Here's What Was Really Behind the Cubs' World Series Curse

With their first World Series win since 1908, Cubs fans are celebrating the demise of a curse on their team — but what's the psychology behind the belief?

Baseball fans are celebrating the demise of a curse on the Chicago Cubs, who finally ended a World Series drought that began near the end of World War II.

The Cubs, according to legend, have been afflicted with a supposed "Billy Goat" curse that dates back to 1945 when a man named Bill "Billy Goat" Sianis had a pet goat that was refused entry to a Cubs game. Offended by the affront, according to legend he cursed the club with the words, "The Cubs ain't gonna win no more!"

The Cubs have of course won many games since then - including game 7 of the World Series, what some are calling the best World Series game ever played - but most versions of the legend suggest that the curse was about the World Series specifically.

Curses and spells seem like relics from the Middle Ages, though superstitions are all around us. The next time you're in a tall building, look to see if it lists a 13th floor. Superstitions are common in sports and gambling, where people seek a real or imaginary edge. And last year the British government adopted a novel, folkloric approach to its efforts to end sex trafficking in Africa, using the victims' belief in curses and witchcraft to their advantage by helping women break free of fears that kept them in servitude.

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Curses, like magic spells and superstitions, are psychologically appealing to people because it helps give them a sense of power and control over their lives and destinies. The idea of a wholly random world is scarier than one in which magic can influence our lives. If a lucky penny or rabbit's foot can give us an advantage why not use it?

Cubs Curse Removal

In superstition and fairy tales it's commonly believed that the best (or only) way to remove a curse is with another, more effective magic spell. In other words, a curse doesn't merely end on its own. Something important has to happen. A charming prince must kiss a sleeping princess, for example, or a counter-spell must be cast.

In fact some claim that an even stronger counter-curse, or blessing, is said to have shattered the Cubs curse, and it has to do with numerology and the number 108. Grant DePorter, co-author of the book "Hoodoo: Unraveling the 100 Year Mystery of the Chicago Cubs," claims to have discovered a series of amazing coincidences relating the Chicago Cubs to the number 108, including that baseballs have 108 stitches; that the distance from both the left field and right field foul poles to home plate at Wrigley Field is 108 meters; and that the film "Back to the Future Part II" (which refers to the Cubs winning the World Series) is 108 minutes long.

Ironically the idea of a curse may in fact have been a self-fulfilling prophecy. Belief in the power of curses is a form of placebo effect, which only works if the patient believes it's effective. If Cubs players believe that their team is in fact cursed - and that their best efforts will ultimately be futile in the face of a magic spell - it might unconsciously affect their performance. Confidence and focus are important to athletic success, and if a player actually believes in a curse, it could change their game.

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The fact that the Cubs won the World Series could be due to a curse removal - or it might have been inevitable, due to what statisticians call "regression to the mean." In other words, once you have a large enough sample size, sooner or later a traditionally losing team will win, and a traditionally winning team will lose. Much of a team's success is of course due to the skills of any given team at any given time, but part of it is simply luck.

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