CHICAGO – The black cat wandered from one dugout to the other and made its way toward the Chicago Cubs’ bullpen before disappearing into the Wrigley Field stands.
Before the Boston Red Sox and Chicago Cubs meet for the first time in almost 90 years, the poster child for bad karma shows up at Wrigley.
“He wasn’t all black,” Cubs manager Dusty Baker said after the cat sighting Tuesday night, a harbinger of the three-game series that begins today at Wrigley. “It was black and white, so it doesn’t mean nothing.”
Maybe. But until last October, the Red Sox and Cubs were united in angst and despair, a dismal fate that went beyond their near-century of futility. They had no hope, these teams, cursed by the Bambino and a Billy Goat.
“It’s like a badge of honor that you never won, sort of,” said Dennis Eckersley, who played for both the Red Sox and Cubs before going on to win a World Series title, American League Most Valuable Player and Cy Young Award with Oakland.
“It becomes part of your life.”
The Red Sox and Cubs would begin each season with the same hope, convinced this really was their year, only to wind up disappointed yet again.
While Florida and Arizona celebrated championships quicker than you could say expansion, generations of Boston and Chicago fans grew up wondering if they’d live long enough to see their beloved teams win a World Series.
“They’re just passionate about it,” said Cubs second baseman Todd Walker, who played for the Red Sox in 2003. “Their parents and their parents’ parents probably were big Cubs fans and Red Sox fans. It’s just carried down through the generations.”
The Red Sox and Cubs weren’t always hopeless. The last time they played each other in a real game was the 1918 World Series, and winning was somewhat of a routine for both clubs.
The Red Sox were in the World Series for the third time in four years, having won it in 1915 and 1916. The Cubs had been in it as recently as 1910, losing to Philadelphia, and had won it all in 1907 and 1908.
Babe Ruth was still pitching for Boston in 1918, and he set the tone for the series with a complete game in Game 1. He won Game 4, too, and the Red Sox went on to their fifth title.
Everybody knows what happened after that. Boston traded Ruth to the hated New York Yankees in 1919, and “The Curse of the Bambino” took hold. The Red Sox wouldn’t play in the World Series again until 1946, and it would be 86 long years before they’d win another championship.
“In Boston, most of the people believe in (the curse) just because of all of the stuff that has happened,” said Red Sox third baseman Mark Bellhorn, who played for the Cubs in 2002 and 2003.
“It’s kind of the same way in Chicago. They expect something to go wrong because that’s what’s happened over the years.”
Though the Cubs haven’t won a World Series since 1908, their gloomy fate wasn’t sealed until 1945. That’s when legend has it that local bar owner William Sianis put a hex on the Cubs because his goat was barred from Game 4 of the World Series.
The Cubs, leading two games to one, lost the Series and haven’t been back since. Haven’t come close too many times, either.
Chicago has been to the playoffs four times since 1945. The Cubs were five outs from clinching the National League pennant in 2003, but collapsed in spectacular fashion.
Yet Cubs fans keep hanging on, optimistic again that this could be their year. If anything, Boston’s improbable rally to beat the Yankees and sweep of St. Louis in the World Series only hardened their resolve.
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