What is this, Salem, Mass., in 1692?
Believing that the Chicago Cubs cannot win because of the curse of a goat is one small step removed from believing in that vampires exist, or that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. In all three cases, you heard a lot of wild stories, but they never seemed to add up to reality.
And yet, every time the Cubs lose a few games in a prominent setting -- like the Division Series defeats at the hands of the Arizona Diamondbacks -- there is this media-feeding frenzy with the goat and the curse and the whole tired deal. Quick, get another camera crew to the Billy Goat Tavern.
Is there actually an audience for this stuff? Are there millions of Cubs fans across this planet we like to call Earth, completely convinced that this is the root cause of their problems?
And if they are convinced, why do 40,000 of them keep showing up at Wrigley Field for each and every home game? If this curse thing is real, it's a lost cause, right? And the beer can be had more cheaply in plenty of other venues.
Is this really good TV? I know today the standards are a little shaky because a lot of people watch "Desperate Housewives." On the other hand, it was not that long ago HBO aired "Deadwood," which for some of us was the highpoint in the history of television, Edward R. Murrow's work aside. The fact that this goat thing is still dispensed in public places as though it has news or entertainment value means that the forces of reason are losing, that the dumbing down of America continues apace.
Two things must be said. The goat curse is, on its face, insulting to intelligent Cubs fans, or for that matter, anybody with an IQ in three figures. What is being said by the persistence of this nonsense is that you can peddle any sort of drivel in the media and some people will buy it.
And since the fans of the other 29 franchises only laugh at this stuff, what the purveyors of this myth are essentially saying is that Cubs fans are none too bright. That's not right. Cubs fans are like the patron saints of the incredibly difficult cause, and they are a breed apart from many other fan bases. But you cannot move from this to a gross assault upon their essential worth.
On the flip side, maybe there are people who take a perverse kind of solace from the goat, the curse, the story. Maybe it is easier to blame this flimsy piece of folklore for the Cubs' troubles than dealing with the reality of the team's actual shortcomings.
So the Cubs struck out 13 times against Doug Davis and company in Game 2. Maybe it is easier to believe that the curse did this rather than blaming the actual Cubs hitters, who kept swinging and missing at that offspeed junk all night long.
When Lou Piniella removed a strong and effective Carlos Zambrano from Game 1, thus violating a cardinal rule of the game, attempting to win Sunday afternoon's game on Wednesday night, maybe it wasn't really a classic managerial mistake. Maybe the goat curse made him do it.
Didn't the whole curse thing take a beating forever when the Boston Red Sox won the World Series in 2004 after waiting for 86 years? The Curse of the Bambino was, admittedly, largely a work of literature, but at least it was founded on a baseball personnel move, not on a farm animal.
When Piniella and every Cubs player you ask say that 2007 has nothing to do with 1945, or 1969, or 1984, or 2003, they are all completely correct. This is the sane reply, the rational reply, the only reply.
The Cubs, of course, could put an end to all of this, simply by winning everything just once. If they are not up to this task, this can all be explained by examining the performance of the players, who, unlike the goat, can play baseball because they have opposable thumbs.
What we are dealing with, finally, is baseball in October, and by all reasonable estimates, baseball in October 2007. Typically, the team with the better pitching wins, or at least, the team that is pitching better at the moment wins. The goat curse is to this equation what "Lassie" is to the work of Albert Einstein; not quite pertinent.
The goat story is for a children's book, and not a particularly well-crafted children's book, at that. The real curse is being out-pitched, out-hit, and/or out-managed.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.