When The Chicago Cubs Fought Gods, Goats, and the Front Office

In the wake of the Chicago Cubs’ victory, which has been awaited for 108 years, we thought we’d offer an article that makes the championship win even sweeter.

“The Decline and Fall of the Cubs,” by Stanley Frank appeared in the September 11, 1943, issue of The Saturday Evening Post, as the Cubs were finishing a grim 74-79 season. In the preceding three years, Chicago fans had doggedly cheered on a team that finished 68-86, 70-84, and 75-79.

Frank placed the blame on P.K. Wrigley, the Cubs’ owner of that time. Wrigley had inherited his father’s chewing gum business and  baseball team when Wrigley senior passed away in 1932.

The decline began, Frank claimed, with the death of the Cubs’ president William L. Veeck. Under his direction, the Cubs had won the pennant in 1929 and 1932, but his passing suddenly left the team without knowledgeable leadership. Wrigley, Jr. stepped in to make several hunch-based changes, which accelerated the team’s decline.

Frank might have forgiven Wrigley all his errors in judgment. What he doesn’t seem willing to forgive was the fact, which Wrigley admitted, that “he knew little about baseball and cared less for it.”

There would’ve been little motivation to spend money to improve a team that attracted an army of fans regardless of how badly the Cubs played.

Two years after the appearance of this article, the Cubs capped a 98-56 season by advancing to the World Series, where they lost to the Detroit Tigers in the seventh game.

According to legend, the Cubs’ long drought of championships was extended during game four of this 1945 series. William Sianis, owner of Chicago’s Billy Goat Tavern, brought his pet goat to the game. But the goat was turned away at the gate. Sianis left the animal outside and went in to watch the game. According to his family, he sent a telegram to Wrigley, telling him the Cubs would never win the World Series because of the way his goat had been treated.

This might explain the last 71 seasons without a championship, but how do you explain the previous 37 seasons? One theory—and baseball is a sport rich with theories—is that the gods of baseball were angered that the Cubs won the 1908 pennant through an error by a New York Giants’ rookie, Fred Merkle.

In the bottom of the ninth inning, with the game tied 1-1, Merkle hit a single, which drove in a home run to win the game for the Giants. Seeing Merkle’s hit and a Giants runner coming home from third base, the fans assumed the game was over. They started streaming onto the field. Merkle, also assuming a victory, turned back before crossing second base. A quick-witted Chicago player picked up the ball from among the milling fans and tagged second base. Merkle was, therefore, forced out at second. The rules stated that this invalidated the tie-breaking run.

Whether it was goats or gods, the long wait for a championship ended this year, thanks to an outstanding team, the backing of owner Thomas S. Ricketts, and president of baseball operations Theo Epstein, who performed a similar curse lifting for Boston in 2004.

Cubs article
Read “The Decline and Fall of the Cubs” from the pages of the September 11, 1943 issue of The Saturday Evening Post.