The Commish Online                                                                                
Cubs Curse? Some Have It Worse
January 12, 2010

For the past three decades or so, yuppies on the north side of Chicago have loved to wax poetic about the unfortunate "curse" bestowed upon their lovable losers.  Whether the blame fell upon a goat, a black cat, or a poor soul with a Walkman and a long reach, the team's failures were always explained in some fateful way, shifting the blame from the players to the imaginary "gods of baseball." 

Naturally, the media eats up this kind of story, steeped in over 100 years of history, and somehow the Chicago Cubs have become synonymous with losing, happily smiling as the poster child for "worst franchise in its league" alongside the NBA's Clippers and the NFL's Buccaneers.  The problem?  It's not really true.
Using the single stat that the Cubs haven't won a World Series in over 100 years is the most frequent and convenient argument that Chicago has been hosting the worst team in baseball since its inception.  Of course, when one starts a sample size the year AFTER a success, you can always cater the stats to fit the argument.  Somehow, two World Series titles in 102 years isn't as compelling as none in 100 years.

While the reality is that the Cubs haven't won in 100 years, does it really matter for anyone other than the guy pushing triple digits, anxiously hoping for a World Series win before he dies?  A 26-year-old Brewers fan and a 26-year-old Cubs fan have the same agony of no championships, so selectively picking a sample of 100 years doesn't point out all the facts.

First, let's address recent history, say the past 20 years or so, when most people reading this will at least have a memory of what's transpired.  Since the '90s, there are a host of teams with sadder reputations than the Cubs.  For one, many young Pirates fans haven't even witnessed a .500 season, let alone the playoffs!  The Royals have been traditionally bad for 20 years, the Brewers haven't done much to make fans happy, and the Expos/Nationals experiment hasn't fared well since the strike.  Meanwhile, the Cubs have won their division 4 times since '89 and made the playoffs a handful of times.  While the results have occasionally been catastrophic, it's hard to argue with multiple playoff appearances.

Going back even further, the Cubs were admittedly bad over a period in the '70s and '80s, besting .500 only twice between '73 and '92.  Amazingly, though, those two years above .500 produced first place finishes and some exciting times at Wrigley.  In addition, this stat suffers from the same exclusion as the "100 years" argument.  Tack on an extra five years to the beginning and end of the time period and suddenly 7 extra years of above .500 baseball are added.

The point is that you can stretch or shrink the numbers as needed to fit your basis.  With each era in baseball so different from the next (dead ball, WWII, pitcher dominance, free agency, steroids, lopsided team payrolls, etc.), team success is bound to go in peaks and valleys, so looking at the whole picture is the best way to judge this so-called curse of the Cubs. 

For the Cubs, the whole picture begins in 1903, the first year a World Series was played.  With no postseason in 1904 and 1994, there have been 105 seasons ending with a World Series.  If all teams were equal, each franchise that was around since 1903 could be expected to win 5.46 World Series titles, taking into account how many teams were in Major League Baseball each year.  National League clubs calculate to an expectancy of 10.99 World Series appearances during that time, while American League clubs have an expectancy of 10.88 World Series appearances.  For simplicity's sake, we can round and say that a team playing all those years should average about 11 World Series appearances and 5 or 6 World Series titles.

Yes, the Cubs fall about 3.5 titles short of expectation, having won just 2 championships in 105 years.  HOWEVER, the Chicago Cubs, those supposed cursed squads, those lovable losers, have made it to the World Series 10 times!  That's just one trip less than average.  The Cubs' problem was winning the World Series, but seeing as how the New York Yankees have dominated this statistic with an astounding 40 trips and 27 titles, it has been difficult for any National League team to win the World Series with consistency over the years. 

The semi-recent Atlanta Braves teams were good but only won once in 5 recent World Series trips (and 3 of 9 overall for the franchise).  Their losses were not considered "cursed" but rather were blamed on poor play (I'm talking to you, Lonnie "Skates" Smith), a lack of hitting, or (dare I say) the inability to perform up to task when it mattered most.  The Giants have won just 5 times in 17 tries, while the Phillies are just 2 for 7 in World Series matchups which includes their recent victory in 2008.  The American League has been the victor in 62 of the 105 contests, so regardless of the reason, the Cubs are not the only NL team with lower than expected World Series titles.

On the flipside, there are some American League teams who have suffered a worse fate than the Cubs.  Take their cross town rivals, for instance.  The Chicago White Sox are still coming off a 2005 World Series high, but that title was 1 of just 3 overall for the franchise, well below the 5.5 average.  Worse yet, the South Siders have only made 5 World Series appearances - just half of what the Cubs have seen over the same time period!

If you want to argue that the Cubs have suffered inexplicable misfortune in the past half century (no WS appearance since 1945), then you also have to acknowledge the way-above-average results in the first half of the century.  You can say that the Cubs had a rough couple decades.  You can say that the Cubs had a team or two in the past 50 years with enough talent to win a World Series.  You can say that the Cubs could've/should've/would've done this or that (what team besides the Yankees can't say that?).  BUT, you can't say the Cubs are cursed, nor are they the worst.  In the ebb and flow of 100+ years, the Chicago Cubs are decidedly below average.  Pittsburgh fans would kill for that right now.