The Ex-Cub Factor

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The Ex-Cub factor is a superstitious phenomenon that is related to the Curse of the Billy Goat affecting the Chicago Cubs of the MBL. The Ex-Cub Factor theory asserts that any team that goes to the World Series with three or more former Chicago Cubs players on its roster has a high likelihood of losing. Such teams are said to have a ‘critical mass of Cubness.’

How did the Ex-Cub Factor Begin?

The Ex-Cub factor came to light thanks to an article written by freelance journalist Ron Berler in October 1981. Berler based his theory on an observation he had made in the post-1945 era. In his article, Berler examined the fortunes of teams like the 1958 Milwaukee Braves, the 1966 Los Angeles Dodgers and the 1978 Dodgers.

The Dodgers had lost the 1977 World Series with three ex-Cub players on their roster and improve immensely the following season when they traded Mike Garman (one of the ex-Cubs) away. Barely four weeks after the trade, they brought in another ex-Cub, Bill North and the team’s performance immediately nosedived. The team barely won the pennant but they lost the World Series to the New York Yankees, prompting Berler to start developing the hypothesis.

In 1981, Berler predicted in his article that the New York Yankees would lose the World Series because they had a lot of Cubness in the team, with five ex-Cubs on their roster. The Yankees were at that time heavily favored to win but Berlers prediction which was very much against the odds came true. Chicago Tribune columnist Mike Royko popularized the theory further, claiming that Cubness was a virus that attacks all players who have played even a single game for the Cubs and that traded Cubs players spread the infestation, resulting in failure wherever they went.

The Cubs have been suffering the Curse of the Billy Goat, which has kept them from winning the World Series since 1945 and this affliction is credited with generating the ‘disease.’ According to Royko, the factor was a virus which affects the player’s vision, hand-eye coordination and mental processing of the game.

Effects of the Ex-Cub Factor

Statistics present a fairly strong case for the ex-Cub factor. Since 1945, 23 teams have reached the World Series with three or more Chicago Cubs players in their roster. Of these, just 3 have gone on to win the series. After the 1981 World Series loss for the Yankees, the San Diego Padres, with three ex-Cubs on their team lost the 1984 World Series to the Detroit Tigers.

In 1990, Berler predicted that Oakland Athletics would lose the 1990 World Series. Sure enough, the Athletics, with Scott Sanderson, Ron Hassey and Dennis Eckersley who were all ex-Cubs lost to the Cincinnati Reds. The affliction surfaced again in 2002, with the San Francisco Giants containing three ex-Cubs losing to the Los Angeles Angels. In 2004, the St. Louis Cardinals, who had three ex-Cubs lost to the Boston Red Sox who also had some level of Cubness with two former Cubs. In 2009, a year after they had seemingly overcome the ex-Cub factor, the Phillies with the same three ex-Cubs from 2008 were haunted again as they lost to the New York Yankees who had two of their own.

In an emphatic endorsement of the ex-Cub effect hypothesis, Jim Brosman, a pitcher for the Cubs in the 50s said, “You have to have a certain dullness of mind and spirit to play here.” He claims to have gone through psychoanalysis to cure his Cubness. First baseman Pete la Cock, who left the Cubs in 1981calimed that playing for the Cubs feels like “…playing with heavy shoes on.” He claims to have been “de-Cubbed” in order to return to his usual self. The effect however according to Berler and Royko has no cure.

There are a few exceptions to the ex-Cub factor hypothesis but all of them have come after the turn of the 21st century. The 2001 Arizona Diamondbacks were the first team to break the apparent curse when they beat the New York Yankees. The Diamondbacks had four ex-Cubs; Mark Grace, Miguel Batista, Luis Gonzales and Mike Morgan. The 2008 Phillies beat the Tampa Bay Rays in the World Series despite having three ex-Cubs represent them.

The St. Louis Cardinals, with three ex-Cubs beat the Texas Rangers in the 2011 World Series, the latest instance where the curse has been contradicted. Another possible exception was the 1960 Pittsburg Pirates, but this is not officially counted because Dick Groat never represented the Cubs in any game.