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This misfortune began after the Red Sox sold star player Babe Ruth (sometimes nicknamed "The Bambino") for $125,000 to the New York Yankees after the 1919 season. Before that point, the Red Sox had been one of the most successful professional baseball franchises, winning the first World Series and amassing five of the first fifteen World Series titles. After the sale, they went without a title for nearly a century, as the previously lackluster Yankees became one of the most successful professional sports franchises in North America. The curse became a focal point of the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry over the years.
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," officials left it in place until the Red Sox won the 2004 World Series. After the World Series that year, the road sign was edited to read "Reversed Curse" 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 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 Red Sox lore in the media thereafter, and Shaughnessy's book became required reading in some high school English classes in New England.
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 Broadwaymusical, 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 also later sold or traded to the Yankees.
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. 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.
Reportedly 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.
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 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 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 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. 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. Red Sox reliever Calvin Schiraldi retired the first two batters, putting the team within one out (and shortly within one strike) of winning the World Series. However, the New York Mets scored three 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 The New York Times columnist George Vecsey to write articles describing the Red Sox as cursed.
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.
Red Sox fans attempted various methods over the years to exorcise their famous curse. These included placing a Boston cap atop Mount Everest and burning a Yankees cap at its base camp 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. 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.
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 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 Édgar Rentería, who wore the same number as Ruth (3), made the final out of the series, a ground ball back to the pitcher.
Glenn Stout argues that the idea of a curse was indirectly influenced by antisemitism, although that aspect was not part of its modern usage; he even says "This does not mean that ... anyone who writes or speaks of the Curse today--as a journalist or a fan--is either anti-Semitic or even remotely aware of the anti-Semitic roots of the Curse." Because Frazee was from New York and involved in theatre, it was assumed he was Jewish (he was actually a Presbyterian). 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 history of the Red Sox portrayed him implicitly as a Jew. Stout argues that this hatred indirectly created the atmosphere where the "curse" could be accepted.
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, narrated by Liev Schreiber.
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'. The movie was released in February 2004 and, by coincidence, the Red Sox eventually won the World Series later that year.
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 had not 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."
James Taylor "Angels of Fenway" (Album - Before This World) released June 15, 2015. Taylor sings "86 summers gone by. Bambino put a hex on the Bean. We were living on a tear and a sigh. In the shadow of the Bronx machine..."
In the Fallout universe, one of the events in the Timeline Divergence is that the curse was never broken and the Boston Red Sox never won the World Series, even up to 2077. Newspaper articles in Fallout 4 show that the Red Sox were up 3-0 against Texas in 2077; Game 4 was scheduled for the day the nuclear bombs would fall.
In the first person shooter Team Fortress 2, there is an achievement called "A Year To Remember", in which the player has to make 2004 kills with the Scout (that is born in Boston, and uses a baseball bat as a weapon), referencing the end of the "curse".
^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.