CHICAGO — It’s usually around this time of year when one of this city’s few purveyors of butchered goat hears the phone ring with special requests.
There are those few, dark Midwestern souls who believe that they have divined the particular process of anti-voodoo rites sure to remove the beguiling hex that has plagued the Chicago Cubs ever since the team’s owner barred a billy goat from a 1945 World Series game — despite his valid ticket.
The butcher, Nick Tsoukas of Olympia Meats, doesn’t ask too many questions when the annual goat-related queries come in. A call in the last few years, though, he remembers well: The customer offered to remove the Cubs’ curse by eating a goat heart raw.
“I don’t think it’s a good idea,” Tsoukas said.
If the stunt was carried out, it has yet to pay dividends. Same for the similarly over-eager amateur exorcists who strung goat carcasses from a statue of longtime former Cubs announcer Harry Caray in 2007 and 2009. Or when someone sent a severed goat head to Wrigley in 2013. Or, in 1973, when another goat named Murphy made the trip to Wrigley Field in a limousine, seeking to appease the goat with automotive luxury asking to go ahead and dispel the hex. And it didn’t work when baby goats on leashes, on multiple occasions have been seen circling the Friendly Confines to dispel the team’s perpetually bad juju.
That is not to say that the Cubs, who won a league-best 103 games and are already compared to some of the best squads in the game’s history, are preparing for an onslaught of grotesque goat sightings as the team prepares for its first playoff game Friday against the San Francisco Giants. But such instances would not surprise for a fan base seemingly as fascinated by superstition as it is with the home nine.
There is a reason for the madness, rational or no. During the 1945 World Series, with the Cubs leading the series two games to one and in pursuit of their first title since 1908, Billy “Billy Goat” Sianis, the owner of the Billy Goat Tavern, bought two tickets for Game 4. He and his goat were well-known patrons of the Chicago sports world, and welcome inside other venues such as the old Chicago Stadium, what is now United Center. But when Sianis and Murphy arrived at the field, Cubs owner P.K. Wrigley told gate attendants the goat couldn’t come in because he “stinks.” Billy Sianis then allegedly put a curse on the Cubs when two newspaper photographers encouraged Billy to feed the unused tickets to Murphy back in the tavern. The “lovable losers” were born. The Cubs would lose the 1945 World Series and spiraled into decades of futility. They haven’t reached the Series since.
They came closest in 2003, leading the National League Championship Series against the then-Florida Marlins, 3-2, when a fan named Steve Bartman interfered with a seemingly catchable foul ball, giving new life to the Marlins — who rallied from a 3-0 deficit for the victory in Game 6 and then prevailed in Game 7 — and the curse.
The goat curse was actually trumped up by sports writers around time of the ’45 Series and beyond, said the Chicago Tribune’s Rick Kogan, who wrote a book about the curse. As he put it in a recent column, the curse was “fueled by a combination of the Cubs’ ineptitude and the inventiveness of newspaper writers.”
“Cubs fans being so, so long suffering have had to manufacture different ways of dealing with reality,” Kogan said in an interview.
No one has done more to exorcise the Cubs’ demons than admittedly superstitious Grant DePorter, the CEO of Harry Caray restaurants. In 2004, he bought the infamous ball with which Bartman interfered for $114,187.49, including sales tax, in an online auction after his wife had gone to bed. He blew it up in spectacular style on live television.
DePorter believes this is the Cubs’ year — for reasons that include the team’s hitting prowess, enviable pitching rotation assembled by Cubs General Manager Theo Epstein, the presence of Zen master Manager Joe Maddon . . . and the cosmic power of the number 108. The number seems to pop up everywhere around the Cubs, DePorter said. It has been 108 years since the Cubs last won the World Series and the number 108 is cosmically important, a case he relates on the walls of the Harry Caray restaurant. Cubs pitcher Jake Arrietta is a practitioner of yoga, in which the number 108 is sacred. He recently invited The Plain White T’s band to perform at a Cubs rally. How many songs had they recorded? 108. And do you know how many stitches are in a baseball? The diameter of Stonehenge? Yep, eight more than a hundred.
Perhaps most telling of all, the Cubs’ World Series victory was foretold by the popular film “Back to the Future II.” The sequel is 108 minutes long.
“Really all the signs are saying it’s going to happen this year,” DePorter said.
For their part, the Sianis family, which has tried time after time to lift the curse over the years, said they have asked Cubs management whether they can bring a goat to the field before Friday’s playoff game. “We’re waiting,” said Bill Sianis, Sam’s son.
Despite the often-referenced supernatural elements seemingly plaguing the franchise, most fans believe in the objective truths displayed during the regular season, that this team should be favored to win its first title in over a century. But as the 2016 postseason unfolds, and Cubs fans put on their lucky caps and socks and DePorter moves his 108-bead yoga necklace around his neck like a rosary while reciting Maddon’s “try not to suck” mantra, the real test, said Justin Glawe, an independent journalist and lifelong fan who lives near Wrigley, will be whether the Cubs faithful keeps its cool if and when something odd happens. He’s already prepared to show people why the Cubs may lose: He saw boxes being delivered to Wrigley before the season that said “2016 World Series Champions” in black marker on the side. He snapped a picture. Jinx?
“If some weird [stuff] happens, where does your mind go?” Glawe asked.
There haven’t been any calls to Tsoukas’s goat butcher shop this year. Yet.