Cubs' curse notion rejected by Piniella, Coppenger

CHICAGO (BP) -- With the Chicago Cubs hoping to break the so-called "Curse of the Billy Goat" and win their first World Series since 1908, former Cubs manager Lou Piniella and longtime Cubs fan Mark Coppenger say their Christian worldviews lead them to reject baseball superstitions.

"Really it's all bologna," Piniella, Cubs manager from 2006-10, said of the alleged curse. Yet there is "a lot of superstition" associated with the Cubs. "Over there in Chicago they haven't had success in so long that if you lose three or four games in a row," fans start to think, "Boy, the curse is on."

The famed Billy Goat Curse dates back to 1945, when local tavern owner Billy Sianis allegedly was asked to leave Wrigley Field, the Cubs home stadium, during game four of the World Series due to the unpleasant odor of the pet goat accompanying him.

Sianis is said to have declared as he left, "Them Cubs, they ain't gonna win no more" -- a declaration interpreted as meaning either that the Cubs would never reach the World Series again or that they would never win it again.

Since that incident, the Cubs had not returned to the Series until this year's appearance against the Cleveland Indians.

Piniella, who was named National League Manager of the Year with the Cubs in 2008, told Baptist Press his view of curses and other baseball superstitions shifted when he committed his life to Christ as Lord and Savior in the late 1990s.

Salvation "changed my view," Piniella told Baptist Press. "I think it really did."

"As a player especially, I was a little superstitious," said Piniella, who played in the Major Leagues over a 20-year span. "I would use the same batting gloves. I didn't want anybody using the particular bat I was hitting with. I would put pine tar in the exact same spot on the handle part of the bat, those sorts of things.... I thought it was good luck.

"But as I got older and got reborn, no, I don't believe in superstition," Piniella said, noting a daily walk with God including Bible reading has helped him stay "on the road" spiritually "as opposed to driving on the shoulder the way I used to some."

For many players and managers, however, superstition remains a significant part of baseball, Piniella said.

For fear of bad luck, many managers refuse to step on the baseline when they enter the playing field to make a pitching change, he said.

Piniella remembers one Cincinnati Reds pitcher who insisted on having the same pocket knife in his pocket every time he pitched.

"Once in a while he'd forget it," said Piniella, who managed the Reds to a World Series title in 1990. "Once we had to run it back out to him on the mound. It was funny."

Piniella thinks one factor that drives baseball superstitions is a lack of success. Franchises like the Cubs that have not historically won as many games tend to be more superstitious, he said. Teams like the Yankees -- where Piniella played and managed -- that have a heritage of winning tend to rely more on self-confidence than notions of luck.

The movement of front office personnel from the Boston Red Sox to the Cubs -- most notably Cubs president of baseball operations Leo Epstein's transition to Chicago in 2011 -- may help "alleviate" a feeling of being cursed in Chicago, Piniella said, since the Red Sox were able to overcome the so-called "Curse of the Bambino" and win two World Series titles under Epstein's leadership.

The "Curse of the Bambino" was cited by some to explain why the Red Sox did not win the World Series for 86 years after trading Babe Ruth, nicknamed the Bambino, to the Yankees in 1920.

Coppenger, a Southern Baptist Theological Seminary apologetics professor and Cubs fan since 1975, agreed with Piniella's analysis of the Curse of the Billy Goat, though Coppenger acknowledged "a range of curse-like Cub disappointments," including an incident in 2003 when the Cubs were five outs away from a Series appearance and a fan deflected a foul ball away from the glove of Cubs outfielder Moises Alou.

Chicago went on to lose the game and the National League Championship Series.

"Belief in God's sovereignty and providence doesn't leave room for our kneeling, bowing or curtsying before 'elemental forces' in hopes we'll get a break," Coppenger told BP in written comments. "Prayer yes, but not crossed fingers or 'lucky' unwashed T-shirts.

"And, of course, you need to be careful not to pray unworthily, and I think that includes petitioning the Almighty for a Cubs victory, as wonderful as that might be," Coppenger said.

The Cubs' "record of playoff futility" may actually be a blessing, Coppenger said lightheartedly.

"We Cubs fans enjoy a sweet fellowship of hardiness and good-humored longing. We love the game, especially when it's played in the 'friendly confines' at Clark and Addison [the location of Wrigley Field], with ivy-covered walls, in classic surroundings where The Babe homered, and with a cool breeze off Lake Michigan, whose sailboats you can see from the upper deck," said Coppenger, who has been a college professor and church planter in the Chicagoland area.

"Cubs fans don't buy the 'health, wealth gospel,'" Coppenger continued tongue in cheek. "They're not in it for the habitual payoff or the crowded trophy case. (I'm talking to you, Yankees and Cardinals fans.) They're in it for love of the game, the team, the field and tradition."

Still, "I do think [God] cares about baseball," Coppenger said, and He "may grant us a Series victory."

Game three of the World Series is tonight (Oct. 28) in Chicago and will be televised on FOX at 8 p.m. Eastern.

David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention's news service. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists' concerns nationally and globally.
Download Story