Curse of the Bambino

Babe Ruth—"The Bambino"—in his earlier days as a pitcher for the Red Sox
External images
Picture of the graffitied "reverse curve" road sign"
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.[1] 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.[2] 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.[3] After the sale they went without a title for decades, even while the Red Sox won four American League championships from 1914 to 1918, as the previously lackluster Yankees became one of the most successful franchises in North American professional sports.[4] 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 (ALCS) and then went on to sweep the St. Louis Cardinals to win the 2004 World Series.[5] 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 graffitied to read "Reverse The Curse",[6] 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.[6]

The lore

Harry Frazee sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees.

Although it had long been noted that the selling of Ruth had been the beginning of a decline in the Red Sox' fortunes, the term "curse of the Bambino" was not in common use until the publication of the book The Curse of the Bambino by Dan Shaughnessy in 1990. It became a key part of the Red Sox lore in the media thereafter, and Shaughnessy's book became required reading in some high school English classes in New England.[7][8]

Although the title drought dated back to 1918, the sale of Ruth to the Yankees was completed January 3, 1920.[9] 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.[10] 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.[11]

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, the production No, No, Nanette had originated as a non-musical stage play called My Lady Friends, which opened on Broadway in December 1919.[12] That play had, indeed, been financed as a direct result of the Ruth deal.[13] 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.[12]

Yankee fans taunted the Red Sox with chants of "1918!" one weekend in September 1990.[14] 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.[15][16]

"Cursed" results

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.[7]

Even losses that occurred many years before the first mention of the supposed curse, in 1986,[7] have been attributed to it. Some of these instances are listed below:

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.[37] 16-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.[38][39][40]

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.[41][42]

The Red Sox trailed, 4–3, in the bottom of the 9th inning of Game 4.[43] 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.[43] 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.[44]

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.[5] Cardinals shortstop Edgar Rentería, who wore the same number as Ruth (3), hit the final out of the game.[5][45]


Glenn Stout argues that the idea of a "curse" was rooted originally in antisemitism.[46] Because Frazee was from New York and involved in theatre, it was assumed he was Jewish (he was actually 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.[46] 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.'"[46] 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.[46]

The Curse in popular culture

Non-fiction works




Video games

See also


Inline citations
  1. Shaughnessy 2005, pp. 8–10
  2. Shaughnessy 1990, pp. 31–32
  3. Shaughnessy 1990, p. 21
  4. Shaughnessy 2005, p. 21
  5. 1 2 3 Shaughnessy 2005, p. 3
  6. 1 2 Shaughnessy 2005, p. 231
  7. 1 2 3 Shaughnessy 2005, pp. 7–8
  8. Kernan, Kevin (October 28, 2004). "Ding-Dong, Curse is Dead". New York Post. p. 86.
  9. Shaughnessy 1990, p. 1
  10. Shaughnessy 2005, p. 11
  11. Shaughnessy 2005, p. 23
  12. 1 2 Montville, Leigh (2006). The Big Bam: The Life and Times of Babe Ruth. Random House. pp. 161–164.
  13. Shaughnessy 1990, p. 33
  14. 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.
  15. Shaughnessy 2005, p. 26
  16. Frommer & Frommer 2004, pp. 18, 78
  17. Shaughnessy 1990, pp. 63–64
  18. Shaughnessy 1990, pp. 66–68
  19. 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.
  20. Shaughnessy 1990, p. 79
  21. Drebinger, John (October 5, 1948). "Indians Win American League Flag, Beating Red Sox in Play-Off, 8-3". The New York Times. p. 1.
  22. Frommer & Frommer 2004, p. 319
  23. Vaccaro 2005, pp. 322–325
  24. Shaughnessy 1990, pp. 98–99
  25. Shaughnessy 1990, p. 102
  26. Shaughnessy 1990, p. 109
  27. Shaughnessy 1990, p. 106
  28. Shaughnessy 1990, p. 107
  29. Shaughnessy 2005, p. 7
  30. Shaughnessy 1990, p. 138
  31. Shaughnessy 1990, p. 175
  32. Shaughnessy 2005, p. 8
  33. 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. Archived from the original on June 23, 2014.
  34. Vecsey, George (October 28, 1986). "SPORTS OF THE TIMES; Babe Ruth Curse Strikes Again". The New York Times. p. D33. Archived from the original on June 23, 2014.
  35. Frommer & Frommer 2004, pp. 180–182
  36. 1 2 3 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.
  37. McGrory, Brian (September 2, 2004). "Taking teeth out of curse?". Boston Globe.
  38. Shaughnessy 2005, p. 159
  39. Popper, Steve (September 1, 2004). "Slide of the Yankees: Pinstripes Punished". The New York Times. p. D1.
  40. Blum, Ronald (September 1, 2004). "Indians 22, Yankees 0". Yahoo! Sports. Associated Press.
  41. Shaughnessy 2005, p. 193
  42. Shaughnessy, Dan (October 17, 2004). "Red Sox on brink of elimination as Yanks pound them, 19–8". Boston Globe. p. A1.
  43. 1 2 Shaughnessy 2005, pp. 197–199
  44. Shaughnessy, Dan (October 21, 2004). "A World Series ticket; Sox complete comeback, oust Yankees for AL title". Boston Globe. p. A1.
  45. Shaughnessy, Dan (October 28, 2004). "YES!!! Red Sox complete sweep, win first Series since 1918". Boston Globe. p. A1.
  46. 1 2 3 4 Stout, Glenn (October 3, 2004). "Curse Born of Hate". ESPN. Archived from the original on January 3, 2005.

External links

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