Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

The 2016 World Series: Curses and curse busters

Curses and curse busters
by rick olivares

So it’s the Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indians for Major League Baseball’s World Series title.

Even as the Cubs took a one game lead over the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League Championship Series, the thought of a Cubs-Indians finale was tantalizing. Two long suffering clubs are going to lock horns and one team will end its curse. The losing team will walk away not feeling exactly exhilarated at breaking a finals drought as they will still feel cursed.

Before I go any further, let me interject this.

There’s this old prayer we were taught to pray in school after a sporting event. It was the Athlete’s Prayer that goes (taking off from the second quatrain):

“And if I should win, let it be by the code
With my faith and honor held high;
And if I should lose, let me stand by the road,
And cheer as the winners go by.”

Thus, I have found it in my pinstriped heart to thank two of the great curse-busters of these modern times – Theo Epstein and Terry Francona. Theo was considered the Bosox’s boy wonder as he embraced sabermetrics (following the success of Billy Beane over at Oakland). Yet I thought he was a New Yorker gone wrong as he defected to the enemy (he was born in New York but raised in Brookline, Massachusetts where he grew up a Red Sox fan) while Terry was the answer to the Trivial Pursuit question, “Who was Michael Jordan’s manager when he was playing in the minor leagues?”

Yet both conspired to lead the Boston Red Sox to two World Series titles ending decades and decades of heartbreak. They did it against my beloved New York Yankees. Now, as both have been ushered out of Beantown since they have gone on to taste success elsewhere – Epstein as general manager of the Cubs and Francona as manager of the Indians.

In Theo’s five years in Wrigley Field, the Cubs have won 61, 66, 73, 97, and now, 103 games.

For Tito (as Terry is fondly nicknamed) Francona, his Indians have won 92, 85, 81, and 94 games since he began managing them in 2013.

That isn’t so bad at all.

Enough praise for them as some of my friends in the Big Apple might think I have defected (no chance in hell I would). Instead, I think it’s a fascinating story these two clubs.

No sport has more superstition, back story and history, is steeped in tradition, and is stat-oriented than baseball. I could sit through a four-hour match and not even look at the time to wonder I can still catch that bus going back home. I’d quickly change the channel on basketball but not baseball (and football). It is my favorite sport and the game’s lore is something I find captivating.

Now that Chicago and Cleveland will begin their own seven-game series, people will wonder who is more cursed and who deserves to have their malaise lifted. Let’s look at them.

The Curse of the Billy Goat
This one dates back to 1945 when Cubs patron Bill Sianis was asked to leave Wrigley Field during Game 4 of the World Series (against the Detroit Tigers) because of his foul-smelling pet goat, Murphy, that he brought along with him. Sianis, who owned the Billy Goat Tavern (now a chain of taverns with the tag line, “Enter at your own risk”), was asked to leave but not before he uttered what was thought to be a curse, “Them Cubs? They ain’t gonna win no more.”

People aren’t sure whether it meant that the Cubs aren’t going back to the World Series (they haven’t since 1945) or win another game. Whatever it is, Chicago sure hasn’t won in October so the myth has endured.

There have been so many attempts to reverse the curse in the last few decades from Sianis’ son bringing in a goat to people eating goats but it looks like the best curse buster is bringing in someone who knows a thing or two about breaking curses – Epstein. Ugh.

The Curse of Rocky Colavito
Now this curse has its origins in 1960 when popular right fielder Rocky Colavito who was home run king in 1959 for the batting champion of that same year, Harvey Kuenn. Fans were incensed as a team with so much potential was quickly dismantled.

The idea of the Indians having a hex placed over them was first ventured by veteran Cleveland writer Terry Pluto in his 1994 book, “The Curse of Rocky Colavito: A Loving Look at a 33-Year Slump.”

Except that it is now 56-years later and although they have won division titles and pennants, they have yet to win the big one. So now Cleveland brought in a curse buster of their own in Francona.

As I said earlier, this World Series is going to be interesting. Think of all the stories that are going to be told. And there’ll be headlines such as “Curse Reversed!”

Or, “Curses! Foiled again!”

Play ball.

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