Curse of the Bambino
|16px Picture of the graffitied "reverse curve" road sign"|
|16px Removal of the sign (then re-graffitied to read "reversed the curse") by a crew including Governor Mitt Romney, following Boston's 2004 World Series victory.|
The Curse of the Bambino was a superstition evolving from the failure of the Boston Red Sox baseball team to win the World Series in the 86-year period from 1918 to 2004. While some fans took the curse seriously, most used the expression in a tongue-in-cheek manner.
This misfortune began after the Red Sox sold star player Babe Ruth, sometimes called The Bambino, to the New York Yankees in the off-season of 1919–1920. Before that point, the Red Sox had been one of the most successful professional baseball franchises, winning the first World Series and amassing five World Series titles. After the sale they went without a title for decades, even while the Red Sox won five American League championships from 1946 to 1986, as the previously lackluster Yankees became one of the most successful franchises in North American professional sports. The curse became a focal point of the Yankees–Red Sox rivalry over the years.
Talk of the curse as an ongoing phenomenon ended in 2004, when the Red Sox came back from a 0–3 best-of-seven deficit to beat the Yankees in the 2004 American League Championship Series and then went on to sweep the St. Louis Cardinals to win the 2004 World Series. The curse had been such a part of Boston culture that when a "reverse curve" road sign on Longfellow Bridge over the city's busy Storrow Drive was graffited to read "Reverse The Curse", officials left it in place until after the Red Sox won the 2004 Series. After the Red Sox won the last game of the World Series that year, the road sign was edited to read "Curse Reversed" in celebration.
Although it had long been noted that the selling of Ruth had been the beginning of a decline in the Red Sox' fortunes, the concept of a "curse" was popularized by Dan Shaughnessy of The Boston Globe in his 1990 book, The Curse of the Bambino, and became a key part of the Red Sox lore in the media thereafter. Shaughnessy's book became required reading in some high school English classes in New England.
The term "curse of the Bambino" was not in common use by the press during the 1920s, nor can it be found through the 1970s, as a search of historical newspapers will illustrate.
Although the title drought dated 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 said to be No, No, Nanette. In fact, Frazee backed many productions before and after Ruth's sale, and No, No, Nanette did not see its first performance until five years after the Ruth sale and two years after Frazee sold the Red Sox. In 1921, Red Sox manager Ed Barrow left to take over as general manager of the Yankees. Other Red Sox players were later sold or traded to the Yankees as well.
Neither the lore, nor the debunking of it, entirely tells the story. As Leigh Montville wrote in The Big Bam: The Life and Times of Babe Ruth, No, No, Nanette had originated as a non-musical stage play called My Lady Friends, which opened on Broadway in December 1919. That play had, indeed, been financed as a direct result of the Ruth deal. Various researchers, including Montville and Shaughnessy, have pointed out that Frazee had close ties to the Yankees owners, and that many of the player deals, as well as the mortgage deal for Fenway Park itself, had to do with financing his plays.
Yankee fans taunted the Red Sox with chants of "1918!" one weekend in September 1990. The demeaning chant echoed at Yankee Stadium each time the Red Sox were there. Yankee fans also taunted the Red Sox with signs saying "1918!", "CURSE OF THE BAMBINO," pictures of Babe Ruth, and wearing "1918!" T-shirts each time they were at the Stadium.
Before Ruth left Boston, the Red Sox had won five of the first fifteen World Series, with Ruth pitching for the 1916 and 1918 championship teams (he was with the Sox for the 1915 World Series but the manager used him only once, as a pinch-hitter, and he did not pitch). The Yankees had not played in any World Series up to that time. In the 84 years after the sale, the Yankees played in 39 World Series, winning 26 of them, twice as many as any other team in Major League Baseball. Meanwhile, over the same time span, the Red Sox played in only four World Series and lost each in seven games.
Even losses that occurred many years before the first mention of the supposed curse, in 1986, have been attributed to it. Some of these instances are listed below:
- In 1946, the Red Sox appeared in their first World Series since the sale of Babe Ruth and were favored to beat the St. Louis Cardinals. The series went to a seventh game at Sportsman's Park in St. Louis. In the bottom of the eighth inning, with the score tied at 3–3, the Cardinals had Enos Slaughter on first base and Harry Walker at the plate. On a hit and run, Walker hit a double to very short left-center field. Slaughter ran through the third base coach's stop sign and beat Boston shortstop Johnny Pesky's relay throw to home plate. Some say Pesky hesitated on the throw, allowing Slaughter to score, but Pesky has always denied this charge. Film footage is inconclusive, except that it shows Pesky in bright sunlight and Slaughter in shadow. Boston star Ted Williams, playing with an injury, was largely ineffective at bat in his only World Series.
- In 1948, the Red Sox finished the regular season tied for first place, only to lose the pennant to the Cleveland Indians in the major leagues' first-ever one-game playoff.
- 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, who would go on to win a record five consecutive World Series from 1949 to 1953.
- In 1967, the Red Sox surprisingly reversed the awful results of the 1966 season by winning the American League pennant on the last weekend of the season. In the World Series, they once again faced the Cardinals, and just as in 1946, the Series went to a seventh game. St. Louis won the deciding contest, 7–2, behind their best pitcher Bob Gibson; Gibson defeated Boston ace Jim Lonborg, who was pitching on short rest and was ineffective. Gibson even hit a home run against Lonborg in the game.
- In 1972, the Red Sox lost the division title to the Detroit Tigers by a half-game. The season began with a 13-day strike that resulted in some teams playing up to nine fewer games that season. Additionally, the Red Sox lost a game when it was rained out and the decision was made not to replay it. In the second-to-last game of the season, they lost to the Tigers, 4–1, after a potential run was lost when Luis Aparicio slipped rounding third.
- In 1975, the Red Sox won the pennant and met the dynastic Cincinnati Reds in the World Series. The Red Sox won Game 6 on a famous walk-off home run by catcher Carlton Fisk, setting the stage for the deciding Game 7. Boston took a quick 3–0 lead, but the Reds tied the game. In the top of the ninth, the Reds brought in the go-ahead run on a Joe Morgan single that scored Ken Griffey, Sr., winning what is regarded as one of the greatest World Series ever played.
- In 1978, the Red Sox held a 14-game lead in the American League East over the Yankees on July 18. However, the Yankees subsequently caught fire, eventually tying Boston atop the standings on September 10 after sweeping a four-game series at Fenway Park, an event known to Red Sox fans as the "Boston Massacre." Six days later, the Yankees held a 3 1⁄2 game lead over the Red Sox, but the Sox won 12 of their next 14 games to overcome that deficit and force a one-game playoff on October 2 at Fenway Park. The memorable moment of the game came when light-hitting Yankee shortstop Bucky Dent cracked a three-run home run in the seventh inning that hit the top of the left field wall (the Green Monster) and skipped out of the park, giving New York a 3–2 lead. (From this point forward, Red Sox fans would forever refer to Dent as "Bucky Bleeping Dent".) The Yankees held on to win the playoff game, 5–4, eventually winning the World Series.
- In Game 6 of the 1986 World Series, Boston (leading the series three games to two) took a 5–3 lead in the top of the 10th inning. In the bottom half of the frame, Red Sox reliever Calvin Schiraldi retired the first two batters, putting the team within one out (and shortly later, within one strike) of winning the World Series. However, the New York Mets scored three unanswered runs, tying the game on a wild pitch from Bob Stanley and winning it when Boston first baseman Bill Buckner allowed a ground ball hit by the Mets' Mookie Wilson to roll through his legs, scoring Ray Knight from second base. In the seventh game, the Red Sox took an early 3–0 lead, only to lose, 8–5. The collapses in the last two games prompted Vecsey's articles.
- In 1988 and 1990, the Red Sox advanced to the American League Championship Series, only to suffer four-game sweeps both times at the hands of the Oakland Athletics. They were also swept by the Cleveland Indians in the 1995 AL Division Series in three games (extending their postseason losing streak to a major-league record 13 games), lost again to the Indians in the 1998 ALDS three games to one, and were defeated by the Yankees four games to one in the 1999 ALCS.
- In 2003, the Red Sox were playing the Yankees in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series. Boston held a 5–2 lead in the eighth inning, and manager Grady Little opted to stay with starting pitcher Pedro Martínez rather than go to the bullpen. New York rallied against the tired Martínez, scoring three runs on a single and three doubles to tie the game. In the bottom of the 11th inning, Aaron Boone launched a solo home run against knuckleballing Boston starter Tim Wakefield (pitching in relief) to win the game and the pennant for the Yankees.
Attempts to break the curse
Red Sox fans attempted various methods over the years to exorcise their famous curse. These included placing a Boston cap atop Mt. Everest and burning a Yankees cap at its base camp; hiring professional exorcists and Father Guido Sarducci to "purify" Fenway Park; spray painting a "Reverse Curve" street sign on Storrow Drive to change it to say "Reverse the Curse" (the sign wasn't replaced until just after the 2004 World Series win); and finding a piano owned by Ruth that he had supposedly pushed into a pond near his Sudbury, Massachusetts farm, Home Plate Farm.
In Ken Burns' 1994 documentary Baseball, former Red Sox pitcher Bill Lee suggested that the Red Sox should exhume the body of Babe Ruth, transport it back to Fenway and publicly apologize for trading Ruth to the Yankees.
Some declared the curse broken during a game on August 31, 2004, when a foul ball hit by Manny Ramírez flew into Section 9, Box 95, Row AA and struck a boy's face, knocking two of his teeth out. Sixteen-year-old Lee Gavin, a Boston fan whose favorite player was Ramirez, lived on the Sudbury farm 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.
Some fans also cite a comedy curse-breaking ceremony performed by musician Jimmy Buffett and his warm-up team (one dressed as Ruth and one dressed as a witch doctor) at a Fenway concert in September 2004. Just after being traded to the Red Sox, Curt Schilling appeared in an advertisement for the Ford F-150 pickup truck hitchhiking with a sign indicating he was going to Boston. When picked up, he said that he had "an 86-year-old curse" to break.
The beginning of the end
In 2004, the Red Sox once again met the Yankees in the American League Championship Series. The Red Sox lost the first three games, including losing Game 3 at Fenway by the lopsided score of 19–8.
The Red Sox trailed, 4–3, in the bottom of the 9th inning of Game 4. But the team tied the game with a walk by Kevin Millar and a stolen base by pinch-runner Dave Roberts, followed by an RBI single against Yankee closer Mariano Rivera by third baseman Bill Mueller, and won on a two-run home run in the 12th inning by David Ortiz. The Red Sox won the next three games to become the first Major League baseball team to win a seven-game postseason series after being down three games to none.
The Red Sox then faced the St. Louis Cardinals, the team to whom they had lost in 1946 and 1967, and led throughout the series, winning in a four-game sweep. Cardinals shortstop Edgar Rentería hit the final out of the game.
Glenn Stout argues that the idea of a "curse" was rooted originally in antisemitism. Because Harry Frazee was from New York and involved in theatre, it was assumed he was a Jew (he actually was a Presbyterian). Then–American League president Ban Johnson disliked Frazee for this reason, saying he was "too New York" and making reference to the "mystery" of his religion—polite code that would have been well understood in the 1920s. Though Frazee was well respected in Boston, Henry Ford's Dearborn Independent ran a series of articles purporting to expose how Jews were "destroying America", and among these were articles lambasting Frazee, saying that with his purchase of the Red Sox "another club was placed under the smothering influences of the 'chosen race.'" These articles turned the tide of both baseball owners and public opinion against Frazee, and Fred Lieb's vilification of Frazee in his biography of the Red Sox portrayed him implicitly as a Jew.
The Curse in popular culture
- The 2004 Red Sox season was the subject of several non-fiction books, including Faithful: Boston Red Sox Fans Chronicle the Historic 2004 Season, whose authors Stewart O'Nan and Stephen King decided to write the book before the season began, and Reversing the Curse by Dan Shaughnessy of The Boston Globe.
- In the fall of 2003, HBO produced a documentary called The Curse of the Bambino, featuring commentary from native Boston celebrities such as Denis Leary, narrated by Ben Affleck. After the 2004 World Series, the ending of the documentary was re-filmed with a number of the same celebrities and it was retitled Reverse of the Curse of the Bambino.
- The British memoir Fever Pitch, about author Nick Hornby's obsession with the Arsenal FC English soccer team, was adapted into an American film of the same name by the Farrelly brothers. The American adaptation was about an obsessive Red Sox fan. It was made during the 2004 World Series, which forced the filmmakers to rework the story; the Red Sox were not originally supposed to make it to the World Series.
- In the movie 50 First Dates, Adam Sandler's character Henry Roth reminds his girlfriend about what happened in 2003 including a screen capture showing the Red Sox winning the World Series, until the next clip shows the title 'just kidding'.
- On the television show Lost, Jack and his father Christian often use the phrase "That's why the Sox will never win the damn series" to describe fate. In season 3, Ben shows the end of the 2004 game to try to convince Jack that the Others have contact with the outside world.
- An episode of the children's TV series Arthur titled "The Curse of the Grebes" has Elwood City's baseball team losing two of its games in the world championship series due to events based directly on Bucky Dent's homer and Bill Buckner's error. The episode states that the team hadn't won a championship in 87 years and that their opponents, the Crown City Kings, had won 25 since then. Johnny Damon, Edgar Renteria, and Mike Timlin all voice caricatures of themselves. The Kings resembled the Yankees while the Grebes resemble the Red Sox.
- In the movie Moneyball, Brad Pitt's character Billy Beane talks to the Boston Red Sox' owner about a job as GM after taking the Oakland A's to a 20-game winning streak. When the Red Sox' owner asks Billy Beane why he returned his call, he says because he wants to help them end the Curse of the Bambino.
- The Ben Harper song "Get It Like You Like It" includes the lines "But Johnny Damon swung his bat. Grand Slam. That was that. An 86-year curse is gone."
- Phil Coley's album Sports Songs and Beyond, artist Phil Coley sang a song, "The Curse of the Bambino Is Back!"
- At WrestleMania XIV in 1998, guest ring announcer Pete Rose taunted the Boston crowd about the curse (Rose was on the Cincinnati Reds team that beat Boston in the 1975 World Series).
- After New York's defeat, the Curse was poked fun at during the "Weekend Update" segment of Saturday Night Live, when the ghost of Babe Ruth explains that he left during Game Four with the ghosts of Mickey Mantle and Rodney Dangerfield to go drinking.
- In Team Fortress 2, there is an achievement for the Scout class, a Boston native baseball fanatic, called "A Year to Remember". Obtaining this achievement is to kill 2004 players, referencing the year the curse was broken.
- Curse of the Billy Goat - A similar superstition surrounding the Chicago Cubs
- Sports-related curses
- Yankees–Red Sox rivalry
- Inline citations
- Shaughnessy 2005, pp. 8–10
- Shaughnessy 1990, pp. 31–32
- Shaughnessy 1990, p. 21
- Shaughnessy 2005, p. 21
- Shaughnessy 2005, p. 3
- Shaughnessy 2005, p. 231
- Shaughnessy 2005, pp. 7–8
- Kernan, Kevin (October 28, 2004). "Ding-Dong, Curse is Dead". New York Post. p. 86.
- Shaughnessy 1990, p. 1
- Shaughnessy 2005, p. 11
- Shaughnessy 2005, p. 23
- Montville, Leigh (2006). The Big Bam: The Life and Times of Babe Ruth. Random House. pp. 161–164.
- Shaughnessy 1990, p. 33
- Maske, Mark (September 25, 1990). "Pennant Chases in East Still Flying High, West All but Flagged". The Washington Post. p. E3.
Yankees fans had taunted the Red Sox all weekend with chants of "1918, 1918!"—the last time Boston won the World Series—and the Red Sox are not allowed by long-suffering New Englanders to forget the pain they have wrought with years of excruciating near misses.
- Shaughnessy 2005, p. 26
- Frommer & Frommer 2004, pp. 18, 78
- Shaughnessy 1990, pp. 63–64
- Shaughnessy 1990, pp. 66–68
- Drebinger, John (October 3, 1948). "Bombers Bow, 5-1; Red Sox End Yanks' Flag Chances When Kramer Pitches a 5-Hitter". The New York Times. p. S1.
- Shaughnessy 1990, p. 79
- Drebinger, John (October 5, 1948). "Indians Win American League Flag, Beating Red Sox in Play-Off, 8-3". The New York Times. p. 1.
- Frommer & Frommer 2004, p. 319
- Vaccaro 2005, pp. 322–325
- Shaughnessy 1990, pp. 98–99
- Shaughnessy 1990, p. 102
- Shaughnessy 1990, p. 109
- Shaughnessy 1990, p. 106
- Shaughnessy 1990, p. 107
- Shaughnessy 2005, p. 7
- Shaughnessy 1990, p. 138
- Shaughnessy 1990, p. 175
- Shaughnessy 2005, p. 8
- Vecsey, George (October 26, 1986). "Sports of the Times: The World Series '86; Red Sox: 68 Years and Counting". The New York Times. p. A3.
- Vecsey, George (October 28, 1986). "SPORTS OF THE TIMES; Babe Ruth Curse Strikes Again". The New York Times. p. D33.
- Frommer & Frommer 2004, pp. 180–182
- Shaughnessy, Dan (October 17, 2003). "Heartbreak again Yankees beat Red Sox, 6-5, on 11th-inning homer to capture AL pennant". Boston Globe. p. A1.
- McGrory, Brian (September 2, 2004). "Taking teeth out of curse?". Boston Globe.
- Shaughnessy 2005, p. 159
- Popper, Steve (September 1, 2004). "Slide of the Yankees: Pinstripes Punished". The New York Times. p. D1.
- Blum, Ronald (September 1, 2004). "Indians 22, Yankees 0". Yahoo! Sports. Associated Press.
- Shaughnessy 2005, p. 193
- Shaughnessy, Dan (October 17, 2004). "Red Sox on brink of elimination as Yanks pound them, 19–8". Boston Globe. p. A1.
- Shaughnessy 2005, pp. 197–199
- Shaughnessy, Dan (October 21, 2004). "A World Series ticket; Sox complete comeback, oust Yankees for AL title". Boston Globe. p. A1.
- Shaughnessy, Dan (October 28, 2004). "YES!!! Red Sox complete sweep, win first Series since 1918". Boston Globe. p. A1.
- Stout, Glenn (October 3, 2004). "Curse Born of Hate". ESPN.
- Frommer, Harvey; Frommer, Frederic J. (2004). Red Sox vs. Yankees: The Great Rivalry. Sports Publishing, LLC. ISBN 1-58261-767-8.
- Shaughnessy, Dan (1990). The Curse of the Bambino. New York: Dutton. ISBN 0-525-24887-0.
- Shaughnessy, Dan (2005). Reversing the Curse. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company. ISBN 0-618-51748-0.
- Vaccaro, Mike (2005). Emperors and idiots: The hundred year rivalry between the Yankees and Red Sox, from the very beginning to the end of the curse. New York: Doubleday. ISBN 0-385-51354-2.
- ESPN account of Ruth's sale to the Yankees.
- A "Curse" Born of Hate, a skeptical history of the curse lore, written by Glenn Stout during the 2004 playoffs.
- Boston Globe article "Taking teeth out of curse?"
- Audio of 1978 Bucky Dent homer
- Cartoon regarding 2004 Yankee loss to the Red Sox
- Cartoon regarding 1978 Bucky Dent homer
- The Curse of the Bambino: an HBO documentary (2003)
- The Curse of the Bambino: A musical by Steven Bergman and David Kruh (2001)
- Red Sox Were Cursed by Stupid, Racist Management, Not Babe Ruth by Ken Braiterman (January 15, 2012)