Saturday, October 4, 2014

Never insult a baseball-loving Greek and his Goat

Baseball and superstition go hand in hand.  Many will point to the Curse of the Bambino as the most well known - but for my money, you gotta go with the curse that still stands, and that involves a Greek and his goat.

Billy Sianis - who must be a cousin of mine because all Greeks are related - Cousin Billy owned the Lincoln Tavern right across the street from Chicago Stadium.  He bought the place soon after the repeal of Prohibition, and soon after that, my cousin finds a goat.  Or rather, a baby Billy Goat found him.  The little thing apparently fell off the back of a truck and limped into the Lincoln Tavern.

It was love at first sight, and Cousin Billy nursed the wooly guy back to health and then he and the goat became fast friends.  My cousin loved that damn goat - so much so that he renamed his bar the Billy Goat Tavern.

After that, my cousin and that goat became pretty famous in the Windy City - he'd sneak it into all sorts of public events, though how one sneaks a goat anywhere is open to debate.  Me?  I think people let my cousin and his goat visit anywhere they wanted - why the heck not?  Good publicity for the Billy Goat Tavern, good times livening up whatever public function they attended - win win, am I right?

And no, I'm not making this up.

So tomorrow?  After Game Two tonight - the Giants against the Nationals - Karen and I are heading to Chicago and I'm going to go looking for that bar.

But Cousin Billy - way back when, let's not forget Cousin Billy - Cousin Billy was having such fun that he started donning a goatee and calling himself Billy Goat.  No one alerted the authorities - this was just a crazy, publicity seeking Greek.  Not dry like toast, though, not at all.  The white people - and there are a lot of you in Chicago - they thought it was cute.

I already said that Billy and his Goat stared making the rounds in public, right?  Good publicity for the Billy Goat Tavern, I mentioned that, yes?  Everybody was having a good ol' time - but then the World Series had to intervene and all good things came to an end.

You ready?  One crazy Greek, his beloved goat, maybe a little booze (that goat loved to drink) - and the Chicago Cubs.

It's 1945, it's October, and the Cubbies are in the World Series playing the Detroit Tigers.  My cousin bought two tickets for Game Four - Box Seats, no less! at more than seven bucks a pop - one for himself, one for the goat.  They're both having a fine time - heck, before the game started, they "snuck" onto the field and paraded up and down with a sign pinned to a blanket hanging from his little buddy's back:  We Got Detroit's Goat!  (See what he did there?)

A facsimile of the ticket on display at the Billy Goat Tavern.

Everybody's enjoying the hijinks until Wrigley Field Security removed them from the field - so they promptly took refuge in their box seats.  Some people didn't like having to share expensive seats with a goat, but Cousin Billy had that extra ticket, after all - so everything was going ok until the fourth inning when it began to rain just a little bit.


Rain + Goat = 1 Wet Goat.

I don't know exactly what a wet goat smells like, but I'm pretty sure it smells something like a wet goat, and so the complaints started anew until another security guard - Cousin Billy was seeing a lot of Security Guards that day - informed my cousin that he had to leave.

Why? Cousin Billy asked.

We're getting complaints, the guard told him.  Specifically, he went on, complaints about how your goat smells.

What are you saying? Cousin Billy asked.

Your goat stinks, the guard said, and Mr. Wrigley says you have to go.

Mr. Wrigley? Cousin Billy said.  Mr Wrigley himself should insult my goat?

(In case you're wondering, it's not a good idea to insult a Greek's goat, am I right?)

As he's being escorted out of Wrigley Field, Cousin Billy raised his fist in the air and then spit on the ground.  "You will never win another World Series!" my cousin yelled, and then he spit again just as a lighting bolt flashed and thunder boomed.

Ok, I made that up about the thunder and lightning, but when a Greek spits?  He means business.

Cousin Billy left Wrigley Field muttering in Greek and scratching his little Billy Goat between the ears.  He promptly flew to Greece - to heck with Chicago, at least for the time being.  He'd go back to the Homeland, drink a little retsina, a little ouzo.

The Cubs, by the way, they lost that Game Four, and then would lose the Series in Game Seven - and this would allow my cousin to write a letter from Greece to Mr. Wrigley, the great man himself.

Who stinks now? my cousin wrote.  Who Stinks now?

My cousin would return to the States, of course, and he continued to be a prosperous tavern owner, the greatest Innkeeper in Chicago, some called him.  Cousin Billy would gain even greater posthumous fame when John Belushi cooked up a skit in homage to the Billy Goat Tavern - Cheeborger, Cheeborger, Cheeborger!  No Pepsi, Coke!

All good fun, right?  The Curse, though, the Curse had been made - and so the Cubs?

Check the box score - you'll find that they ain't playing October Ball this year, and they ain't won the Series in the almost seventy years since Cousin Billy cursed the Club.

So again, the Curse of the Bambino is one thing - but the Red Sox have won the Series multiple times now.  Just last year, am I right?  But the Cubs?  No, not the Cubs.  Not in 1945, not since.

The story just shows how much of a superstitious lot Baseball fans are, especially in the Post Season.  I watched the Giants' game on Wednesday, a do or die affair - watched it with my oldest daughter, Elizabeth, while Karen stayed home with our sick youngest.  Elizabeth and I watched it at Natasha and Harry's house - and naturally there was warm Zachary's pizza being consumed because that's what we did in 2010 and 2012 when the Giants won.  We also saluted their victory with Honey Jack Daniels (at least Natasha, Harry and I did) because that's now part of the ritual, and we're not going to mess with Ritual.

My hair?  My hair was a mess - I was going to get it cut because Karen and I are off to our 30th High School Reunion tonight (Go Spartans!) - see there?  Even our High School was Greek - but when I went for the cut, my barber told me it was going to be a four hour wait.  Who does that?  Not me.  So I stole a shot of bourbon from their shelf and left.

But that meant that I looked like the Shaggy DA on Wednesday.  When my hair gets this long, I have to tame it with a bunch of product.  But I didn't have any on Wednesday - and now, since the Giants won that game, and won again last night, I'm stuck with the Hair.  Like Samson.  The shaggy has to stay.

Why?  Because Superstition - like Little Stevie sings, when you believe in things you don't understand, am I right?

Harry says I look like John Stamos - which is a slur to Stamos, but oh well.  It's not like he insulted my goat.

On my way to Natasha and Harry's last night to watch the highlights of the Giants stirring victory against the favored Washington Nationals - the most complete team in the playoffs, according to every pundit in the land, the team with the best record in the National League - I had to listen to a recap of the day's results.  Two minutes spent talking about the Greatness of the Cardinals and how they showed Amazing Resolve in beating the Strong Dodgers.  Two minutes!  And then two more describing how the Orioles again rallied brilliantly to fend off the Tigers - two more minutes!

Then this sentence, encapsulating the Giants unbelievable victory:

"And the Giants stole Game One from the Nationals.  Up next - the weekend in Football!"

The Giants had done nothing less than travel into enemy territory to battle the best team in the League, to go up against the best pitcher on a team with the best pitching staff in the Bigs - and what?  They snuck off with a win?  Stole it, like Jean Valjean stealing a loaf of bread?

It was like that all night - the other winners showed Resilience!  Tenacity!  Strength!  The Giants?  According to Thomas Boswell, a columnist for the Washington Post, the Giants beat the Nationals to death with wet noodles.

That's ok.  We'll take the slings and arrows.  Harry will keep scouring the press for remarkable articles like that one.  My family will watch more games with Natasha and Harry and their four sons.  We'll eat Zach's pizza, shoot some Honey Jack.  Keeping to the Rituals, paying obeisance to the superstitions.

And my hair?  Mom - forgive me for my hair. 

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