When you tell people you are a Cubs fan, you typically get one of two reactions. Most of the time, the response sends you into a mental cloud of anger, because they seem to always want to bring up the curse, and how the Cubs have been considered the “loveable losers” for so long, that it must be painful for you to watch them come up short year after year after year. The other response, for as long as I’ve been able to remember…comes from other Cubs fans, which is always four simple words. “There’s always next year.”
We are 3rd generation Cubs fans. Every time my wife visits with her grandmother, she is reminded that for her honeymoon, her and grandpa went to a Cubs game. Her grandfather watched every game, and when the TV wasn’t available, he would go sit in his car and listen to the game, leaving grandma to deal with 8 children. When you live next to a baseball diamond, and request to have your final resting place be on a baseball diamond, it’s safe to say you are dedicated. My earliest memories of the Cubs are when I would sit with my grandfather on the weekends and burn away the afternoons watching WGN in southern Indiana while listening to Harry make the call. My grandfather taught me a lot about the game (mostly the inappropriate name calling that takes place when your pitcher has a bad outing, and the bats don’t seem to be working). I learned about the history of the team, and that you didn’t get to pick who you were going to cheer for…because in this family, you could only cheer for the Cubs. After he passed away, my grandmother would always check in with me and ask me how I thought they were doing while she browsed the newspaper for the current standings. (she was always too busy reading her “erotic drama” books to actually watch a game (you know, like 50 shades of Grey, only before that was a thing).
In 1990’s, we saw a strange change in the game of baseball. There was a strike, the playoffs were cancelled, and people were falling out of love with “America’s pastime”. That of course changed in 1998, when two players decided that they would take the weight of the struggling league, and put it on their shoulders (and bats), to create one of the greatest races, and possible saving grace of the sport as we know it. Luckily for Cubs fans, one of those players was Sammy Sosa. The conversation started in spring training, when Mark McGwire was talked up as being the one to challenge Roger Maris for his 61 HR record, but the season would prove to be a 2 horse race, with Sosa and McGuire both passing him (70 McGuire, 66 Sosa). All of this exciting stuff never amounted to anything for Cubs fans though. Sure it was exciting, and it’s true it may very well have saved the game of baseball by bringing people back to the sport, but for Cubs fans, the best that those 66 HR’s got us, was a sweep in the NLDS by the Atlanta Braves.
But I’m not here to give a book report on the history of our favorite baseball team. I’m here to tell you how my loving wife and I decided we were going to be a part of it. When you look at the history of any franchise, there are always shocking details that seem to blow you away about a club. There have been 7 different owners since the last time the Chicago Cubs won a World Series Title. They’ve been to the World series only 8 times as the Chicago Cubs, and have only been NL Central, or NL Division champions a total of 16 times. When you think about the fact that they have been the Chicago Cubs since 1903, that’s a little mind blowing (I mean 113 years is a seriously long time). For most of us, we know only the pain and suffering of years and years of mediocre teams that had potential that left us blowing in the wind, like the flags keeping us informed of who was leading the central division out in center on the scoreboard. And as with all franchises, there are unique historic events that shape how fans look at a franchise, either good or bad.
In this case, the Cubs have what some could argue is the greatest story in baseball. Granted, as I write this I can hear all of my friends screaming “Homer”, but when you hear about a curse that has been alive and well since Oct. 6th, 1945, even they can’t totally dismiss it.
Billy Sianis, owner of the Billy Goat Tavern, told the club that they would never win again, when he was asked to leave game 4 of the World Series vs the Tigers. The Cubs were leading the series, and as we all know would lose the series, in what would begin over 100 years of pain and suffering. The curse of the Billy goat is quite historic, and if you aren’t familiar, allow me to get you caught up. Murphy the goat was forced to be tied up outside the stadium when other patrons of the game complained that he didn’t smell nice (go figure, he’s a goat). Mr. Sianis took serious offense to this, and told everyone who would listen, that the Cubs would never win again. So how does a goat named Murphy have an effect on the last 113 years? Well the last owner of the Cubs to win a title was Charles Murphy. In the 1969 season, the Cubs had a team that was “unable to lose” in the eyes of most….until they did (no thanks to that black cat). They spiraled out of control and finished second behind the Mets, whose GM at the time just happened to be named Johnny Murphy. (I’d like to note that the Mets game announcer was Bob Murphy). In 1984, the Cubs finished first in their division, and found themselves in the NLCS vs the Padres. They ended up losing that series 3 games to 2….and the location of the NLCS, was Jack Murphy Stadium. Flash forward to just last year. A new skipper who is a future HOF’er, coaching up a young stud team who looks like they can’t do wrong. An incredible wildcard game against a rival Pirates club who won over 90 games, followed up with a huge 4-1 series win against the biggest rivalry in baseball, the STL Cardinals. Once again the Cubs saw the Mets, in what many thought would be an amazing NLCS. That is until Daniel Murphy had an MVP postseason outing, and single handedly took the Cubs out of it.
Now, you could argue that someone would have to go looking for all of that and really try hard to connect the dots and make this thing a story. I mean let’s be honest, how can one single name carry the weight of over 100 years of bad luck? However, if you are truly a lover of sports, don’t you have to have some level of superstition? I mean sure these things could be considered a stretch….but that damned goat was named Murphy, and I just gave you decades worth of the same.
I know it all sounds crazy, but isn’t that the definition of “fanatic”? Our son was born on December 9th, of 2015. Just weeks after the Cubs came up short, we brought the next generation of Cubs fan into the world. As any parent knows, naming a child is a pretty important and daunting task. You have to find a name that is important to you, and one that won’t cause the kid TOO much grief throughout their life. (We all have stories of the name game from growing up). We went back and forth for months trying to decide on what we would call our new little bundle, and one night when I came home from work, my wife dropped a name on me that I just simply couldn’t say no to.
If you were lucky enough to be around during the professional career of Michael Jordan, then you were lucky enough to see what most will agree was the greatest professional basketball career of all time. In fact, when asking a random fan who has been around for longer than Lebron’s career, most would consider MJ the Greatest of All Time….or more simply put, the GOAT (like a Billy goat…see what I did there?). My wife is probably one of the biggest Jordan fans I have ever met, so it was no surprise to me when she suggested that our son’s name have a connection to him. As we continued to discuss what would prove to be the name we chose for him, I began to realize that not only did this name have significant meaning for her, but it connected so many dots that would suggest that he could complete a cycle that started so many years ago for all Cubs fans. See, we were at game 3 of the NLCS in 2015 (props to my wife, she was a trooper), and as we entered the ball park on the Northside, she was met with cheers from strangers, words of encouragement and excitement that a woman who was basically weeks away from child birth would join the masses to cheer on our beloved Cubbies. She was wearing a shirt that said “Cub in the oven”, and was being stopped for pictures like she was a celebrity. I remember a woman yelling to her “start him early, we need more pitchers!”. The Cubs may have fallen victim to yet another Murphy related curse in that series, but what they didn’t know, was that in doing so, they effectively paved the way to finish the ending of the story of the curse of the Billy goat. They inspired us to stop standing on the sidelines and take Mr. Sianis head on with what will prove to be a historic decision (at least for us).
Since his arrival, we’ve seen the Cubs acquire the exact pieces they were missing in 2015; a pitching staff that can compete with all others; a group of veterans with post season experience who will guide the young talent that has burst into the big leagues over the past two years; more than 100 wins, the most we’ve seen the club have since….well you get it. I guess what I’m saying is seeing isn’t always believing. When you are a part of a group, a club, a team…a fan base, you sort of agree to an unwritten contract. You promise to stand with that collective no matter what happens, good or bad. It’s not often that we get the call though, to buck the trend and change history, so when that opportunity presents itself, make sure you’re ready to act.
Our now 10-month old son may not be able to say it himself quite yet, but he has a message for all Major League Baseball, Mr. Sianis and his goat:
The Chicago Cubs and their fans are done hearing the non-sense about all the reasons they have “bad luck”. This year, they’ve got a good luck charm….whose name just happens to be Murphy.