Original publish date: February 27, 2017
Its not often these days that goats make the news. You may have heard recently that a severed goat’s head mysteriously appeared outside of Wrigley Field, home of the Chicago Cubs baseball team. To the uninitiated observer, the news of a blood soaked box containing the mortal remains of a Capra aegagrus hircus (domestic goat) might sound like some Medievel relic or a scene out of a Wes Craven film. However, diehard Cubs fans will immediately recognize the significance of such a macabre offering.
On April 10, 2013, a box arrived at the friendly confines addressed to the club’s owner Thomas S. Ricketts. Ricketts has been making noise recently with threats to move the team out of Wrigley Field unless the ballpark is updated and a newer larger mega-video screen is installed above the Ivy covered walls of the National League’s oldest baseball park. Ricketts is currently embroiled in heated negotiations with city officials and neighborhood business people about the proposed $300 million renovation. Cubs staff discovered the package and immediately called police. Chicago police responded to a call about an “intimidating package” around 2:30 p.m. By why a goat’s head? What did it mean?
Well, Cubs lore says Chicago tavern owner Billy Sianis cursed the Cubs when they wouldn’t let his pet goat into Wrigley Field on October 6, 1945. Sianis purchased 2 box seat tickets for $ 7.20 for he and his pet goat, Murphy. He arrived with the goat wearing a sign stating “We Got Detroit’s Goat”. The legend claims that Sianis was asked to leave a World Series game against the Detroit Tigers at Wrigley because his pet goat’s odor was bothering other fans. He was outraged and declared, “Them Cubs, they ain’t gonna win no more,” which has been interpreted to mean that there would never be another World Series game won at Wrigley Field. Of course, it helps feed the legend that the Cubs have not won a National League pennant since that World War II Era incident. Making matters worse, the Cubs have not won a World Series in 105 years.
Since then, there have been countless renditions of the fabled incident, so many in fact that it has become hard to separate fact from fiction. Most renditions state that Sianis declared that no World Series games would ever again be played at Wrigley Field, still others say that his ban was on the Cubs appearing in any World Series, regardless of venue. The Sianis’ family claimed that “Billy” (ironically the most popular name for American domestic goats) sent a telegram to then team owner Philip K. Wrigley reading, “You are going to lose this World Series and you are never going to win another World Series again because you insulted my goat.” Whatever the truth, the Cubs were up two games to one in that 1945 series but ended up losing Game 4 as well as the best-of-seven series four games to three.
Newspapermen all over Chicago knew a good story when they “smelled” one, so the curse was quickly immortalized in columns and has spread like wildfire for decades hence. Legendary Chicago Daily News, Sun-Times and Tribune syndicated columnist Mike Royko popularized the goat legend when, during the 2003 postseason, Fox television commentators played it up during the Cubs-Marlins match-up in the 2003 National League Championship Series.
In an apparent mea culpa by the team, the curse was “lifted” in 1969 by Sianis himself. It didn’t take, as the 1969 Cubs finished with a record of 92-70, 8 games behind the New York Mets. That star crossed season saw the Cubs in first place for 155 days, until mid-September when they lost 17 out of 25 games. The “Miracle Mets” went on to win the World Series. Later, Billy Sianis’ nephew Sam, was brought out onto Wrigley Field with a goat multiple times in attempts to break the curse: on Opening Day in 1984 and 1989 (in both years, the Cubs went on to win their division), in 1994 to stop a home losing streak, and in 1998 for the wild card game (which the Cubs won).
In 2003, the Chinese zodiac’s Year of the Goat, a group of Cubs fans headed to Houston with a billy goat named “Virgil Homer” and attempted to gain entrance to Minute Maid Park, home of their division rivals the Astros. After they were denied entrance, they unfurled a scroll, read a verse and proclaimed they were “reversing the curse.” The ploy seemed to be working as the Cubs won the division that year, but then came the “Bartman incident”.
In the eighth inning of Game 6 of the NLCS, with Chicago ahead 3–0 and holding a 3 games to 2 lead in the best of 7 series, Marlins’ second baseman Luis Castillo hit a ball down the left field line. As the ball hovered in limbo between fair and foul, several spectators attempted to catch it. One of those fans, Steve Bartman, reached for the ball, deflecting it out of the reach of Cubs outfielder Moisés Alou. Had Alou caught the ball, it would have been the second out in the inning, and the Cubs would have been just four outs away from playing in the World Series. Instead, the Cubs lost the lead and ultimately the game, by giving up eight runs in the inning. Bartman, a lifelong Cubs fan, had to be escorted from the stadium by security guards, and received police protection for a time when his name and address were made public on MLB message boards.
In another bizarre incident on October 3, 2007, a goat carcass was found hanging from the statue of beloved broadcaster Harry Caray. While the Cubs did win the NL Central Division title in 2007 and 2008, they were swept in the first round of the playoffs in both years. Yet another dead goat (this time just the head) was found hanging on the Caray statue on Opening day of 2009. At 2:40 a.m. police responded to a 911 call at the intersection of Clark and Addison streets. Police took the goat down and disposed of the remains. No arrests were made in either incident.
More recently, Cubs fans have sought reversal via a more spiritual course by bringing in Catholic priests to bless the field, stadium, and dugout. On April Fool’s Day of 2011, a group calling itself “Reverse The Curse” was born. This social enterprise is dedicated to squaring the deal with Billy Sianis’ ghost by giving goats to families in developing countries to combat worldwide poverty. These goats provide the family with milk, cheese, and alternative income to help lift them out of poverty. Reverse The Curse further expanded into reversing the curses that afflict the world’s children in Education and Obesity.
Some Cubs fans further chart the curse’s effect by the number of players who won World Series titles after leaving the Cubs. They include Lou Brock, Bill Madlock, Manny Trillo, Bruce Sutter, Dennis Eckersley, Joe Carter, Greg Maddux, Joe Girardi (as both a player and a manager), and Mark Grace to name but a few. More recently, Tim Lincecum, the San Francisco Giant pitcher known as “The Freak”, was originally drafted by the Cubs.
But what about that original goat and it’s owner? Billy Sianis was born in 1895 in Greece. In 1912 he immigrated to the United States, where he became a prominent, yet crafty, Chicago bar owner. In early 1934, two months after the repeal of Prohibition, Sianis purchased the Lincoln Tavern, a bar across the street from Chicago Stadium, for $205 with a bounced check (he made good on it with the proceeds from the first weekend they were open). That summer a baby goat fell off the back of a truck into the street outside the tavern. Sianis nursed the goat to health and named it “Murphy”. To honor his favorite pet, Sianis renamed his bar the “Billy Goat Tavern” . The bar became a popular hangout for celebrities in the 1940s.
When the 1944 Republican National Convention came to town, he posted a sign saying “No Republicans allowed” causing the place to be packed with Republicans demanding to be served. Of course, a great deal of publicity followed and Sianis took advantage of it. Sianis used his goat to draw attention to his bar; he began wearing a goatee, nicknamed himself “Billy Goat”, and began to sneak the goat into unusual locations for publicity stunts. That explains the Wrigley Field fiasco huh?
In 1964, it moved to its current location under Michigan Avenue. It’s new location, situated between the offices of the Chicago Tribune and the old Chicago Sun-Times building, led to the tavern’s popularity among newspaper columnists, particularly Mike Royko. In 1969, Sianis petitioned powerful Chicago mayor Richard J. Daley to issue him the first liquor license for the moon. His hope, according to the letter displayed on the bar’s wall, was to “best serve his country by serving delicious cheeseburgers to wayfaring astronauts as well as raising moon-goats”.
Sianis died on October 22, 1970, at the St. Clair Hotel where he made his home. Billy Goat Sianis is linked to pop culture and sports trivia for the “Goat Curse”, but that is by no means his only claim to fame. Another sign on the wall reads: “Cheezborger, Cheezborger, Cheezborger. No Pepsi. Coke,” These words, with Pepsi and Coke in reverse order, were originally spoken and immortalized by John Belushi in, “Olympia Cafe,” an early Saturday Night Live sketch that was inspired by the Billy Goat tavern and it’s Greek owner. Although Belushi himself never set foot inside the Billy Goat, SNL stars Bill Murray and Don Novello (Father Guido Sarducci) were regulars.
Nevertheless, although Billy Goat Sianis’ life resonates through the pages of pop culture history far beyond the reaches of the Wrigley Field Goat Curse, many Cub fans are convinced that some residual aspect of that original 1945 curse persists. Since the Cubs are entering Spring training 2017 as defending World Champions, hopefully this is the last we’ll ever hear about a Cubs curse.