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Cubs' Title Drought Lives On, but Their 'Curse' Days Are Officially Over

Bill Speros@@realOBFSpecial to Bleacher ReportOctober 22, 2015

The Cubs flopped in the NLCS, but their days of being "cursed" are over.
The Cubs flopped in the NLCS, but their days of being "cursed" are over.Associated Press

"I don't believe in damn curses. Wake up the damn Bambino and have me face him. Maybe I'll drill him in the ass." - Pedro Martinez, Boston Red Sox, 2001 

"Mystique and Aura" were appearing nightly in the Bronx during the 2001 World Series, but they missed the flight to Arizona.

The "Curse of the Bambino" enveloped the Boston Red Sox for 86 years until Boston was able to add Curt Schilling to a rotation that included Pedro Martinez. The Bambino has missed all three Red Sox duck boat parades since 2004.

The Chicago White Sox were damned to eternal baseball purgatory because of the 1919 Black Sox scandal, only to receive a reprieve in 2005.

It's heretical to claim curses don't exist in baseball, especially following the latest postseason demise of the Chicago Cubs. The team that last won a World Series in 1908 will have to wait another year following its 4-0 sweep by the New York Mets in the National League Championship Series.

Cubs fans have another year to pick and choose from a banquet of curses, jinxes, hexes and other perilous quirks of fate that have once again allegedly stymied their team in the postseason.

Anonymous/Associated Press
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There is a real-world reason why millions believe any curse would hold sway over their favorite teams or athletes. It's called "confirmation bias."

Clinically, confirmation bias is "the seeking or interpreting of evidence in ways that are partial to existing beliefs, expectations or a hypothesis in hand."  In sportswriter English, it means we often only see facts that reinforce what we already want to believe.

Cubs fans have borne the "confirmation bias" gene like a blue and red badge of courage for at least 70 years.

Just ask Steve Bartman, if you can find him. 

Not to wreck a good tweet, but even the "Curse of the Billy Goat" really isn't much of a curse. For starters, linking the fate of a farm animal in 1945 to the performance of a baseball team in 2015 smacks of 15th-century hokum. Billy Sianis, whose goat was purportedly denied entrance into Wrigley Field in 1945, lifted the curse before he died in 1970.

But even among curses, Sianis' goat, Murphy, is old-school. It was forever supplanted by Bartman, who has certainly been cursed more than any curse west of Brookline.

In 2015, aggrieved Cubs fans immersed themselves in Back to the Future Part II nostalgia and hysteria. Somehow the movie, which predicted a Cubs "series sweep in five games," was also responsible for the team's demise against the Mets. 

And then there was the "Curse of Murphy."

Darren Rovell @darrenrovell

The 1908 Cubs owner's name was Murphy. The goat's name was Murphy & now we have Daniel Murphy. Isn't it the curse of the MURPHY?

Who can argue with logic like that, especially when it comes to trying to figure out why the Cubs haven't won a World Series since the (Teddy) Roosevelt administration. Daniel Murphy of the Mets homered in all four games against the Cubs and six straight overall in the postseason. 

Chicago's tepid performance against New York was caused mainly by the Mets.

The Cubs weren't cursed; they were crushed. 

The Cubs never led in the series, were outscored 21-8 and trailed in eight straight postseason games en route to being swept. Wednesday night in Game 4, the Cubs were down 4-0 before they came to bat.

Indeed, many of the Cubs were putrid at the plate during the NLCS. Anthony Rizzo, NL Rookie of the Year candidate Kris Bryant and Starlin Castro were a combined 8-for-44 in the NLCS. (Kyle Schwarber hit his fifth postseason home run in Game 3, becoming the Cubs all-time leader in that category.)

Neither Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein nor manager Joe Maddon appears ready to change course, however.

Epstein moved to Chicago after being exiled by the Red Sox following Boston's calamitous 2011 season. Theo's 2015 Cubs would have beaten his 2012 Cubs by 36 games in the standings.

This year's Cubs team was arguably a year ahead of schedule despite Rizzo's preseason call of playoff success in 2015. In January, Rizzo boldly predicted the Cubs would win the NL Central. They did not, but the Cubs did topple the division champion Cardinals in the divisional series.

Chicago's Jake Arrieta was a bargain this year, going 22-6 after singing a $3.63 million, one-year deal.
Chicago's Jake Arrieta was a bargain this year, going 22-6 after singing a $3.63 million, one-year deal.Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

That sort of "curse-inducing" overconfidence would have been feared once upon a time on Chicago's North Side. No more, not with Maddon, a favorite for NL Manager of the Year, and Epstein in charge.

Epstein built these Cubs largely from scratch. None of Chicago's top four starting pitchers—Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks and Jason Hammel—were with the team even three years ago. All had ERAs below 4.00 this year—at least in the regular season.

Arrieta, who turns 30 in March, threw 229.0 innings this season and put up Pedro-like numbers: 22-6, a 1.77 ERA, 236 strikeouts and a backbreaking 0.86 WHIP during the regular season. He was signed by the Cubs before 2015 to a one-year deal worth just $3.63 million. Arrieta is arbitration-eligible this season, but Epstein has a long history of signing players before ever getting that far.

The lineup assembled by Epstein carries tremendous potential. The average age of Chicago's starting lineup Wednesday night—not counting 38-year-old catcher David Ross and 33-year-old starting pitcher Hammel—was just 24.3 years old.

Javier Baez and Schwarber are just 22, while Bryant and Jorge Soler are 23. Rizzo, who led the team in batting this season with 31 home runs, 101 RBI and an .889 OPS (.278/.387/.512), is an elder statesman at 26.

During Maddon's first year in Chicago, the Cubs won 97 games, tying a post-World War II season high. Maddon guided the transformation of the once-laughable Tampa Bay Rays into eventual American League champions in 2008, beating Epstein's Red Sox in the American League Championship Series that year in seven games. Maddon's skillful guidance of the Rays' lowly payroll and young talent produced playoff appearances in 2008, '10, '11 and '13.

Joe Maddon and Theo Epstein have built a solid baseball foundation on Chicago's North Side.
Joe Maddon and Theo Epstein have built a solid baseball foundation on Chicago's North Side.Jeff Haynes/Associated Press

Thanks to the financial stability of Cubs ownership, the Ricketts family, Epstein will be able to pursue big-money free agents like David Price, Jordan Zimmermann and Chris Davis. This year's team payroll was $133.2 million, just the 11th-highest in baseball.

Epstein was general manager of the Red Sox in 2004 when that team broke the Donald Trump of baseball curses.

He inherited a Red Sox team (via interim GM Mike Port) from Dan Duquette that included eventual 2004 World Series MVP Manny Ramirez, the aforementioned Martinez, Derek Lowe (who got the win in all three series-clinching games for Boston that postseason) and catcher Jason Varitek.

After the Red Sox's historic collapse in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS, Epstein spent that Thanksgiving at Schilling's home in Arizona in a successful effort to lure him to Boston. The Red Sox also added closer Keith Foulke, who would get the save in Boston's World Series-clinching victory.

This Cubs team is much more his. And it will win or lose on its own. No curses necessary.

Bill Speros is an award-winning journalist. He wrote the 'Obnoxious Boston Fan' column for Boston.com from 2011-15. He can be reached on Twitter @RealOBF. 

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