The Ex-Cub Factor: Theory will Decide World Series winner

By Ron Berler

(Originally published in The Boston Herald, 15 October 1981)

According to The Baseball Encyclopedia, 600 men have called themselves Cubs since the team last won a pennant in 1945. Five of them -- outfielders Oscar Gamble and Bobby Murcer, pitchers Dave LaRoche and Rick Reuschel and catcher Barry Foote -- are currently New York Yankees.

This seems a trivial observation, but it will spell the Yankees' doom should they reach the World Series. According to The Ex-Cub Factor, it is utterly impossible for a team with three or more ex-Cubs to win the series.

No doubt this comes as startling news to the betting public: Behind every major failure in the sport stands a Chicago Cub.

It's no secret that Cubs have always been "different" from other major leaguers. In fact, some say that the Cubs are the Moonies of baseball, that the ballclub possesses eerie, bewitching powers over its players.

"It's hard to put a finger on it," says Jim Brosnan, a writer who once pitched for the Cubs, during a contemplative moment. "You have to have a certain dullness of mind and sprit to play here. I went though psychoanalysis, and that halped me deal with my Cubness."

"Cubness" is a term one encounters again and again when speaking with ex-Cubs. It is synonymous with the rankest sort of abjext failure, and is a condition chronic among all Cubs, past and present. It is employed here because conventional language, such as "bad" and "hideous," does not sufficiently describe a team which has lost thirty-six pennants in a row, and whose fans have resorted to T-shirts which read, "Cub fever -- catch it...and die."

"I had to be de-Cubbed," admits Pete LaCock, who escaped the team in 1976. "When you play with the Cubs, it's like playing with heavy shoes on."

LaCock, like other ex-Cubs, speaks with unaccustomed confidence now that he is free of his former teammates. He sees himself as a winner. "Leaving the Cubs changed my life in every way," he gloats.

He is being naive. "You can't just decide one day you're not going to be a Cub anymore," says Cubs veteran broadcaster, Jack Brickhouse. "Cubness is a way of life -- something that's handed down from player to player, from veteran to rookie, from one baseball generation to the next."

LaCock, who now plays in Japan, is still a loser. But his Cubness lies in remission now, to be disturbed only by his return to the Cubs -- or, under special circumstances, by his appearance in a World Series.

Forty ex-Cubs are still playing for other major league teams. But only the Yankees, who have acquired five of these forty, the Montreal Expos, Cleveland Indians and Cincinnati Royal, who have four each, and the Detroit Tigers, who have signed three ex-Cubs, have been foolish enough to tempt the Ex-Cub Factor.

There have been any number of teams victimized by the Ex-Cub Factor. The 1958 Milwaukee Braves (Andy Pafko, Bob Rush, Casey Wise) and the 1966 Los Angeles Dodgers (Jim Brewer, Wes Covington, Lou Johnson) leap quickly to mind. But, surely, the archetypal victims had to be the 1978 Los Angeles Dodgers.

The Dodgers entered that season carryng three ex-Cubs -- outfielder Rick Monday and pitchers Burt Hooton and Mike Garman. They had lost the 1977 World Series with the same three players. About one month into the season, Garman threw a pitch that so galled Dodger general manager Al Campanis (Dave Kingman clubbed it for a game-winning home run) that Garman was banished to Montreal the following day. The Dodgers, now down to two ex-Cubs, began to pull away from the pack.

But Campanis couldn't leave well enough alone. Four weeks later, he traded for ex-Cub center fielder Bill North, a mediocre outfielder hitting just .212. The team suffered an immediate tailspin and barely beat Cincinnati to the pennant.

Meanwhile, the defending championship New York Yankees were languishing in thrid place, fourteen games behind the Red Sox in the American League East. They were mired in turmoil. At about the time the Dodgers were acquiring North, Yankee owner George Steinbrenner was preparing to fire the combative Billy Martin. He selected calm, quiet Bob Lemon to restore peace to his team.

The Yankees rallied to win a dramatic pennant race, catching the Red Sox in the final week of the season and beating them in a playoff. Lemon received much of the credit for that victory, but he had nothing to do with it. The pennant belonged to Steinbrenner. He won in in mid-season, when he traded away pitcher Ken Holtzman, the team's only ex-Cub. The Yankees went the rest of the season Cub-free. How could they lose?

the Dodgers went on to drop the World Series to New York, four games to two. When it was suggested to Campanis, reutedly an astute baseball man, that his team had lost due to the Ex-Cub Factor, the general manager harrumphed, "We are interested in good ballplayers, not the teams they played for. You'retelling me superstitions, astrology. We don't consider things like that. We felt we had a good ballclub, but things just didn't work out for us."

The most recent victims of The Ex-Cub Factor were last year's American League champion Kansas City Royals. The Royals had by late August built an insurmountable divisional lead, and their roster, which included just two ex-Cubs (LaCock and Larry Gura), seemed pat. But something compelled them to purchase ex-Cub outfielder Jose Cardenal from the New York Mets.

Why they bothered with the World Series, we'll never know. Cardenal, who opposed the deal, was aware of the effect he would have on the Royals.

"I was selfish," he belatedly admitted at Wrigley Field four weeks ago. "I wanted to stay in New York. I didn't want to go to Kansas City. So I didn't tell them about my secret weapon. I said to myself, 'If I have to leave New York, I want them to go down with me, too.'"

There has been just one exception to The Ex-Cub Factor since 1945: the 1960 Pittsburgh Pirates, who beat the Yankees in the World Series despite the handicap of three ex-Cubs, Smokey Burgess, Gene Baker, Don Hoak.

It seems an inexplicable occurrence, but Brosnan, a pitcher for the doomed 1961 Reds (who had ex-Cubs Brosnan, Bill Henry and Dick Gernert) has offered the most plausible explanation:

"Don Hoak played for the Brooklyn Dodgers, a very good team, before he was traded to the Cubs, a very bad one," remembers Brosnan from his home in suburban Chicago. "It was hard for Hoak to relate. As far as he was concerned, he went right from Brooklyn to Pittsburgh without ever stopping in Chicago.

"He refused to accept that he was a Cub. He had nothing but obscene words for the Cubs and their organization; he even hated (former club owner) P.K. Wrigley.

"Hoak," he concludes, "is quite possibly the only man who ever conquered his Cubness."

For that alone, he deserves election to the Hall of Fame.

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