Curse of the Bambino

From Academic Kids

Babe with the Red Sox(Rookie portrait, 1915)Copyright Baseball Antiquities
Babe with the Red Sox
(Rookie portrait, 1915)
Copyright Baseball Antiquities

The Curse of the Bambino was an urban myth or scapegoat cited as a reason for the failure of the Boston Red Sox baseball team to win the World Series for 86 years after they sold Babe Ruth, sometimes called The Bambino, to the New York Yankees. The flip side of the "curse" was New York's success—after the sale, the once-lackluster Yankees became one of the most successful franchises in North American professional sports. While some fans took the superstition of the Curse seriously, many others used the expression in a tongue-in-cheek manner.

The future of the phrase seems in doubt, since the Sox defeated the Yankees in dramatic fashion in the 2004 American League Championship Series and then won the 2004 World Series.


History of the phrase

The phrase "curse of the Bambino" first gained wide currency in 1990, when Boston Globe writer Dan Shaughnessy used it as the title of his team history (ISBN 0140152628). This book brought it to national attention and triggered widespread usage by the national media. The phrase was also used as the title of a musical play in 2001, directed by Spiro Veloudos.

Prior to 1986, a few passing references to a Red Sox or Fenway-related curse had been floated around by sportswriters, but they tended to be vague and did not feature Babe Ruth prominently. However, after the Red Sox collapsed against the New York Mets in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series, New York Times sportswriter George Vecsey wrote an article connecting the errors that cost the Sox the game, the team's past history of disappointments, and the sale of Babe Ruth back in the team's glory days. After the Sox also lost Game 7, and thus the series, Vecsey wrote another article expanding on the theme, headlined "Babe Ruth's Curse Strikes Again". These articles were the first explicit mentions of a Babe Ruth "curse" in print.

Vecsey might have picked up the idea of the curse from other columns that had appeared in the leadup to the Series. Before that year's AL playoffs, an article by UPI sports writer Frederick Waterman said in its lead that when the Sox traded Babe Ruth to the Yankees "he carried away with him the good luck and winning touch of the Red Sox." The rumor that Frazee had sold Ruth to finance a Broadway musical was also being buzzed about at the time, including in an article by Times writer Fox Butterfield just a week before the Red Sox's collapse. Vecsey tied these and other threads together to establish the "curse" template that thereafter became widely known.

After 1986, as the title drought stretched on and on, national sports media often made reference to the curse when the Red Sox were doing notably well—or notably poorly. Many serious fans grew annoyed by the constant refrain of the "curse" and deplored it as media-created fluff that was good for book sales, television networks, and witty T-shirt slogans, but without basis in history.

The lore

Although the title drought dates back to 1918, the sale of Ruth to the Yankees was completed January 3, 1920. In standard "curse" lore, Red Sox owner and theatrical producer Harry Frazee used the proceeds from the sale to finance the production of a Broadway musical, usually specified as No, No, Nanette. In fact, Frazee backed many productions before and after Ruth's sale, and although it is the musical most associated with Frazee, No, No, Nanette did not see its first performance until five years after the Ruth sale. Indeed, Frazee sold the Red Sox in 1923, two years before No, No, Nanette opened. In addition, Ruth was not the only loss to the Yankees at that time. In 1921, Red Sox manager Ed Barrow left to take over as GM of the Yankees. Other players were sold or traded as well.

Prior to Ruth leaving Boston, the Red Sox had won five World Series, with Ruth as pitcher in the 1915, 1916, and 1918 teams, whereas the Yankees hadn't been in the World Series. After the sale, the Yankees came to win 26 World Series by the start of the 2004 season, while the Red Sox had been to the Series only four times - and lost each time in seven games.

The Yankees' success rate since the sale of Ruth is stunning: They have won 17 more World Series than the second-most-successful teams, the Oakland Athletics and St. Louis Cardinals, who both won 9 championships. Ruth, by then more known for his batting than for his pitching, was a high profile part of the 1923, 1927, 1928 and 1932 titles. And even when not winning American League pennants and/or World Series championships, the Yankees have been a model of consistency, finishing in the first division for a record 39 consecutive years—from 1926 through 1964, all inclusive—and suffering only two last-place finishes since the sale (in 1966 and again in 1990).

"Cursed" results

The "curse" did not always wait for the World Series. In 1949, the Red Sox needed to win just one of the last two games of the season to win the pennant, but lost both games to the Yankees. Ironically, the Red Sox were managed by Joe McCarthy, who had previously steered the Yankees to 7 World Series titles.

In 1978, the Red Sox had a 14-game lead over the Yankees on July 18, but by season's end, the teams were tied. A one-game playoff took place at Fenway Park on October 2. In the 7th inning, Boston led 2-0, but Bucky Dent, a .240 hitter (although he had been hitting only .140 for the previous 20 games) with only 4 home runs all season, hit the ball over the Green Monster with two runners on base to secure the Yankee win.

The most dramatic defeat for the Red Sox, the one which seemed to have "confirmed" that there truly was a "curse", came in 1986, when Boston squandered three leads in what would have been the deciding sixth game before losing in the 10th inning to the New York Mets after a fielding error by first baseman Bill Buckner. The Red Sox then lost the 7th game of the series, blowing a 3-run lead. The collapses in the last two games prompted Vecsey's articles.

In 2003, a similar scenario to the 1978 series occurred. Tied with the Yankees at three games apiece in the American League Championship Series, Boston had a 5-2 lead going into the 8th inning. Two Yankee doubles and a single later, the game was tied. The game - and series - was decided in the 11th by a first-pitch lead-off home run by light-hitting Aaron Boone.

Other popular instances include Pedro Martinez remarking, "I don't believe in them curses," before a game. He followed by noting that if Ruth were to show up, perhaps he would "drill him in the ass." Martinez injured himself in that game, not winning another start all year, leading some to believe he shouldn't have taunted the curse.

Attempts to break the curse

Red Sox fans have attempted various methods over the years to exorcise their famous curse. These have included placing a Boston cap atop Mt. Everest and burning a Yankees cap at base camp, hiring professional exorcists to 'purify' Fenway Park, and finding a piano owned by Ruth that he had supposedly pushed into a pond near his Sudbury, Massachusetts, winter home. Some declared the curse broken when, in July 2004, a foul ball hit by Manny Ramirez struck a boy's face, knocking two of his teeth out. The boy (a Boston fan whose favorite player was and remains Ramirez) lives in the Sudbury farm house once owned by Ruth. That same day, the Yankees suffered their worst loss in team history, a 22-0 clobbering at home against the Cleveland Indians. However, most agree that the curse was not truly broken until the 2004 postseason.

The curse "reversed"

In 2004, the Red Sox met the Yankees in the American League Championship Series. After losing the first three games, including a 19–8 drubbing at Fenway, the Red Sox trailed 4-3 in the bottom of the 9th inning of Game 4, three outs from being swept. But the team tied the game with a walk and and a stolen base (not maneuvers the Red Sox were historically known for), followed by an RBI single off Yankee closer Mariano Rivera and won on a 2-run home run in the 12th inning by David Ortiz. The Sox then won the next three games, becoming the first Major League Baseball team to win a seven-game postseason series after being down 3 games to none.

After New York's defeat, the Curse was poked fun at during the Weekend Update segment of Saturday Night Live (based in New York City). In the sketch, the ghost of Babe Ruth (played by Horatio Sanz) appears and explains to Tina Fey and Amy Poehler that he left during Game Four with the ghosts of Mickey Mantle and Rodney Dangerfield to go drinking. Babe says that he drank a few beers, along with gasoline and horse tranquilizers, causing him to pass out for the next four days.

The Red Sox then faced the St. Louis Cardinals, the team to whom they lost the 1946 World Series and 1967 World Series, and won the series in a four-game sweep.

The final game took place during a total lunar eclipse—the only post-season or World Series game to do so. The final out of the game was made on Cardinals shortstop Edgar Rentera—who wore Babe Ruth's old uniform number, 3 (which wasn't assigned to him until he joined the Yankees, who introduced uniform numbers).

Coincidentally, the last two times that the Red Sox won the World Series, Hockey's Stanley Cup playoffs were cancelled. The 1918-19 Stanley Cup playoffs were cancelled because the Spanish flu pandemic raging at the time had incapacitated members of both teams, and the 2004-05 Stanley Cup playoffs were cancelled with the entire 2004-05 season, resulting from a labor dispute between the NHL owners and the NHLPA.

The Red Sox opened the 2005 season on April 3 at Yankee Stadium. The home opener took place on April 11, also against the Yankees.

See also

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