The Curse of the Bambino
The Curse of the Bambino is one of the more legendary myths in all of sports and possibly all of American culture. It ignited a spark of fun in the minds of many baseball fans for nearly 20 years. A few people were even sure that the Curse was not a myth, as much as an absolute truth. Read all about the Curse below and, when you’re done, be sure to browse through Section 09 Voices to listen to comments by sportswriters and others on their thoughts about the Curse.
- The Background
- Origins of “The Curse”
- Events Supporting a Curse
- The Curse on the Pennant Race
- The Curse on the World Series
- Fan Response to the Curse
In 1914, Jack Dunn brought Babe Ruth to the Baltimore Orioles (at that time a minor league team). Later in the 1914 season, Babe’s contract was sold to the Boston Red Sox, who brought Babe on as pitcher. During the next three years, Babe went on to be the most successful left-handed pitcher, winning 65 games in that period. While Babe was with the Red Sox (1914-1919), they won three World Series titles and Babe was a key player in winning those championships.
In 1919, Babe started to become more of a hitter, although he still pitched 133 innings and 12 complete games and won 9 games. That season, he hit 29 homeruns — more than any other hitter had hit in one season in the Major Leagues at that time. There was no doubt of Babe’s value to the team.
However, in 1920, the Red Sox owner, Harry Frazee, decided to sell Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees for $100,000 in cash and a $300,000 loan. While there are many reasons cited for his action, one of the most common beliefs was that Frazee sold Ruth in order to fund the play called, “No No Nanette.” In fact, Frazee had been producing successful Broadway shows prior to this time and continued to do so after selling Babe’s contract. “No, No, Nanette” was actually produced several years after the contract sale and went on to make a substantial amount for Frazee.
Still another speculation is that Frazee was actually in a financial bind with the previous Red Sox owner Joe Lannin, who, in 1919, had called in the debts owed to him by Frazee. In this version of the story, Frazee was desperate to generate cash quickly and, thus, decided that he needed to sell Babe Ruth’s contract.
And, still one more theory may suggest it had to do with the team’s performance overall. In 1918, Babe was the star pitcher for the Red Sox and was a main factor in their winning the World Series that year. In the 1919 season, Babe’s hitting slumped early on and, for this and other reasons, the team fell out of the pennant chase. By the end of the season, however, Babe had hit a single season record of twenty-nine homeruns. Yet, by that time, Frazee had already decided to sell Babe to the Yankees. And, this was just one of many sales to be made.
So, why the sale? Some say it was because Frazee found Babe to be difficult to handle. Others say it was his indebtedness. Still, others say it was his funding needs for his Broadway productions. It seems no one knows with 100% degree of certainty. What is certain is that the Red Sox struggled for years to come. Although likely due to a wide range of factors – from poor management, to the Green Monster and the team’s penchant for right-handed hitters, to their sub-par road play and more. It is the sale of the Bambino that captured the public’s imagination and attention. And, the timing of that sale only seemed to reinforce the theory of the Curse.
At the point when Babe Ruth was sold in 1920, the Boston Red Sox had won five World Series titles, more than any other major league team. Up to that point, the Yankees had never won one. However, since Babe Ruth arrived with the Yankees in 1920, this fabled franchise has been to the World Series 37 times and has won a staggering 26 times, including four titles with the Babe. The Red Sox, however, have had a far different outcome.
After selling Babe Ruth to the Yankees, the Red Sox did not win another Championship for 86 years (until 2004). It was a period full of heartbreaks for everyone affiliated with the Red Sox – from the players to the ever-faithful fans. The causes were many — bad management decisions, unfortunate errors and an almost-ironic amount of incredible bad-luck.
By the 1980’s, when the World Series title drought had lasted for nearly 70 years, sports journalists introduced the concept of the curse, as a way to somehow describe the luck of the Red Sox during this long period of time. The initial concept of the curse is generally credited to George Vecsey of the New York Times. As Game 6 of the 1986 World Series progressed, the Red Sox fortunes turned, when a ball went through Bill Buckner’s legs, eventually with a loss to force Game 7 with the New York Mets.
During this sixth game, many columnists had been writing of the Sox winning the Series. As the tides turned late in the game, they unexpectedly had to scramble to change their stories. Vecsey, who had been writing along the theme of the Sox finally being redeemed from their long draught, quickly changed the story to that of a jinxed team. He never used the word curse in that article. Then, after the Game 7 loss to the Mets, Vecsey, in a column titled “Babe Ruth Curse Strikes Again” wrote: “All the ghosts and demons and curses of the past 68 years continued to haunt the Boston Red Sox last night.” And, thus, the seeds of the curse were planted.
While Red Sox fans’ thoughts of a curse fermented over the next few years, all the superstitious stars aligned in 1990 when Dan Shaughnessy of the Boston Globe published “The Curse of the Bambino”. From this book title, a cultural catch phrase was instantly born.
And, since that time, many commentaries have been issued about the Curse. Some perspectives degraded it and denied it, as if such a truth could possibly exist. Others amplified the volume, with the superstition and legend of the Curse growing larger. There has even been a documentary and a play, all centered on the same premise. Of course, Dan Shaughnessy himself admits that the Curse died on the night of October 27, 2004, when the Boston Red Sox swept the St. Louis Cardinals in four games and won their first World Series championship in 86 years.
From the first mention of a possible curse in the 1980’s to the adoption of the title “The Curse of the Bambino” in the 1990’s right up to the 2004 World Series, reporters, commentators and fans focused on all the events that made it seem, truly at times, that the Red Sox were a cursed team. And, it all seemed to start with Babe’s move to the Yankees and continued into the 21st Century.
- After the Red Sox sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees, Babe single-handedly out-homered the entire Boston team in ten of the next twelve seasons. Babe’s first homerun as a Yankee was on May 1, 1920 in a 6-0 victory against none other than the Red Sox.
- For the next thirteen seasons after Babe was sold to the Yankees, the Red Sox had a losing record. For nine of those seasons, they were in last place in the American League.
- In 2001, when questioned about the curse, Boston pitching ace Pedro Martinez responded, “Wake up the Bambino and let me face him — I’ll drill him in the %#$.” Pedro had a 7-1 record and a 1.44 ERA before he made his statement. After his comment, however, Pedro suffered a rotator-cuff injury, leaving him winless through seven more starts before he had to end his season.
Between 1919 and 2003, the pennant races and championship chase only seemed to reinforce the curse theory time and time again.
There were years when the Red Sox were very close to winning the American League pennant, but ultimately fell short:
- 1948: The Red Sox played the Cleveland Indians in a one-game playoff for the AL East Division. On a hunch, Red Sox manager Joe McCarthy chose to start pitcher Denny Galehouse instead of their ace Mel Parnell. The Red Sox lost the playoff game 8-3.
- 1949: The Red Sox needed to win just one of their two final games of the regular season (both of which were against the Yankees), in order to win the AL pennant. In the first of these games, the Red Sox blew a 4-0 lead, losing 5-4. They ended up losing the second game 5-3.
- 1951: At the beginning of the season, Boston had been favored to win the AL. In September, the Red Sox were within four games of the first-place Yankees. The Red Sox lost their final nine games of the season, including the remaining six games they played against New York.
- 1972: With two games remaining in the season, the Red Sox needed to win both against Detroit in order finish first in the AL East. Boston’s Luis Aparicio (now a Hall of Famer) tripped coming around third, lost his balance, and ultimately was tagged out instead of scoring the tying run. The Red Sox ended up losing their Division by half a game that year.
- 1978: On July 19th, the Red Sox led the league with fourteen games over the fourth place Yankees. By the end of the season, the Red Sox barely hung-on in order to have a one-game tiebreaker against New York to determine the winner of the AL East. The Sox were up 2-0 in the 7th inning, when poor-hitting Yankee short stop Bucky Dent — who only hit 40 homeruns in his entire 12-year career — hit a three-run homerun off of Mike Torrez. New York went on to win the playoff game 5-4.
- 1991: At the end of September, the Red Sox were within a half game of leading the AL East. In the next 14 games, they lost 11, putting them 7 games behind Toronto.
- 2003: A situation similar to the 1978 playoff occurred. It was Game 7 of the AL Championship Series. Boston had a 5-2 lead with two innings remaining. In the 8th inning, the Yankees got two doubles and a single to tie up the game, sending it to extra innings. Then in the 11th inning, Yankee Aaron Boone (who was not considered to be a very strong hitter), managed to hit a lead-off homerun, which was enough for New York to win the game and go on to the World Series.
In the timeframe from Babe leaving the team to the Red Sox’s World Series win in 2004, the team had successfully reached the World Series in four seasons. Each time, the Sox were on the verge of victory. Each time, they lost the series in Game 7:
- 1946: Boston was a two-to-one favorite to win the 1946 World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals. In Game 7, Cardinal Enos “Country” Slaughter managed to score the winning run from first on a single, because Red Sox shortstop Johnny Pesky didn’t throw the ball fast enough to home plate. The series became known as the one where “Pesky held the ball.”
- 1967: In Game 7, again against the Cardinals, Red Sox Manager Dick Williams decided to go with their current pitching ace, Jim Lonborg, who had been on two days rest. Lonborg had a tough day, including a wild pitch that allowed Curt Flood to score. He also allowed a homerun to the opposing pitcher, Bob Gibson. The Cardinals ended up winning 7-2. To make matters worse, in the 1967 offseason, Jim Lonborg, who had gone 22-9 for Boston and had won the Cy Young Award that year, injured ligaments in his knee while skiing. Ultimately, Lonborg needed surgery. Although he came back halfway through the next season, he never reached that same level of play again. Over the next 4 years that he remained with the Red Sox, he had a total of 27 wins vs. 29 losses.
- 1975: Game 6 of this series, between the Red Sox and Cincinnati Reds, is considered one of the best games ever played. In the 8th inning, Boston’s Bernie Carbo made a game-tying three-run homer, which ended up forcing the game into extra innings. In the 10th inning, Boston’s Dwight Evans made an almost impossible catch to keep the game tied. Finally, in the 12th inning Carlton Fisk hit a homerun that bounced off the left-field foul pole, winning the game for the Red Sox. After the high of such an amazing win, the Reds ultimately won the series off a homerun hit by Cincinnati’s Tony Perez in a 4-3 win. As a side note, Boston had a better team ERA, a better team batting average and scored more runs in total than Cincinnati during the 1975 World Series.
- 1986: In Game 6 against the New York Mets, the Red Sox were one out away from winning the World Series – four times. The Mets managed to tie up the game and win on one of the most famous and tragic fielding errors in Baseball history. Boston first baseman, Bill Buckner, missed a slow moving ground ball that went under his glove and through his legs towards the outfield. That error allowed Ray Knight to score the winning run. Forced to a Game 7, the Red Sox had a 3-0 lead going into the sixth inning of the game, but gave up eight runs in the final three innings to lose the game, 8-3, and the Series as well.
Just as interesting as some of the event allegedly supporting the Curse and somewhat even more fun is how some Red Sox fans have responded to the curse over the years:
- Storrow Drive (a major thoroughfare in Boston) has an outbound sign stating “Reverse Curve”. For several years, it had a graffiti message painted overtop to transform it to “Reverse the Curse”. The sign has been cleaned up on multiple occasions, but, soon thereafter, the message always reappeared.
- Professional witches have been hired to try and remove the hex at Fenway Park.
- In 1999, the Red Sox brought in Julia Ruth Stevens, daughter of Babe Ruth, to throw out the first pitch of Game 4 of the American League Championship, in an attempt to reverse the curse. (Note the team’s own adoption of the Curse in its marketing efforts.)
- In 2001, based on the advice of a Tibetan Buddhist monk, a Red Sox fan placed a Red Sox cap at the summit of Mt. Everest and burned a Yankees cap at base camp.
- In 2001, playwright David Kruh and composer Stephen Bergman turned “The Curse of the Bambino” into a musical in 2001. In the show, Ruth haunts Harry Frazee in his dreams and chants, “With me goes the gaiter that held up your Sox and will leave wrinkles that you’ll never, ever steam.”
- In 2002, Red Sox fans visited a pond in Sudbury, MA, where the Babe had owned a winter farm house, and searched for a sunken piano once belonging to the Babe which he had supposedly pushed into the water. Some believed that if the piano was recovered and restored to its original condition, the curse would be broken.
- In July 2004, a foul ball hit by Manny Ramirez flew into stands making contact with a boy’s face and knocking 2 of his teeth out. At the time, the boy lived in the Sudbury farm house that was once owned by Ruth. Fans claimed that that event had broken the curse.
And, there are many more stories, as the Curse captured the imagination of Red Sox fans. Yet, sure enough, on October 27, 2004, the Boston Red Sox won the World Series, defeating the St. Louis Cardinals in four straight games and the Curse was finally “broken” Coincidentally, the final out of the game was made on Cardinals shortstop Edgar Rentería, who wore Babe Ruth’s old uniform number, 3.
At the end of the day, the consensus opinion of most sportswriters is that the Curse of the Bambino was good for baseball, since it ignited the fans’ passion and gave the Red Sox – Yankees rivalry a rallying cry. Several sportswriters, including Dan Shaughnessy, comment on the Curse in Section 09 Voices of BRC. We invite you to browse and listen to their comments.