year of the goat

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February 27, 2004 | The Curse of the Billy Goat
Billy Goat Tavern
Sam Sianis, owner of the Billy Goat Tavern in Chicago, Illinois, holds up a newspaper clipping from 1945 of his uncle, William 'Billy Goat' Sianis trying to get his goat into Wrigley Field to watch the World Series | more photos from the Billy Goat Tavern
In 1945, a Chicago Cubs fan named William "Billy Goat" Sianis bought his pet goat a ticket to the World Series. The Cubs were facing the Detroit Tigers at Wrigley field, and Sianis, an immigrant from the Greek village of Paleopyrgos, had spent $14.40 on tickets for two box seats to the game. He arrived with his goat, presented their tickets, and, after some discussion, was turned away by the management. When Sianis asked why, he was told that the team's owner, Mr. Wrigley, had objected because "the goat smelled."
What happened next is unclear. In some versions of the story, Mr. Sianis and his goat left the ballpark and returned, angry, to the Billy Goat Inn, a tavern owned by Sianis which had gotten its name after someone left a baby goat in a box on his doorstep. At the bar, Sianis is said to have told a newspaper man that his goat had been insulted and disappointed, and the Cubs would be hexed until Mr. Wrigley came to the bar to apologize to the animal. In another version, man and goat stood outside Wrigley Field and Sianis raised his fist, shouting "The Cubs no win here no more!" Whatever the duo's actions, the Cubs lost the game. The following day, Sianis sent Mr. Wrigley a telegram: "Who smells now?"

In the years that have followed, the Billy Goat Inn has changed locations and name, moving in 1964 to a building near the Chicago Tribune and becoming the Billy Goat Tavern. Four goats --Billy, Murphy, Sonoria and Socrates-- have split their time between Sianis' backyard and the tavern (though now the only goat around is mounted above the bar). The tavern and its proprietor have ascended to legend, immortalized by Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi on Saturday Night Live, and Mike Royko in the Chicago Tribune. The place has become a destination for politicians, journalists, and sportscasters. The Cubs have not returned to the World Series.

The Curse of the Billy Goat came to our attention this fall, when the playoff games were in full swing. Goats were everywhere, in graphics on ESPN, peaking out of newspaper articles, crudely drawn by Marlins fans on homemade posterboard signs. We were thrilled as much by the omnipresent goats as we were by the prospect of the Cubs and the Red Sox breaking their respective curses. Ultimately, though, the curses held and both teams lost. What, we wondered, could lift the Curse of the Billy Goat?

This is something that Cubs fans have been trying to figure out for nearly sixty years. They have tried inviting Sam Sianis, Billy Goat's nephew, who has owned the bar since his death in 1970, to bring a goat onto the field. They have paraded a goat around the bases at Wrigley Field. On the first day of our visit to the Billy Goat Tavern, a few blocks away at Harry Carey's Restaurant, to much media fanfare, they blew up the ball that many believed had been the most recent evidence of the curse. So far, nothing has worked.

Billy Goat Tavern
Cheezborger, Cheezborger! - enlarge photo
Beneath the many photographs and laminated newspaper articles that paper the walls of the tavern, we asked Sam Sianis why, if he's been invited to take a goat to Wrigley Field, the curse persists. He paused a moment in the din of the bar, which, even in the morning, bustled with people stopping in for coffee and egg and cheese sandwiches. There have been occasions, he told us, when he's taken goats to Wrigley Field and they've been turned away. The first time was in 1973, when he and the goat arrived in a limousine but were refused entrance. The most recent was this past year, when Sam's goat had tickets to games six and seven, but was prevented from entering. It is because of these rejections that the curse has not been broken. Sam truly believes in the Curse of the Billy Goat, and he believes that the only way to lift it is sincerity. The invitations that have been issued so far have been mere publicity stunts. If the Cubs opened the stands to goats because they genuinely liked them and wanted to share the game with them, the hex would be dispelled.

This year, Sports Illustrated has said the Cubs have the best starting pitchers in the major leagues. The team roster includes Sammy Sosa, Greg Maddux, and first baseman Derrek Lee, who was recently signed (after winning the World Series last year with the Marlins). They have been picked by many baseball pundits to win their division. Only one questions remains: When the bases are loaded with two outs in the ninth, will the goat get the call? —MMH

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The Year of the Goat

The Year of the Goat: 40,000 Miles and the Quest for the Perfect Cheese
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In 2004 we made 4 appearances on the now sadly off the air, but then nationally syndicated PRI show, The Next Big Thing
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