The recent delivery of a goat’s head to Wrigley Field has renewed debate — at least in the circles I travel in, which consist mainly of myself — over the efficacy of the original, now-68-year-old Curse of the Billy Goat. The Cubs themselves are in little danger of overturning it, and yet there is indirect evidence for a weakening in its considerable force. I refer of course to the CBG’s principal corollary, the notorious Ex-Cubs Factor, which states in its purest form: “It is utterly impossible for a team with three or more ex-Cubs to win the World Series.”
This proposition has been interpreted, amended, and expanded ad nauseam over the years, but was considered fairly unassailable until around the turn of the millennium, when exceptions began to accumulate with alarming frequency. Way back in 1960, the Pirates — world champions despite the three ex-Cubs among them — had been explained away by Don Hoak’s failure to fully “develop his Cubness.” But in 2001, not only did the Diamondbacks win it all with four erstwhile Northsiders on their roster, they did so with two of those bedevilled gentlemen actually helping to win Game 7. That seemed to open the floodgates: the Phillies thwarted the Factor again in ’08, and a scant three years later, St. Louis snuck off with a championship despite harboring two full-fledged ex-Cubs plus Chicago draftee Kyle Lohse. With its corollary springing leaks left and right, the exalted Curse suddenly seemed vulnerable. Might the winds be shifting at Wrigley?
A full examination of the events of the past decade-plus will have to fall to cleverer and more patient minds than mine. For my part, I can only set the stage for the season now before us. Should the caprine omen on Tom Ricketts’ doorstep portend great and terrible things, it may be important to have preserved a snapshot of the league as it appears at this moment. So, here are the teams that are purportedly excluded from championship contention this year, according to the Ex-Cubs Factor in its strictest interpretation (which includes only players who have actually played for the major-league Cubs):
Rays (3 ex-Cubs)
Relaxing the ECF to account for all players who have at some time been a part of the Cubs organization, we derive the following list:
Blue Jays (4)
— while the only teams completely uncontaminated by Cubness are the Yankees, Royals, Twins, Mariners, and Cardinals. Of particular interest here are the highly touted and notably underachieving Blue Jays. While high-profile acquisitions R.A. Dickey, Jose Reyes, and Josh Johnson got the bulk of the press, Toronto’s truly fateful decision this offseason may have been its signing of no fewer than three ex-Cubs, namely Henry Blanco, Mark DeRosa, and Dave Bush. Bush (and last season’s pickup Darren Oliver) may not have logged any big-league time with the Cubs, but it’s clear that the Jays are playing with fire here, and may be paying the price already.
It must be said that no correlation seems to exist at this point in the season between Cubness and performance. However, as we know, it’s not till October (or even November) that the Factor can be expected to rear its head. This fall, we’ll be watching with bated breath.