Bloomberg News

Chicago Cubs Face Worst Playoff Foe: Their History

October 04, 2007

Chicago Cubs fan Jerry Pritikin, just 8 years old when the team played in the World Series in 1945, was told by his father that he was too young to attend and could go to the next Cubs series.

Pritikin, now 70, is still waiting.

``I'll take you next time,'' said Pritikin, recalling the fateful words of his father, who died in 1980 without seeing the Cubs win another National League championship.

The Cubs have the longest pennant and World Series drought in Major League Baseball, thanks to a history of last-minute collapses. The Cubs failed to help their cause last night with a 3-1 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks in the first game in a best-of-five playoff. The winner will play the victor in the Philadelphia Phillies-Colorado Rockies matchup to claim the league pennant and a World Series berth.

No matter which teams the Cubs meet, the toughest opponent is their own history, fans say. While eight U.S. cities celebrate their team's entry into the playoffs, Chicago's joy is mixed with anxiety and dread because of the failures and disappointments of the past.

``I don't think even a curse could explain it,'' said Stuart Dybek, Chicago writer and lifelong Cubs fan who last week won a $500,000 grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. ``A curse isn't potent enough.''

Fans of the Cubs, owned by Chicago-based Tribune Co., feel a special kind of agony because their franchise hasn't won a World Series since 1908, said Byron Clarke, an accountant at a Chicago private-equity firm.

Fan Psychology

``The club's history doesn't affect the team, but it affects the psychology of the fans,'' said Clarke, 24, a co- founder of a blog for Cubs fans.

After last night's game, Cubs fans were already adopting coping strategies to deal with the loss: They looked forward to tonight's Game 2 in Arizona and minimized the setback.

``It's just happenstance,'' said Chris Petty, 54, a Coal Valley, Illinois, physician in Chicago for a conference, as she left the Bar on Buena at 11:45 p.m. where fans watched the game.

Las Vegas oddsmakers were less forgiving. The Cubs went from ``slight favorite'' yesterday to win the series against Arizona to ``slight underdog'' today, said Jay Kornegay, director of the Las Vegas Hilton Sports Book.

`Cursed Franchise'

History hangs heavy over the Cubs, a team that traces its origins to 1874, according to Major League Baseball's Web site. Fans have blamed livestock and a stray cat, among other things, for the team's misfortune.

During the Cubs' 1945 World Series appearance, tavern owner Billy Sianis is said to have put a hex on the team after he was barred from bringing his goat, Murphy, into Wrigley Field. The Cubs lost that game and the next three, giving victory to Detroit.

``The Cubs were and are a cursed franchise,'' according to an official account of the incident on the Billy Goat Tavern Web site.

Other mysterious phenomena followed. A black cat crisscrossed the dugout during a September contest against the New York Mets in 1969. The first-place Cubs then spiraled out of contention. In 1984, with a league championship within reach during a decisive game 5, first baseman Leon Durham committed an error, sustaining the San Diego Padres' winning rally.

`Bad Things'

During the Cubs' last playoffs appearance, four years ago, the team was five outs away from a trip to the World Series when a fan deflected a fly ball in Wrigley's left field corner. Outfielder Moises Alou blamed his failure to catch it on the fan, a miss that cost the Cubs an out. The team unraveled, blowing a 3-0 lead and its chance to win the pennant.

``There's got to be something to all this talk of a curse for the simple reason that so many bad things have happened to this team,'' said Mark McQuade, 38, who became a Cubs fan watching afternoon games on television with his father in the Chicago suburb of Riverdale, Illinois.

``The Cubs are a risk,'' agreed fan Lois Presner, 69. ``It makes me very nervous.''

As Cubs supporter Al Yellon of Chicago put it: ``We've had so many failures that it's made us wary of what might happen.''

Frustrated fans are taking the matter in hand by buying Break the Curse kits, the brainchild of Marge Flashing, 65, and Kathie Hesterman, 43. The kits, which are sold on line for $19.95, include a plush goat embroidered with ``Break the Curse,'' its two halves held together by Velcro.

Family Tradition

Joe Aiello, founder of the View From the Bleachers Web site, began growing a beard to cultivate good luck after the team clinched the National League Central Division title on Sept. 28.

``Maybe I should have done this back in '03,'' said Aiello, 29.

Fan loyalty was tested to its limit when the Cubs' cross- town rivals, the White Sox, won their first World Series in 88 years in 2005.

Cubs fans say they have remained loyal out of a combination of tradition and nostalgia. In Chicago, fans often root for the team their parents or grandparents supported, no matter the win- loss record, McQuade said. When Cubs fans like McQuade and Pritikin talk of the team, they often mention watching games with a parent.

Tradition isn't easily overcome, and die-hard supporters are bracing for disappointment.

``We're expecting the best but we're always prepared for the worst,'' said Jim Morrell, 32. ``We're Cubs fans, after all.''

Pritikin doesn't want to repeat the fruitless wait his father endured since the last World Series.

``I really hope it happens this year for people like me who are getting up in age,'' he said. ``In our lifetime.''

To contact the reporter on this story: Joe Carroll in Chicago at jcarroll8@bloomberg.net; Andrew Harris in Chicago federal court at aharris16@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Steve Walsh at swalsh@bloomberg.net


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