Once upon a time there was a baseball team. They hadn’t won the World Series in a really long time. But thanks to some smart managing, talented players, and a little bit of pluck and grit, they were able to make a completely unexpected run to the World Series at a time when no one expected them to. They paced their league and stormed through everyone they faced. Facing a pitching-heavy opponent in the Fall Classic, they fought down to the last, and were pushed to the brink in one of the greatest, most memorable baseball games ever played. And after decades of misery, it was in October of 2005 that the Chicago White Sox stood above all as the champions of the baseball world!…
Wait a minute, what’s that? That’s not how it went? That’s EXACTLY how it went! Oh, I think I see where you went wrong here – you were thinking I was writing about the Chicago Cubs’ 2016 World Series victory! Well, not there I wasn’t. The Cubs victory was totally different. They were building up to it for years and it finally happened right at a time they created a team that will be a nightmare to every other team in MLB for the next seven years. Chicago is one of two (three if we’re counting Los Angeles) two-team markets in baseball. Unlike New York City – where the Yankees and Metropolitans both get a huge share of the popular headlines – there’s a severe dividing line which splits the White Sox from the Cubs. And that’s strange, because you could build an easy argument that the White Sox were just as star-crossed as the Cubs; maybe even more so. The White Sox also got less attention than the Boston Red Sox, who famously busted up an 86-year-old curse in 2004, even though the White Sox had a curse that ran slightly longer (88 years). But even Ozzie Guillen, the manager of the 2005 White Sox, kept things in perspective when he said that his team could win the next three World Series and still be less popular than the Cubs. The White Sox curse – the Curse of the Black Sox – went without publicity to such a point that no one remembered it existed at all until it was dug up in 2005.
It got me thinking about which curse was worse. So let’s do this! The Billy Goat Curse vs. the Curse of the Black Sox. One day, I’ll learn.
I think just about everyone already knows about the Billy Goat and its effects. Some backwoods cave-dweller from East Outer Jahunga who never heard the word “baseball” in their life will bring up the Billy Goat Curse anytime someone finds them and mentions being from Chicago. They already know that the idea of a curse getting power through a bar owner’s pet goat is something that happened in 1945, even though the Cubs drought was a “mere” 37 years old when it happened. The Cubs are a nationally known and beloved team, so every time they come racing out and start well, that goat gets brought into it. Throughout the course of the baseball season, coverage of it has a habit of picking up strength. “The Cubs! Could this be the year they exorcise the Billy Goat Curse?” Since the time I started watching baseball, talk of the Billy Goat Curse has been run through the ringer in every postseason baseball game I’ve seen the Cubs play. It probably stands to be mentioned in a ton of broadcasts for the next several seasons as well, just so we all know it’s dead. The Curse of the Black Sox, though… Well, I hardly heard any mention of that, and that’s not just because the White Sox have played in so few postseason games. The Sox just don’t get a lot of attention. Their whole drought went unnoticed until they suddenly killed their curse in 2005, then it went unnoticed again even though everyone now knew better! The Billy Goat Curse getting more attention is somewhat understandable because it ran 20 years longer, but the Red Sox’ Curse of the Bambino was SHORTER than the Curse of the Black Sox and that also gets more attention!
The Billy Goat Curse. I’ll grant that everyone in the media paid more attention to that, but coverage blew so out of control that White Sox fans forgot their own team was even cursed at all. Cubs fans never shut up about theirs. So the Cubs are winning this one based on the power of shameless self-promotion and, you know, everything else.
Again, since the Billy Goat Curse is so well-covered, everyone already knows where it came from. Although the Cubs hadn’t won the World Series since 1908, it was in 1945 that Chicago tavern owner William Sianis hexed the team. Sianis bought a pair of tickets to the 1945 World Series between the Cubs and the Detroit Tigers. One, of course, was for him. The other turned out to be for his pet goat, Murphy. Not that there’s anything wrong with bringing pets to a baseball stadium – my sister and brother-in-law made a tradition of taking their dog to Citi Field to watch the Mets on Pet Day. But the fact that Murphy was a goat didn’t go unnoticed by the other patrons of Wrigley Field; they couldn’t escape the poor animal’s smell. So Sianis was thrown out of Wrigley Field. Understandably pissed off, Sianis stayed in his seat just long enough to utter the phrase “Them Cubs, they ain’t gonna win no more.” Everyone laughed it off back then, but the Cubs didn’t return to the World Series for 71 years. The Curse of the Black Sox has a much darker origin story. The White Sox won the World Series in 1917 and were fielding Joe Jackson, possibly the best player in baseball; Eddie Cicotte, possibly the best pitcher in baseball; and Buck Weaver, possibly baseball’s best third baseman. In 1919 they won the Pennant in such dominant fashion that the ensuing World Series was expected to be nothing but a formality, and that people weren’t watching to see if the Sox would win, but HOW they would win. Well, the opposing Cincinnati Reds beat the White Sox in a monumental upset. But as the Sox rolled through the 1920 season, word got out that professional gamblers had placed Wall Street-asshole amounts of cash on the Reds. It began an investigation that revealed eight members of the White Sox had agreed to take payments from gamblers – notably Arnold Rothstein and Joseph “Sport” Sullivan – in exchange for losing the Series on purpose. While they were found innocent in the following trial, all eight were also banned from baseball for life. The scandal resulted in the Commissioner position being created and baseball’s zero-tolerance policy on gambling.
The Curse of the Black Sox. The start of the Billy Goat Curse sounds like a children’s fairy tale. An evil bar owner places an elaborate hex on the Cubs! Ooh! The way the Curse of the Black Sox started had tangible consequences in the real world, and it involved dangerous people and the possibility of someone who didn’t know anything about what was going on getting hurt. The Black Sox Scandal also had a positive effect: The ensuing rule against gambling has been a successful deterrent. Since its implementation, there have been a handful of players who were called in for questioning based on gambling habits they had for events other than baseball, and others warned because they had connections to known gamblers. But only one of those people ignored all those warnings and got banned for life.
Pinpointing where the Cubs really started to go bad can be a little tricky. Yes, they’re known for being the Lovable Losers, but that’s a smaller part of a larger narrative that people forget. The Cubs didn’t win the World Series between 1908 and 2016. They never won the Pennant between 1945 and 2016. Now if your observations are astute, you may be wondering just, exactly, accounts for the 37 years between 1908 and 1945. Well, uh, Pennants. Lots of them. Pennants in 1910, 1918, 1929, 1932, 1935, and 1938 to be exact. That whole loser image didn’t come into vogue until the 60’s or 70’s; until then the Cubs were one of the most hated teams in the National League. They were the Yankees without the titles the Yankees have to show for it. And even after 1945, the Cubs could make a habit of ripping hearts out and being stupid. There was 1969, where Sianis rescinded the Curse and the Cubs charged out, led the league from April until August, and then went 8-17 in September and got plowed by the Mets. There was Ernie Banks winning MVP in 1958 and 1959 but his team hauling losing records in both years. There was 1984, where they went to the NLCS only to lose a 2-0 lead in the series to, of all teams, the San Diego Padres. They lost the NLCS again to the San Francisco Giants in 1989, and the NLDS in 1998 to the Atlanta Braves. There was the epic NLCS meltdown of 2003 and those playoff popgun shots in 2007 and 2008 and hell, the Cubs got swept in the NLCS by the Mets just last season too. Between false hope like that, the Cubs kept sort of fading in and out, being mediocre enough to let their fans think they had a chance and just outright bad. As for the White Sox, well… Between 1917 and 2005, they won two Pennants. One was the 1919 Pennant which got thrown away. The other was a stellar effort in 1959 where the White Sox had the services of many of their best players – including Early Wynn, Billy Pierce, Nelly Fox, and Luis Aparicio – at their peaks. Fox was the MVP, with Aparicio second in voting. Wynn won the Cy Young, while Fox, Aparicio, and Sherm Lollar won Gold Gloves. Manager Al Lopez was Manager of the Year. But the thing with the White Sox is that during the 50’s and 60’s, they were good… Just never quite good enough. Looking at the standings for the 1959 baseball season, it’s pretty clear that while the Cleveland Indians gave everyone pause for thought, the main reason the White Sox won the Pennant was because the Yankees of Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford, and Yogi Berra had an off year. Besides that, it’s hard to say they were failing in the stretch. During their best years in the 50’s and 60’s, they had a lot of close calls, but were usually bowing out to a Yankees team that was just better. Not that it would have mattered, because they would only have gotten clobbered in the Series by the Dodgers anyway. After about 1967, they alternated between overachieving and having talent that failed. In 1983, the talentless White Sox won 99 games and their division; they’re the team the popular phrase “winning ugly” was created to describe. The year of the strike, the Sox were one of the best teams in baseball and could have gotten a Pennant, but the strike happened. The good years of the White Sox can mostly be summed up this way: No one remembers the bridesmaid.
The Billy Goat Curse. It’s hard to blame bad luck when the team goes between falling short and overachieving. The World Series title the White Sox finally won in 2005 wasn’t the same as the Cubs. The Cubs’ title was the culmination of a well-built team with a grand design. The White Sox title was the ultimate of their overachieving years…
Well, you mean aside from two of the wildest parties Chicago has ever seen? The Cubs victory parade was attended by over five million people. I can’t speak for the White Sox, because I don’t know. But for a comparison, two enormous gatherings which I was in Chicago for – and personally attended – were the 2008 election of Barack Obama to the Presidency, which was attended by over 500,000 people, and the Chicago Blackhawks 2010 victory parade, which drew three million. (The Blackhawks snapped a 49-year curse which was then the longest in the NHL.) But you’re probably wondering more about the long-term aftereffects, and in the case of the Cubs, they can’t be judged just yet. We can make a few speculations which will be good based on things we know, and here they are: One, their current general manager is Jed Hoyer. Hoyer’s past includes a stint as the Assistant to the General Manager for the Boston Red Sox which ran through the 2004 team. He was made Assistant General Manager – don’t ask me what the difference is – after Boston’s GM, Theo Epstein, stepped down briefly in 2005. Hoyer was one of four executives who kept the team going, completing trades for Josh Beckett, Mike Lowell, Mark Loretta, and Andy Marte. He then worked as the GM for the Padres from 2009 to 2011, when he was taken by the Cubs. And you know who’s running the Cubs? Theo Epstein! Yes, the architect of the Cursebreaker Red Sox! He’s the President, not the GM, but he still developed a plan and oversaw it right through to the end. And it’s safe to expect that he’s using the same methods in Chicago as he did in Boston, which means this is a Cubs team built to win two or three more Fall Classics. But given the finicky nature of baseball bodies – today’s MVP is tomorrow’s obscure minor-leaguer – we can never be sure. The White Sox, on the other hand, we already saw. Its been 11 years since the Curse of the Black Sox went down in flames. And since the core of the 2005 team was kept intact, they were expected to spend the next few years slugging it out with Boston for the title of Supreme Sox Team… And, oh yeah, also World Series Champions. And that didn’t pan out. The White Sox made a run of it through the first half of 2006 but got blasted after the All-Star break, getting leapfrogged by both the Tigers and the Minnesota Twins. And it was the Tigers that won the Pennant and spend the next decade being the class of the division while, save a division title in 2008, the White Sox fell right back into their spot as the second team in the Second City. That was the truth: The White Sox were the ultimate one-year wonder. Like most of the other White Sox teams, they overachieved and just happened to win the World Series while doing so.
I’m holding off on this one. Yeah, we can make educated guesses about the Cubs all we want, but we’re still not going to know anything until we see some real results.
Although its only been a few days since the Cubs won the World Series, this is something that can actually be seen. The Cubs did have a great impact on the country. Let’s face it: The country has had a uniquely shitty year. The Republican Presidential candidate was picked strictly because the insane right political wing was desperate for a victory and thought the guy who fired up the worst of their fan base could be reined in. They’ve been proven wrong and only started to see the consequences of their stupidity after it was too late. David Bowie, Prince, Gordie Howe, and Muhammad Ali all left the Earthly plane. We’re being exposed to the bad side of the NFL and are torn over it, and even if we can ignore the bad side of it enough to use it as an escape, we can’t even do that anymore because one player is using it as a way to protest the way his people are treated. The Cubs managed to do the impossible by uniting the country, at least to the extent that it could have been united in a year like this. In the meantime, the White Sox winning the World Series didn’t have any impact at all. The Curse of the Black Sox itself is what had the impact. It was the Black Sox, after all, that resulted in baseball creating a Commissioner and a zero-tolerance policy on gambling. The Black Sox are also blamed for nearly ruining the sport, but that’s the reputation of it – I’m not sure about the truth of it. It’s something they teach you in elementary school history class, and they teach you that people stayed away from baseball until Babe Ruth was moved to the outfield and started hitting home runs. Honestly, did any other bad sports scandal have an impact like that? No one boycotted baseball for the steroid thing. No one avoided it after the strike, even though the fans made their displeasure over that known. People aren’t really staying away from football now. We didn’t quit on basketball even after a ref admitted to fixing a playoff series.
I’m going to give this to The Curse of the Black Sox. Yes, it’s awesome how the Cubs brought the country together, but that’s only going to be temporary, and if the Cubs manage to turn the corner, people are going to turn against them soon enough. Remember what happened to the Boston Red Sox? Same thing, although Red Sox fans becoming the worst people on the planet didn’t help their cause any.
You’ve seen The Exorcist, right? Would that movie have left the same impression on you without the girl’s neck doing a complete 180-degree turn, all the vomit, and the Priest killing himself at the end? Nope, didn’t think so. The drama is what people remember. And the Cubs of 2016 had that in spades during the postseason. Every pitch and every swing of the bat was watched with rapt attention. Everyone was already conditioned to know the Cubs were capable of blowing it at any time, and they had a past which backed the mindset up. One loss to the Giants was a tragedy. Two to the Dodgers and everyone in Chicago was suddenly picking out their favorite bridge over the Chicago River to jump off. Three to the Indians – who had a 3-1 lead in the World Series by then – and all the wind in Chicago was the deranged and heartbroken howling of Cubs faithful knowing their team was going to blow it again. (In all honesty, you couldn’t blame them for that one.) But the Cubs, like the Red Sox 12 years before, pulled themselves out of the insurmountable hole in order to get back into the Series and win it. And that seventh game was one of the greatest and most dramatic ever played: The Cubs lit up the scoreboard early and looked like they were going to cruise to the end, but the Indians came back, tying the game on a two-run homer in the eighth. The game went to extra innings, pausing for a brief rain delay during which one of my friends expressed her sentiments by saying, “I guess Mother Nature has to cry about this game too.” The Cubs scored two runs in the tenth, only to let the Indians score one more before they were finally able to close it out. On the other hand, when the White Sox ran down the entire league for their title in 2005, no one seemed in a big hurry to resist them. They made one of the most dominant postseason showings ever. In the ALDS, they plowed through the Red Sox, who – lest we forget – won the World Series the year before. In the ALCS, they lost the first game to the Los Angeles Angels before rebounding and winning the next four on the strength of four straight complete games from their starting rotation. In the World Series, every game they played against the opposing Houston Astros provided us with suspense. Two games were decided by two runs, and the other two were decided by one. Game three was of particular interest – it was a 15-inning marathon which saw the Astros take a 4-0 lead which they blew when the White Sox scored five in the fifth inning. The Astros tied it in the eighth, sent the game to extra innings, and the ChiSox and ‘Stros dueled for four more innings before the ChiSox scored two in the 14th to end the marathon. The game set a few marks: The teams combine to use a total of 17 pitchers; they threw a total of 482 pitches; 21 total batters were walked; 43 total players were used; and 30 total players were left on base. In the following game, the White Sox clinched the title with pitcher Freddy Garcia being nearly perfect through seven, and Jermaine Dye scored the only run of the game. Dramatic? Yes. Suspenseful? Definitely. Necessary? Not exactly. The theatrics didn’t change the fact that the 2005 World Series was only four games long.
The Billy Goat Curse. I take nothing from the White Sox here, but there was a difference between them and the Cubs: Clout. The White Sox of 2005 had it. The Cubs of 2016 didn’t. If the Sox didn’t close out in that fourth game, they would have had three more chances to do it, and history says they almost certainly would have pulled it off – only one team in baseball (the 2004 Red Sox) has ever managed to win a playoff series in which they were down 3-0. In total of sports, the number of teams that has climbed out of the 3-0 hole can still be counted on one hand, and all except the Red Sox are hockey teams. And that’s because being in that hole can mentally break you down. It says that even if you managed to get that far, the other team is clearly superior, you the players want to mentally cut their losses before they get hurt. Even if they win a game or two, it’s an effort to save face. The Cubs weren’t in that hole, but being behind 3-1 in a series is pretty close. It makes things a lot harder. There’s no room at all for error. And the Cubs, with all that history weighing on them and looking like they Cubbed it all up yet again, persevered. They shook off the mentality that situation can put on an athlete’s mind, came back into it, and never let it get into their heads again.
Looks like the Billy Goat Curse was the superior curse after all. Yes, the implications and impact of the Curse of the Black Sox were a lot nastier, but the goat is associated with Satan, so there’s that.