Hated Hex Or Spin Control?
Author Allan Wood debunks the myth of the curse
that doomed the Red Sox as an excuse for poor management and bad luck.
By Kevin Baxter
October 29, 2004
ST. LOUIS - Now that the Boston Red Sox have gone a full 36 hours without winning a World Series, perhaps it's time to address the Curse of the Bambino, the dreaded spell that has been blamed for their 86-year championship drought.
There never was one.
"At the risk of sounding silly, I think it's just an excuse to sell books," says author Allan Wood, partly in an effort to help sell his book, Babe Ruth and the 1918 Red Sox.
Plus it sounds better than blaming your failure on bad luck, bad players and bad judgment. The Chicago White Sox have gone 87 years without winning a World Series, for example, but they have owned up to their incompetence rather than blaming long-dead ballplayers.
But that's not to say the Babe didn't have something to do with the Red Sox's demise.
Through the first 15 years of World Series play, the Red Sox were the best team in baseball, winning five World Series and four of seven from 1912-18. And with the National League's Boston Braves winning in 1914, The Boston Herald and Journal celebrated the Red Sox's final title by declaring: "Of course, it is possible that some year will yet see a Boston team losing a world's championship."
They had to wait just 12 months for that to happen. The next year, the Red Sox finished sixth in the American League with their first losing record in a decade, leading owner Harry Frazee to sell Ruth to the then-hapless New York Yankees for $125,000 and a $350,000 loan. The rest, of course, is history: Two years later, the Yankees, who never won anything to that point, began a streak that would see them win 39 pennants and 26 World Series while Ruth would become one of the greatest players in history.
The Red Sox, meanwhile, would win nothing until Wednesday. But was a curse really to blame?
"I guess it would be bad luck," Wood says. "That's certainly one of the real explanations as opposed to ghosts.
"Horrible management, poor front office. Lack of intelligence. And then I guess there's just random chance."
THE CURSE BEGINS
But no curse. In fact, there wasn't even talk of a curse until 1986, when New York Times columnist George Vecsey, writing an early edition story celebrating the Red Sox's expected coronation after Game 6 of the World Series, tied the Ruth trade to the divergent fortunes of the Yankees and Red Sox. And when Boston let a two-run, 10th-inning lead getting away, losing the game and eventually the Series after Bill Buckner's error, an urban legend was born.
According to the legend, Frazee, who produced Broadway shows, sold Ruth because he needed the money to stage the musical No, No Nanette. But Nanette didn't debut until 1925, two years after Frazee had sold the Red Sox. The real reason Ruth was traded, Wood says, was because he was "a pain in the ass."
"Ruth was just a big headache," Wood says. "He didn't want to follow anyone's rules. He quit the team in the middle of the '18 season because he didn't want to pitch anymore, he just wanted to play in the outfield. And that was a problem.
"He was in car accidents during the offseason. He had a knee problem. He quit the team again in '19. Every season he held out for more and more money, often like twice as much as he had made the year before, threatening to go back to his farm in Massachusetts and become a boxer or an actor. I think Frazee was just completely fed up with him."
Even the Yankees admitted at the time that taking on the best player in the game and his considerable baggage was more a gamble for New York fans than a curse for the ones in Boston.
And if Ruth had any animosity toward Frazee or Boston, he got over it quickly, visiting with Frazee years later in West Palm Beach while calling Red Sox fans the best he ever played for.
REALLY BAD LUCK
But if there was no curse, then how can you explain the inexplicable? Why did Johnny Pesky hold the ball, allowing the winning run to score in the 1946 World Series? How did the 1978 Yankees come from 14 games back in July to beat the Red Sox in a one-game playoff on a home run by Bucky Dent, who had just five all season? How did the Red Sox, up by two runs and a strike from a World Series title in 1986, lose two straight games and the championship to the New York Mets?
Wood blames bad luck while wondering why no one has invented spells and black magic to explain the misfortunes of the White Sox or the Philadelphia Phillies, an original National League franchise which waited 97 years to win its first title.
"I kind of feel like there's this misconception with the whole romanticism idea. And that is that we like to lose," says Wood, an unrepentant Red Sox fan. "That we like to be miserable and that if they win, we won't know what to do with ourselves. We'll lose our identity.
"That is not true. I'm ready for a new identity. There's no question that rooting for the Red Sox will be different now. It has to be different. But I don't think it will be any less passionate.
"God knows how long the celebration might last."
This story was published in the Miami Herald on October 29, 2004