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The Curse of the Billy Goat: A History

It begins on October 6, 1945: Billy Sianis, owner of the Billy Goat Tavern, buys two tickets to see the Cubs play the Detroit Tigers in Game Four of the World Series at Wrigley Field. One for him, and one for his pet goat, Murphy. Depending on which version of the legend you follow, he is either turned away at the gate or he’s thrown out of the game because of the smell of the goat. The offended Sianis then allegedly cries: “Them Cubs, they ain’t gonna win no more!” The Sianis family claims he then went home and dispatched a telegram to team owner Philip K. Wrigley that read: “You are going to lose the World Series and you are never going to win another World Series again. You are never going to win another World Series again because you insulted my goat.” The Cubs, who at the time were up two games in the World Series, ended up losing Game Four, as well as the best-of-seven series, four-to-three. They went on to become famous for losing, got dubbed the MLB’s official “Lovable Losers,” and haven’t won a single World Series since 1908 or played in one since 1945. Cubs fans have long blamed Billy Sianis, Murphy the Goat, and the events of Game Four (dubbed “The Curse of the Billy Goat”) for this losing streak.

But now, at long last, it seems the curse may have been broken. The Cubs are in the World Series for the first time in 71 years, and their 108-year losing streak may come to an end if they prevail over the Cleveland Indians. The era of the Curse may have been a sad one for Cubs fans, but it certainly was an interesting one to watch. Attempts to break the curse have yielded pilgrimages, the official sanctification of Wrigley Field, and even some gruesome massacres. We take a look at all the weird, funny, and sometimes downright horrifying things that have been done to end the curse:

1970: Billy Sianis attempted to break the curse before he died. His efforts were to no avail, as the losing streak, and thus the Curse of the Billy Goat, continued.

1984, 1989, 1994, 1998: Sam Sianis, Billy’s nephew, took a goat to Wrigley Field multiple times in further attempts to break the Curse of the Goat—again, to no avail. He claimed that the curse would only be lifted once goats were wholeheartedly and genuinely accepted at Wrigley Field. The Chicago Cubs organization, he said “must show a sincere fondness for goats, allowing them onto Wrigley Field because they genuinely want to, and not for publicity reasons.”

2003: A group of Cubs fans headed to Minute Maid Stadium in Houston, home of the Astros, who were the Cubs’ division rivals at the time, with a goat named “Virgil Homer.” Denied access to the stadium, they unfurled a large scroll, read a verse, and proclaimed they had “reversed the curse.” The Cubs won the division that year, and came within five outs of the World Series. The curse proved its tenacity, however, when Steve Bartman, a fan in the crowd, attempted to catch a foul ball, deflected it, and prevented a potential catch by Cubs outfielder Moisés Alou, dashing the hopes of Cubs fans everywhere and providing fodder for the continuation of the myth of the Billy Goat.

2004: the Harry Caray Restaurant Group bought the foul ball caught by Steve Bartman for over $100,000, and enlisted the help of Michael Lantieri, an Oscar-winning special effects man, to char the ball to smithereens on live television. The Cubs losing streak persisted.

2007: A skinned, dead goat was found hung, along with a sign that reads: “Go Cubs Go” on the Harry Caray statue outside of Wrigley field just before the playoffs. The Cubs were eliminated in the playoffs anyway.

2008: Rev. James L. Greanias, an Orthodox priest and avid Cubs fan, was brought to Wrigley field to sprinkle holy water in the dugout and recite a prayer before the Cubs faced the Dodgers in the first game of the League Championship Series. The Dodgers beat the Cubs in three games.

2009: A dead goat was found hung, again, from the Harry Caray statue. The Cubs were eliminated from postseason contention in late September.

2011: An organization called “Reverse the Curse” was created, using the plight of the Cubs to encourage donations to send goats to both developing nations and impoverished areas of Chicago itself.

2012: In a similar vein, a group calling itself Crack the Curse set out from the Cubs’ spring training facilities with a goat on a pilgrimage to Wrigley Field, while also attempting to raise $100,000 for the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.

2013: A goat’s head was delivered in a black box by a mysterious man in a mysterious car to Cubs owner Tom Ricketts. The Curse was not broken.

2015: A group of competitive eaters consumed a 40-pound goat in 13 minutes and 22 seconds in an attempt to break the curse.  

2016: The Cubs beat the Dodgers, four games to two, winning their first pennant since 1945 and advancing to the World Series.

So, is the curse broken? Is this the end? Well, maybe not. The Billy Goat Tavern’s official website seems to disagree. It has a counter that is still ticking away, reading: 71 years, 0 months, and 24 days since the beginning of the Curse of the Billy Goat. In an interview with the Chicago Tribune after Game Two, Bill Sianis, the great-nephew of Billy Sianis, said: “The curse is still in effect. They have to win it all.”

Will the Chicago Cubs reverse the curse and their fate as the MLB’s most “Loveable Losers?” With the Cubs down in the World Series three games to one, Game Five is potentially their last. Will they go on to win it all? Only time, and our prescient hircine friends, will tell.