It’s Monday, July 1, 1963. The Chicago Cubs have the day off, traveling back from a road trip to New York and then Philadelphia. The Mets are coming in for a series, which includes a doubleheader on the 4th of July.
It can’t be known just yet, but the Cubs have four future Hall of Famers on their everyday roster: Ernie Banks at first, Ron Santo at third, Billy Williams in left, and Lou Brock in right. In addition, they have a 21-year old second baseman, Ken Hubbs, who would go on to become the National League’s Rookie of the Year at the end of the season. That’s quite a collection of talent to have on one roster.
But on July 1, while John Kennedy was still president, something happened. The U.S. Post office began requiring all letters and packages to have a five digit sequence called a ZIP code. ZIP is an acronym for Zone Improvement Plan, and the reason is so that the mail can be delivered quicker. The East Coast has the lowest numbers, and the West Coast has the highest ones.
Chicago’s ZIP Codes mostly begin with the numbers 606, with the last two numbers being assigned to a central post office in that region. As with Chicago’s neighborhoods, some main streets will act as a demarcation between one ZIP code and another.
One of these demarcating lines is drawn down Addison Street, where Wrigley Field is located. Since the ballpark sits on the north side of Addison Street, it is given a different ZIP code than those addresses located across the street. South of Addison, the ZIP code 60657 is assigned. And Wrigley Field, like the other addresses north of Addison Street, are given a ZIP code of 60613.
Maybe that’s not a big deal, you say. 13 is just a number, like any other. And perhaps that’s true. But the next time you’re in a building with, let’s say, 25 floors in it, check the buttons in the building’s elevators. Is there a 13th floor, or do the numbers somehow jump from 12 to 14?
Or perhaps you’re in an eight story building. Pick a floor, any floor. Walk around on that floor and see if there’s an office or a unit that ends in 13. If there is one, that’s great. But you’re just as likely — if not more likely — to see offices ending in 12 and 14 and 18, but nothing ending in 13. They’re probably harder to rent, simply because some people don’t want to pay their money for something that carries an unlucky number.
So, back to the 1963 Cubs. They finish at 82-80, which isn’t good enough for the post-season but is still a sign of good things to come. But, then, bad things start happening. Hubbs is killed in an offseason plane crash and is replaced the next season by an older and less-talented Joe Amalfitano. Brock is traded the next season because, according to Buck O’Neill, the team has too many African American players. A team that once seemed to have great things in store for it never reaches the postseason at all.
Next summer, it will be 50 years since the U.S. Post Office went to using ZIP codes. And in that time, every other major league franchise that existed in 1963 has made it to the World Series. And the only 1963 franchises, other than the Cubs, to still lack a World Series title are the Cleveland Indians and the Houston Colt 45s (now known as the Astros).
Most Cubs fans are hung up on the curse of the billy goat. They think that one man and his goat have somehow cursed the franchise since 1945. But I think there’s something else at play. Perhaps giving one of the many unused 606 ZIP codes to Wrigley Field would help. After all, the Merchandise Mart downtown has its own ZIP code of 60654. Why not Wrigley Field?
But wait a minute. President Obama is an avowed Sox fan. We can’t expect too much help as long as he’s in office, can we?