In the early hours of yesterday morning the sky above a stadium that had witnessed more than a century of anguish erupted with fireworks as thousands of delirious Chicago Cubs fans celebrated their World Series victory and the end of the most famous losing streak in American sport.
Nearly 350 miles away, the Cubs had defeated the only slightly less long-suffering Cleveland Indians 8-7 in an encounter hailed as one of the greatest baseball games ever played, the seventh and final contest of what was billed as a clash of the sport’s unluckiest teams.
The Indians have not won Major League Baseball’s championship since 1948 but the Cubs’ drought stretched back to 1908. The fans were already starved of success in 1945 when the “Curse of the Billy Goat” was placed on them. Billy Sianis, owner of the Billy Goat Tavern in Chicago, was thrown out of Game Four of that year’s World Series because of the stench of his pet goat. As he left Wrigley Field he supposedly swore that the team would never again win a World Series.
The curse grew into a cornerstone of American sporting folklore and a cottage industry, with fans sporting “Goatbusters” T-shirts and the Billy Goat Tavern expanding to nine locations across the city. The Cubs’ travails were so widely recognised and mocked that in 1989 the idea of a Cubs World Series win in 2015 gave the writers of Back to the Future: Part II an easy instant gag.
In 2011 the team hired Theo Epstein as president of baseball operations. He had guided the Boston Red Sox to their first World Series victory in 86 years in 2004, laying that city’s infamous “Curse of the Bambino” in the process. He reshaped the playing squad and the backroom and during the regular season the Cubs ran up a record 103 wins.
However, the moment of truth still came in the most dramatic manner possible. The Cubs fell 3-1 behind in the seven-game series before fighting back to parity. In Wednesday’s final game they blew a 5-1 lead and then sweated through a 17-minute late night rain delay before victory was finally secured.
“The burden has been lifted,” said Joe Maddon, the team manager, amid raucous celebrations also featuring the comedian and Cubs fan Bill Murray.
On the campaign trail yesterday for Hillary Clinton, who has touted her Cubs allegiance, President Obama congratulated the side even though he supports Chicago’s other team, the White Sox. He had heard that when the Cubs last won the World Series bread was still only available in whole loaves. “This is actually, for Cubs fans, the greatest thing since sliced bread,” he said.