|Bill Sianis and his infamous goat|
Prayer and superstition are very different things. Sometimes, though, they seem to butt up against each other, so to speak.
The Chicago Cubs recent three-game-sweep departure from the National League playoffs—a repeat of last year’s swift exit—once again raised the specter of a curse laid on the team, especially the “curse” of the billy goat.
Even if you don’t believe in a curse, you have to wonder. As everyone knows, the team hasn’t won a World Series since 1908—when Russia had a tsar and Wilhelm II was the German Kaiser; before widespread radio, not to mention penicillin and rural electrification—and haven’t appeared in a Series since 1945. This last playoff appearance joins a list of calamities: the slow death of 1969; the abrupt fall into the abyss against the Padres; being overmatched against the Braves and the Giants; and then what happened against the Marlins.
For curse true-believers, it all goes back to restaurant owner Bill Sianis and his goat. The linking of a curse with a goat is loaded with a good deal of legend, but the basic story is this. In the 1945 Series, when the Cubs played the Detroit Tigers, Sianis, the proprietor of the Billy Goat Tavern in Chicago (immortalized in the “cheezborger” bits on Saturday Night Live) bought a ticket for himself and a goat to one of the Series home games in Wrigley Field—an attempt both to publicize his establishment and “give the goat” to the Tigers. While allowed in, he was eventually asked to remove the animal because it presented, well, a hygenic challenge.
In retaliation Sianis reportedly said something to the effect of: "Them Cubs, they aren’t gonna win no more,” and later, after the Cubs did exactly that, sent team owner P. K. Wrigley a telegram that read, “Who smells now?”
The “curse” was probably the creation of a sportswriter looking for a colorful story, but 63 years of futility and heartbreak, as well as several unsuccessful attempts to lift the curse, have lent it a certain credence.
Jump to 2008. Before the start of the Cubs’ playoff division series against the Los Angeles Dodgers, Cubs’ chairman Crane Kenney left a voice mail for Father James L. Greanis, a priest of St. James Greek Orthodox Church in Valparaiso, Indiana. “I’m a devout Catholic, and I’m not superstitious, but if there is anything there, I want to take care of it,” Kenney told Greanis. The call lead to Greanis’ appearance at Wrigley Field a few hours before the game when he blessed the Cubs’ dugout with holy water—and event caught on camera by a TBS cameraman:
"It’s not for ensuring the Cubs winning,” Greanis said in Chicago Tribune story by Paul Sullivan, “but for being safe and protected. I’m a priest first, and a Cubs fan second.”
Apparently the Cubs’ hope, however, was a bit more on the superstitious side. They reportedly thought one Greek American could lift the curse of another. But, Greanis said, “It’s not unusual. In Greece, the priest blesses soccer teams, and they did it in the Olympics, too. It was not intended to be a PR stunt or anything. . . . I don’t want anything to be mocked, and neither did Mr. Kenney.”
Whatever the motive, it didn’t help. Cubs’ starting pitcher Ryan Dempster gave up seven walks, Dodger first-baseman James Loney hit a grand slam, and the Cubs’ bats went into the freezer. “Now,” Greanis said, “I guess I’m just another Cubbie Occurrence.” Join the club.