sox and cubs
June 9, 2005Red Sox Arrive to Remind Cubs Who's Left Holding Curse Now
By LEE JENKINS
CHICAGO, June 8 - Even the black cat that lived beneath Wrigley Field, fed and nurtured by stadium workers who apparently are not as superstitious as the patrons, seemed to sense that the Red Sox were coming.
In the middle of the sixth inning Tuesday night, with the Chicago Cubs trailing the Toronto Blue Jays and the vendors outside the stadium peddling T-shirts that read "Our Curse Is Worse," the cat bolted from its underground quarters, crossed in front of the Cubs' dugout and leapt into the third-base box seats before security guards could corral it.
There was no more appropriate way to set the stage for Boston's first visit to Wrigley Field and for its first game against the Cubs since the 1918 World Series, which the Red Sox won in six games. While Boston can finally laugh about cats and curses and 1918, after leaving baseball's underworld behind, the Cubs have little choice but to still believe in black magic.
"When I saw the cat, I was hoping it would reverse everything," Cubs catcher Michael Barrett said. "I thought, 'This might turn things around.' "
Such is the desperation of a franchise that last won the World Series in 1908 and has lost its companion in misery. For decades, the Cubs and the Red Sox have been more like pity partners than interleague rivals, trading sympathy acknowledgments and long-distance looks of understanding.
When the Red Sox played in the World Series last season, Cubs fans were rooting for them. But when the Red Sox won, the celebration in Wrigleyville was bittersweet, equal parts envy and anxiety. The Cubs will see their star-crossed history flash before them in the span of one week, as they welcome the Red Sox for a three-game series starting Friday and then go to Yankee Stadium next weekend for their first visit there since they were swept in the 1938 World Series.
"Watching the Red Sox win was a very weird experience," said Jim Belushi, an actor and a lifelong Cubs fan. "It was like having a neighbor win the lottery. At first you're really happy for them because it couldn't happen to a better guy. And then you realize that he'll move into a bigger house in another neighborhood and you never had anything in common with him in the first place and he was really a big jerk. I mean, the Red Sox' celebrity mascot is Ben Affleck. Doesn't that tell you enough?"
The Cubs counter with Belushi, Bill Murray and John Cusack. They have green ivy instead of the Green Monster. And they count on the political pundit George Will to offset the legions of poets and academics rhapsodizing about the Red Sox.
"I know many people were rooting for the Red Sox last year, but I find it hard," said Will, who plans to attend the games Friday and Saturday. "There is just too much New England transcendental angst associated with their fans."
The followers of both clubs will most likely spend the next three days debating which team has a more devoted fan base, a more charming stadium and more neighborhood bars. But they can no longer argue about which organization has suffered more.
"They've been bleeding and we've been bleeding," said Ronnie Wickers, the iconic Cubs fan who is known as Woo Woo and who has seen an estimated 3,000 games, all in full uniform. "But their bleeding has stopped and now it's our turn."
Although Cubs Manager Dusty Baker discounted the significance of the appearance of the black cat Tuesday night because it had white paws, Ron Santo, the former Cubs third baseman and current broadcast analyst, was immediately reminded of the black cat that crossed his path in front of the Cubs' dugout at Shea Stadium in September 1969. In August that year, the Cubs were in first place in their division, nine and a half games ahead of the Mets. But the Mets finished eight games ahead of the Cubs and went on to win the World Series.
"Forget the cat," Santo said Wednesday. "Just get the goat."
The Curse of the Billy Goat has endured longer than the Curse of the Bambino, even though it was always deemed less authentic. The story goes that William Sianis, who was known as Billy Goat, hexed the Cubs in 1945 - the last year they went to the World Series - when they did not allow him to enter Wrigley Field with his pet goat. Sam Sianis, Billy Goat's nephew, said in a telephone interview this week, "If the Cubs don't win this series, that means the curse is still on and the billy goat is stronger than ever."
Never have the Cubs looked so alone. Already this season, the Cubs lost one key relief pitcher because of injury and traded another because of ineffectiveness. One of their pitching aces, Kerry Wood, has a strained shoulder, and another, Mark Prior, broke a bone in his elbow when he was hit by a line drive. Shortstop Nomar Garciaparra, who seemed to carry his misfortune from Boston to the Cubs last year in a midseason trade, tore his groin muscle running out of the batter's box and is on the 60-day disabled list.
The Cubs are 31-27 and have played well lately, although they trail first-place St. Louis by an imposing six and a half games in the National League Central. If nothing else, they continue to tease their loyalists with the possibility of a wild-card berth in the postseason, but meanwhile, across town, the more hated set of Sox are stealing more attention than usual. The Chicago White Sox, who have not won the World Series since 1917 and do not talk about themselves nearly as much as the Cubs or the Red Sox, are 21 games over .500 and in first place in the American League Central.
"When you don't win here, there is a lot of disappointment, just like there is in Boston," said Todd Walker, the Cubs' second baseman, who was with the Red Sox in 2003. "I was excited to see the Red Sox do what they did last year, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't want to be a part of it."
The Cubs will be reminded all weekend of everything they have not accomplished. Even a famous Wrigleyville watering hole, John Barleycorn Pub, is being reserved Friday night for an event titled "An Evening of Red Sox Baseball in Chicago." Just to make sure the Cubs have to cover their ears, the Boston pitcher and recording artist Bronson Arroyo is scheduled to preview songs from his new album.
"I don't think we're rubbing their noses in it at all," said John Stellato, a Boston native now living in Chicago who arranged the event to benefit the Jimmy Fund. "Cubs and Red Sox fans couldn't get much closer in DNA. I think we're showing them all the good things that can happen when you win the World Series."
These two teams spilled the same tears in the 2003 playoffs, when they were each five outs away from the World Series and blew three-run leads. While the Red Sox fired Manager Grady Little, the Cubs excommunicated a fan named Steve Bartman, who got in the way of a foul ball that was headed toward the glove of Cubs left fielder Moises Alou. When Gary DePorter, managing partner of Harry Caray's restaurants, decided to blow up the ball, Red Sox fans attended the ceremony.
The Cubs, who traded Bill Buckner to the Red Sox and then watched him commit the error that helped Boston lose the 1986 World Series to the Mets, repaid their debt last year. DePorter sent pieces of the ball to Fenway Park as a good-will gesture in July, and during the postseason, the staff at Harry Caray's downtown restaurant hung a six-foot sign in its entrance that read: "Good luck Red Sox. Prove Curses Don't Exist." So many Chicagoans signed the card that it turned black with ink.
"A lot of people, myself included, thought we had to get the Red Sox out of the way first," DePorter said. "Now it will be undisputed when we win the World Series that it will be the biggest moment in sports history."
But rooting for the Red Sox has suddenly gone out of style. Last year, Boston tricked the Cubs into trading for Garciaparra and then adopted their rallying cry, "Why Not Us," which Baker first brought to Chicago in 2002. On Wednesday, when Belushi learned that the Red Sox would be having a party at John Barleycorn Pub, he predicted "another Valentine's Day massacre."
In anticipation of the weekend, shops bordering Wrigley Field are selling commemorative T-shirts, hats, pins and gold medallions. Tickets in the outfield seats are reportedly being scalped for $150 apiece, and Boston fans are buying travel packages to Chicago for more than $1,000.
As usual, the beer cups in the bleachers are brimming with hope. Wood believes he can return to the rotation in June, Prior wants to be back after the All-Star Game break and Garciaparra is scheduled to attend the Red Sox games this weekend. Animal-loving stadium workers have even been told to stop taking care of stray cats. The Cubs do not need to tempt the baseball fates any more than necessary.
Word is that the cat from Tuesday night disappeared somewhere beyond the outfield bleachers. But the Cubs cannot rest in peace. Those familiar with the friendly confines say the cat left a litter.