In 2004, the Boston Red Sox (that’s Boston as in the big city around the bend from Salem, Massachusetts) won their first World Series since 1918; their first in 86 years … … 86 years … … 86 years … Speaking of 1986 …. 1986 was the last time (prior to 2004) when the Sawx had a decent chance of winning the World Series. The Sawx were in fact one out away from winning the whole series when a series of bloop hits, a wild pitch, and the most famous misplayed ground ball in baseball history handed the Mets the win, pushing the series to a Game 7, and an eventual Mets World Series moment. For a town used to the pain of near misses (the 1986 World Series was the fourth World Series in a row that the Red Sawx had lost, all in the seventh game), this was the most excruciating of all … no team in history had been so close and failed to finish the World Series with a win. Bill Buckner, who had misplayed that last crucial ground ball in Game 6 took an enormous amount of the blame (and undeservedly so). In one of my favorite films, Rounders, Matt Damon’s character has to visit a bookie whom he owes a lot of money to, and describes the feeling of the visit as “I feel like Buckner walking back into Shea (Stadium)“. Something supernatural may have been at work, and it had nothing to do with whatever curse Babe Ruth or his fans had put on the hapless Red Sawx. Yes, Massachusetts is a big center for witches and black magic in America … but the supernatural forces at work in 1986 were far more potent than that of the Babe. Here is a picture of Bill Buckner walking off the field after the end of Game 6, mere seconds after the play:
I’ve often wondered what that moment must have felt like. It is not an original thought when I say: at least when most of us screw up, it is not in front of millions of people. If there is to be any good news, it is that the Red Sawx fans eventually forgave Bill Buckner, and at the 100th anniversary of Fenway Pawk, Buckner was one of the hundreds of former Red Sawx players there, and he got one of the biggest ovations. I’ve always liked that about baseball: In soccer, if you score an own goal in the World Cup, people actually kill you, in baseball, you are forgiven … eventually …. sometimes … Back to poor Mr. Buckner for a moment (I’ve actually met him in person twice, and is one of the nicest guys you’d ever meet). Let’s go back to the picture above, because there is something that explains what happened. Did he have “666” tattooed on him? Did he have a dead goat on him? The latter isn’t far off. Let’s look at a close up of his batting glove.
It would have been less unlucky to open a ladder on home plate, and skin a black cat with shards from a broken mirror while standing beneath said ladder.
At the moment all of Sawxdom was hoping to finally end a decades long curse, Mr. Buckner was wearing a batting glove with a big-ol’ Chicago Cubs logo on it. A Cubs curse will trump a Boston witch curse any day of the week, because the baseball gods love nothing more than screwing with the Cubs and their fans. I suspect that in the afterlife, screwing with the Cubs is like stamp collecting … it is the number one hobby.
Which takes us to October 14, 2003 …
I was damn depressed. The White Sox had finished just 4 lousy games behind Minnesota, and the Cubs had just beaten the Braves to advance to the NL Championship Series against the Marlins; the first time since 1917 that a Chicago team had won a postseason series. I remember watching Game 6 on that day like a car wreck in slow motion. Mark Prior, the young stud pitcher for the Cubs had a three hitter going into the 8th inning. The Cubs were five outs from advancing to the World Series, and you could already hear the drunk frat boys in the background of the broadcast whooping it up. In hindsight, I really had nothing to worry about. The baseball gods were getting ready for their best trick yet!
First of all … there was the date … October 14. It seems like such a nondescript date on the calendar, but to White Sox fans, it is a high holy day. It was on October 14, 1906 when the Sox defeated the Cubs and their future Hall-of-Fame pitcher, Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown, to clinch the 1906 World Series, the first for the White Sox, and the only time the two Chicago teams would meet in the Fall Classic … did I mention that it was a Game 6?
Second, the Cubs absolutely tempted fate. For the seventh inning stretch, the Cubs brought in a local celebrity (as they tend to do) to lead in the singing of Take Me Out to the Ballgame. They brought in someone hip and fly … they brought in Bernie Mac!
I always found this a particularly odd choice. Bernie was a local kid who had done very well, and was a highly respected stand up comedian and comic actor. He had filmed Oceans 11 just three years earlier, Oceans 12 had just come out, and it was season three for his eponymous The Bernie Mac Show. Bernie Mac was also a huge baseball fan.
However, what the Cubs apparently failed to check on was which team Mac was a fan of. On this most crucial of days in Cubs history, the Cubs brought in a born and raised hardcore White Sox fan to sing the seventh inning stretch. Mac routinely worked in references to the Sox in his show, and often attended Sox games while in town. When he tragically passed on in 2008, the Sox had a “Bernie Mac Day” to honor the fallen comedian. Having Bernie Mac sing the seventh inning stretch would have been like having Che Guevara give a rousing speech to the Cuban exiles moments before leaving for the Bay of Pigs.
This might have been the only guy worse than Bernie Mac they could have gotten to sing that night … though this guy is only 89% as fly as Bernie Mac.
To make matters even worse for the forlorn Cubbies, Bernie decided to change the lyrics of the song. When he got to the part of the song that goes “root, root, root for the >insert team name here<“, Bernie, being a loyal SouthSider, could not implore people to root for the Cubs, so he instead sang “root, root, root for the Champions“.
On the one hand, that sounds nice, but baseball people know that you never, ever, ever declare a win before the game is over. Even back in 1986, moments before the Mets rally that ended with the Cub-handed one missing that ground ball, the Shea Stadium scoreboard briefly flashed a congratulatory message to the Red Sox as the new World Series champions. To the 5,000 loyal Cub fans on hand on that chilly night, Bernie’s lyrics must have sent an additional chill up their spine. For the 35,000 drunken frat boys, sorority girls, and investment bankers, they probably didn’t think much, but probably yelled “WHOOOOOOOO!!”
And then the 8th inning arrived …
Luis Castillo was up, with one out and one on, and the score 0-3. Castillo popped a ball into a beautiful parabolic arc over toward the left field stands. The height of the stands was just barely high enough for Cub left fielder, Moises Alou to attempt to make a play. He nearly did. This was when the next phase of the baseball gods’ plan went into play. An exuberant, lifelong Cubs fan named Steve Bartman tried to catch the foul ball. He never interfered by reaching over the wall, but he deflected the ball to prevent Alou from making the catch.
Alou went insane, screaming at Bartman, and throwing his glove down in disgust. How dare a fan try and catch a coveted foul ball on what was looking to be a historic night.
What happened next seemed like a dream: four hits, two intentional walks, and 8 Marlin runs completely reversed the tenor of the game. In baseball (like other sports), there is a statistic called “Win probability” that measures, at a given point in the game, the chances of a team winning the game. Here is the win probability graph for that evening’s game. Can you tell when the Steve Bartman event took place?
Even after the Cubs completely self-imploded, there was still Game 7, but, as you know, the Cubs never stood a chance. The Marlins went on to win their second World Series in their 11th year of existence … that’s as many World Series as he Cubs have won in 111 years. To make matters worse, no one cares about the Marlins, and that includes their ownership.
You would think the baseball gods couldn’t sink Cubs fans any lower. You would be wrong. What could make the Cubs feel worse? How about if the Red Sawx came along the next year and ended their streak of not winning a World Series at 86 years … you know, just to show them how easy it was?
… of course its not like that got followed up with their cross-town arch-rivals ending an even longer streak for futility …
At this point the only thing that could be more humiliating would be if the baseball gods followed that up with their dire arch-rivals, the St. Louis Cardinals, winning their 10th World Series in 2006.
That’s so many World Series, they probably all blur together for Cardinals fans.
So in conclusion … there are supernatural curses in the baseball world, and the Baseball gods have a particularly nasty streak toward Cubs fans for some reason.
Why do the baseball gods loathe the Cubs so much? I don’t know why. Pictured: Convicted governor Rod Balgojevich (L), convicted mob boss Al Capone (R), typical frat boy/bleacher bum (C)
So, happy 10th anniversary of the Steve Bartman incident. I raised a glass in silent thanks to the hero that Wrigley deserved, but not the one that it needed that night. So Cubs fans hunt him, and he takes it. He’s our hero.
With the Red and White Sox winning their recent World Series, the Cubs and Cleveland are now the only teams who have World Series waits dating to before 1950.
And with a logo like this, I suspect there is a curse on Cleveland strong enough to help them keep the Cubs company for a while …