By Harv Aronson
In 1918, the World Series featured two teams that would later experience extraordinary droughts in trying to return to the fall classic.
The World Series of 1918 pitted the American League champion Boston Red Sox against the National League champion Chicago Cubs. Early in the century, the Red Sox had experienced much success in winning pennants in 1912, 1915, 1916, and again in 1918 all which resulted in them winning the World Series.
However, 1918 would become the last time Boston reached the promised land until they won it all again in 2004, 86 years later. The myth regarding their absence is credited to “The Curse of the Bambino.” In other words, the great Babe Ruth was originally a player with Boston but the then owner Harry Frazee traded the greatest player ever in 1919 to the New York Yankees in exchange for just cash. Thus, many felt he cursed his team and it could be true as it would take those 86 years to get back to where they were in 1918.
As for those Chicago Cubs, they had a curse thrown on them as well. Winners of the World Series in 1907 and 1908, they were National League champions again in 1910 but lost the World Series to the Philadelphia A’s. Then they made the return trip to face Boston in 1918. Unlike Boston, the Cubs did reach the World Series again in 1929, 1932, 1935, and one last time in 1945.
Chicago’s curse was called “Curse of the Billy Goat” and it went like this…in 1945 there was a tavern in Chicago named “Billy Goat Tavern” and the owner was William Sianis. He had a pet goat and would bring it to the Cubs games. Fans around Sianis complained of the smell coming from the animal and officials at Wrigley Field told Sianis he had to leave the stadium with his pet mascot. The incident took place in game four of that 1945 series after Chicago had taken two of the first three games.
Naturally, Sianis was angered by his being tossed from Wrigley and on his exit declared, “Them Cubs, they ain't gonna win no more!” With that said, Chicago lost game four 4-1 and game five 8-4. In game six it took 12 innings but the Cubs prevailed 8-7 and then lost game seven 9-3 also losing the World Series. Sianis’s prediction came true at least in his lifetime. He would live to be 76 and died in October 1970 without the Cubs ever making it back to the World Series. Of course he was a year away from dying when in 1969 the Cubs had pulled one of the worst choke jobs and collapses in the annals of Major League Baseball.
The Cubs in 1969 has been in first place for the first 155 days of the season and on September 2, they were 84-52 leading the second place New York Mets who had won 77 and lost 55 to that point. Through the rest of the season Chicago had lost eight straight at one point and 17 of their final 25 while the Mets got hot and became the “Miracle Mets.” As an overview, the Chicago Cubs during their collapse had allowed 17 ½ games to wilt in the standings to the eventual World Series champion Cubs.
To add insult to injury, the game on September 9 with the Mets saw a stray black cat wander onto the field as former Cub Ron Santo had a bat in his hands and was on deck. Chicago had lost the day before and after the cat passed by, the Cubs would lose that game too. The game was gone and first place was gone for the season as Chicago never climbed back into the top spot. For Ernie Banks, "Mr. Cub" and his teammate Ron Santo, they never got the chance to play in a playoff game. For poor Mr. Cub, he set a record of playing in 2,528 games without ever experiencing a playoff game.
Obviously, Sianis went to his grave believing his curse was still intact and would continue. It wasn’t until 2016 that the curse was broken with a Cubs World Series win over another team that is still in a MLB title drought, the Cleveland Indians. Of course there was also the “Bartman” curse in 2003 that plagued the Cubs.
The Cubs were leading the Florida Marlins in the National League Championship series three games to two and in game six held a 3-0 lead in the eighth inning. On a foul ball by Luis Castillo, Moises Alou of the Cubs tried to field the ball and make the catch. However, one Steve Bartman sitting in the stands wearing headphones, tried to grab for the ball interfering with Alou who could not make the catch. There was one out at the time and this would have been out #2. Instead, Castillo and his teammates made the most of the opportunity scoring eight runs in that inning and winning the game and then taking game seven to advance to the World Series and keeping the Cubs home … AGAIN.
The Boston Red Sox finally won that 2004 World Series after losing in 1976 to Cincinnati’s “Big Red Machine.” Boston would do it again in 2007 and one more time five years ago. But in 1918, the series won by Boston was also marred with controversy. In six games, the Red Sox became champions. But the games were all close (1-0, 3-1, 2-1, 3-2, 3-0, and 2-1). So little was the scoring that Boston set a World Series record for fewest runs scored by the winning team.
Additionally, neither Boston nor Chicago could manage a home run in the six games played. That has happened only twice in history. World War I was going on in 1918 and because of that, the World Series that year became the only Fall Classic to be played and finished in the month of September. The regular season had been cut short because of the war ending on September 1. This was due to the country issuing an order called “Work or Fight”. Some players from Boston and Chicago had threatened a strike because the gate receipts for games had been low; obviously fans were staying home either because of the war or a lack of interest.
At the time of this World Series, the Cubs were playing at Wrigley but it would not garner that name until 1925 and therefore in 1918 it was called “Weeghman Park.” Since the seating capacity was smaller than their cross town counterpart White Sox and their famous Stadium, Comisky Park, the World Series home games for the Cubs was played there.
For the first time ever in the 1918 World Series, the “The Star Spangled Banner” was played which obviously became a tradition. 13 years later it became America’s National Anthem. The controversy surrounding the series centered on allegations of a fix which years later would lead to a book by Sean Deveney called “The Original Curse.” Several Cubs players were under suspicion of fixing the series and Chicago pitcher Phil Douglas was in fact accused trying to fix a game in 1922 (a regular season game). Because of this, just like the star player “Shoeless” Joe Jackson who was a part of the “Blacksox Scandal” of 1919, Douglas was thrown out of baseball for life.
More evidence of a fix came in 2011 when the Chicago History Museum had in its archives a document which came from the court testimony of that infamous 1919 investigation in the Chicago White Sox/Cincinnati Reds fixed World Series in which Chicago pitcher Eddie Cicotte testified in no uncertain terms that “the Cubs had purposely lost the 1918 World Series” and the fact that the games the Cubs lost were all by one run meant to Cicotte that Chicago’s players involved did so because owners of the Red Sox and Cubs were not providing proper gate receipts to the players.
No one will ever know for sure if Cicotte’s allegations are true but in the end, Boston was the winner and Chicago the loser and they would go through years of futility before finding success in Major League Baseball again.