The Cubs’ 2016 Graveyard

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Some people, in my neighborhood and in other places, turn their front lawns into faux graveyards at this time of year. So with Halloween upon us and the Cubs still playing meaningful baseball, here’s a look at some of the fake styrofoam tombstones that the Cubs could plant at Wrigley Field this year:

The Cardinals’ reign as NL Central champions: The St. Louis Cardinals have been the bullies of the division for some time, going all the way back to Albert Pujols’ days with the team. Wainwright, Molina, and all the rest have won and won and won again, and were trying to be the first team to ever win the Central division four years in a row. The Cubs laid waste to that, and controlled their division from Day 1 of the season.

The Giants’ beliEVEN thing: Winning the World Series in 2010, 2012, and 2014 was a nice pattern to be in for Giants fans, and when their team won the Wild Card came this year they thought the pattern would repeat itself this year. The Cubs had other ideas, though.

The Billy Goat Curse: Oh, that curs’ed goat. The reason–some would have us believe–for the Cubs’ decades worth of World Series absence is the old story of a goat that was denied entry into the 1945 World Series. A man who brings a goat to a baseball game has no mystical powers of any sort, but people talked about it, anyway.

1969? Billy goat curse.

1984? Billy goat curse.

2003? Billy goat curse.

But the Cubs finally laid that one to rest and made the World Series. May we never hear about that goat again.

So the one thing left to do is scratch the 108-year itch and win the World Series. The Cubs have to beat Korey Feldman tonight, or find themselves in a Series of elimination games. They’ll come around tonight, I hope, and even the Series up with three games left to play. It’s been a great, cemetery-making run this year, and it’s not over yet.

and I believe in the Promised Land

Over the nine months I’ve been writing this blog, I’ve written more posts about the Chicago Cubs than any other topic. But I have other favorites, too, and Bruce Springsteen’s music is definitely on that list. This is the first time I’ve been able to fuse the two subjects together, and I’m excited to be doing this, so here goes:

The first–and so far, the only–Springsteen concert that I’ve seen was at the United Center in Chicago back in 2007. I went with my sister, and we had a great time, both at the show and in the perfect fall weather that bookended it. Lately, I’ve been listening to a bootleg of the show that I found online. My favorite song from that show–and possibly my favorite Springsteen song of all–is one called the Promised Land. The concept in the title goes back thousands of years, but I can relate to it as a Cubs fan in the 21st century.

The Israelites in the Hebrew Bible wandered through the desert, looking for a land that they had been promised. I’m not religious–13 years of Catholic school notwithstanding–but I’ve been wandering about my whole life. And the absence of anything to show for that hasn’t diminished my belief that it’s still out there. For some reason, it’s only become stronger over the years.

Bruce Springsteen played at Fenway Park in Boston for two nights back in September of 2003. For the first night’s show, he and his band played The Promised Land as the 17th song and before the first encore started. But for the second night’s show, he didn’t play it at all. Every show has a different setlist, and sometimes songs don’t get played. But the year after those two Springsteen concerts, the Red Sox finally did get to their promised land, after eight decades of wandering through baseball’s desert.

Did that song finally help to get the Red Sox over the hump? It sounds like a goofy thing to say, but is it any goofier than a ground ball rolling through Leon Durham’s legs in 1984? Or the almost unbeatable Mark Prior blowing a 3-run lead in 2003? Or the persistent belief that one man and his goat have effectively cursed the team for over 60 years? It’s certainly worth a shot to find out if there’s anything to playing this song live in a star-crossed baseball venue. Perhaps it has worked once, already.

After reports, rumors, and speculation, it’s now official that Bruce Springsteen will be coming to Wrigley Field this fall. He played in the Uptown Theater once upon a time, and Soldier Field back in the 80s, but this is the first time he’ll be at Wrigley Field. I hope to get tickets, but even if I don’t I’ll try to find a listening party in the Wrigleyville area. Bruce and his band will be heard up and down Clark Street, when the time comes. (NOTE: I attended the first of the two shows, and wrote about it in various places online.) 

In trying to get ahead of that curve, I humbly suggest to Bruce Springsteen, and to everyone else reading this, that The Promised Land would be an essential addition to a Wrigley Field setlist. Not only is it a fantastic song–one that calls on the power of an unshakable belief in something–but it could also be the portent of something great to come for the Cubs. (NOTE: The song was the first one played at the second Wrigley Field show in 2012, and not the first show that I attended. But at least it was played.) 

I’d like nothing more than to argue about whether or not this made any difference, after it finally takes place. And so I’m laying down this marker now because, as Tug McGraw once said, you just gotta believe.

(NOTE: The video presented above was filmed in 2016, four years after I wrote this post. The original video was removed for copyright grounds, but this one’s really good, too. They all are, I’m sure.)

The real Cubs curse

One of the things I like best about writing a blog is the stats that you get from it. For some reason, day in and day out, the term “13” has been the most popular term that results in a match to this blog. One of the very first pieces I wrote was about the number 13, but I had no idea that there was so much inherent interest in that number. But I’m going to use that as a jumping off point into a topic that’s bothered me for some time.

Yesterday, in order to pass some time at an event, I pulled a book from my bookshelf that I somehow acquired but never read. It was called A Chicago Tavern by a writer named Rick Kogan, and it told the story of the Sianis family and the curse of the billy goat. I didn’t read the whole thing, but I read enough of it to get a sense of what it’s about. A billy goat curse timeline is here, and I won’t go into all of the details here. But the Cubs have a different curse that nobody knows about.

The next time you’re in a tall building, get into the elevator and look for the 13th floor. It’s at least a 50/50 chance, and probably even greater than that, that the building won’t have a 13th floor. Or, if you’re in a building with fewer than 14 floors, pick a floor to get off at random. Then see if that floor has a suite ending in 13. Again, my guess is that it won’t.

Why is this the case? Are building owners superstitious? Maybe they are, and maybe they aren’t. More likely, they’re supposing that a potential tenant won’t want to have their home or business located in anything with a 13 on it. So they go from the 12th floor to the 14th, and play other tricks like that with the numbering to avoid having to rent something with an “unlucky” number on it.

Back in my early 20s I lived in a highrise building in a Chicago neighborhood known as Lakeview. Each of the units on any given floor had a letter of the alphabet at the end (6A, 6B, and so on). There were enough units on each floor so that, if they had they numbers instead of letters,  every “M” unit would have been number 13. I lived in unit 14K (“The golden apartment,” as I thought of it) which was actually the 13th floor of the building. Unit 14M, which was just a couple of doors down from mine, would have been unit 1313 if the building’s owners had been honest about it. And good luck with leasing that unit to anyone.

A few years later, in 1995, the Cubs held a contest to find their next PA announcer at Wrigley Field. I entered it on a lark, not really expecting anything to come of it (and it didn’t), but not wanting to miss the opportunity, either. So the way to send in submissions, in the pre-internet days of that time, was to mail a demo tape (really just a cassette) to the Cubs’ front office at Wrigley Field. And that’s when I learned the truth about the curse that nobody knows about.

Chicago ZIP codes, with very few exceptions, begin with the numbers “606,” with the last two digits being the variable to tell the post office what part of the city you’re in. ZIP is an acronym for Zoning Improvement Plan, if you’re interested. My ZIP code at the time, and throughout the length of my days living in Lakeview, was 60657. I assumed that since I was so close to Wrigley Field, that the Cubs’ ZIP code would be 60657, too. But I didn’t know that Addison Street was the dividing line between ZIP codes, and that the Cubs–by virtue of being just north of Addison Street–have a ZIP code of 60613. I’m generally not superstitious, but that did catch my attention.

I tried to educate myself about the history of ZIP codes (OK, I googled it one day), and I learned that they officially went into effect on July 1, 1963. I’ve grown up with them all my life, but apparently there was a time when they not only weren’t needed, but they didn’t exist to begin with. And that time included all of the Cubs’ pennants and World Series appearances.

There are many available Chicago ZIP codes that could be assigned to Wrigley Field that do not involve “unlucky” numbers: 60627, 60635, 60648, 60650, and 12 other higher digit numbers beginning with 606. There is even some precedent for reserving one ZIP code for an individual building, as everything addressed to the Merchandise Mart uses ZIP code 60654.

The Postal Service could make a change specifically for Wrigley Field itself, so as to minimize the disruption to other people’s lives and businesses. This doesn’t have to be anything more than a token gesture, and the same post office that handles all of the Cubs mail now (located north of Wrigley Field on Irving Park Road) could keep on doing as it’s always done, but without requiring all mail going into and out of Wrigley Field to carry an “unlucky” number on it.

I keep putting “unlucky” in quotation marks, since I don’t know if there is anything to this superstition or not. But I do know that if people are willing to believe that one man–on behalf of his pet goat–is capable of putting a curse on a baseball team, and having it stick for many decades, then why not also believe that the U.S. Postal Service–quite by accident, I’m sure–has placed a different type of a impediment on the same baseball team, and that they have not won since as a result?

Every major league franchise that existed on July 1, 1963–the day that ZIP codes went into effect–has since played in the World Series except for the Chicago Cubs, and every franchise except for the Cubs, Cleveland Indians, and Houston Colt 45s (now known as the Astros) has won the World Series as well.

So has the Cubs’ ZIP code actually prevented them from winning a pennant or World Series since the 1963 season? I can’t say that with any certainty. But what I can say is that they haven’t yet won despite it, either.