By Dave Wischnowsky-
(CBS) The Brewers never stood a chance.
What, with Casey McGehee, Jerry Hairston Jr. and (egads) LaTroy Hawkins – count ’em, three former Cubs – pockmarking their postseason roster, Milwaukee was tempting the fates this October.
And on Sunday night, theirs was sealed.
Yes, with the Brewers losing 12-6 to St. Louis in the deciding Game 6 of the NLCS in Milwaukee, the famed “Ex-Cubs Factor” conquered baseball once again this year.
In case, you aren’t an expert on the “Factor” – which this year celebrates the 30th anniversary of its discovery – let me provide a refresher.
Back in 1981, a Chicago sports buff named Ron Berler was combing through baseball rosters when he stumbled across a stunning statistic that’s kin to the Cubs’ legendary “Curse of the Billy Goat.”
That year, Berler found that since 1946 – the year after the Cubs last reached a World Series – 13 teams had entered the World Series with three or more ex-Cubs on their roster. And 12 of the 13 had lost (only the 1960 Pittsburgh Pirates defied the curse, and only narrowly as they won Game 7 vs. the New York Yankees on Bill Mazeroski’s walk-off homer).
In 1993, legendary Chicago newspaper columnist Mike Royko – who popularized the “Factor” in a column three years earlier – recalled its origins again for his readers:
Berler theorized that it was a virus. Three or more ex-Cubs could infect an entire team with the will to lose, no matter how skillful that team might appear.
When Berler revealed his findings, the sports experts sneered and scoffed. Stupid and meaningless, they snickered. No scientific basis, they hooted. Then came 1990, and they were still sneering, scoffing, and making their mindless predictions.
That was the year about 99 percent of the experts declared that the Oakland A’s could not possibly lose the World Series. Even before the games began, they hailed the A’s as one of the greatest teams – maybe the greatest – in the history of the game … Yes, cried the experts: the greatest, a dynasty, a team of immortals. They could win while yawning.
Royko and Berler, however, warned the baseball world of the “Ex-Cubs Factor,” pointing out that the A’s had foolishly defied the virus by signing a third ex-Cub. Before the World Series even began, Berler went so far as to publicly state: “As good as they are, they will lose. And they can blame their own arrogance for ignoring history.”
Royko continued in his column:
So what happened? Not only did the A’s lose, it was world-class humiliation. Four straight defeats. One of sports’ all-time flopperoos.
That made it 13 out of 14 teams with three or more ex-Cubs to collapse in the World Series since World War II.
In ’93, not long after Royko revisited the “Ex-Cubs Factor” in his column, the powerhouse Atlanta Braves – featuring three former Cubs in Greg Maddux, Damon Berryhill and journeyman reliever Jay Howell (who pitched in 10 games for the Cubs in 1981) – fell victim to the “Ex-Cubs Factor,” falling 4-2 to the underdog Phillies in the NLCS.
In 2001, however, the “Factor” was again defeated, this time by the Arizona Diamondbacks who featured ex-Cubs Mark Grace, Luis Gonzalez and Mike Morgan. But just like in 1960, it took a Herculean effort for Arizona to do it, as the Diamondbacks edged past the Yankees in Game 7 on Gonzalez’s game-winning, ninth-inning single.
So, the “Factor” can be cured. But not easily, and apparently only when your opponent is the Yankees. In any case, the Brewers – with their “critical mass of Cubness,” as Royko would say – didn’t have a shot this fall with McGehee, Hairston and Hawkins on the roster.
But what does all this mean for the World Series, which begins tonight with the Rangers and Cardinals squaring off in St. Louis?
Well, in the case of the Rangers, they have utilityman Andres Blanco (a Cub in 2009) on their 40-man roster, but he isn’t active for the Series. Still, he is an ex-Cub, let’s count him for half. The Rangers also do have slugger Josh Hamilton, who was selected by the Cubs in the Rule 5 Draft in 2006, but traded to Cincinnati shortly after. He never even donned pinstripes, so I don’t think Hamilton counts.
Rangers’ Ex-Cubs Factor: .5 Cubs.
Now, for the Cardinals. They, of course, have former Cubs shortstop (and long-time closet Redbirds fan) Ryan Theriot. That’s a full Ex-Cub. The Cardinals also had former Cubs hurler Miguel Batista on their roster, but they dumped him way back in June, so he doesn’t count.
St. Louis’ ace pitcher, however, is Chris Carpenter. And in June, the Cubs called up a kid by the same exact name who appeared in 10 games for the North Siders, logging eight strikeouts and a solid 2.79 ERA.
Nevertheless, on July 16 when the Cubs activated Carlos Zambrano from the disabled list, Carpenter was demoted to the minors, never to be heard from again.
But, perhaps, the kid’s cup of coffee might have spilled some transitive “Ex-Cubs Factor” congation onto the Cardinals’ Carpenter – you know, just a bit. Just to be safe, let’s say his the Cubs’ Chris Carpenter’s MLB presence made St. Louis’ Chris Carpenter .10 Ex-Cub.
Cardinals’ Ex-Cubs Factor: 1.10.
Either way, both teams are well short of the three needed to invoke the “Factor.” But I’m still picking the Rangers in seven.
Do you agree with Dave? Post your comments below.
If nothing else, Dave Wischnowsky is an Illinois boy. Raised in Bourbonnais, educated at the University of Illinois and bred on sports in the Land of Lincoln, he now resides on Chicago’s North Side, just blocks from Wrigley Field. Formerly a reporter and blogger for the Chicago Tribune, Dave currently writes a syndicated column, The Wisch List, which you can check out via his blog at http://www.wischlist.com. Read more of his CBS Chicago blog entries here.