The Cubs, The Tigers, and The Curse

A.J. Reilly July 11, 2018

What’s in a curse? That’s a serious question. Are they real? Do you believe that people, pharaohs, and goat owners can bestow curses on another? Much of your traditional curses stem from a belief in the supernatural or to be more specific: superstition. And, what sport is more superstitious than others? Baseball.

To quote the greatest Regional Manner in the history of mid-level paper sales, Michael Gary Scott of Dunder Mifflin, “I’m not superstitious; I’m a little -stitious.” And if you’re like Mr. Scott and “a little -stitious” then you see the validity in some curses.

For instance, just to set the tone, here are some examples of curses that have taken place throughout history. First, in Ancient Israel: a prophet being berated by children for being bald, rather than being the bigger man, he cursed them by seeking a bear on them to their demise. Elisha the Prophet, apparently, taking a stand for all of the follically challenged people everywhere.

Or, consider the curse of the pharaoh. When the archaeologists that discovered King Tut’s tomb in 1922 started to succumb to mysterious demises after entering the tomb, speculation of the curse grew. Many chalk it up to media blowing the idea of a curse out of the water, but there has to be something to it, no?

Which brings us to the most famous of all sports curses: The Curse of the Billy Goat. The Curse of the Billy Goat is a legend about the demise, essentially, of the Chicago Cubs and their lack of World Series Titles from 1908-2016; but what may be little remembered from this curse is that in 1945 the Detroit Tigers were the direct benefactors of William “Billy Goat” Sianis and his pet goat, Murphy.

The Set-Up

The Chicago Cubs and the Detroit Tigers met for the fourth time in the 1945 World Series. As we’ve discussed before the first two didn’t go so well. However, the Tigers finally got the monkey off their back by winning the 1935 World Series, the first in club history — and their third meeting against the Cubs. In 1945 the teams met once again, making this their fourth meeting, in Detroit’s seven trips to the World Series.

The Tigers roster boasted of names like Virgil Trucks, Hal Newhouser, Rudy York, and Tommy Bridges. But, there was one name they were happy to be seen consistently in the lineup again: “Hammerin'” Hank Greenberg. Previously, Greenberg had been serving his country overseas, fighting during World War II. In fact, he hadn’t seen game action from May 6, 1941, until July 1, 1945. All Greenberg managed to do during those 78 games upon his return in ’45 was to hit .311/.404/.544, with 13 round trippers, and 60 runs batted in.

In 1945, the World Series was played in a 3-4 format: three games on the road for the Cubs, four games at home to finish the Series. And, after the first three games, the Cubs were in a premier position to capture another World Title and their first since 1908. During the first three games played in Detroit, the Cubs outscored the Tigers 13-4, taking a two-games-to-one lead, while heading back to their friendly confines. All they needed to do was to split the next four games, at home, and they’d be World Champs — and, apparently, they needn’t cross a spiteful goat owner.

The Curse

Of the 42,923 fans in attendance at Chicago’s Wrigley Field for Game Four, 42,922 aren’t that significant. One single fan, William “Billy Goat” Sianis, made all the difference on this day — if you believe in curses. Sianis decided it was perfectly acceptable for him to bring his pet goat, Murphy, to the “Friendly Confines” on this young fall morning. However, the “Friendly Confines” were not too friendly to Ole Murphy.

According to the legend, Sianis believed Murphy would bring the Cubs luck — and even bought a ticket for the goat. He was naturally stopped at the entrance and told that animals were not allowed in the park. Upon appeal to the Cubs owner, P.K. Wrigley, Billy was granted access, but not his goat. Frustrated he asked, “Why not the goat?” Wrigley’s response was simple, to the point, and (probably) offensive, “Because the goat stinks.”  That was all it took. Sianis threw his hands in the air and proclaimed, “The Cubs ain’t gonna win no more. The Cubs will never win a World Series so long as the goat is not allowed in Wrigley Field.”

Detroit beat the Cubs that day, 4-1. Detroit also went on to win two of the next three and secure their second World Series Title in franchise history. After Detroit’s victory, “Billy Goat” Sianis sent a telegram to Cubs owner, P.K. Wrigley, simply asking him one question, “Who stinks now?”

The Champs

For all this talk about curses, and you can read a more detailed description of the Billy Goat curse here, at the end of the day Detroit was World Champs again. They did exactly what they needed to do to claim another championship, even when their MVP, Hal Newhouser, didn’t have that great of a series. Newhouser went 2-1, with a 6.10 ERA in 20.2 innings pitched. He was roughed up in the first game but bounced back and give the club exactly what they needed over the course of two more starts.

Virgil Trucks and Dizzy Trout both had nice series. Each of them throwing a total of 27 innings, giving up a combined six earned runs, and going a combined 3-1 in the process. But, again, the name that should be remembered here is not Sianis, Trout, Trucks or Newhouser; it’s Greenberg.

The World War II vet continued to make up for lost time in the Series. He hit .304/.467/.696(!), with seven hits (five of them for extra bases; three doubles and two home runs), and he led the team in RBIs with seven. It’s hard to label Greenberg a hero simply for his athletic achievements, that title was earned while he was overseas. But what he did from July through October of 1945 was simply remarkable.

Curses are fun to think about and it’s also fun to look for coincidences that prove their reality. However, to say that the Cubs were cursed and that’s the only reason why the Tigers won, is to shortchange the rightful Champs. By the end of the 1945 World Series, one thing is sure: the Tigers were coming home with the trophy and were the Champs, regardless if a goat was there to watch them do it or not.

About A. J. Reilly

Baseball romantic. Book lover. Published author. Cigar enthusiast.

View all posts by A. J. Reilly

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