As Chicago celebrates the 100th anniversary of its “friendly confines” in Wrigley Field, many commentators are looking back at the Cubs’ century-long championship drought. The Cubs have reached the World Series a number of times since taking residence at Wrigley Field, but they have yet to win. With a current team that’s gradually rebuilding and no playoff success on the horizon, beleaguered Cubs fans continue to look back to the team’s last World Series appearance in 1945.
The history of Cubs postseason play is integrally connected to the Detroit Tigers. Before moving to Wrigley Field (known as Weegham Park until the 1920s) the Cubs already had two World Series titles under their belt, in 1907 and 1908, both of them against the Tigers. The next two times the teams would meet in the championship, 1935 and 1945, would go a different way. Initially, the 1935 World Series looked promising for the Cubs. The Tigers and Cubs split the first two games of the series in Detroit and, in game 2, Tigers first baseman Hank Greenberg (coming off an MVP season where he collected 170 RBIs) broke his wrist in a play at the plate. Despite a lackluster performance by Greenberg’s replacement Marv Owen in the final four games (he went 1 for 15) the Tigers took two of three games at Wrigley Field and then sealed the franchise’s first ever World Series championship with a win at Navin Field in game 6.
The 1945 series was a rematch between the two teams. The Tigers had few of the same players from 1935, but they did have Greenberg, who had recently returned from service in WWII. Once again, the Cubs started strong in Detroit, taking two of the first three games at Briggs Stadium. Both Tigers losses in Detroit were complete game shutouts, by Cubs pitchers Hank Borowy and Claude Passeau, but the Tiger bats came alive once they arrived at Wrigley Field. They went on to win three of the final four games in Chicago and take home their second World Series title.
In spite of the obviously talented 1945 Tigers team (they had two future Hall of Famers: Greenberg and pitcher Hal Newhouser) many Cubs fans place the blame for their 1945 World Series loss–and subsequent World Series drought–on a strange “scapegoat.” According to the legendary “Curse of the Billy Goat,” owner of the local Billy Goat Tavern Billy Sianis attempted to bring a pet goat to game 4 (the first of the series to be played at Wrigley). Legend has it that when Sianis’s goat was barred entry to Wrigley Field, the angry bar owner put a curse on the team. The Cubs went on to lose the 1945 series at home and in the almost seventy years since that curse, the team has failed to reach the World Series again.
Whether you’re a Tigers fan or a Cubs fan probably determines how you remember the 1945 series: as the culmination of the golden age of Tigers baseball and Greenberg’s career or as the beginning of a bizarre jinx that has contributed to the sport’s longest running championship drought. Either way, it all happened within the walls of baseball’s second oldest ballpark, Wrigley Field.