The Curse of the Bambino
Stephen examines the history of George Herman Ruth’s famous hex.
It’s Spring. Just as the flowers naturally know it’s time to
reemerge, Red Sox fans chatter once again that "this is the
year" . . . the year the curse of the Bambino will fall.
After the Red Sox won their last World Series, in 1918, the Red
Sox had been crowned champions of major league baseball more than
any other team. The Sox won 5 of the first 15 World Series. In
1918, the Yankees
had won none.
The curse began in 1920, when Harry Frazee, the Red Sox owner,
traded star pitcher and hitter Babe Ruth to the Yankees to
finance the musical "No, No, Nanette" (I hope
Bostonians really enjoyed the performance of that play
during the 1920s) On January 6, 1920, Frazee stated "I think
[the Yankees] are taking a gamble . . . The Boston club can now
go into the market and buy other players and have a better team .
. . [than] if Ruth had remained with us."
Since the Ruth trade, the Yankees have won 26 World Championships
and the Red Sox have won none. Over the past 84 seasons, the Sox
have reached the World Series only four times, losing each time
in 7 games. In 1946, the Sox led the Series 3 games to 2, but the
Cardinals forced a Game 7. The Red Sox felt good going into Game
7 with Dave "Boo" Ferris on the mound, who was 25-6
that season, and he had already thrown a shutout in Game 3. The
Sox took an early lead in the final game, but Johnny Pesky "held
the ball" in the bottom of the eighth inning allowing the
Cardinals to score the winning run.
In 1967, the Sox again felt they had a great chance to win Game 7
with Cy Young Award winner Jim Lonborg on the hill. Lonborg was
22-9 during the year. He had already thrown a 1-hit shutout in
Game 2, and he won Game 5 allowing only 3-hits over 9 innings.
Unfortunately, he was matched against Bob Gibson, who easily won
his third game of the Series.
In 1975, the Sox had Bill Lee pitching Game 7. Lee was 17-9 on
the year, and he pitched effectively in Game 2 (which Dick Drago
lost in the ninth inning). Lee and the Sox were ahead 3-0 after
five innings. The Reds, however, managed to scratch back to win
in the ninth inning, 4-3.
Then there is 1986. The Sox led 3 games to 2 in the Series, and
in Game 6 the scoreboard at Shea Stadium read "Congratulations
Boston Red Sox, 1986 World Champions," as the Sox were one
strike away from breaking the curse. As we all know, the Bill
Bucker fielding gem led to a Game 7. The good news for the Sox
was that Bruce Hurst would pitch Game 7. Hurst was much more
effective during the 1986 post-season than was Cy Young and MVP
winner Roger Clemens. In the Championship Series against
California, Hurst was 1-0 with a 2.40 ERA. Hurst was almost
untouchable against the Mets; in two earlier World Series games
Hurst was 2-0, allowing only 2 runs. Similar to 1975, in the 1986
Game 7 the Sox led 3-0 after 5 innings. Thereafter, however, the
Mets pounded 6
Red Sox pitchers for 8 runs over 3 innings.
Of course, in the 1978 one-game playoff against the Yankees the
Red Sox were winning 2-0 in the seventh inning when Bucky Dent
hit his legendary 3-run homer—Sox fans refer to it as the "pop-fly
homer." Interestingly, Dent hit only 40 home runs in his
career with 4,512 major league at bats.
The Bambino curse is felt at the very core of the heart of Red
Sox fans. I learned that as a kid growing up in New England as a
Yankees fan. The first time I went to Fenway Park I innocently
wore a Yankees hat and jacket. I had just come off the subway in
Boston when numerous Red Sox fans swiftly approached me screaming
in my face "Yankees Suck!". As the script is written,
the Yankees won that afternoon. The proof was in my beer-drenched
It’s not just the Red Sox misfortunes that make the curse so
unbearable to Sox fans. It’s the Sox misery coupled with the
Yankees success. As the years go by and the Yankees pile up the
championships, the hatred for the Yankees seems to run deeper and
deeper, permeating the soul of Sox fans. Recent visits to the
Fenway illustrate this. While struggling to withhold laughter,
Yankees fans chant "nineteen-eighteen" and "Bucky
Dent," while the Sox fans sadly, but passionately, can only
reply "Yankees suck!"
The curse seems to have taken on a life of its own. It has been
so powerful in the public’s mind that recently someone even a
wrote a play about it. Reports are that the play, displaying a
singing and dancing Babe, has done very well.
A quick-search of the Internet shows that Sox fans are trying
amazingly hard to think of creative ways to some how break the
curse. In April 2001, one Sox fan argued that Sports
Illustrated’s prediction of a World Championship for the Red Sox
in the upcoming season itself amounted to a curse, and one curse
can cancel out another curse. Another Sox fan argued that the
curse ended with the end of the 20th Century. Yet another Sox fan
argued that if you add all retired Red Sox numbers (1,4, 8, 9,
and 27), and you throw in Nomar’s and Pedro’s numbers (5 and 45)
you get 99; and, if you add 9 and 9 you get 18, as in 1918. The
Sox fan adds, you can even multiply 99 times the Babe’s number (3)
to get 297, and those digits still add up to 18. From this, the
Sox fan concludes "It jumps right out at you: guaranteed
victory for the Sox."
Others simply deny that the curse even exists, as the title of
one article makes clear (which was written after the Sox lost in
the 1999 Championship Series to the Yankees), "A Dead, Fat
Man Did Not Cause Defeat." Similarly, after the Sox dropped
three straight games to the Yankees last year, an ESPN writer and
Sox fan wrote an article entitled "What #$@!% Curse?"
The Red Sox front office itself has taken steps to try and rid
the team of the curse. Back in the early 1900s, winners of the
World Series customarily received championship emblems, however,
the 1918 championship team never received their emblems. In 1993
the Red Sox held a ceremony at Fenway Park and presented replica
emblems to the descendants of the team’s members, a full 75 years
after the team could last lay a claim to having earned the
distinction of being World Champions.
Even Massachusetts legislators have tried to snap the curse. A
veteran lawmaker and Sox fan sponsored a resolution to officially
recognize the retirement of Babe Ruth. A ceremony was planned in
which Ruth’s daughter would accept the resolution.
My personal favorite is the attempts last year by desperate Sox
fans to pull up Ruth’s piano from Willis Pond in Sudbury,
Massachusetts. Legend has it that in the Babe’s last season with
the Sox, in an inebriated state, he shoved his piano into the
pond. Sox fans believe that if they can locate and retrieve the
piano, and restore it to play as it did back in 1918, then the
curse will be broken. Search attempts thus far have proven to be
unfruitful, but Sox fans are still trying to find the piano.
Although a Yankees fan, I am impressed with the passion,
dedication, and creativeness exhibited by Sox fans. The curse may
never be broken, but neither will the will of Sox fans. Perhaps
Sox fans ought to organize a low-budget showing of "No, No,
Nanette" in New York?
Stephen Jordan is a lawyer, writer, and artist and has published many articles for various publications and websites, including the Sporting News. In addition, Jordan has created artwork for many periodicals, newspapers, websites, and for sports organizations, including the Boston Red Sox. Signed prints of his artwork are currently offered on eBay. To view Jordan’s art, search “Fenway Art Print” at www.eBay.com, then click on “seller’s other auctions” for all auctions offered by “Catfish326”. For any information concerning Jordan’s art feel free to e-mail him at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.