Today in History: Oct. 6

“You are going to lose this World Series and you are never going to win another World Series again. You are never going to win a World Series again because you insulted my goat.”—Billy Sianis

Bar owner Billy Sianis of Chicago was asked to leave Game 4 of the World Series between the Chicago Cubs and the Detroit Tigers at Wrigley Field on this date in 1945 because fans were complaining about the smell of his companion beside him: his goat.

Now, Mr. Sianis’ bar was called the Billy Goat Tavern, so he had been his own advertisement for years: He cultivated a goat-like goatee and he frequently brought a goat with him wherever he traveled in Chicago.

He always paid for two seats at any game he attended, one for himself and one for the goat. Before Game 4, he was allowed to parade on the field with the goat, who wore a sign that read, “We got Detroit’s goat.” (Seen above. Mr. Sianis is wearing a topcoat and goatee.)

But by the fourth inning, fans in his section had had enough and spoke with security, who escorted Mr. Sianis and his animal from the game. (Or, and accounts differ on this detail, the animal was blocked at the gate and was never a part of the crowd in the stands that day.)

Mr. Sianis may or may not have sent the Cubs and the team’s owner a telegram with the curse the next day, a telegram that read, “You are going to lose this World Series and you are never going to win another World Series again. You are never going to win a World Series again because you insulted my goat,” but he definitely let everyone know about his rage.

The Chicago Cubs lost the 1945 World Series. Losing season after losing season followed. By 1969, even Mr. Sianis had enough with his “curse” on his beloved Cubs, and he formally “lifted” it, but to no avail. (Famously, another animal, a black cat scrambling on the loose on the field, got involved that year. It came with its own curse already handy.)

The team has not appeared in a World Series ever since. To this date, the Cubs last World Series championship came in 1908, which is the longest-ever and the longest-ongoing record for empty-handedness in American sports. The team has lost some dramatic postseason series in recent years.

Tomorrow, the 2016 Chicago Cubs start a playoff run. The team had the best regular-season record in Major League Baseball this season, with 103 wins.

The Billy Goat Tavern is still in business in Chicago. (I have set foot in it.) Even non-Chicagoans have experienced it, via a long-ago skit on Saturday Night Live that starred Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi (a Chicagoan): “Cheeseburgers, Chips, and Pepsi at the Olympia Restaurant.” (Video player will launch. Well, fingers crossed.)

* * * *
John Jordan “Buck” O’Neil died 10 years ago today. He was 94. Earlier that year, he was not elected to Major League Baseball’s Hall of Fame. He had been a player in the Negro Leagues, and a coach and scout in the Major Leagues. He had become a star in Ken Burns’ documentary, Baseball.

Largely through his efforts, seventeen Negro Leagues stars and executives were elected to the Hall that year. There was some irony in that his name was included on the Hall of Fame ballot with many figures from the Negro Leagues, and that many of the almost-forgotten names were not forgotten because of his work, yet he was not voted in and they were. Yet he simply said to reporters: “They didn’t think Buck was good enough to be in the Hall of Fame. That’s the way they thought about it and that’s the way it is, so we’re going to live with that. Now, if I’m a Hall of Famer for you, that’s all right with me. Just keep loving old Buck. Don’t weep for Buck. No, man, be happy, be thankful.”

In July that summer, he signed a one-day minor league contract to appear in the Northern League’s All-Star Game. He drew an intentional walk, and thus set the record as the oldest (94 years, 8 months, and 5 days) person to make a plate appearance in a professional baseball game.

An obituary by Keith Olbermann, which includes his interview with the 94-year-old Buck O’Neil that year:


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  1. loisajay · October 6, 2016

    Those old SNL’s were the best! Thanks, Mark.

    Liked by 1 person

Please comment here. Thank you, Mark.

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