Goats, black cats & Bartman: Coming to terms with Cubs’ Curses

The Cubs have had a long history of curses and superstitions, but diehard Cubs' fans point to reversing the curse in 2015. (Shane Monaghan/ Medill)

By Shane Monaghan

For Grant DePorter, the signs clearly show the Chicago Cubs will win the World Series this year.

For Sam Sianis, it’s not about the signs. It’s about making sure he can bring a billy goat to the playoffs and end the bad karma started by his uncle 70 years ago.

Two of the leading perpetuators of the curses on the Cubs want the team to reach their first World Series since 1945 and then win their first championship since 1908. The first step starts tonight, when the Cubs take on the Pirates in the National League wild-card game in Pittsburgh.

Cubs history is littered with cursed moments. From William Sianis admonishing the team for kicking him and his billy goat out of Wrigley Field during the 1945 World Series, to a black cat running in front of the Cubs’ dugout and signaling a monumental regular-season collapse in 1969, to Leon Durham botching a ground ball in the 1984 playoffs, to Steve Bartman reaching for a ball during the 2003 postseason, Cubs fans have wondered whether there was some type of weird voodoo involved. 

Grant DePorter paid nearly $114,000 for the “infamous” Bartman ball before blowing it up. (Shane Monaghan/ Medill)
Grant DePorter paid nearly $114,000 for the “infamous” Bartman ball before blowing it up. (Shane Monaghan/ Medill)

“There has been a lot of things that are unexplainable. It is a lot easier to believe that there are supernatural powers at work,” said DePorter, who collected the memorabilia for the Chicago Sports Museum, which features a “Curses and Superstitions” exhibit. “What are the odds that you have a terrible team for 107 years?”


DePorter’s confidence in the 2015 version of the Cubs comes from a combination of numerology and pop-culture prognostication. He said eight is the magical number for the Cubs.  They closed out the regular season winning eight games in a row, Wrigley Field hosted its first night game on the date 8/8/88 (although technically it was only the first 3½ innings because the game was postponed because of rain) and the opening pitch for Wednesday night’s game is scheduled for 7:08 — 19:08 in military time. As far as the popular-culture part, “Back to the Future II” writers already successfully predicted Pepsi Max and a major league team in Miami, so their forecast that the 2015 Cubs would win the World Series seems plausible to DePorter.  


DePorter, chief operating officer for Harry Caray’s Restaurant Group, has tried to reverse the curse on his own in previous years. In 2004, he made a spectacle of blowing up the infamous Bartman foul ball.  The ball was demolished in a machine built by Michael Lantieri, a special-effects expert on movies such as “Jurassic Park” and “Back to the Future.”  DePorter and the Chicago Sports Museum built a replica of the machine that lets fans simulate blowing the ball into fiery chunks. The replica and the tarnished remains of the actual ball are properly located in the “Curses and Superstitions” exhibit.


As it became clear the Cubs would clinch a playoff spot, attempts to reverse the curse increased over the past few weeks. A GoFundMe campaign was started to get Bartman to attend a potential playoff game, and a group of competitive eaters ate a 40-pound goat in one sitting at Chicago’s Taco in a Bag.


Sam Sianis hopes he and his billy goat get the invite to Wrigley Field if the Cubs make it past the Pirates Wednesday night. (Shane Monaghan/ Medill)

“Eating the goat is going to come back and get them,” Sam Sianis said. When asked what that meant, he just said again and again, “Eating the goat is going to come back and get them.”


Sianis owns the Billy Goat Tavern, an underground haunt parodied by a famous “Saturday Night Live” skit featuring Jim Belushi, Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd. The previous owner was his uncle, William Sianis, who put the Curse of the Billy Goat on the Cubs. To Sam Sianis, the solution to the curse is simple — get past the Pirates and invite him and his goat to the playoff games at Wrigley. 


And just in case the Cubs’ organization is wondering, he is not going to show up without being asked.  


The Cubs have invited Sam and his goat to Wrigley in the past, including a successful attempt to end a 12-game home losing streak in 1984, and again for a game in 1994. Sam makes sure to note that he was not invited for the final game of the 1984 National League Championship Series when Durham botched a routine ground ball at first base.


“The billy goat is behind the Cubs,” said Sam. “I am a Chicago fan.  I like to see all the Chicago teams win. The goat and me are going to help the Cubs to win.”  


Daniel Molden, Northwestern University professor of psychology, said Cubs fans try not to let any supposed curse affect their expectations.


“If things start to go wrong, it is always in the back of your mind,” said Molden. “The classic example of this is the 2003 Bartman game.  The game unraveled from there.  That was not the game deciding play.  It was what happened after that.” 


And don’t worry if the Cubs don’t win it all, according to DePorter. What would that say about the numbers he found so compelling?


“We did not read the signs correctly,” he said.

Photo at top: The Cubs have had a long history of curses and superstitions, but diehard Cubs’ fans point to reversing the curse in 2015. (Shane Monaghan/Medill)