The Chicago Cubs’ attempt to win their first World Series in 107 years will be decided between the white chalk lines of North American ballparks.
For some, though, the battle is not on the field, but in the world of unseen forces: curses, superstitions and willpower.
When an otherwise normal sports organisation wins championships in 1907 and 1908, and cannot win again, and has not reached the title event since 1945, there must be an explanation beyond bad hitting, pitching and fielding, right?
What the Cubs have been battling for decades is the “Curse of the Billy Goat”. More on that later, because there is something else in the wind.
For once, the US kings of futility seem to have a bit of magic on their side — a prediction from the 1989 movie, Back To The Future II, starring Michael J Fox, in which Fox’s character, Marty McFly, travels ahead to 2015.
And, lo and behold, Marty sees a sports bulletin announcing the Cubs’ World Series victory over “Miami”.
Bob Gale, screenwriter of the movie, got that one half-right. He correctly foresaw a team in Miami, but he got the league wrong. The Cubs will have to beat an American League team to claim the title, and the Marlins are National Leaguers.
Picky-picky. Not surprisingly, Gale has become a popular interview around Chicago lately.
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He grew up a fan of the St Louis Cardinals, the Cubs’ top rivals, but he says he never felt the obligatory disdain for the hapless Cubs.
He did confess that in writing the screenplay, he was looking for “unlikely scenarios” for 2015 and as “a joke”, gave the Cubbies their long-awaited pennant.
Gale told the Arlington Heights Daily Herald, “Seeing the movie with an audience, that always got a laugh.”
Cubs fans, of course, do not find it funny at all. Embracing the karma, some have attended games at Wrigley Field dressed as Marty McFly and co-character Doc Brown. Optimism is historically rare at Wrigley, but not this year where “It’s Gonna Happen” signs are in vogue.
In any case, for some, it is not whether Jake Arrieta’s pitching arm will dominate opponents, but whether movie voodoo is stronger than that goat thing.
It was in 1945, the last time a World Series came to Wrigley Field, that Billy Goat Tavern owner, Billy Sianis, brought a pet goat to the game and was told to take his smelly animal outside. Offended, Sianis proclaimed, “Them Cubs, they ain’t gonna win no more.”
So they have not. And now it is on: movie mojo versus goat-owner curse.
But, wait! Is there more kismet on the Cubs’ side?
Chicago general manager, Theo Epstein, was the architect of baseball’s other notorious curse-breaking triumph, putting together the champion 2004 Boston Red Sox who ended the 86-year-old “Curse of the Bambino” — Boston’s alleged sentence for trading Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees.
More? On a sad note, baseball lost one of its greats, Ernie Banks, to a heart attack in January. Known as “Mr Cub”, Banks played the whole of his career (1953-71) for the flailing organisation, but never lost his sunny, positive demeanour.
In tribute this season, players have been wearing shoulder patches bearing his No 14.
If the patch also brings the Cubs a bit of good fortune, surely it is about time.
Runners sliding into fielders must stop
It’s a wonder that baseball ever allowed runners to veer away from the base and crash into fielders. But, somehow, in this “non-contact” sport, a violent collision with a defenceless fielder turned into “playing the game the right way”.
When Chase Utley of the Los Angeles Dodgers wiped out New York Mets shortstop, Ruben Tejada, breaking his leg, in Game 2 of their National League Division Series, the play was hotly debated.
Old-school folks defended Utley for doing whatever was necessary to keep Tejada from throwing to first base and completing an inning-ending double play.
Others criticised him for sailing past the base and directly into Tejada’s legs.
The injury and the magnitude of the stage resulted in a two-game suspension for Utley. That is not the norm. Umpires saw nothing wrong with Utley’s slide. Three weeks before, a slide by Chicago’s Chris Coghlan resulted in a wrecked knee and broken leg for Pittsburgh shortstop, Jung Ho Kang, but no penalty.
Kang did not blame Coghlan, but did issue a statement that said, “It is unfortunate that what would be considered heads-up baseball would cause such a serious injury.”
Exactly. With no apologies to wooden-headed, old-school baseball people, it is a stupid notion that a runner can forget the base and target the man.
MLB is experimenting with a rule change requiring a slide to be directly at the base, not just in the vicinity. The sooner that rule is implemented the better.
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