The Student News Site of Loyola University Maryland

The Greyhound

The Greyhound

The Student News Site of Loyola University Maryland

The Greyhound

After 108 Years, the Cubs are Back on Top


Photo courtesy of Charlie Lyons-Pardue via

When the Chicago Cubs won game five of the 1908 World Series to clinch their second consecutive World Championship, no one would have thought that it would take 108 years for them to win another championship. After all, the Cubs were one of the most successful teams in the National League, having won three consecutive pennants, and two straight World Series, both coming at the expense of Hall of Famer Ty Cobb’s Detroit Tigers.

When the Tigers beat the Cubs in game seven of the 1945 World Series, it had been a long time between championships for Chicago, but it wasn’t like they were chronically unsuccessful. Rather, they had won the National League pennant several times, in 1910, 1918, 1929, 1932, 1935, and 1938. There wasn’t any reason to believe they wouldn’t be back in the World Series sometime soon.

Instead, the Cubs went on an unprecedented championship drought, which spanned many generations and countless, heartbreaking seasons. The time-honored explanation for the Cubs’ misery was the so-called “Curse of the Billy Goat.”

As the story goes, at game four of the 1945 World Series, management asked a fan who had brought his pet goat in to leave Wrigley Field. The fan angrily declared that, because he wasn’t allowed to have his goat, the Cubs were not going to win a World Series ever again.

It’s an easy and fun story, but the truth is more complex, and it goes back to a story of bad management, bad managers, and bad players…

In 1932, Phillip K. Wrigley took control of the Cubs from his father William, whom Wrigley Field is named after. The younger Wrigley was a believer in old-fashioned baseball ways: he did not believe in creating “farm systems” where teams could develop young players. Rather, he preferred the method of simply buying players from minor league teams, as had been the custom during the Cubs’s glory years.

While it was a well-intentioned idea, it didn’t do much to help field a winning baseball team. As National League rivals like the Dodgers, Giants, Cardinals, and Braves began developing excellent minor league systems, the Cubs began to flounder. After an 82-71 finish in 1946, the Cubs went 16 straight years without fielding a winning team.

As the team continued to struggle, Wrigley tried to implement new and unorthodox ideas, such as a “College of Coaches.” Rather than having one manager, the Cubs would have eight different people rotate among different roles, including the head manager. The idea was a complete failure: in the five years that it was in place (1961-65), the Cubs managed just one winning season, in 1963.

In the late 1960s, the Cubs finally began to show some signs of life. With exciting young players such as third baseman Ron Santo, outfielder Billy Williams, and pitcher Ferguson Jenkins, the Cubs had back-to-back winning seasons in 1967 and 1968.

In 1969, the Cubs looked as if they had finally put everything together. Playing in the newly created National League East division, the Cubs built up a nine-game lead in the division at one point, and it looked as if the 24-year playoff drought would come to an end.

Unfortunately, the team struggled down the stretch, going 17-26 after Aug. 16. Meanwhile, the upstart “Miracle Mets” went 36-11 in the same timespan, and won the East by eight games.

Following the heartbreak of 1969, the Cubs settled back onto a treadmill of under-achieving. The team posted winning seasons in 1970, 1971, and 1972, even though they did not finish close to first. In 1973, the team started off 47-31 and led the division by 8.5 games as late as June 29, but went 30-53 after that date. In 1977, the Cubs also led by 8.5 games on June 29, but stumbled once again to finish at an even 81-81.

The success of 1969 saw the team rise in popularity, and the team drew more than 1.6 million fans to Wrigley Field, which at the time did not have lights that enabled night games. Many of the fans stuck around in the ensuing years, and the Cubs soon developed a “lovable losers” image that ensured they would remain popular no matter how well they did on the field.

Wrigley, who was entering the twilight of his life, began to stop developing good players once again, and was content with the mediocre team on the field. In the words of baseball historian Bill James:  “They stopped making any real, committed and sincere EFFORT to win; they were just putting on a show for the fans. They had this old ballpark with no lights; they would bottom-feed off the players discarded by other teams, come up with an occasional pretty good player, win 75 games a year, draw pretty good attendance, make a little money, and everybody would be happy.”

Wrigley died in 1977, and the family sold the team to the Chicago Tribune in 1981. The company hired Dallas Green as general manager, and for the first time, the team began to make a genuine effort to win.

They acquired a young infielder from the Philadelphia Phillies who would go on to be a beloved second baseman: Ryne Sandberg. He made a flurry of other smaller, but still important, trades, and the team finally started to play well. In 1984, the 39-year wait finally ended. The Cubs went 96-65, won the National League East, and returned to the playoffs for the first time since 1945.

In the National League Championship Series that year, they squared off against the West champions, the San Diego Padres. The Cubs won the first two games of the best-of-five series, and were just one win away from their first pennant since 1945. Unfortunately, they lost the next three games of the series, the Padres won the pennant, and the Cubs missed out on a championship once again.

Despite occasionally drafting some good players, most notably pitcher Greg Maddux, the Cubs went into “Whack-a-Mole” mode over the next two decades. Once in a while, they would have a good season, only to have their postseason dreams end quickly. They won the 1989 National League East, only to get bounced from the NLCS in five games. In 1998, they won the National League Wild Card, but were swept in the National League Division Series. By then, the championship drought stood at 90 years, and the pennant drought at 53 years.

In spite of all of this, the Cubs’ business was never better. With slugger Sammy Sosa blasting home runs at a nearly unprecedented rate, the nostalgia of Wrigley Field growing (it was the second-oldest stadium in MLB), and the “lovable losers” stigma growing larger by the year, attendance at Wrigley was growing fast. They drew two million fans for the first time in 1984, and have passed the mark every full season since, except for 1986, when they drew 1.8 million fans. They set a new attendance record in 1999, despite going 67-95.

Perhaps the worst heartbreak for the Cubs came in 2003. With Sosa still hitting home runs left and right, and an excellent pitching core that included young guns like Kerry Wood and Mark Prior, the Cubs won the Wild Card with an 88-74 record. They upset the heavily favored Atlanta Braves in the NLDS to win their first playoff series in 95 years, and won three out of the first four games of the NLCS from the Florida Marlins. Once again, the dreaded words of “One Game Away” haunted the Cubs.

They fell short again. They were shut out in game five, lost game six at home after taking a 3-0 lead in the eighth inning, and then lost game seven to give the Marlins the National League championship.

Game six went down in Cubs lore due to the near-comical way that eighth inning went. With one out in the eighth inning, fan Steve Bartman interfered with a possibly catchable foul ball down the left field line, costing the Cubs an out.

Even though starting pitcher Mark Prior was starting to tire after throwing more than 120 pitches, manager Dusty Baker did not take him out until after the game was already tied. Shortstop Alex Gonzalez bobbled what could have been an inning-ending double-play ground ball, enabling the Marlins’s rally to stay alive. In the end, the Marlins scored eight runs in the inning, winning 8-3.

A real slap-to-the-face moment for the Cubs came two years later in 2005, when the cross-town Chicago White Sox snapped their 88-year championship and broke the “Curse of the Black Socks.” To add insult to injury, the Boston Red Sox snapped the “Curse of the Bambino” and their 86-year drought in the year prior, in 2004.

In late 2011, with the championship drought standing at 103 years, and team lacking any direction or core, the Cubs made one of their few winning moves in the past 100 years. They hired former Boston Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein to be the president of baseball operations. Epstein had become famous for being the architect of the Red Sox 2004 World Series victory, their first championship win since 1918.

Immediately, Epstein began developing a strong team. In the 2011-12 offseason, he acquired first baseman Anthony Rizzo in a trade with the Padres. In the 2013 draft, he took third baseman Kris Bryant with the second overall pick. Suddenly, the Cubs had a good young core of players. With the free agent signings of outfielder Dexter Fowler, pitchers Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks, and the trade for pitcher Jake Arrieta, suddenly the Cubs looked like a team that was built to win.

After a solid 2015 that saw them win 97 games but get bounced from the NLCS by the Mets, the club finally put it all together in 2016. They won 103 games, to set a franchise record, and won the National League Central by 15.5 games. At long last, their National League pennant drought ended on Oct. 22, when they defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers in game six of the NLCS, to go to the World Series for the first time in 71 years.

While it was an awesome moment for the franchise, the curse was still present. Their World Series opponent was the Cleveland Indians, the American League champions with a killer bullpen, and a team that hadn’t won a championship since 1948. It wouldn’t be an easy task to begin with, and when the Cubs lost three out of the first four games of the series, their backs were against the wall.

However, this year’s team was different from history. They won games five and six, setting the stage for an epic game seven in Cleveland. They took an imposing four-run lead at one point, but gave it up in the eighth, and the Indians tied it up 6-6. Game seven ultimately went to extra innings, with the Cubs prevailing in ten innings 8-7.

After the game was over, many attributed the win to the ending of the “Curse of the Billy Goat.” Of course, there was no curse. It was just that for the majority of their history, the Cubs did not have good baseball leadership. With Epstein in charge, Bryant and Rizzo leading the way, and with a strong supporting core, Chicago looks as if they will thrive for years to come.


Leave a Comment
More to Discover

Comments (0)

All The Greyhound Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Activate Search
After 108 Years, the Cubs are Back on Top