In April 2013, an unidentified man drove up to Wrigley Field, home of the Chicago Cubs, and left behind a box containing a black, severed goat’s head. News outlets immediately speculated on what the shocking parcel might portend. Was it a warning? Was it a threat against team owner Tom Ricketts? But it didn’t take long for Chicago’s long-suffering fans to get the message. For them, the package was an obvious, if not grotesque, reference to an incident that has been plaguing their team since the end of World War II: the dreaded “Curse of the Billy Goat.”
The hex in question dates back to October 6, 1945, when the Cubs were gearing up to face the Detroit Tigers in Game Four of the World Series. At the time, Chicago’s “North Siders” were one of the most successful teams in big league baseball. They’d won back-to-back championships in 1907 and 1908, and in the years since, they’d notched seven more appearances in the Fall Classic. Many Cubs fans believed 1945 would once again be their year. They’d come into Game Four with a 2-1 lead over the Tigers, and only needed two more wins to claim the title.
As excited Chicagoans flooded into Wrigley on October 6, Billy Sianis strode up to the gate with two tickets in hand—one for himself, and one for his pet goat “Murphy.” Sianis was a Greek immigrant who owned a local watering hole called the Billy Goat Tavern, and Murphy was his beloved, bleating mascot. He’d rescued the animal after it fell off a passing truck in the mid-1930s, and it had since become a fixture at his bar. Sianis often paraded the goat around town to drum up business. He’d even grown a goatee and adopted the nickname “Billy Goat.” On the day of the World Series game, he brought Murphy to the ballpark to publicize his bar and bring good luck to the Cubs. The animal was draped in a banner reading, “WE GOT DETROIT’S GOAT.”
There are a few different legends about what happened next. One has the team’s ushers stopping Sianis at the gate and blocking him from bringing his goat inside. When Sianis protested that he had a ticket for his bearded pal, Cubs owner P.K. Wrigley appeared and told him Murphy couldn’t come in “because the goat stinks.” As the story goes, Sianis then threw his arms in the air and put a curse on the team. “The Cubs ain’t gonna win no more!” he supposedly said. “The Cubs will never win a World Series so long as the goat is not allowed in Wrigley Field.”
Another version claims Sianis and Murphy were admitted to the park and allowed to take their seats. But following a brief rain delay, other fans complained that Murphy’s soggy pelt was stinking up the stands. Most sources say Sianis issued his hex after he was politely asked to leave, but a few claim he sent it later in a telegram that read, “You are going to lose this World Series…You are never going to win the World Series again because you insulted my goat.”
However it came about, Billy Sianis’ curse coincided with a disastrous slump for the Chicago Cubs. The team lost 4-1 on October 6, and went on to drop two of the next three games and hand the Tigers the 1945 championship. After the defeat, Sianis supposedly sent P.K. Wrigley a message that read: “Who stinks now?”
In the years since Sianis issued his black magic, the Cubs’ have had one of the most dismal records in professional baseball. The team still hasn’t been back to the World Series, and they’ve often ended the season near the very bottom of the National League. Fans were initially slow to blame their sputtering form on a goat, but the hex became part of club lore after Chicago sportswriters started mentioning it in their columns. Its legend only grew when the 1969 Cubs imploded after going into September with the division lead. As if fans needed any more bad omens, the downward spiral kicked off during a game against the Mets at Shea Stadium, where a black cat appeared on the field and crossed in front of the Cubs’ dugout. The team went on to miss the playoffs.
Billy Sianis officially “lifted” his goat curse prior to his death in 1970, but even he couldn’t turn the team’s fortunes around. Since then, the Cubs’ management has made several tongue-in-cheek attempts to ward off the jinx. They allowed Sianis’ nephew Sam to parade goats across Wrigley Field on several occasions, and in 2008, they even had a Greek Orthodox priest bless the diamond with holy water. Fans have also launched their own efforts to break the hex. In 2011, a group of Chicagoans formed a “Reverse the Curse” charity aimed at winning the Cubs good karma by donating goats to families in places like Africa. Another good will gesture came during the 2012 season, when five men raised money for cancer research by marching a goat named “Wrigley” 2,000 miles from Arizona to Chicago.
While some fans have tried to crush the billy goat curse, others argue that it never existed to begin with—and they may have a point. Newspaper reports from October 1945 mention Sianis and his goat being asked to leave Wrigley Field, but talk of a hex didn’t crop up until years later. According to Cubs historians Glenn Stout and Richard A. Johnson, the curse was actually a joke started by the Chicago sportswriters who frequented the Billy Goat Tavern. Sianis, always eager for publicity, simply played along.
Chicago Tribune columnist Mike Royko tried to put the issue to rest in 1997, when he wrote an article arguing that the Cubs’ real curse was P.K. Wrigley’s mismanagement and hesitancy to recruit African American ballplayers after the league was integrated. “It’s about time that we stopped blaming the failings of the Cubs on a poor, dumb creature that is a billy goat,” the column read. “This has been going on for years, and it has reached the point where some people actually believe it.”
Even if the “Curse of the Billy Goat” is just a myth, there’s no denying that it’s been more than a century since the Chicago Cubs last won the World Series—far longer than any other club in professional baseball. The superstitions likely won’t go away until the team at least captures the pennant, but current Billy Goat Tavern owner Sam Sianis has claimed that his uncle’s jinx is no longer to blame for the Cubs’ title drought. “The hex is off,” he told the New York Times in 1989. “If they want to win, they win themselves.”