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It is not unheard of for inanimate objects to be blamed for some of sport’s most disappointing moments and that is the kind of fate that was suffered by former Chicago Cubs first baseman Leon Durham’s glove, which Durham wore during game 5 of the 1984 National League Championship Series.
The stakes involved in this incident were much higher than just winning a single game or even series. The Chicago Cubs were finally looking good to break the Curse of Billy Goat, which is believed to have denied them a World Series appearance for nearly forty years to the date.
With the Cubs leading 3-2 against the Padres going into the bottom of the seventh inning of game 5, a ball hit by the Padres’ Tim Flannery rolled under Durham’s glove and through his legs, allowing the Padres to tie the game. It would later be revealed that Gatorade had spilled on the glove in the dugout hence the name of the infamous accessory.
Lead-up to the Gatorade Glove Moment
Since 1945, the Cubs had been going through a dry spell of discomfiting proportions having failed to not only make a World Series appearance but also win a single division title. This painful period had been attributed to the curse of the Billy Goat, believed to have been placed on the team after Chicago pub owner Billy Sianis was ejected together with his goat from Game 4 of the 1945 World Series.
It was understandable then that winning the 1984 NL East division came with a lot of anticipation that finally the curse had been lifted. The Cub’s first two games of the series were played at home, and they prevailed 13-0 and 4-2 respectively. If they could get just one more win from the remaining games, they would be assured of the NL Pennant, with the series then running on a best of five basis.
In game three, played in Detroit, the Cubs opened the scoring but the Padres would win the game 7-1. Chicago then lost game four by a 7-5 score line to set up a nervous game 5.
In game five, the Cubs’ hopes of banishing their debilitating curse were boosted when they took a 3-0 lead in the first inning through a two-run homer from Durham and a solo homer from Davis. They sustained that lead through the first five innings.
However, the Padres scored on two flies in the sixth inning to reduce Chicago’s lead to 3-2. The curse leered its unloved head to break Chicago fans hearts when a hit from Tim Flannery was sent towards first base where Durham reached for it but missed in ridiculous fashion and the ball squirmed through his leg towards the outfield.
Rewinding back to about five minutes before the start of the accident, a very peculiar incident had happened. Ryne Sanberg had accidentally spilled Gatorade all over Durham’s glove soaking it wet. With the first pitch barely minutes away, Durham frantically wiped it with a towel and then used a hair dryer to dry it. The chemical composition of Gatorade makes it a bit adhesive, which means that at this point the glove was barely serviceable.
Durham considered using another glove but opted against it could be problematic to use an unfamiliar glove. According to some sources, as Durham waited for the hit from Flannery, he looked down at the glove to see if it would open and that is when he lost track of the ball. Whatever had happened, the Cub’s had now been pegged back to 3-3.
Aftermath of the Gatorade Glove Moment
Soon after Durham’s misfortune, the Padres would go on to score three more to win the game 6-3, becoming the first National League team to overcome a 2-0 deficit in a championship series and go on to win the pennant. The Padres would lose the World Series to eventual champions Detroit Tigers.
The heartbreak for Chicago fans would take a while to heal as playoff baseball continued to elude their team. On the rare occasion when they did foray past the regular season (1989, 1998) they were unable to go beyond the first round. In 2003, having made it back to the NLCS for the first since the heart break of 84, amends could not be any more overdue.
However, more heartbreak would follow as the Florida Marlins overcame a 3-1 deficit in the best of seven series in controversial circumstances. It was not until 2016 against another equally besieged team, the Cleveland Indians, that the Cubs were finally able to put their hands on another World Series trophy; 108 years later!