The Billy Goat Curse is a Lie

First of all, there is no such thing as curses.  The Cubs haven't won a world series in 100 years because of a combination of bad luck and some ownership completely clueless as to how to win ball games.  Specifically PK Wrigley, although the Tribune hasn't been a lot better in this area until very recently.

But let's assume for a moment that curses do exist.  Let's assume that it is possible that there is some sort of supernatural force that is causing the bad luck that I mentioned earlier.

If so, it has nothing to do with Bill Sianis, a billy goat, or the 1945 World Series.

Let me first state that the information presented here is a distillation of an essay found on pages 192-193 of Glenn Stout and Richard Johnson's excellent history of the team The Cubs (Houghton Mifflin, 2007).

Bill Sianis was a greek immigrant who owned the Lincoln Tavern on 1855 West Madison Street, across the street from the Chicago Stadium. He was the type of Chicago character whom, if he didn't already exist, would have been invented by a famous Chicago newspaper writer like Finley Peter Dunne or Mike Royko.  (Royko did write about Sianis a lot, actually.)

Other than being a hangout for Chicago sportswriters covering games at the stadium, Sianis' Tavern was famous for his pet goat that he kept behind the bar--and sometimes in front of the bar.  He discovered that people came to his bar to see the goat.  When he got written up by the Board of Health for having an unsanitary goat in his establishment, he used his newspaper reporter friends to turn the case into a big local interest story, eventually resulting in the case being thrown out of court and the goat "paroled" into his care.  With the resulting publicity, business soared.

From the mid-1930s through World War II, Sianis rarely missed an opportunity to get his goat into the Chicago newspapers.  He grew a goatee and his patrons nicknamed him "Billy Goat."

When the Cubs improbably won the NL Pennant in 1945, Bill Sianis saw the World Series with the Tigers as another opportunity to get one of his pet goats (he had more than one by that time) into the newspapers and to promote his tavern.  He did, in fact, buy two tickets to Game Five of the World Series, one for him and one for his goat.  He put a big sign on the goat's back that read "WE GOT DETROIT'S GOAT."

The Cubs let Sianis and his goat into Wrigley Field that day, contrary to the myth.  They were allowed to parade on the field with the other fans and actually got to watch the beginning of the game together.  But the game was delayed by rain.  Wet goat does not smell nice.  Additionally, the goat eventually got a little spooked by 43,000 people and ran back onto the field.

Eventually, the Cubs realized that having a wet, smelly goat in the stands who was either running out onto the field or trying to eat the other fans things wasn't such a good idea.  Some ushers asked Sianis and his goat to leave.

Sianis gladly complied, but since this was a publicity stunt from the beginning, he was going to make sure that he got all the publicity he could out of his ejection.  He left loudly waving his two tickets, claiming he had every right to be there.  But before he left, the ushers who ejected him all had their photos taken with the goat.  Then they staged a photo where Sianis and his goat were at the turnstiles trying to get in, only to be blocked by an usher.

The next day, famed Chicago newspaperman Arch Ward made a mention of the incident with Sianis at the game in his column.  Business at the Lincoln Tavern boomed.

What's missing here?  Any mention of a curse.  Sianis never cursed the Cubs for his ejection.  Why would he?  He was a Cub fan and his customers were Cub fans.  If your whole point for being at the game was to get publicity for your tavern, why would you ever want to be linked to cursing your customer's favorite team?

After the Cubs lost Game Seven of the Series in Detroit, Sianis did send Phillip K. Wrigley a telegram that said "WHO SMELLS NOW?"  That got him another mention in the newspapers. That's the closest he ever came to a curse.

So where did the idea of the curse come from?  In 1966, some Chicago sportswriters, lamenting the state of this 100 loss team, wrote of a "hex" placed on the team and vaguely connected it to the publicity stunt of 1945, which they sort of vaguely remembered.  Bill Sianis was asked about it in 1967, and in an interview with the Chicago Tribune off-handedly said that he'd lifted the "hex" years ago.

Then came 1969.  Columnist David Condon did a series of columns on Sianis, now in his late 70s.  Sianis was still shilling his bar, which by this time had moved to its present location on Michigan Avenue and had been renamed "The Billy Goat Tavern."  In April, Sianis celebrated the Cubs team and talked about how he was lifting the curse.  Cub fans asked "What are you talking about?" as no one had ever heard of it.  But of course, business boomed again.

But when the Cubs started to tank in September, Sianis went running to Condon to explain how none of this was his fault, and that any curse that he had claimed earlier in the season had been lifted and that it was the Mets and not the Billy Goats that were ruining the season.  But Condon sensed he had a colorful story here, and throughout the end of the 1969 season and the subsequent off-season, Condon blamed the season on the "Billy Goat Curse."  Other newspapermen picked up on it, and a myth was born.

In the years since Sianis died, the Sianis family has kept alive this "curse" story because, you guessed it, it's good for business.  It's a part of the "lovable loser" mythology and as the Red Sox can also attest, made-up curses sell. By this time, the family probably even believes the curse actually happened.  The Billy Goat Tavern website certainly claims it as gospel now.

So when Dick Stockton or Joe Buck or whoever this post-season claims that the Cubs were cursed by a tavern owner whose goat was not let into the ballpark, you now know what a crock that is.  You've always known there is no such thing as curses.  Now you know there is now such thing as Billy Goat Curses.

So let's go out and win a World Series.

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