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The curse of the Bambino was a jinx that was associated with the Boston Red Sox’s futility in more than eight decades that followed the sale of Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees. The Curse of the Bambino is used by some people to explain the failure of the Boston Red Sox to win the World Series Between 1918 and 2004.
How did the Curse of the Bambino Begin?
George Herman Ruth, nicknamed the Babe or the Bambino, is widely considered the best player ever to p-lay baseball and he began his major league career with the Red Sox in 1914. During Ruth’s 8 years with the Red Sox, they were one of the most successful franchises in professional baseball, collecting four World Series titles. In the offseason the 1919-1920 season, the Red Sox traded Ruth to the New York Yankees, triggering the jinx that would see them go a total of 86 years without winning the World Series. The concept of the Red Sox’s misfortunes being a curse did not begin until the 1980s, although it was already widely accepted that the team’s decline began after the Bambino’s sale.
The concept gained more traction following the publication of the book, The Curse of the Bambino in 1990 by Dan Shaughnessy. In some versions of the Bambino Curse legend, Red Sox owner Harry Frazee used the proceeds from Ruth’s sale to facilitate the production of a Broadway play written by his girlfriend. Others speculate that Frazee was in financial trouble with previous Red Sox owner Joe Lannin and needed to sell Ruth’s contract in order to raise the money. There are also others who believe that Frazee found Ruth difficult to manage. Either way, it is not known with exact certainty what necessitated the sale of Babe.
Consequences of the Curse of the Bambino
When the Red Sox sold Ruth to the Yankees in 1920, they had won five of the first fifteen World Series making them the most successful baseball team at the time. The team had to wait until 2004 for their next World Series win. Between 1920 and 2004, they appeared in four World Series (1946, 1967, 1975 and 1986) but lost all of them in game 7. Meanwhile, the Yankees had not played in a single World Series by 1918. However, in the 84 years that followed the acquisition of the Bambino, the Yankees appeared in the World Series 39 times, winning 26 of those. Today, they are the most successful professional sports team in the US.
Although the Red Sox won five pennants between 1920 and 2003, there were some instances where they were very close but fell short at the last hurdle. In 1949 for example the Red Sox need to win one of their final two games of the regular season to clinch the American League pennant. Both of those games were against the New York Yankees. In the first one, they blew a 4-0 lead to lose 5-4 and then lost the second 5-3.
In 1972, needing two wins against Detroit in the final two games to win the AL East, Boston’s Luis Aparicio tripped when coming around the third and lost his balance. He was unable to score the tying run which left the Red Sox just half a game shy of the Division title. Similar or related incidences kept them from winning the AL pennant in 1948, 1951, 1978, 1991 and 2003.
Since the Curse of the Bambino was first mentioned in the 1980s, believers in the phenomenon have catalogued a number of events that reinforced the concept. In ten of the twelve seasons that followed his sale, Babe alone out-homered the entire Boston team. His first homerun as a Yankee came in a 6-0 victory over Red Sox themselves in May 1920. For the next 13 seasons after Babe’s sale, the Red Sox had a losing record and were last in the American League in 9 of those seasons. In 2001, Boston pitcher Pedro Martinez joked to reporters that he would wake up Babe and “drill him in the a**.” At that point, Martinez had a 7-1 record and a 1.44 ERA but after the statement he suffered a rotator-cuff injury that kept him out for the rest of the season.
In 2004, Manny Ramirez hit a foul ball that flew into the stands, knocking out the teeth of a boy who lived in the Sudbury farm house that was once owned by Ruth. Some fans believe that the accident broke the curse, with the Red Sox lifting the World Series that season.
On the same day, the Yankees lost 22-0 to the Cleveland Indians, their worst loss in franchise history. For many neutrals the fierce rivalry between the Yankees and the Red Sox, which intensified after the conception of the Curse of the Bambino has been a welcome bonus. For Boston fans, the curse was a source of agony and Yankees fans never lost the opportunity to drill it in, with taunts of “1918!” and “Curse of the Bambino” ringing out during Yankees-Red Sox games.