CHICAGO — Billy Siegel doesn't want to hear any talk about a billy goat curse or a Steve Bartman hex afflicting his beloved Chicago Cubs. He dismisses as rubbish any suggestion that a little black cat had anything to do with the team's heartbreaking collapse down the stretch in 1969, too.
But when Kyle Schwarber hit a home run the other night at Wrigley Field that helped vanquish the hated St. Louis Cardinals, Siegel found it impossible not to see divine providence at work. After all, the ball landed on a videoboard advertising a beer synonymous with St. Louis — and it didn't come down.
"Look at that ball that hit the Budweiser sign," said the 67-year-old Siegel, a season ticket holder since 1970. "Oh my god, that was a sign."
Cubs fans can insist all they want that they are done with talk of curses and just plain bad luck, from goats to cats to Bartman. But this is not an easy habit to break for the devoted faithful of a team that has not won a World Series since 1908. Heartbreak and superstition are as much a part of Cubs lore as Wrigley Field itself.
As the Cubs take on the New York Mets in the hopes of getting to the World Series for the first time since 1945, fans swear that this team is different from all the teams that have tried and failed before. This team will win — and they will, fans will tell you — because of the way they play and not because a curse was lifted or just ran out of steam.
"I am so sick of billy goats, sick of Bartman, it's all a bunch of baloney," said Jim Kelly, a 62-year-old substitute teacher.
For some, it's just different rooting for a team that is so young the players have no connection to past failures. These fans seem willing to thumb their noses at those who worry about, say, jinxing the team by celebrating before a victory is secure.
"I was in Pittsburgh (for the wild card victory against the Pirates) and I got criticized because I was on Twitter saying there are 6 outs to go, 5 outs to go," said Al Yellon, who runs a Cubs fan site, bleedcubbieblue.com. "But I was saying, no, we're not going to be slaves to history."
Still, to be safe ...
"I have a Jake Arrieta game-worn jersey that seems to be lucky," Yellon said. "I wear that jersey every time he pitches."
Years of watching a team snatch defeat from the jaws of victory have made it impossible for some other fans to shake the idea that if something bad can happen to the Cubs it will.
"There's no real curse," said Steve Rhodes, a longtime fan who runs beachwoodreporter.com. "At the same time, (stuff) happens to this team that doesn't happen to anyone else."
While Rhodes wonders if Schwarber's next home run might be blown back into play by "a gust of wind," these Cubs have already exorcised the demons that are the Cardinals, at least for one year. Fans wonder if they can now exact revenge on the Mets, the team that overtook the Cubs in 1969 not long after a black cat strolled by Cubs third baseman Ron Santo at Shea Stadium.
"I think it would be fitting to go through the Mets after what happened in '69," said Jeff Santo, a son of the late Cubs great.
For their part, the Cubs are staying far away from all this talk. They have not, for example, invited Bartman back to Wrigley as a guest of honor — a gesture some fans have suggested would be appropriate for someone vilified after he deflected a foul ball just before the Cubs collapsed in the 2003 playoffs.
It is pretty much the same story with the goat.
Seventy years after the owner of the Billy Goat Tavern put a curse on the Cubs when they wouldn't let his pet goat attend the World Series, the tavern owners have asked the Cubs to let a goat back into Wrigley for a postseason game. On its blog, the Billy Goat reminds the team that the last time it refused to sell a ticket to a goat was in 2003 and everyone knows what happened then.
"We don't allow animals in the ballpark and we don't believe in curses," the team said in a statement.
Still, the Cubs have chosen to ensconce Schwarber's home run ball in a plastic box atop the videoboard for all to see. It presumably will be there next Tuesday for Game 3 of the NLCS against the Mets.
Kelly said he suspects that Santo and the late Ernie Banks are "up there making sure nothing crazy happens" to their team. And he also suspects if the Cubs win the World Series the celebration will extend to the great beyond.
"The cemeteries will be overloaded with Cubs fans telling their loved ones they did it," he said. "I will be the first one out there, taking a (World Series) sweat shirt