to go to get out from under the Curse of the Billy Goat, but they may have scaled their biggest hurdle.
In their National League Division Series defeat of the Giants, the Cubs took out a team that had not lost a playoff series in an even-numbered year this decade. No other club still alive in the playoffs has any such juju going for it.
One thing for sure, when it comes to the business of busting up the myths that may or may not shackle a team to the inertia of its mediocrity, the Cubs sure have the right guy wielding the hammer.
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Already in one lifetime, Theo Epstein played a large role in dispelling the curse that plagued the generations in New England. As general manager of the Boston Red Sox, Epstein acquired the necessary pieces for the team to win a World Series for the first time in 86 years. It had been scientifically proven, of course, that for all those decades, the Red Sox labored under the Curse of the Bambino – Boston’s ungodly reward for having traded a baseball god for the ages, Babe Ruth, to the New York Yankees.
Now, Epstein is running the show for the Cubs as president of baseball operations, and the question across America today is whether he can help Cubdom remove the goat horns from its rear.
Surely you know by now the baseball club on Chicago’s north side has not won a World Series since 1908. The media has been beating it into our skulls since 1909. And if you remember from history class, Theodore Roosevelt was president of the United States the last time the Cubs won the World Series.
Teddy was so good he got his face on a rock in South Dakota. If Epstein’s Cubs win the World Series this year, Mount Rushmore won’t be big enough for any of us. Epstein’s likeness will be draped from the 108-story skyscraper formerly known as the Sears Building all the way to the top of the 100-story edifice they still call the John Hancock Center. Get ready for the renaming of O’Hare, too, to Epstein International. He’ll deserve it.
The Cubs’ curse dates to 1945, the last year they won a National League pennant. They were beating the Detroit Tigers in the World Series, two games to one, when bartender Billy Sianis’ goat was denied admission to the fourth game at Wrigley Field. Miffed, Sianis wrote a letter to club owner Philip K. Wrigley that purportedly predicted the Cubs, for disrespecting his goat, would never again win a World Series. Sure enough, they have not, although the reputed curse does not explain the Cubs’ previous 37 years of championship shortcomings.
In Boston, Epstein had to share credit for the breakthrough with pitchers like Curt Schilling and hitters like David Ortiz and managers like Terry Francona. Epstein signed all three. You can see why Epstein liked Ortiz so much – if you look real hard, you can see Big Papi’s resemblance to the Babe himself. Moon-faced, barrell-chested, left-handed, you couldn’t pick a better guy to help snuff a Bambino’s curse. Don’t look now, but it could be that Ortiz actually is Ruth, reincarnated. Maybe if Ortiz had learned to pitch as a youth in the Dominican Republic, he would have thrown a World Series shutout, too.
Facing the psychic thicket of Wrigleyville, Epstein has now advanced a third of the way toward slaughtering the goat’s curse. Both the Giants’ numerological thing and Madison Bumgarner’s postseason scoreless-inning streak are now done.
Epstein, meanwhile, moves forward, relentlessly.
The ghost buster has to be relieved he doesn’t have to worry about the Red Sox up ahead. For years, Boston had been anguished by what came to be known as the Epstein Curse. He resigned from the franchise in 2011, and New England had to suffer through 2013 before it won a World Series championship without him. Entering the 2016 postseason, Boston may have been baseball’s most balanced team, besides Epstein’s Cubs. Like the Giants, the Red Sox are now out, having been KO’d by the Cleveland Indians, who are managed by the same Francona that Epstein hired to lead Boston to World Series titles in 2004 and 2007.
But let’s hold off for now on the Epstein-Francona storyline, which will get a little air time if the Indians beat the Blue Jays in the American League Championship Series.
As for getting rid of the Curse of the Billy Goat, the solution is simple.
On Saturday, when Chicago hosts either the Dodgers or Nationals in the first game of the NLCS, Cubs owner Tom Ricketts should admit – free of charge – all goats brought to the game by fans, to roam freely through the Wrigley Field aisles and concourses, to be revered as if they were cattle in Calcutta.
For good measure, Ricketts should head downtown to Sianis’ bar – the Billy Goat Tavern – after the game, and after every game in the postseason, and pick up the tab – cheezeborgers on the house.