THE BILLY GOAT CHARM
By John B Holway
We all know the Billy Goat Curse. But just as powerful is the Billy Goat Charm, and nobody knows about that.
Sianis owned the Billy Goat Tavern in Chicago’s Loop, where a phone gave the unwary a shock, a cat slurped beer on the bar, and a goat butted customers.
Sianis pasted the Series tickets over the bar and pronounced that he had put the kakos inos – the Greek evil eye – on the team.
Ever since then, the Cubs have found new and ingenious ways to lose.
But did you know that every time Sinovia does attend a game, the Cubs – or usually some other team who invites her – wins? That’s right. The Cubs stink. But Sinovia has a perfect record.
Winning with the Goat
While the Cubs were dead last, Oakland owned by Chicagoan Charlie Finley, split its first two World Series games against the Dodgers, and the phone at the Billy Goat tavern jingled. Would the new owner, Sam Sianis, fly another goat to Oakland?
“I fly the goat TWA in a crate,” he said. “Didn’t cost much – a hunnert bucks.” He paraded Sinovia VII around the field to cheers, then left her in a pen in the outfield next to Finley’s mule, both contentedly munching grass, and took a box seat next to actor Karl Malden. He predicted the A’s would sweep the next three games, they did.
The Cubs’ new general manager, Dallas Green invited Sianis and his goat to opening day. In a drizzle, the right field gate swung open to reveal Sam and his latest goat – this one named simply Billy. As they marched to the pitchers’ mound and accepted the cheers of the crowd, the rain suddenly stopped.
The Cubs won 11-2.
Chicago won the division and prepared to meet the Padres in a five-game playoff.
The first two games would be in Chicago. “I’m gonna give you both games if the goat come to both games,” Sianis promised. It was a deal.
Sianis and Billy were watching from box seats as the Cubs won both. “The goat, he wants to stay at the game,” Sianis said. “I have a hard time getting him to leave. Every game the goat come, they win.”
The Cubs flew to San Diego, needing only one victory in the last three games. They were so confident, they left Sam and Billy behind and lost the first two games out west. One more, and they were out.
In game five, ace Rick Sutcliffe had a 3-2 lead until Leon Durham made his only error of the year at first base. After a bloop single on a checked swing, the next ball took a bad bounce on MVP Ryne Sandberg (left), and the Series was over. “These things haven’t happened to us all season,” manager Jim Frey moaned.
Billy went back to butting customers at Sam’s bar until the Chicago Sting soccer team invited him and Sinovia to attend their title game against Montreal.
Of course Chicago won, on a tie-breaking goal.
Meanwhile, the Cubs slipped steadily to last in ’87.
Finally, the Cubs asked Sam for help again, and he and Billy watched them win the season opener.
The goats now had a perfect 8-0 record.
But they weren’t invited back, and Chicago blew the playoff once again
Will this be The Year?
I guess there’s a lot of macho ego involved: “We don’t need any goat to help; we can do it ourselves.” They’ve been saying that for the last 71 years.
But if I were the Cubs, I’d fix up a goat pen under the stands in right, where Billy or Sinovia could munch grass while fans, young and old, gingerly pet him, pose for pictures with him, and buy packets of grain for him and t-shirts for themselves.
You could add a cute, cuddly baby bear and his mother in leftfield. They’d all come out to take a stroll on a leash at the 7th-inning stretch.
And if – by sheer coincidence, of course – the Cubs happen to win a world championship, well, that would be an extra bonus.
They seem to be the best team in baseball this year and should lead the National League with ease. But then they face that Krazy October Krap Shoot, and anything can happen. Why, a fan could reach out and deflect a fly ball above the head of a waiting Cub outfielder. I know it sounds unbelievable and could happen only once in a million years.
But why take the chance?
Ask Questions. Question Answers
Letters may be edited for length
Gene Bearden’s story was unique. Some buff should relay it to the public in a play or book. (Bob Reising)
John-san: It’s a nice article! One correction is needed: The person with Sawamura in the photo is Ogawa, not Ogura. (Yoichi Nagata)
Great article. Contains much vivid detail about the ballplayers, such as Ted, who experienced warfare as intensely as any who fought.
I don’t know what Hank Greenberg did in the service (perhaps he played ball), but I do know he was one of the very first to volunteer.
One irrelevant observation: Do you have as much difficulty as I do in thinking of Ted Williams as the best LATINO who ever played MLB? (Ernest A Nagy)
(Hank was drafted and served in Chenault’s Flying Tigers in China in an administrative job. Ted’s mother’s family was Basque by way of Mexico.)
Some great stories on the I & II WW guys. The Williams crash story is so Ted. Joe DiMaggio was in Texas and California for training and then sent to Pearl Harbor for awhile. He was a Phys Ed teacher as I recall, and got our boys in shape. (John Bushman)
(I hope to have more on Joe’s frequent visits to the psychiatrist, asking for a discharge.)
Are you sure that picture is Hank Bauer? (Lyle Spaatz)
(No, I’m not. It’s identified as such on Google. Can anyone help?)
Very nice. How many Negro League players were involved? (Red Merchant)
Oh, boy, I goofed big time.
With his binoculars he spotted two machine gunners on a hill-top. “They probably would have wiped out L Company.” So he told his assistant gunner, “Give me two rounds of HE (high explosive).” “It hit right between them, and they both went up in the air. By the time they came back down, the second round hit, and they went back in the air.”
Greene had “a pretty close call” when a shell hit six or seven feet from his own hole. “I came up off the ground,” and they sent him to the hospital for three weeks.
In his next close call he was crawling on his stomach and “brrrt” – a German machine gun stitched a row of bullets six inches from his out-stretched hand. “I don’t know how I turned around, but they say I came sliding back on my stomach.”
Later Green marched past the bodies of Mussolini and his girlfriend, strung up by their feet.
After the war ended, he played a game against Ewell Blackwell’s white army unit. “I hit a home run off him. I remember it so well, because next time up, I got hit.”
And here’s a football story:
Emlen Tunnell was helping unload explosives and gasoline in New Guinea when a Japanese torpedo exploded, and Tunnell saw a flaming figure running across the deck. Em chased him and beat the flames out with his hands.
Two years later, in the north Atlantic, Tunnell jumped into freezing water to rescue a shipmate, though Em himself could barely swim. “You could have drowned,” the man told him. Tunnel just shrugged: “I had to take the chance.”
After the war Tunnell starred on the Giants and Packers, becoming the first black man in the Football Hall of Fame.
No one knew of his war-time deeds. That’s because he never mentioned them to anyone.
How come every pitched ball that hits the dirt is replaced while grounders are kept in play? And what constitutes a checked swing? Seems very arbitrary as to how it’s called. Thanks. (Loren Woodson)
About replacing pitches in the dirt: There is NO good reason for this. Your logic is impeccable. A ground ball that hits the dirt several times should be more defaced than a pitch that hits the dirt once. This practice has entered the game in the last decade or so; I have no idea why.
About check-swings: the rulebook contains NO definition of a check swing, which is why there is so much disparity from umpire to umpire and pitch to pitch about whether it was a swing or not. Back in the 1960s, you could take 90% of a swing, but if you didn’t break your wrists, it was considered a check-swing and not a strike.
See Don Mincher vs. Sandy Koufax in Game 7 of the 1965 World Series. (Gabriel)
See a Good Movie
My favorite was Wolfe, who handed Perkins boxfuls of a verbose manuscript. Like the Eskimo artist, who chips away at a rock until he unlocks the polar bear hidden inside, Perkins patiently led Wolfe through the painful process of operating on one’s own child. Without the genius of both men, Look Homeward Angel would never have been released from its rock.
If this review guides you to see the movie, and the movie guides you to read the book, you will be doubly rewarded. (Philip P Nyland, guest reviewer)
(Isabelle Ringing, guest reviewer)
MEMORY OF ALI
In 1976 – 40 years ago – Ali was training to fight Jimmy Young in Washington, and I met him in his hotel room. Naturally I brought my kids, age eight-13. He greeted us in his bathrobe, and the two little girls shyly put their pinkies between their lips.
“Ah wawnt mah hug!
They retreated farther behind me, peeking out timidly.
“If ah don’t git mah hug, ah’m comin’ over there and take mah hug!”
They summoned their courage and went over and timidly put their arms around him.