03 June, 2011

Curse Of The Billy Goat

Last Sunday, I went to watch the Chicago Cubs play the Pittsburgh Pirates at Wrigley Field in Chicago. I had to. These are "The North Siders" and the oldest baseball team still in its original city. Tradition. Since 1871.

Mind you, it's not that I am a Cubs fan, although it's hard not to root for a team that hasn't been to the World Series since 1945 and hasn't won a Series since 1908, the longest drought in baseball. I went because I wanted to see Wrigley Field.

Originally built in 1914, the Friendly Confines of Wrigley Field became home for the Cubs in 1916. It's the second oldest active ballpark, and it's small, seating only 41,160. How could a college professor not go to a park famous for "Bricks and Ivy?" It still uses a scoreboard with hand turned numbers, plays on real grass, and didn't install lights until 1988. This is baseball as it's supposed to be.

This is the field of Babe Ruth's called shot in the 1932 World Series. Ruth supposedly pointed in the general direction of center field with his bat and on the next pitch hit a home run to center field.

This was the home of broadcaster Harry Caray who for 17 years announced the games and led everyone in the enthusiastic singing of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" during the seventh inning stretch. "Holy Cow!" was his iconic expression.

This is the field where owner P.K. Wrigley ejected Billy Sianis during the 1945 World Series. Billy had shown up with two box seat tickets and his goat, but Wrigley said the goat smelled. After getting the boot, Sianis supposedly said, "The Cubs, they ain't gonna win no more." They lost the game and the Series (3-4), and they haven't been back to a Series since then.

This is the field where double plays inspired poetry - "a single, rueful stanza from the point of view of a New York Giants fan seeing the talented Chicago Cubs infield of shortstop Joe Tinker, second baseman Johnny Evers, and first baseman Frank Chance complete a double play." The poem was published in 1910 at the end of several years of Cub domination of the National League, including the Giants.

These are the saddest of possible words:
"Tinker to Evers to Chance."
Trio of bear cubs, and fleeter than birds,
"Tinker and Evers and Chance."
Ruthlessly pricking our gonfalon bubble,
Making a Giant hit into a double –
Words that are heavy with nothing but trouble:
"Tinker to Evers to Chance."

And this is the field where Clyde McCullough played catcher for most of his 16 major league seasons. "Who?" you're thinking. I'm not surprised. Clyde was a friend of my father - who was a pretty good ball player in his own right, I might add. Clyde started in the Show in 1940 and retired in 1956, which means he got to play with future Hall of Famer Ernie Banks in his first years. He was a major league pitching coach and a minor league manager for many years after that. I remember seeing some of his many awards when I visited his home once with my parents.

Clyde wasn't a legend, but he did play in 1099 games, batted a career .252 (.297, best season), and hit 52 home runs. He also played in two All Star games. Both my mother and father watched him play in 1946 at Wrigley Field, and he caught a no hitter there in 1955.

My father got to know him in the Navy. Clyde served in 1944 and 1945, the last two years of the war, but I think they met playing navy ball in Norfolk. He was discharged in time to return to the team for the 1945 World Series. He wasn't in his best shape, of course, and batted only once as a pinch hitter. He struck out, but he played in the World Series. Wow!

He is the only player to have appeared in a World Series game without playing a regular-season game in the same year. Surely I needn't remind you that his 1945 Series was the last time the Cubs went to the fall classic. Curse of the Billy Goat, indeed.

So I sat there thinking of Ruth and Wrigley, of Tinker and Evers and Chance, of Harry Caray and the Curse, and of Clyde McCullough and my father. It's why I was there. I had to come.

I also had to leave early due to the 2 and 1/2 hour monsoon delayed start, but the Cubs were leading as I left. No runs were scored after I left which, if you do the math, means the Cubs won. It's the only game they have won in their last six. They should bring me back.

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