Somewhere on a farm in a remote corner of St. Joseph County in northern Indiana, a family is breathing a lot easier today.
Seventy-one years of persecution and fear, which had nagged them and their forebears, finally were lifted off the backs of Sleepy, Judie and their two kids, Murphy and Jyll.
The dreaded “Curse of the Billy Goat” ended for these four goats, goats everywhere and millions of their long-suffering human friends when the Chicago Cubs finally reached their first World Series since 1945 by closing out the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game Six of the National League Championship Series Saturday night at Wrigley Field.
It was 71 years ago this month that Chicago tavern owner Billy Sianis and his pet goat Murphy showed up at a Wrigley Field gate and, despite having tickets, were denied entrance to sit in them for Game Four of the Fall Classic between the Cubs and Tigers. Supposedly, Cubs owner Philip Wrigley was behind the ban, and Sianis allegedly cursed them with the words, “Them Cubs, they ain’t gonna win no more.”
Well, Tuesday night, the Cubs will be in Cleveland, trying to win their first World Series since 1908. It doesn’t matter, of course, that their opponents, the Indians, haven’t won it all since 1948.
Thousands of Cubs fans celebrated long into the early morning hours in the neighborhood bars around the ballpark at the corner of Clark and Addison.
Cubs fans around the country called in the post-game show on the team’s radio network and tried to explain through tears what it meant to them, and many evoked a departed loved one they wished could be there to experience that their long, national nightmare – at least the pennant part of it – was finally over.
Goats and Cubs fans, everywhere you looked, united again.
The day after his beloved Chicago Cubs won their first National League pennant since 1945, Whispering Pines Golf Course professional/owner John Niespodziany, a little worse for wear, was still celebrating with his bartender, Megan Hay.
Not far from the goat farm is Whispering Pines Golf Course, an 18-hole layout carved from a former cornfield with a loyal clientele, thanks in great part to the owner, a former caddie of South Bend Country Club who became a lifelong Cubs fan by accident.
“I remember after carrying a bag all morning sitting on the pop machine in the caddy shack, having a Mountain Dew and watching the Cubs on television in the afternoon,” said 61-year-old John Niespodziany, who became Whispering Pines’ owner after spending years at Chicagoland’s Lincolnshire Country Club where some of the members had underworld ties and six-under had an entirely different meaning.
Niespodziany remembers his grandfather, Edward Niespodziany, watching him play Little League baseball while listening to the Cubs game on the radio in the front seat of the Studebaker he and others helped build in South Bend just before the factory closed helped to build in South Bend so he could listen to the Cubs on the radio.
“My grandfather would be very, very happy right now,” sniffled John while hoisting a beer with some of the members of the Whispering Pines men’s club.
Rich Rozmarynowski, a retired South Bend policeman, was born in 1944, a year before the Cubs’ World Series drought began. The Cubs have long been a part of the family bloodline.
Retired South Bend policeman Rich Rozmarynowski is glad the “Curse of the Billy Goat” is over as he raises a toast to his late brother Dennis, a fellow Chicago Cubs fan.
“How can you not walk into that stadium (Wrigley Field) and not love seeing the green grass and ivy?” said Rozmarynowski, who showed up for his weekly Sunday round with his buddies wearing a blue t-shirt with the words, “I Ain’t Afraid Of No Goat.”
Rozmarynowski made many trips to the Friendly Confines with his brother Dennis, who was born three years before him just weeks before the United States was brought into World War II by Japan’s surprise attack on Pearl Harbor.
“You pick a team and stick with them, win or lose,” Rozmarynowski said. “That’s what Dennis and I did.”
Dennis Rozmarynowski passed away in 1994, and Saturday night when the Cubs closed out the NLCS with a double play, his brother shed a few tears for him.
“Every time the Cubs have won this season, I have thought of Dennis,” an emotional Rich Rozmarynowski said before hoisting a beer in his memory.
Not Quite Yet No. 1, Though
Randy Schmeltz, a teacher and golf coach at John Glenn High School in nearby Walkerton, attended his first game with his family after his mother wrote the Cubs a hard-luck letter and the team responded with a letter that included tickets behind the home-team dugout.
Schmeltz believes the Cubs are No. 1, and so does his brother Roger, who attended games at Wrigley Field with their late father “Fuzzy.”
“Mom made some fried chicken and we ate that,” Randy remembered of that game some 50 years ago when the team – with Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, Ron Santo and Ferguson Jenkins – was just about to begin its run to the disappointment of the Summer of ’69.
Ralph Schmeltz, nicknamed “Fuzzy” by his friends at the Bendix automotive and aerospace corporation that also drove the South Bend economic machine, often rooted for the Cubs with his sons Randy and Roger.
“We watched or listened to Cubs games every single day,” Randy continued. “Every season when we were growing up, Dad would find a way to take us to a game. And after we got older, we’d take him.”
Saturday, Randy listened to the game on radio driving back from Indianapolis and thought of “Fuzzy,” who passed seven years ago, and thought of his brother Roger, who had a heart attack last autumn but recovered in time to watch the Cubs beat the St. Louis Cardinals in last season’s Division Series.
This old goat and Johnny-Come-Lately Cubs fan thought of his father, who died two years ago after a life well lived, a life full of sports memories. Dad, who took my sister and me to see Roger Maris hit his 61st home run in 1961, was my guest at Wrigley Field one summer afternoon and immediately fell in love with the place.
And Wrigley Field was a place of nirvana for my father-in-law, who was a Cubs diehard. I fondly remember securing tickets for the first night game ever played at Wrigley Field on Aug. 8, 1988 – 8/8/88 for you numerology freaks out there – and taking “Big Jim”, brother-in-law Brian and our friend Mike to the game, which was rained out before it could become official.
I like to tell people the baseball gods were angry at the Cubs for what happened on 8/8/88. For all loyal Cubs fans, living or departed, I’d like to think the baseball gods are no longer angry.
They no longer got our goat.
Yes, even comedian Bob Newhart, a lifelong Chicago Cubs fans, didn’t miss out seeing the team clinch its first National League pennant since 1945, though he did forget his original “Fly the W” flag but gladly settled for one made by his grandsons.
(John Fineran has covered sporting events for more than 40 years for newspapers in his native New Jersey, Florida, Michigan and Indiana, where once upon a time he crossed the state line into Illinois and fell in love with Vienna beef hot dogs, Garrett’s Gourmet Caramel Corn, Wrigley Field and the Chicago Cubs. HOLY COW!!)