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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Legend of the Cub

The legend of the Cub is what George Will has declared is a part of Americana. Their farm team is in Iowa, otherwise known as heaven. For those of you already somewhat familiar with the legend, you may be interested in a few additional findings on the subject. Keep in mind that all factual claims made below are accurate — as Yogi Berra said, you can look it up. Any points of speculation are derived from those facts, so if this ever gets made into a movie, they’ll say it’s based on a true story…

So it’s now 2008 (sorry if I surprised anyone), and at press time we find the Chicago Cubs clinging to first place in the National League Central. They haven’t been to the World Series in 63 years, and by Roman numerals, they haven’t won the World Series in the number of years on their cap. Their chances of winning it all this year, it seems, rely on breaking the Curse of the Billy Goat, which we’ll see is intertwined with authors, presidents, managers, Cy Young and MVP Award winners, and a cast of players throughout history. Their stories are curiously interrelated, as they all claim some connection to the Cubs’ long string of futility, and of eventually breaking out of it.

It all started back in 1876 for both the Cubs and Mark Twain. That was the year Twain published his first big novel, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and it was also the first year of existence of the Chicago Cubs as a major league franchise. Two famed stories had been born simultaneously.

The last Chicago Cubs team to win the World Series, in 1908, had Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown pitching for them, Tinker/Evers/Chance was their double play combination, and Franklin Pierce Adams was the team poet. Henry Ford made the first Model T automobile that year. Mother’s Day was observed for the first time. Arizona and New Mexico were still rumors. And the aforementioned Twain (aka Samuel Clemens) was still alive. A not-so-legendary Clemens — good ole’ Clem Clemens — would soon be the first of five Clemenses to play in the major leagues.

Cubs owner William Wrigley Jr. and his chewing gum enterprise rode on the popularity of Doublemint gum, perhaps a subtle reference to his hero Twain, who died in 1910. Doublemint made its debut the same year (1914) that Clem Clemens first appeared in the majors, and it’s also the year Cubs longtime announcer and icon Harry Caray was born. This was the same season the Cubs decided to don a cap logo with a cub for their away games — the only year it was used. If you look closely, you may see a striking resemblance to Caray. Also of note that year: World War I started, the world’s equilibrium was upset, and the Cubs chaos was formally underway.

Clem played two seasons in the Federal League, and then his final season was for the Cubs in 1916, where as a catcher he was hitless in 15 at-bats, meaning he was 0-for-1916. With the first Clemens officially on board, the Cubs then moved into their current home of Wrigley Field that year. James “Hippo” Vaughn led the team in wins with 17. Also significant in 1916, the Cub Scouting program was founded by Robert Baden-Powell, supposedly to fill the pressing need for the Cubs to have thousands of scouts across the country and find those elusive prospects.

Twain had set his novels Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn in the fictional town of St. Petersburg. Clem Clemens later died in St. Petersburg, Florida. Meanwhile, Twain's birthplace was a village in Missouri named Florida. In the 2000 U.S. Census, this tiny village of Florida, Missouri had a population of 9 people — precisely enough to field a baseball team.

A youthful Ronald Reagan announced radio replays of Cubs games back in the mid-‘30s, and then it’s said he left for an acting career in 1937, but another theory has it that since it was the first year that Wrigley Field fully embraced its Greek influences by covering the outfield wall with ivy (or IV in Greek), Reagan knew that his work there was done and the Cubs were well on the path to infamy. They’ve had ivy on the wall ever since.

Historically, whenever the Cubs have lost a game, they have flown a flag at their stadium that day showing the Roman number “L”, which comes from the Greek ‘lambda’ (Λ). Game 4 of the 1945 World Series at Wrigley Field would bring added significance to the Greek influence on the Cubs. That infamous game was attended by Billy Sianis, a local Chicago tavern owner and Greek immigrant well versed in lambda, who brought his goat along, buying a ticket for it as well. World War II had just ended one month earlier, and hope was in the air. The Cubs were ready to break their 37-year drought without a title. They had won ten more games during the regular season than their American League counterpart (Detroit Tigers) and were leading the Series 2 games to 1, with the last four games slated for their home park of Wrigley Field. Then came the Billy Goat game.

In that fateful game 4 when in the 7th innning, rain reportedly made the goat smelly, Sianis was told by an attendant to remove his pet (whose name was Murphy) from the stadium, to which Sianis protested vociferously, and as he was leaving he declared that he was putting a curse on the Cubs, who ended up getting a lambda that day by a score of 4-1. The Cubs have been affected by Murphy’s Law ever since. The curse was said to have been two-pronged, requiring a future batter and a future pitcher break it, as well as various other bit players.

In the aftermath of the Billy Goat game, legend had it that a man would be born before the next season who would later bear a son, and this son would win the seventh seal (7 MVPs) and then retire, before the Cubs could be freed from their bonds and lift the first part of the curse — of not playing in the World Series. And it was said that the father’s name would symbolize these bonds that the Cubs were in.

This was seen as an impossible task that would keep the Cubs from the World Series in perpetuity. Jimmie Foxx (no relation to Charlie or Chad) was the only player in history at that point with even three MVP awards. Foxx, incidentally, played two seasons with the Cubs in the twilight of his career, and then retired in 1945, the last time the Cubs went to the Series.

As fate would have it, Bobby Lee Bonds was born during that offseason prior to the ’46 season. And historians note that Bonds curiously ended his career with the Cubs. He also played on the Giants under manager Charlie Fox in Fox’s first season. Bonds’ son, Barry, was born in 1964, the same year that the fourth Clemens — Doug — joined the Cubs. The younger Bonds, as promised, went on to win an unprecedented seven Most Valuable Player Awards. Even today, no one else has won more than three. And his retirement may have come last year. The Cubs are intently waiting and watching, hoping his career has concluded.

The last pitcher to lose a World Series game to the Cubs was Tigers starter Dizzy Trout in 1945 (game 6). He had also been the winner of the Billy Goat game. As it turned out, Trout's son, Steve, would help the Cubs 39 years later to their first post-season appearance since 1945, with a team-low 3.41 ERA and 13-7 record in 1984. The Cubs jumped out to a two-game lead in the playoffs against San Diego with Trout winning game 2, but the Padres came back to win the final three, as Goose Gossage saved game 5 to deny them.

Dizzy Trout's last season was 1957, the year Steve was born. Dizzy later died when Steve was 14, so he never saw his son play in the majors. However, Dizzy's former team, Detroit, was the team that won the World Series that year in '84, which is something they haven't done since. Additionally, current Cubs manager Lou Piniella retired as a player in 1984. Piniella holds the record for most seasons between his debut season and winning the Rookie of the Year Award (5).

Cubs Hall of Fame shortstop Ernie Banks, known as “Mr. Cub,” always used to say, “Let’s play two.” It is now thought in some circles that this was code for “Let’s play twain,” an indirect reference to the well-known author and ode to Banks’ teammate in 1964-65, Doug Clemens. In 1961, the Cubs double-play combination was Banks and Don Zimmer. Zimmer later managed the Cubs, including in their 1989 NL East division winning-season, where they amassed 93 wins — the most they’ve had in the past 20 years. And in 2008, they’re on pace to pass that. Zimmer was the skipper when the Cubs played their first night game at Wrigley Field in 1988. Legend had it due to the transition from day to night, the law would be broken that evening, and a golden egg would be laid. The first night run for the Cubs was scored by Vance Law, who was tripled home by Rafael Palmeiro, and sure enough, Goose Gossage got the save for the Cubs.

Billy Sianis died in 1970, at a time when the Cubs had a hefty run scoring margin of 127 above runs allowed (best in the National League that year, though they finished in second place), and they have never reached that amount since (this year they are leading the major leagues in that category and are on pace to pass it). Charley Root, who had pitched for the Cubs in the 1932 World Series giving up Babe Ruth’s called shot, died in that same year as Sianis. (Easterners used to mistakenly think Charley and the Babe were brothers) Root holds the Cubs career record for wins (201), and Mordecai Brown is second (188). Also of significance in 1970, pitcher Chad Fox was born — who would later be the winner against the Cubs in the dreaded Bartman game, and Charlie Fox (no relation) would start his managerial career this same year. We’ll return to the fox brigade momentarily…

The second half of the Cubs’ curse — not winning the World Series — was to last through the career of a pitcher of whom it was said must first win the seventh seal (7 Cy Youngs), which seemed an unfathomable achievement. No one had ever had more than four. This takes us to the fifth and final Clemens, a flame-thrower known as the Rocket, whose career began in 1984, the same year the Cubs made it back to the postseason after that 39-year hiatus. Better known as Roger, he went on to win an unprecedented seven Cy Young Awards, and then finally retired last year.

As for Steve Trout, he had joined the Cubs in 1983, when Charlie Fox was their manager for the second part of the season. Trout is one of only three Cubs starting pitchers in the last 63 years with a post-season victory, the others being Mark Prior and Matt Clement. Prior was the one pitching a shutout into the 8th inning when with one out and no one on, he allowed five consecutive baserunners following the Bartman play.

Also on the Cubs in ’83 and ‘84 were Ron Cey (nicknamed The Penguin), Leon (Bull) Durham, a Boa (Larry) and a Rhino (Sandberg). Bill Buckner was also on those '83-'84 Cubs, and two years later when he would let Mookie Wilson’s grounder go through his legs in the '86 World Series for the Red Sox, conclusive photos would show that he was wearing a Cubs batting glove. Interestingly, Buckner's nickname was Billy Buck, while Sianis' nickname was Billy the Goat. Also, current Diamondbacks pitcher Billy Buckner (strangely no relation) was born in 1983, the same year the younger Trout came to the Cubs.

Most fans don’t realize this, but the year that Buckner made his famous error denying Boston a title, current Red Sox manager Terry Francona was on the Cubs as a part-time outfielder/first baseman. Terry’s dad, Tito, played in the majors also, and retired in 1970, which we already know as the year of the fox.

In 1989, Sammy Sosa — who would later become the Cubs’ career home run leader — started his career with the Texas Rangers, while George W. Bush was a co-owner of the team. Sosa played only 25 games for Texas before Bush & Co. traded him to the White Sox. He had hit one home run for the Rangers, and that first home run of his career was off none other than Roger Clemens.

In 2000, the Cubs tried their hand at breaking the curse by drafting an outfielder named Buck Coats, apparently for the connection to Billy Buck and Billy the Goat. He debuted for the Cubs in 2006, played only 18 games, and then was traded to the Cincinnati Reds the next year.

In 2003, Steve Bartman became a scapegoat for a Cubs collapse to the Florida Marlins in games 6 and 7 of the National League championship series when he deflected a foul fly ball in the left field stands that Cubs outfielder Moises Alou was trying to catch. The Marlins then went on to score 8 runs in that 8th inning and win the game, 8-3. Some Cub fans reportedly committed Harry Caray after this incident. The winning pitcher of that game for the Marlins was the aforementioned Chad Fox, who the Cubs brought back to their roster briefly for the second time in 2008. The tables are ready to turn.

In the Bartman game, Mike Mordecai hit a three-run double to seal the win for Florida, which some said was Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown’s ghost coming back to haunt the Cubs. Following the Cubs' 2003 postseason collapse of the Bartman game, Charlie Fox would die in the off-season.

Last year, the Cubs again tried to revive some of their old magic by bringing up outfielder Jake Fox to the majors, a 2003 3rd round draft pick of theirs. He lasted only 7 games, though he may get another shot down the road.

On April 23rd of this year, the Cubs defeated the Colorado Rockies 7-6 in 10 innings for their franchise’s 10,000th win. Only the Giants franchise has had more major league wins. The Giants got their 10,000th win under former Cub Moises Alou’s dad, Felipe Alou, in 2005.

In constructing a timeline, there are many significant events happening in clumps throughout Cubs history. The connection between these events is at once dizzying and astonishing. For every mystery uncovered, another seems to take its place. Such is the legacy of the team from the north side.

So in the end, some go as far to say that to eventually lift the curse, the Cubs will need to have a goat, two trouts, four foxes, a penguin, a bull, a boa, a rhino, a goose, and a hippo in the ballpark at the same time. In other words, it will take a miracle not unlike the great flood and the return of Noah's ark. Meaning we should watch for forty rainouts in a row.

Is this the year? Look closely to the skies for clues…

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Doug (you know me)

The blog is great. I loved reading the Legend of the Cub. May be you can write on the legend of Andruw Jones to help me figure out what happened to him and just what Ned Colletti was thinking.

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