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Wednesday, March 26, 2003

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 clothing.

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, 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 or


Stephen Jordan Posted: March 26, 2003 at 05:00 AM | 16 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
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   1. Benji Gil Gamesh VII - The Opt-Out Awakens Posted: March 26, 2003 at 01:50 AM (#609970)
   2. Walt in Maryland Posted: March 26, 2003 at 01:50 AM (#609974)
There's nothing a lifelong Red Sox fan "loves" more than to read a Yankee fan's take on the alleged "Curse of the Bambino."

One correction, and a couple of comments.

First, Harry Frazee did not use the proceeds from selling Babe Ruth to the Yankees to finance "No, No Nanette." That play wasn't produced until several years later. You might consult Dick Johnson and Glenn Stout's superb "Red Sox Century" to get your facts straight.

Second, there's a mistaken impression among non-Sox fans that we've been beating our breasts and moaning about the "Curse" for more than 80 years. That's a crock. I've been a fanatical Red Sox fan since 1966, grew up in New England and worked as a sports writer for seven years.

I can honestly say that I'd never HEARD of the "Curse of the Bambino" until Dan Shaughnessy published his book by that name in 1988. Sure, I knew the Sox hadn't won the Series since 1918, but I'd never heard anyone mention a curse. I know from discussing this with several other Sox fans that I'm not alone.

In truth, the only "curse" the Red Sox have suffered from is one of almost universally bad management. It's been a very poorly run team for most of the last 80 years.

You are correct that observing the Yankees' success only makes it more painful for Sox fans to ponder their own team's dilemma. But I can't help but wonder why Yankee fans need to throw salt in Red Sox fans' wounds every chance they get.

Aren't your World Championships enjoyable enough?
   3. RP Posted: March 26, 2003 at 01:50 AM (#609977)
I actually just finished reading Creamer's bio of Ruth, and the book changed somewhat my view of the deal that sent Ruth to the Yankees. The conventional wisdom surrounding the deal, or at least my impression of the CW, has always been that (a) it was a terrible baseball deal, for obvious reasons, *and* (b) it was a terrible business deal, because, after all, who's ever heard of "No No Nanette" except as a trivia question re Ruth.

Creamer, however, makes a compelling case that it wasn't as bad a business deal as most people think. First, the price the Yankees paid for Ruth was by far the highest ever paid for a player up to that point. I think many fans have this impression that the Red Sox sold the Yankees an up-and-coming prospect for a few bucks, but this is very far from the truth. Ruth was, of course, already one of the biggest and best paid stars in baseball at time he was traded, and the price the Yankees paid reflects that. I know this isn't big news to most of the readers of this site, but I think the average fan doesn't really understand the extent to which Ruth was a big star *before* he came to the Yankees.

Second, Creamer pointed out that "No No Nanette" was actually a huge success during the 20s and very profitable. No, it wasn't "The Magic Flute," or even "South Pacific," but it was more than just the punchline of a joke.

Anyway, I'm not arguing that the Red Sox were right to sell Ruth. Obviously that was a huge mistake. But I think Frazee's reasoning *at the time the trade was made* was not as irrational as most people probably think.
   4. The usual palaver and twaddle (Met Fan Charlie) Posted: March 26, 2003 at 01:50 AM (#609984)
>> The good news for the Sox was that Bruce Hurst would pitch Game 7. <<

And even THAT was a fluke if you recall correctly, Stephen.

The Bill Buckner game was a Saturday night. Bruce Hurst would not have been rested enough to start a game 7 on Sunday night. That honor would have gone to Oil Can Boyd. Shortly after the completion of game 6, however, the sky opened up and a torrential rain washed out any possible chance of game 7 being played on Sunday.

I still say, to this very day, that if Oil Can Boyd had pitched against the Mets on Sunday, the final score would have been something like 25-0. The New Yorkers were sky-high after that Buckner game, and Hurst was the only Sox pitcher they did NOT want to face.
   5. Stephen Jordan Posted: March 26, 2003 at 01:50 AM (#609985)
Walt in Maryland: "Harry Frazee did not use the proceeds from selling Babe Ruth to the Yankees to finance 'No, No Nanette.' . . . You might consult Dick Johnson and Glenn Stout's superb 'Red Sox Century' to get your facts straight."

The work you identify is simply one source on the subject. By performing a quick search, I found numerous articles written that support my factual statement, including articles by the following: Sports Illustrated, Boston Globe, Philadelphia Inquirer, Cincinnati Post, Detroit News, St. Petersburgh Times, and the Philadelphia Gazette. There is certainly conflicting information on the subject, but many reliable sources support my factual statement.

This article was not written with the intent to rub salt in the wounds of Sox fans. I used to work for the Sox, and in the article I commended Sox fans on their passion, dedication, and creativeness.
   6. Walt in Maryland Posted: March 26, 2003 at 01:50 AM (#609986)
Stephen -- I'm not at all surprised that you found several published sources that claim Ruth's sale was completed to fund "No, No Nanette." That's been a frequently reported mistake because:

a. Few people really know that much about Harry Frazee.
b. "No, No Nanette" was a huge hit, and it makes the Ruth story more compelling.

But here's the truth. Babe Ruth was sold to the Yankees following the 1919 season. "No, No Nanette" appeared on Broadway in 1925 -- two years after Frazee had sold the Red Sox to a group headed by Bob Quinn.

In between, Frazee sold or traded numerous other Boston players.

If you read "Red Sox Century," or even just the section on Frazee, you'll see a very different picture. Frazee's war with A.L. President Ban Johnson had him backed into a corner.
   7. RP Posted: March 26, 2003 at 01:50 AM (#609987)
It's true that Ruth didn't directly finance "No No Nanette," but the sale, along with subsequent deals, helped to finance it indirectly.
   8. Walt in Maryland Posted: March 26, 2003 at 01:50 AM (#609991)
RP -- By your logic, every player sold by Harry Frazee "indirectly" financed "No, No Nanette." I don't have a list, but I'll guarantee you Frazee produced numerous plays between the sale of Ruth and the debut of "No, No Nanette."

DW -- You're right about the other Boston players who wound up in New York. Pitchers like Carl Mays, Joe Bush, Herb Pennock, Waite Hoyt and Sam Jones all came from Boston, as did catcher Wally Schang and SS Everett Scott. Along with Ruth, these players were the cornerstones of the Yankees' first three pennant-winners in 1921-23.

Again, I refer to "Red Sox Century," but according to that book, Frazee was locked in mortal combat with A.L. President/control freak Ban Johnson. Johnson hated Frazee from the day he bought the Sox, primarily because he was an independent guy and not hand-picked by Johnson, who exerted incredible control over the A.L.

The A.L., by the late teens, was split into two warring camps: Johnson, and the owners who supported him on one side, and Boston, New York and Chicago on the other.

Frazee had no one besides the Yankees and White Sox with whom he could trade. Frazee needed money, but he was by no means broke.

   9. RP Posted: March 26, 2003 at 01:51 AM (#609997)
I don't have Creamer's book in front of me, but I'm pretty sure he drew a connection between Frazee's fire sale in the early twenties and "No No Nanette."
   10. Stephen Jordan Posted: March 26, 2003 at 01:51 AM (#610008)
According to Ruth's biographer, Robert Creamer, in his book "Babe: The Legend Comes to Life," published in 1974, the cash for Ruth was only part of the transaction. Frazee demanded a $300,000 loan as part of the deal. Rupport of the Yankees accepted the deal, provided that the loan be secured by some real estate--Fenway Park. The loan was made. Frazee was experiencing serious financial difficulties. Thereafter, in part to assist with his payment obligations under the loan, Frazee sold numerous players over to the Yankees. Soon, Frazee sold the Red Sox and in 1925 Frazee "hit the jackpot," according to Creamer, for his "enormously successful 'No, No, Nanette.'"

In light of the foregoing, the Ruth deal, which included the hefty loan, caused Frazee to accept the baseball cellar for the Red Sox(finishing last 9 of 11 seasons) and sell other Sox players and eventually the team, allowed him to finance the successful play, "No, No, Nanette."

   11. McCoy Posted: March 27, 2003 at 01:51 AM (#610025)
I believe Frazee sold the Red Sox in 1923, two years before No, no Nanette, and almost 4 years after Babe Ruth being sold. I believe he sold the team for 1.4 million or something like that. In 1916 he bought the team for 400,000 dollars. I think the million dollar profit he made on selling the team had more to do with funding No, no Nannette than the Babe Ruth deal did 6 years before the play opened.
   12. Walt in Maryland Posted: March 27, 2003 at 01:51 AM (#610030)
Mike C. -- Give me a break.

While I would never defend anyone who screams obscenities at kids, I've also been to Yankee Stadium enough times to know that the "crazies" aren't confined to Fenway. Take a kid to Yankee Stadium with a Red Sox cap on, and you'll get the same treatment.

I lived in Atlanta for parts of four baseball seasons and saw maybe 20 games at Turner Field. I don't recall seeing a single fight. If Braves fans complained to me about the behavior of Red Sox fans, I'd have to agree.

Well, not exactly. The first thing I'd do is tell them to turn off their cell phones, watch the game and maybe make a little noise. But then I'd have to agree.

Yankee fans can be very abusive, both verbally and, at times, physically. So can Sox fans, although in both cases we're talking about a subset of the fans.

You have every right to complain if Sox fans are rude and obscene to your family. Just don't pretend it doesn't happen in New York.
   13. RP Posted: March 27, 2003 at 01:51 AM (#610037)
I have to agree with Walt re Yankees fans. I've only been to a few games at Fenway, but I've been to many at Yankee, and those fans are by far the most obnoxious/drunken/violent/etc. I've ever seen.
   14. JimMusComp likes Billy Eppler.... Posted: October 17, 2003 at 02:49 AM (#613479)
And so it continues...
   15. True Blue n/k/a "DeJesusFreak" Posted: October 17, 2003 at 02:49 AM (#613508)
As far as "the curse" goes, curses only work when people believe in them: they're a way of stipping confidence from a person or group by convincing them that they are doomed, no matter what. The person who "puts the curse on" does so to gain some personal benefit or advantage (or to just enjoy the inflicted misery). Now we can all see that "the curse" is working...but who created it? Babe Ruth? Given his extraordinary career after he left Boston I can only see him thanking us. No, the real beneficiary of the curse's perpetuation is the Yankees: it's the reason for the Red Sox's demise....and the Yankees success. Hmm, sounds like one of those movie plots where the victor's power derives from consorting with evil forces. But, whatever you Yankees folks need to get ahead in this world...

All kidding aside, I was not a fan of the Sox until I watched this series. Now, I'll be one forever, World Series be damned. To say that this loss was devastating is putting it lightly: the team played its heart out, and were it not for several bad decisions made at some very crucial moments perhaps things would have turned out differently. Or perhaps not. But you can't ask for more than what we got out of our team. Sadly, sometimes, it's just not enough. (especially when the dark forces are involved...oops, did I say that again?)

All you similarly broken-hearted fans out there, remember that there's something to be said for being the underdog. I cannot tell you how many people turned off their televisions late last night and will not be tuning in again on Saturday, not because they're malicious or pouty, but because who wants to watch another World Series with the Yankees? The Yankees win AGAIN? Well, who CARES? The Sox made it interesting. The Sox winning would have been wonderful. The Yankees winning is not wonderful at all, it just...figures.

So to all you Boston fans who have scared themselves into a frenzy by the curse I say: Let the curse go, and good things will follow.

And never stop believing.

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