A Piano and a Goat Walk Into a Bar
Say it ain’t so, Joe! The Chicago Cubs are finally back in the World Series. Well, that didn’t take long now, did it? Only 71 pain-staking, gut-wrenching years of devoted fandom. But hey, what’s a few decades when we’re talking about one of the most beloved teams in all of baseball?
I’ll quickly remind those of you not fully up on their 20th-century history that 1945 was the year the Allies emerged victorious in World War II. Oh come on, you remember it- Steven Spielberg made a movie about it. In any case, that last World Series appearance for the Cubs also coincided with the origin of the legendary Curse of the Billy Goat. For those of you not familiar, the commonly accepted tale goes like this: a tavern owner named Williams Sianis tried taking his goat, Murphy, to Game 4 of the 1945 World Series between the Chicago Cubs and Detroit Tigers. He’d purchased two tickets and argued with ushers that the tickets did not outlaw a goat. Nonetheless, Sianis and Murphy were rejected, at which point Sianis hexed the Cubs in perpetuity or at least until Cubs management began granting goats admission into the ballpark, so yeah, forever. And I do mean forever. That was so long ago in fact that in 1945 a bar owner in the city limits of Chicago actually considered it reasonable to think a goat might be allowed into the game. He walked down city streets with a goat, thinking, “Can’t wait to watch this game with my buddy Murphy here.” Right- it’s been that long.
But as preposterously long as it has been between Cubs’ World Series appearances, it has been even longer since they’ve actually won the darn thing. To harken back to the last time the Cubs were champions of the baseball world, one must go back to the Frank Chance and Mordecai Brown led team of 1908. That’s correct- 1908. I’m not even going to bother doing the math for you. Suffice it to say that Roosevelt was president at the time. No, not FDR and his New Deal, which you have barely even heard of. No the even older one, Theodore Roosevelt. You know, the one that rode horseback and created the National Park system? Yes, in 1908, Jacques Cousteau, Perry Como, Mother Teresa, and Errol Flynn had not even been born yet, and Mark Twain, Henri Rousseau, and Leo Tolstoy were all still alive. Women still did not have the right to vote and the Titanic hadn’t even been build yet. I think it’s safe to say it’s been awhile.
But somehow Cubs have fans have persevered. Through all those years of heart-break and disappointment, they have stuck by those “lovable losers” and made them their own. In fact, the fan base has, in many ways, become inseparable from the players themselves, mirroring a sense of identity that is defining of who they truly are as people as well as fans. But don’t think I’m poking fun at you, Cubs fans, or feel like I’m calling you a bunch of losers. Fact is, nothing could be further from the truth. I know just where you’re coming from.
You see, for those of you who have not yet read my novel, Waiting for Today, I am a die-hard Boston Red Sox fan, and if there is anybody who understands the plight of the devoted legions of Wrigleyville, it is most certainly a life-long Sox fan. In that book, I used my protagonist’s tortured travails as a doomed Red Sox fan as a metaphor for the suffering we inherently endure as an essential ingredient of life itself. Like the Cubbies, the Sox had a curse of their own: the curse of the Great Bambino, started after iconic Babe Ruth threw a piano into Willis Pond upon learning of his having been traded to the rival New York Yankees. The Babe swore the Red Sox would never win another World Series, and for 86 years of long-suffering expectation and epic collapse, he was right.
And yet we believed. Despite everything we should have gathered from prior experience and simple common sense, we believed each and every year that this would somehow be the year. Only when they were mathematically eliminated did we begrudgingly acknowledge that our spirits had been crushed once more under the heavy weight of futility only to be awoken anew each Spring when the sweet smell of stale beer and roasted peanuts returned to the ballpark for Opening Day. For years, that was our routine.
But take solace, dear Cubs fans. For your curse too, be it this season or someday yet to come, shall indeed be broken. And in that win, that glorious taste from the chalice of victory, you will come to comprehend the meaning of all those years of suffering. When the Red Sox finally ended their curse and won the World Series in 2004, I knew an elation that no Yankee fan could ever fully grasp because it was in direct inverse relation to the suffering I had known. The only other fan base in America that can truly appreciate what I mean by that is you, Cubbie faithfuls. You know exactly what I mean. So hold out hope, my friends, and let me leave you with the immortal words of one Steven Perry, “Don’t stop believing”.
|Side note: I’d like to dedicate my column today to my the mother of my stepmom, Joyce Mullins. Joyce was an avid reader, a charming personality, and a devoted mother. I owe her an immeasurable debt of gratitude for being one of the initial readers of <em>Waiting for Today</em>. Her positive but constructive feedback reading chapters even as I would just finish them lifted my spirits and carried me through a process I’m not sure I would have completed without her assistance. We miss you, Joyce. Thank you and sweet dreams.|
Steven Craig is the author of the best-selling novel WAITING FOR TODAY, as well as numerous published poems, short stories, and dramatic works. Read his blog TRUTH: in 1000 Words or Less every THURSDAY at www.waitingfortoday.com