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Barring a major meltdown, it appears that the Chicago Cubs are on their way to the playoffs and another shot at a World Series title. And another shot at breaking the hearts of Cubs fans everywhere.
When discussing the team’s 100-year run of futility, there’s usually a reference to the contribution of the Curse of the Billy Goat.
This curse is Chicago’s version of the Curse of the Bambino, which plagued the Red Sox for many years,
The BoSox jinx came about because the team sold Babe Ruth to the hated New York Yankees.
The curse of the Billy Goat is purported to have its roots in the 1945 World Series. Goat owner Billy Sianis was ejected from Wrigley Field, along with his goat, Murphy, when rain caused Murphy to smell like, well, like a wet goat.
It is fairly remarkable that Sianis and his goat were allowed into the ballpark in the first place.
Anyway, the enraged Sianis reportedly placed a curse: that the Cubs would never play another World Series at Wrigley Field.
While it is true that the Cubs have not qualified for World Series play since the team got Sianis’s goat, I’m in the camp that thinks there is a much stronger curse on the team: That of Fred “Bonehead” Merkle.
Those that subscribe to this curse know that the Cubs basically stole the 1908 National League title (their last title ever), by taking advantage of the 19-year old Merkle. They still pay, today, for doing so.
Here’s the nutshell version of what happened:
With the Cubs, New York Giants and Pirates all vying for the 1908 title, the Cubs were playing at New York.
In the bottom of the ninth, and two out, Merkle stood on first base, with Harry McCormick on third. Giant batter Al Bridwell hit a single, easily scoring McCormick from third.
In those days, there were no constraints on fans. Many often wandered onto the field.
So, after Bridwell’s game-winner, the Giants’ crowd began to storm the field. Merkle, wanting to escape said crowd, left the basepath to sprint to the locker room. He never reached second base.
Cub infielder Johnny Evers saw Merkle’s mistake and fought his way through the crowd to retrieve the ball.
Giant Joe McGinnity, seeing what Evers was up to, got to the ball first and heaved it as far as he could.
Undaunted, Evers got a ball from somewhere, tagged second base and ensured an umpire saw him do it. Merkle was called out on the play, ending the inning, and the umpires declared it a tie game.
As Merkle’s lousy luck would have it, the Cubs and Giants were deadlocked in the standings at the end of the season. The teams had a playoff game, which the Cubs won 4-2. They went on to beat the Detroit Tigers in the 1908 World Series.
Merkle went on to have a decent career in the Majors, but the controversial play proved to define him for the rest of his days, his nickname “Bonehead” indicative of that.
The Cubs, having earned their ticket to the 1908 World Series by exploitative means, have suffered greatly since.
True, they appeared in numerous World Series, losing them in 1910, 1918, 1929, 1932, 1935, 1938 and 1945. That 0-7 run is unmatched in the majors.
It is such an ancient curse that anyone who was on this earth the last time the Cubs won the Series probably doesn’t remember a whole lot about it. A century is, after all, quite a bit o’ time.
Will the Cubs be able to overcome the twin curses of the goat and the bonehead?
As much as I’d love them to do so, the odds are against them. And against us fans.
Somewhere, Fred Merkle has a good chuckle every year at the expense of us Cub fans. I’m sure he thinks, “And they called ME bonehead!”