Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Rick Cleveland: The Curse of Billy the Goat

The Chicago Cubs, the best team in baseball this regular season, famously have not won a World Series championship since 1908 and have not played in a World Series since 1945.

The Cubs have had so many splendid teams off and on during that drought, observers have tried to come up with a reasonable explanation. And, since there is none, many have blamed it on the Curse of the Billy Goat.

You probably know the story. In 1945, Billy Goat Tavern owner Billy Sianis was asked to leave Game 4 of the World Series at Wrigley Field because the odor of his pet goat was disturbing nearby fans. Outraged, Sianis supposedly sent a telegram to Cubs owner Phil Wrigley declaring the Cubs would lose that World Series and never play in another one because the team had insulted his goat. Thus, the Curse of the Billy Goat.

Silly, you say?

The Cubs led two games to one in that Series when Sianis and his goat were ejected – and then lost it. They have not played in one since. And they have had some truly great teams, including several that included former Ole Miss standout and Oxford resident Don Kessinger, one of the truly splendid shortstops of his era.

Kessinger and his 1969 Cubs teammates, who included four future Hall of Famers, led the New York Mets by nine games on August 16. The Cubs lost 17 of their last 25 games. The Mets won 23 of their last 30. The Mets won the pennant. Somewhere, a Billy Goat laughed.

About that curse, Don?

“Well, I can tell you that we blamed a lot of things, but we never blamed a Billy goat or a curse,” Kessinger says, chuckling. “We didn't play well at the end. And it didn't seem like the Mets could lose. But I don't remember any talk about a curse – at least not among the players.”

Kessinger, a six-time All-Star, believes that for several seasons in the late 1960s and early 1970s the Cubs “were as good as anybody in baseball.”

Those Cubs included future Cooperstown inductees Ernie Banks, Ron Santo, Billy Williams and Ferguson Jenkins.

“I look back on it and it's hard to believe I went out there every day with four future Hall of Famers,” Kessinger says. “We really were as good as anyone. In the end, we just didn't get it done. I don't think we got complacent or anything like that. I think to a man, all our guys believed that we would win. And then we didn't.”

There were other great players besides the Hall of Famers. Kessinger, himself, was as good a fielding shortstop as any in baseball. Randy Hundley was one of the game's best defensive catchers. Glenn Beckert was a four-time All-Star at second base and a career .283 hitter. Right fielder Jim Hickman was terrific.

“We were really, really good, no doubt about it,” Kessinger says. “But as good as we were, we never won 103 regular season games like this Cubs team did. I will say this, if were playing in the same system back then that they are now, we would have had several second chances because we would have been the wild card team a few times.”

During Kessinger's time with the Cubs, they finished in second place three times and third place three times.

Kessinger follows these Cubs closely.

“I keep up,” he says. “I watch 'em on TV every chance I get. I still pull for them. I think you've got to give (general manager) Theo Epstein and his group a lot of credit for getting the right blend of players, and then you have to give (manager) Joe Maddon a lot of credit for getting those players to play.

“Maddon is a players' manager. They love to play for him, and he gets the most out of what he's got.”

That doesn't necessarily mean the Cubs will win the World Series or even get to it.

As Kessinger knows better than most, in baseball, the best team does not always win it all.

Rick Cleveland is a Jackson-based syndicated columnist. His email address is


Anonymous said...

If the Cubs make the series, everyone will be a Cub fan and will be rooting for them. Even a few fans of the opposing team, I dare say. You thought all the people suddenly wearing Golden State gear last year was something? If the Cubs pull it off, you'll see more red and blue attire than game day in the Grove.

Think about this - The Cubs haven't won a world series in 108 years. There is nobody alive who celebrated that victory. People have been born, lived full lives, and died in their 80s or 90s having never seen a Cubs world series. That is one heck of a drought!

They still have to win the pennant before we can even talk about a Series win, but I think most every baseball fan has a bit of a soft spot for this club and is pulling for them sentimentally at least.

I know I am.

Anonymous said...

As a lifelong fan, I can tell you without a doubt that the Curse of the Billy Goat will prevail. The Cubs will not win the WS. Won't happen, ever. It's fate.

Anonymous said...

The guy brought a goat to the game?

Anonymous said...

And it got disrespected

Anonymous said...

11:22 That is the funniest thing I have seen in my years of following JJ. I can't stop laughing.

Anonymous said...

Are the Braves the new Cubs?

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Trollfest '09

Trollfest '07 was such a success that Jackson Jambalaya will once again host Trollfest '09. Catch this great event which will leave NE Jackson & Fondren in flames. Othor Cain and his band, The Black Power Structure headline the night while Sonjay Poontang returns for an encore performance. Former Frank Melton bodyguard Marcus Wright makes his premier appearance at Trollfest singing "I'm a Sweet Transvestite" from "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." Kamikaze will sing his new hit, “How I sold out to da Man.” Robbie Bell again performs: “Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be Bells” and “Any friend of Ed Peters is a friend of mine”. After the show, Ms. Bell will autograph copies of her mug shot photos. In a salute to “Dancing with the Stars”, Ms. Bell and Hinds County District Attorney Robert Smith will dance the Wango Tango.

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Trollfest '07

Jackson Jambalaya is the home of Trollfest '07. Catch this great event which promises to leave NE Jackson & Fondren in flames. Sonjay Poontang and his band headline the night with a special steel cage, no time limit "loser must leave town" bout between Alan Lange and "Big Cat"Donna Ladd following afterwards. Kamikaze will perform his new song F*** Bush, he's still a _____. Did I mention there was no referee? Dr. Heddy Matthias and Lori Gregory will face off in the undercard dueling with dangling participles and other um, devices. Robbie Bell will perform Her two latest songs: My Best Friends are in the Media and Mama's, Don't Let Your Babies Grow up to be George Bell. Sid Salter of The Clarion-Ledger will host "Pin the Tail on the Trial Lawyer", sponsored by State Farm.

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