Billy Goat Curse or statistical anomaly? Breaking down the Cubs’ history by year

The Chicago Cubs celebrate after Game 7 of the Major League Baseball World Series against the Cleveland Indians Thursday, Nov. 3, 2016, in Cleveland. The Cubs won 8-7 in 10 innings to win the series 4-3. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
The Chicago Cubs celebrate after Game 7 of the Major League Baseball World Series against the Cleveland Indians Thursday, Nov. 3, 2016, in Cleveland. The Cubs won 8-7 in 10 innings to win the series 4-3. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

(WTNH)–The Chicago Cubs just ended an 108-year drought by finally winning the World Series for the first time since the turn of the 20th century.

The Cubs’ misfortunes have famously been blamed on a Billygoat, on Bartman, and on bad management. Was their generations-long misery really divine interference, or was it merely a statistical anomaly?

In our unique sports culture, winning is the only thing that matters. Champions are remembered and revered. Runner-ups are mocked and labeled as losers, or chokers who couldn’t get it done when it mattered.

To believe this is to ignore that it’s extremely hard to actually win the World Series—even if you have a great team, or even the best team in the sport. You need a lot of luck to end up as the last team standing.

Teams like the Indians and Red Sox know all about this. Boston waited 86 years and endured numerous painful losses, both in the ALCS and the World Series. Their constant failure in the big moment, particularly against the hated New York Yankees, was enough to make fans actually believe that their team had been cursed by Babe Ruth.

(As a Yankees fan, that was awesome. And hilarious. I miss it).

Cleveland is still waiting for its first title in 68 years. They’ve had teams worthy of hoisting the trophy, including the one that took the field last night. It just hasn’t worked out that way.

Unlike those two teams, the Cubs have rarely been in the mix. Sure, it’s been 108 years, but that doesn’t mean the team has had 108 chances to win it all. They’ve actually had very few.

Take a look at the Cubs’ history year by year, below.

Was it a Billygoat curse that held them back, or simply bad management? You decide:

Year /Wins / Losses / Pct / GB/  Place / Attendance

2016: Record:  103- 58 , .640 –  1     3,232,420

In addition to winning a championship for the ages, the Cubs won more games than they had in any season since 1910. This truly was the best Cubs team of all time, and it was the clear-cut best team in baseball. They were lucky enough to finish the deal.

2015 Record: 97-65,  .599 3.0 3 2,959,812

These Cubs lived up to their namesake (baby bears) by winning 97 games in the toughest division in baseball and reaching the NLCS. It turned out to be just the precursor for something special. Daniel Murphy and the Mets swept them away a step from the World Series, but new manager Joe Maddon made a big difference in his first year with the squad. They started to believe, and that set the stage for 2016.

2014 Record: 73-89, .451 17.0 2,652,113
2013 Record:  66-96, .407 31.0 5 2,642,682

2012 Record: 61-101, .377 36.0 5 2,882,756

After hitting rock-bottom (again) following a period in which it looked like they might finally do it, the Cubs hired Red Sox curse breaker Theo Epstein to overhaul the entire operation. He did just that, getting rid of big-name salary-eaters like Alfonso Soriano, Aramis Ramirez, Carlos Zambrano and Matt Garza, and trading for the prospects who would finally bring the team to the promised land. The Cubs went through three years of growing pains, including a likely demoralizing 101-loss season in 2012, but fans could see the light at the end of the tunnel. Of course, it’s all worth it now.

2011 Record: 71-91, .438 25.0 5 3,017,966
2010 Record: 75 87 .463 16.0 5 3,062,973
2009 Record: 83 78 .516 7.5 2 3,168,859

2008 Record: 97 64 .602 – 1 3,300,200

This team was perhaps the most disappointing in recent years, as it won 97 games and earned home field advantage throughout the National League playoffs. Lou Piniella was named N.L. Manager of the Year, Kerry Wood resurrected his career as a closer and saved 34 games, and the offense hummed. But the heavily-favored Cubs were swept by Joe Torre and the Dodgers in the first round of the playoffs.

2007 Record: 85 77 .525 – 1 3,252,462

After the Dusty Baker era came to a crashing end with a 96-loss debacle in ’06, the Cubs signed the legendary Lou Piniella as manager and bringing in Ted Lilly and big-name free agent Alfonso Soriano. It resulted in 85 wins, a division title, and what looked like a big step forward for the franchise, not unlike 2015.

2006 Record: 66 96 .407 17.5 6 3,123,215
2005 Record: 79 83 .488 21.0 4 3,099,992

2004 Record: 89 73 .549 16.0 3 3,170,154

This Cubs team was even better than the ’03 squad that nearly silenced the ghosts at Wrigley. They had all of their major pieces back and a renewed confidence that this was going to be the year. They also signed first baseman Derrek Lee, who went on to rake for them (32 HR, 98 RBI) and second baseman Todd Walker, as well as All-Star catcher Michael Barrett. But they fell victim to the juggernaut Cardinals, who came out of nowhere to win 105 games, and the Astros, who won 92 and edged them for the Wildcard.

2003 Record: 88 74 .543 – 1 2,962,630

This is the team that many Cubs fans thought would finally end the curse. The ’03 squad had it all–tremendous pitching (Mark Prior, Kerry Wood, Carlos Zambrano, Matt Clement), a terrific offense (Sammy Sosa, Moises Alou, Aramis Ramirez) and one of the best managers in the game in Dusty Baker. Of course, the Bartman play, as well as Alex Gonzalez’s booted ground ball and the eight-run eighth that followed did them in. But the Cubs also fell victim to the burden of having the weight of 100 years of failure on their shoulders. Despite having a lead in Game 7 of the NLCS at Wrigley and getting a home run from Kerry Wood (!), the Cubs fell to the Marlins, 9-6.

2002 Record: 67 95 .414 30.0 5 2,693,096
2001 Record: 88 74 .543 5.0 3 2,779,465
2000 Record: 65 97 .401 30.0 6 2,789,508
1999 Record: 67 95 .414 30.0 6 2,813,854

1998 Record: 90 73 .552 12.5 2 2,623,000

It seemed fitting that this underdog group reached the playoffs, in honor of their late great broadcaster Harry Caray, who died before the season in February. The Cubs wore patches honoring the colorful play-by-play guy, and the team played inspired all season long, led by Sammy Sosa and his 66 home runs and 158 RBI. Henry Rodriguez, Mark Grace and Lance Johnson also had terrific seasons, as did starters Kevin Tapani, Steve Trachsel and closer Rod Beck. The Cubs beat the Giants in a one-game playoff for the wildcard (before that was an annual occurance), but were swept by the Braves in the NLDS.

1997 Record: 68 94 .420 16.0 5 2,190,308
1996 Record: 76 86 .469 12.0 4 2,219,110
1995 Record: 73 71 .507 12.0 3 1,918,265
1994 Record: 49 64 .434 16.5 5 1,845,208
1993 Record: 84 78 .519 13.0 4 2,653,763
1992 Record: 78 84 .481 18.0 4 2,126,720
1991 Record: 77 83 .481 20.0 4 2,314,250
1990 Record: 77 85 .475 18.0 4 2,243,791

1989 Chicago Cubs National League 93 69 .574 – 1 2,491,942

Greg Maddux was brilliant in 1989, posting maybe his best season with the Cubs. He won 19 games and pitched to a 2.85 ERA, leading a staff that also included Rick Sutcliffe. Mark Grace, Ryne Sandberg, and Andre Dawson led the team offensively, and the Cubs won the N.L. East by six games over the Mets. They lost to a flash-in-the-pan Giants team led by N.L. MVP Kevin Mitchell, Will Clark and pitcher Scott Garrelts, who posted an N.L.-best 2.28 ERA that season.

1988 Record: 77 85 .475 24.0 4 2,089,034
1987 Record: 76 85 .472 18.5 6 2,035,130
1986 Record: 70 90 .438 37.0 5 1,859,102
1985 Record: 77 84 .478 23.5 4 2,161,534

1984 Record: 96 65 .596 – 1 2,107,655

Until 2016, this might have been the Cubs team with the best shot at breaking the curse. Chicago was loaded in ’84, with a young Ryne Sandberg, who won the MVP that season, Leon Durham, Larry Bowa, Ron Cey and Gary Matthews in the lineup, and a pitching staff that included Dennis Eckersley (10-8, 3.03), and N.L. Cy Young Award winner Rick Sutcliffe, who went a ridiculous 16-1 with a 2.69 ERA. The Cubs cruised to an NL East title and earned home field in the NLCS against the Padres. They smoked San Diego, 13-1, in Game 1, and won Game 2 4-2. But the Padres came back and won three straight to take the pennant, sending the Cubs home in gutwrenching fashion. Cub fans remember Durham’s error at first base (which was much like Buckner’s) and an unlucky bounce over Sandberg’s head to give the Padres a seventh-inning lead. This was probably the most demoralizing of the team’s playoff defeats.

1983 Record: 71 91 .438 19.0 5 1,479,717
1982 Record: 73 89 .451 19.0 5 1,249,278
1981 Record: 38 65 .369 21.5 565,637
1980 Record: 64 98 .395 27.0 6 1,206,776
1979 Record: 80 82 .494 18.0 5 1,648,587
1978 Record: 79 83 .488 11.0 3 1,525,311
1977 Record: 81 81 .500 20.0 4 1,439,834
1976 Record: 75 87 .463 26.0 4 1,026,217
1975 Record: 75 87 .463 17.5 5 1,034,819
1974 Record:66 96 .407 22.0 6 1,015,378
1973 Record: 77 84 .478 5.0 5 1,351,705
1972 Record: 85 70 .548 11.0 2 1,299,163

This team was loaded with talent, including Fergie Jenkins, Ron Santo, Billy Williams and Milt Pappas, but didn’t stand a chance against the even-more-loaded Pittsburgh Pirates, who won 96 games and captured the N.L. East.

1971 Record: 83 79 .512 14.0 3 1,653,007
1970 Record: 84 78 .519 5.0 2 1,642,705

1969 Record: 92 70 .568 8.0 2 1,674,993

This remarkable squad was led by Ernie Banks, Fergie Jenkins, Ron Santo, and Billy Williams. They should have won the pennant—they led the N.L. East by 9 1/2 games in late August (after Ken Holtzman’s no-hitter), and stayed in first place for 155 games. But then, an epic collapse made worse by an epic run by the upstart New York Mets (who went 38-11 down the stretch, compared to the Cubs’ 18-27), did them in in devastating fashion.

A black cat ran past the on-deck circle at Shea Stadium as Santo was getting ready to hit during a September game. The Cubs were never the same after that, fading fast down the stretch and missing the playoffs by 2 games.

1968 Record: 84 78 .519 13.0 3 1,043,409
1967 Record: 87 74 .540 14.0 3 977,226
1966 Record: 59 103 .364 36.0 10 635,891
1965 Record: 72 90 .444 25.0 8 641,361
1964 Record: 76 86 .469 17.0 8 751,647
1963 Record: 82 80 .506 17.0 7 979,551
1962 Record: 59 103 .364 42.5 9 609,802
1961 Record: 64 90 .416 29.0 7 673,057
1960 Record: 60 94 .390 35.0 7 809,770
1959 Record: 74 80 .481 13.0 5 858,255
1958 Record: 72 82 .468 20.0 6 979,904
1957 Record: 62 92 .403 33.0 7 670,629
1956 Record: 60 94 .390 33.0 8 720,118
1955 Record: 72 81 .471 26.0 6 875,800
1954 Record: 64 90 .416 33.0 7 748,183
1953 Record: 65 89 .422 40.0 7 763,658
1952 Record: 77 77 .500 19.5 5 1,024,826
1951 Record: 62 92 .403 34.5 8 894,415
1950 Record: 64 89 .418 26.5 7 1,165,944
1949 Record: 61 93 .396 36.0 8 1,143,139
1948 Record: 64 90 .416 27.5 8 1,237,792
1947 Record: 69 85 .448 25.0 6 1,364,039
1946 Record: 82 71 .536 13.5 3 1,342,970

1945 Record: 98 56 .636 – 1 1,036,386

This team reached the World Series thanks to incredible pitching, but fell in seven games to (once again) Hank Greenberg and the Detroit Tigers. The Cubs didn’t have any Hall of Famers on their squad.

1944 Record: 75 79 .487 30.0 4 640,110
1943 Record: 74 79 .484 30.5 5 508,247
1942 Record: 68 86 .442 38.0 6 590,972
1941 Record: 70 84 .455 30.0 6 545,159
1940 Record: 75 79 .487 25.5 5 534,878
1939 Record: 84 70 .545 13.0 4 726,663
1938 Record: 89 63 .586 – 1 951,640
1937 Record: 93 61 .604 3.0 2 895,020
1936 Record: 87 67 .565 5.0 3 699,370

1935 Chicago Cubs National League 100 54 .649 – 1 692,604

The National League champs had several excellent teams in the ’30’s, as you can see from the records below. This squad featured Hall of Famers Gabby Hartnett, Billy Herman and Chuck Klein, but fell to the equally star-studded Tigers (with Hank Greenberg, Mickey Cochrane) in six games.

1934 Record: 86 65 .570 8.0 3 707,525
1933 Record: 86 68 .558 6.0 3 594,112
1932 Record: 90 64 .584 – 1 974,688
1931 Record: 84 70 .545 17.0 3 1,086,422
1930 Record: 90 64 .584 2.0 2 1,463,624
1929 Record: 98 54 .645 – 1 1,485,166
1928 Record: 91 63 .591 4.0 3 1,143,740
1927 Record: 85 68 .556 8.5 4 1,159,168
1926 Record: 82 72 .532 7.0 4 885,063
1925 Record: 68 86 .442 27.5 8 622,610
1924 Record: 81 72 .529 12.0 5 716,922
1923 Record: 83 71 .539 12.5 4 703,705
1922 Record: 80 74 .519 13.0 5 542,283
1921 Record: 64 89 .418 30.0 7 410,107
1920 Record: 75 79 .487 18.0 6 480,783
1919 Record: 75 65 .536 21.0 3 424,430
1918 Record: 84 45 .651 – 1 337,256
1917 Record: 74 80 .481 24.0 5 360,218
1916 Record:  67 86 .438 26.5 5 453,685
1915 Record: 73 80 .477 17.5 4 217,058
1914 Record: 78 76 .506 16.5 4 202,516
1913 Record: 88 65 .575 13.5 3 419,000
1912 Record: 91 59 .607 11.5 3 514,000
1911 Record: 92 62 .597 7.5 2 576,000
1910 Record: 104 50 .675 – 1 526,152

This team, still loaded, lost to Connie Mack and the Philadelphia A’s, 4-1, in the Fall Classic.

1909 Record: 104 49 .680 6.5 2 633,480

The 1909 Cubs almost repeated, though that probably would have been of little solace to fans today. They lost to the Pirates in seven games.

1908 Record:  99 55 .643 – 1 665,325

WORLD CHAMPS

1907 Record: 107 45 .704 – 1 422,550

WORLD CHAMPS

Year/ Team Name/ League/ Record/ Win Pct/ Place/ Attendance

1906 Chicago Cubs National League 116 36 .763 – 1 654,300
1905 Chicago Cubs National League 92 61 .601 13.0 3 509,900
1904 Chicago Cubs National League 93 60 .608 13.0 2 439,100
1903 Chicago Cubs National League 82 56 .594 8.0 3 386,205
1902 Chicago Orphans National League 68 69 .496 34.0 5 263,700
1901 Chicago Orphans National League 53 86 .381 37.0 6 205,071
1900 Chicago Orphans National League 65 75 .464 – 248,577
1899 Chicago Orphans National League 75 73 .507 – 352,130
1898 Chicago Orphans National League 85 65 .567 – 424,352
1897 Chicago Colts National League 59 73 .447 – 327,160
1896 Chicago Colts National League 71 57 .555 – 317,500
1895 Chicago Colts National League 72 58 .554 – 382,300
1894 Chicago Colts National League 57 75 .432 – 239,000
1893 Chicago Colts National League 56 71 .441 – 223,500
1892 Chicago Colts National League 70 76 .479 – 109,067
1891 Chicago Colts National League 82 53 .607 – 201,188
1890 Chicago Colts National League 84 53 .613 – 102,536
1889 Chicago White Stockings National League 67 65 .508 – 149,175
1888 Chicago White Stockings National League 77 58 .570 – 228,906
1887 Chicago White Stockings National League 71 50 .587 – 217,070
1886 Chicago White Stockings National League 90 34 .726 – 142,438
1885 Chicago White Stockings National League 87 25 .777 – 117,519
1884 Chicago White Stockings National League 62 50 .554 – 87,667
1883 Chicago White Stockings National League 59 39 .602 – 124,880
1882 Chicago White Stockings National League 55 29 .655 – 125,452
1881 Chicago White Stockings National League 56 28 .667 – 82,000
1880 Chicago White Stockings National League 67 17 .798 – 66,708
1879 Chicago White Stockings National League 46 33 .582 – 67,687
1878 Chicago White Stockings National League 30 30 .500 – 58,691
1877 Chicago White Stockings National League 26 33 .441 – 46,454
1876 Chicago White Stockings National League 52 14 .788 – 65,441
1875 Chicago White Stockings National Association 30 37 .448 – 60,323
1874 Chicago White Stockings National Association 28 31 .475 – 66,000

Yes–the Chicago Cubs began their baseball lives as the White Stockings—a moniker that is all-too similar to their rivals from the South. It’d be another 29 years before this team became known as the Cubs.

 

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