A friend of mine, just back from a business trip to Chicago, complained yesterday that he could get little work done there all week because of a severe outbreak of ‘Cubs Fever’.
The Cubs are the Windy City’s premier baseball team, although ‘premier’ may be an odd word to apply to a team with a long and far from turbulent tradition of not winning anything. That fact alone explains the city’s present consuming passion for the Cubs, who ended this year’s season as National League champions with a play-off victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers, and will now meet the Cleveland Indians in the post-season match-up that Americans call the World Series.
I suppose I should add that the ‘fever’ is largely confined to the city’s northern districts. In its more southerly – and poorer suburbs – baseball fans reserve their passions for the White Sox – another team that traditionally struggles to dominate the headlines of the sports pages for the right reasons.
(Incidentally, and for the benefit of non-American readers convinced that calling the championship of a sport played only in the Americas a ‘world series’ to be a typical case of American hubris, the nomenclature derives from the fact that the original series was sponsored by a New York newspaper called the World Telegram.)
For Chicago Cubs fans we might allow a degree of hubris. The ‘fever’ now gripping the city has been hard earned: the Cubs have failed to feature in the post-season championship since 1945. Spare a thought in particular for those Cubs fans under the age of seventy, the vast majority, who have never known their team to appear in, let alone win, a World Series. Many of them will not even know the reason for this lamentable record, which is widely believed by the superstitious, and accepted on the basis of the evidence by everyone else.
Known locally as the Billy Goat Curse, it stems, according to legend, from one Billy Sianis, the owner of an establishment known as the Billy Goat tavern, located not far from Wrigley Field where the team plays. It seems that Billy was ejected from the stadium at one of the games because of the stench emitted by his pet goat, for which he had bought a ticket in the box seats, and which duly accompanied him to the game. Angered by this insult, Billy brought down a curse on the Cubs – namely that they would never again win the World Series. It worked.
The Cubs did come close in 1969, when, late in the season, they had built a 9-1/2 lead over the challenging New York Mets – an expansion team with a reputation for ineptitude which matched that of the Cubs. But the Cubs went into their customary swoon with an eight-game losing streak, just as the Mets were mounting a ten-game winning streak. The season is still remembered by head-shaking Chicagoans for what became an infamous ‘wild throw’ by Cubs pitcher Dick Selma. Attempting to pick off a Philadelphia Phillies runner at third base, Selma threw to third-baseman, Ron Santos. Inexplicably, Santos was nowhere to be seen. The runner scored, and the Cubs’ season proceeded to fall apart. (I was a Mets fan at the time, and new to the game, but I remember the incident as the one that gave the hitherto hapless Mets the belief that they could go all the way to the World Series. This they did, famously winning by four-games-to-one against the supposedly invincible Baltimore Orioles.)
If the Cubs play true to historical form – even though they enter the World Series as strong favourites – they will find a way to louse things up. That could be bad news for the Democrats: President Barack Obama and the Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton both profess to be Cubs fans – all the more unsentimental reason for sporting neutrals to root for the perennially hapless Cubs. Take the World Series and help dispose of Donald Trump and the Cubs will live forever in a few million hearts.