Answer Man: The Curse of the Billy Goat continues

News-DemocratApril 8, 2014 

Can you tell us about roasting goat to break the Curse of the Billy Goat pertaining to the Chicago Cubs? This was in your paper. -- E.H., of Belleville

On Oct. 6, 1945, the Chicago Cubs got William Sianis' goat by forcing the popular tavern owner to remove his horned pet from Wrigley Field during that year's World Series.

Legend now has it that Sianis returned the favor by leveling a curse that has kept the Little Bears out of the Fall Classic ever since. The recent goat roast was just the latest effort to break perhaps the longest and most talked-about jinxes in sports history.

Sianis was a 17-year-old Greek native when he immigrated to the United States in 1912. Two months after Prohibition ended in early 1934, he paid $205 for the Lincoln Tavern, which was across the street from the old Chicago Stadium. (His check bounced, but he later covered it with receipts from the first weekend of business.)

That very summer, as the story goes, a baby goat fell off a truck near the tavern. Sianis took pity on the poor, lost critter and nursed it back to health, naming it Murphy. At about the same time, he also changed the name of his bar to the one you see today: the Billy Goat Tavern (www.billygoattavern.com).

Between its great location and the gimmick of the goat, Sianis' tavern quickly became a must-visit watering hole for both Chicagoans and visiting celebrities. Soon, Sianis himself was wearing a goatee, calling himself "Billy" and taking the goat into unusual places for publicity.

So it was no surprise that on Saturday, Oct. 6, 1945, the pair showed up at Wrigley Field, where Sianis plunked down $7.20 for two seats -- one for him and one for Murphy. After winning a couple of shutouts in Detroit, the Cubs were leading the series 2-1. Sianis could smell a championship as he pinned a banner that stated "We Got Detroit's Goat" on Murphy.

According to some stories, Sianis was asked to parade the animal on the field before the game. But while later enjoying the action from the stands, he was asked to leave the park in the fourth inning because nearby fans were complaining of the eau de goat aroma.

The tavern website itself says an Andy Frain usher stopped Sianis before he even entered the park. When he asked then-owner P.K. Wrigley why, Wrigley replied, "Because the goat stinks."

In a fit of pique he may have regretted later, Sianis reportedly fired off a telegram to Wrigley that promised, "You are going to lose this World Series and you are never going to win another World Series again. You are never going to win a World Series again because you insulted my goat."

Sure enough, the Tigers took three of the four games in Chicago, losing only a 12-inning, 8-7 Game 6, the last victory the Cubs would ever post in the World Series. Since then, the Cubs have not even had the chance to win another championship, a feat they haven't accomplished since 1908.

In fact, as the Billy Goat website points out, from 1876 to 1945, the Cubbies had an overall winning percentage of .559. Since then, the winning pace has fallen to .467. Adding to the fans' frustration, dozens of former Cubs have gone on to win World Series rings elsewhere, including, of course, beloved Cardinals Bruce Sutter and Lou Brock.

But don't think the Sianis family has been reveling in its Lord Voldemort-like power. Already in 1969, Sianis declared the curse over, and the Cubs raced off to a big first-place lead by August. Nobody, however, apparently had consulted the goat, and the Miracle Mets won the pennant.

The Cubs then became desperate, inviting nephew Sam Sianis with a goat to celebrate opening day in 1984 and 1989, stop a losing streak in 1994 and add to the festivities at the wild-card play-in game in 1998 (which the Cubs won). Five years later, a group of fans brought their own goat to the park, but it was denied admission and the Cubs missed the series by five outs.

Since then, things have turned ugly. Butchered goats were hung on the Harry Caray statue in 2007 and 2009, a severed goat's head was sent to team owner Thomas Ricketts in 2013 and a goat was roasted this year. So far it stilll has been no match when you're butting heads with the ghost of Murphy.

Billy Sianis, by the way, died early on Oct. 22, 1970, at the St. Clair Hotel, where he lived. Calling Sianis Chicago's "greatest tavern keeper," columnist Mike Royko noted, "It was typical of Billy Goat that he would die during the only five hours of the day when his place wasn't open for business. That's how good a businessman he was."

Today's trivia

Fairview Heights has its Moody Park at Longacre. New York City used to have Longacre Square. What is it called now?

Answer to Tuesday's question: Primrose Lane -- life was a holiday on "The Smith Family," which resurrected the pop song as the theme song for the ABC-TV comedy-drama, which lasted two seasons from January 1971 to June 1972. The show featured Henry Fonda as a Los Angeles police detective and father of three, including Ron Howard as his elder son, Bob. In 1959, country singer Jerry Wallace rode "Primrose Lane" to No. 8 on Billboard's Hot 100.

Send your questions to Roger Schlueter, Belleville News-Democrat, 120 S. Illinois St., P.O. Box 427, Belleville, IL 62222-0427 or rschlueter@bnd.com or call 618-239-2465.

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