Sports: Exorcising the Wrigley Field Curse

Culture Watch

Mr. Beres, a graduate of Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism, was sports information director at Northwestern, and later at the University of Oregon.

It is getting scarry for all Cubs fans, including those of us who keep a low profile in the Northwest. In Eugene, Ore., our faith in the martyrs of Chicago's Wrigley Field was tested last year, when their Eugene farm team, the Ems, made it to the NW League playoffs for the first time in two decades-- then promptly flopped.

Could the Billy Goat curse on the parent team in Chicago have infected its innocent affiliate 2,000 miles to the West? Anticipating the worst, I urged Ems general manager, Bob Beban, to evade the hex by serving barbecued goat meat in the picnic area of Eugene's Civic Stadium. Instead, he chose to break relations with the hexed Cubs to become a farm team of the San Diego Padres.

Now, with little more than a month to play, Beban may be having second thoughts, as the Cubs are getting close to the playoffs and a shot at returning to the World Series after 56 years. They have the pitching arms to get them there, and the essential big bat-- that of Sammy Sosa. But they lack a most important mystical ingredient: an exorcist who can free Wrigley Field from the curse that has prevented it from being host to a Series for more than half a century. As skeptics and believers alike recall, the curse was invoked the fall of 1945, when the Cubs made their last Series appearance, playing the Tigers.

The original Billy Goat Sianis, founder of Billy Goat's Tavern in Chicago, spoke these words as he was being ejected by Andy Frain ushers from a '45 Series game:"Nevverr agin will World Seeries be played here!" Sianis, one of Chicago's many Greek immigrants, was removed from the premises because his companion in the 2d of his two reserved seats was his pet goat. He was tethered, but, like all goats, he stank, and fans complained.

Before his death, Sam bequeathed his tavern to two nephews. One, Harry Sianis, operator of"Original Joe's" in Eugene, turned it down. His cousin accepted, inheriting the tavern, his uncle's name-- and the curse. Five years ago, I met with the latter day Sianis in his tavern. Ominously, it is on lower Hubbard Street, in the subterranean depths below Chicago's glittering Michigan Avenue-- and directly below the Wrigley Building. He gave his blessing (a curser also can bless) to my proposal that Wrigley Field be exorcised of the Billy Goat curse.

If anyone at Addison & Clark is interested, I have the spiritual father who can do it. He is The Rev. Guido Sarducci, the man of the cloth (skeptics suggest whole cloth) who appears occasionally on the television show,"Saturday Night Live." I'm a believer in the sacrament, as I was successfully exorcised as an infant, I'm told. After years of searching, I discovered Fr. Guido in a grove of fir trees in Oregon. He had a gig at the Britt Festival outside the hamlet of Jacksonville, and granted me an audience in his rustic dressing room. I made my pitch. He responded without hesitation. He was ready to remove the decades-old torment from the aching shoulders of Cubs fans.

There was one hitch: he had to be paid a fee. It sounded to me something like the discredited indulgences of earlier church history. But I agreed to the deal-- anything to remove the curse. Ever since, I've sought a true (and wealthy) believer among producers of a wide range of products, including beer, potato chips, candy bars-- even chewing gum. In exchange, the sponsor would get credit for scheduling the exorcism. Resulting publicity would earn for the product national exposure of value far beyond the cost of the good Reverend's fee. I can see it now: Fr. Guido perched in a cherrypicker high above the street, chanting something unintelligible while sprinking his version of holy water on the exterior of Wrigley Field. The Chicago mass media will be there. So will ABC, CBS, NBC, NPR, the Pioneer Press, news magazines and national newspapers-- maybe even a reporter from the Jacksonville, Ore., weekly.

This year's Cubs have struggled to provide the opportunity. It's up to Fr. Guido and Cubs loyalists-- even those in far off Oregon-- to give them the chance. The curse must be exorcised. But time is running out.

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