Book excerpt: On the Chicago Cubs’ history of curses

In “My Cubs” (Blue Rider Press), Scott Simon, host of NPR’s “Weekend Edition” and a lifetime Cubs fan, writes about bleeding Cubbie blue, the ignominy of baseball as played at Wrigley Field over the years, and the love of a fan for their hapless team.

In this excerpt, Simon explores the power of stories, or myths, which have fostered the legend of curses befalling baseball’s perennial losers, who would fail over the course of several generations at bringing a World Series victory home to Chicago. 

And don’t miss Scott Simon on CBS’ “Sunday Morning” April 23!

Baseball players on all teams will tell you that they don’t believe in curses. But if they get a crucial hit in a game one night, they’ll wear the same socks the next.

Blue Rider Press

I have talked to a score of Cubs players over the years and carefully asked about … this curse stuff. They answer with a kind of monologue of aplomb: I was always the best athlete in my town. I pitched a shutout and hit three home runs in our state championship game. I’ve been a SportsCenter highlight. I’m a winner. I’m lucky. That’s what got me here. Hard work and skill are real, not curses.

But a few minutes later, they might talk about what their first thoughts were when they heard they were coming to the Cubs: Great town. Best park, best fans. You’ll never be more popular in your life than you will be on the north side of Chicago. But you hear these stories …

I don’t believe in curses. But I do believe (I kind of have to) in the power of stories. And over 108 years, the more the Cubs lost, often in farcical and fantastic ways, the more those losses strengthened the fairy tale that the club must be cursed.

I used to rewrite lines from Carl Sandburg’s poem “Chicago” for the Cubs:

Come and show me another city with lifted head singing so proud and loud to be in love with flops so lovable and cunning with excuses

Stinging with magnetic curses amid the toil of piling loss on loss, here is a tall bold loser struggling just to beat St. Louis, Cincinnati, and Pittsburgh …

Laughing the loony batty bawling whimpering of defeat, half-faded, sweating, proud to be Hit Butcher, Out Maker, Stacker of Defeats, Loser by Boatloads and Curse Sufferer to the Nation!

The Cubs got into and lost six World Series in the thirty-seven years between 1908 and 1945. The Cubs lost the 1910 Series to the Philadelphia Athletics when a great pitcher named Jack Coombs won three of what turned out to be just a five-game series. No curse — just Coombs.

The Cubs lost their next World Series in 1918, to the Boston Red Sox, who won while scoring just nine runs in the six-game series. This is still a record for scoring economy, all the more improbable because Babe Ruth was on that Red Sox team — pitching. He threw 29 ⅔ consecutive scoreless innings, which stood as a record for forty years. No voodoo, just the…

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