CHICAGO (AP) — Chuck Logan heard about it from his dad for years. Bill Sianis was born into it. And Lennie Merullo was there the day it happened and lived with it for the rest of his life.
The “it” is the Curse of the Billy Goat, the story of a Chicago tavern owner who supposedly put a hex on the Cubs after the team refused to let his pet goat into Wrigley Field during the 1945 World Series — despite the fact that the goat had a ticket.
The memories of those three men are about a real event that has turned into an enduring tale that has only grown taller throughout the years — one that may not explain why the Cubs are returning only now to the World Series after 71 years, but one that does get at what it means to be a fan of a team with the longest championship drought in major American sports at 108 years.
“I just assumed he was one of 20, 30 guys saying, ‘No, you can’t come in with that goat,'” said Logan, 73. A few years after his father died in 2001, Logan’s cousin spotted a newspaper photograph of a lone usher standing between William Sianis and Murphy the goat at a Wrigley turnstile, and called to say he thought the usher was his dad.
The usher was, in fact, Olaf Logan.
The photo dovetailed into the popular story about the curse: Sianis, hoping to bring the Cubs luck, showed up to the game with Murphy, with the goat even sporting a “We Got Detroit’s Goat” blanket on his back.
There, in the photograph, the 32-year-old usher stood at the turnstile apparently telling Sianis he can’t come in. Murphy is standing on its hind legs, its front legs draped over the railing, a look of apparent disappointment on its face. The Cubs, of course, lost Game 4 and the Series in seven games. They haven’t been back until now.
The usher story is what Logan told Lennie Merullo, the last surviving member of the 1945 Cubs team, when the 97-year-old Merullo returned to Wrigley to celebrate the ballpark’s 100th anniversary.
Merullo, his son said, ran with it.
“My dad was giving him all kinds of grief, telling him if he hadn’t done that they’d have won,” said Len Merullo Jr., who watched his father, who died last year, tease Logan.
A Cubs historian tells a slightly different story. According to Ed Hartig, Sianis actually got into the ballpark with a goat, which is strange enough. Even more amazing, once inside — and Hartig said there is a photo of this — Sianis and Murphy somehow got onto the field to stroll among the players warming up for the game.
Ultimately, they took their seats. The problems started when, after a rainy morning, the sun came out. That was good for the players but not so good for fans sitting near a drying goat.
“People started to complain about the smell,” Hartig said. Sianis and his goat were shown the door.
Bill Sianis, who backs the story about his great-uncle being turned away at the gate, said that whatever happened, his namesake was miffed and made sure he told the Cubs’ owner just that.
“He went back to the tavern and after they lost the Series he sent a telegram to P.K. Wrigley that read simply, ‘Who stinks now?'” said Sianis, whose great-uncle died in 1970.
As the Cubs plummeted in the standings over the next few years, reporters asked Sianis if he’d put some sort of curse on the team.
“He said as long as they don’t let the goat in, they will never win the World Series,” Bill Sianis said. And with that, a curse was born.
Whatever happened at the gate was not captured by a photographer. Logan said the original photograph he saw showed his dad but did not identify him. A few weeks ago, he said, the same picture ran in the paper — this time with his father’s name below it along with the words “re-enactment.”
Hartig contends that what Sianis really wanted was publicity for his tavern and he recognized that getting kicked out of the ballpark could accomplish that goal just as much as being allowed to stay.
“Maybe,” Hartig suggested, “he told the Cubs, ‘Hey, take my picture and I’ll go quietly.'”
Merullo said his dad didn’t talk about the curse much, but he suspects he thought there was something to it. “He was Italian, they’re all superstitious,” he said, chuckling.
Logan, who played football at nearby Northwestern, doesn’t believe in curses. But, like many Cubs fans wistfully remembering the loved ones who died without ever seeing the team win it all, he finds himself thinking about his parents and siblings he’s lost.
“I wish I could enjoy this story about my father with them,” he said.
As for Sianis, he’s not about to let go of a curse that’s been anything but a curse for business.
“We could say that it’s over, but what’s the point if they don’t win it?” he said.