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William Sianis and the Curse of the Billy Goat

Legacy.com / Nick Ehrhardt

William Sianis and the Curse of the Billy Goat

William Sianis (Photo via Flickr Creative Commons/guano)Sixty five years ago today, during game 4 of the 1945 World Series, William Sianis and his goat were escorted from their seats by Wrigley Field security. Here’s a closer look at the man who cursed the Cubs.

William “Billy Goat” Sianis was born in Greece in 1895. He came to the U.S. in 1912 and taught himself English by reading newspapers. Just months after the repeal of Prohibition, he bought the Lincoln Tavern, a bar across the street from the Chicago Stadium (now site of the United Center) for a whopping $205. According to legend, the check bounced but he repaid his debt following his first weekend in business. Not long after, a baby goat fell from a truck just outside the tavern. Sianis nursed the goat to health, dubbed him Murphy, grew himself a goatee and renamed his bar The Billy Goat Inn.

A natural marketer, Sianis knew his way around a publicity stunt. In 1944, when the city hosted the Republican National Convention, he posted a sign outside the door saying “No Republicans Served Here.” Angry Republicans went inside to inquire why, only to find themselves getting served afterall, and in large number.

Publicity is no doubt what Billy Goat Sianis had in mind when he took Murphy across town to catch game 4 of the Detroit-Cubs World Series the following year. He purchased two box seat tickets for a total of $7.20, and was allowed to parade his animal around Wrigley’s infield during the drizzly pre-game wait. Murphy wore a placard reading “We Got Detroit’s Goat.”

Ushers tried to give Billy Goat and his billy goat the boot before the game started, but Sianis argued he’d paid for two box seats and thus they should be allowed to stay. And they were, until the 4th inning. Then the ushers arrived again and told Sianis that someone had complained about the goat’s smell. The pair were asked to leave.

Accounts vary as to what happened next, but all agree that William Sianis was not pleased. Some say that he cursed the franchise there and then, declaring that no World Series games would ever again be played at Wrigley Field. Others contend he said it was the Cubs who would never appear in another series, regardless of venue. Sianis’ family maintain that, still angry the following day, he sent a telegram to Cubs owner Phillip K. Wrigley saying the team would lose the 1945 World Series and never win (as opposed to appear in) another, all because they had slighted his beloved goat.

Whatever version of the curse was actually delivered, all seem to remain in effect. The Cubs lost the 1945 World Series. No World Series games have been held at Wrigley since. The Cubs haven’t won a World Series game, nor even appeared in one, for 65 years and counting.

Perhaps regretting the curse, William Sianis publicly rescinded it in 1979. His nephew, has attempted the same many times since, bringing a goat to Wrigley in 1973, 1984, 1989, 1994 and 1998, all to no avail.

In 1964 The Billy Goat Tavern relocated, moving to a subterranean space between the offices of the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Sun-Times, where it was frequented by the likes of legendary columnist Mike Royko and movie critic Roger Ebert. William Sianis made the headlines again shortly before his death when he wrote to the State Department hoping to get an exclusive food-and-drink license to serve hungry astronauts on the moon.

When he passed away on October 22, 1970, Mike Royko eulogized him as “Chicago’s greatest tavern keeper,” noting that he died at 3 AM, one of only 5 hours each day that the tavern was closed for business.

Already a part of sports lore, the establishment was brought a new level of fame when Saturday Night Live used the Billy Goat Tavern – and new proprietor Sam Sianis, nephew of William – as inspiration for their famous ‘cheezborger cheezborger cheezborger’ Olympia Café sketch.

Today there are several Billy Goat Taverns in the Chicago area and even one in Washington D.C., all of them testament to a Greek immigrant with a good nose for publicity and a team with a bad luck streak which shows no signs of abating.