The Curse of the Bambino

By Ardolino, Frank | Nine, Fall 2004 | Go to article overview

The Curse of the Bambino

Ardolino, Frank, Nine

The Curse of the Bambino offers as plausible the kind of supernatural speculation that most people would reject immediately. However, upon further review of the situation as presented in the video, which is indebted to Dan Shaughnessy's 1990 book with the same title, a suspicion arises that there may be something to the idea that, since 1919, the Red Sox have been cursed because owner Harry Frazee sold Babe Ruth, the team's franchise player, to the New York Yankees for $100,000, the most ever paid for a player up to that time, and a $300,000 loan with Fenway Park as collateral. Frazee, a New York theatrical impresario, bought the Red Sox after the 1916 season, three years after Ruth, a nineteen-year-old, left-handed pitcher, had been acquired from the Minor League Baltimore Orioles. The Red Sox won the World Series in 1915 and 1916 with the help of Ruth, who won 18 and 23 games, respectively, and led the American League in 1916 with a 1.75 ERA. In 1917 he compiled a record of 24-13, with 9 shutouts and an ERA of 2.01, but the Red Sox did not play in the Series. In 1918 Ruth won 13 games and lost 7, and in the Series against the Cubs, who were defeated 4-2, he won 2 games and extended his streak of consecutive shutout innings to 29 2/3, a record that lasted over forty years.

At the same time that he was starring as a pitcher, he was also developing into a fearsome slugger. In 1918, while playing in 59 games in the outfield, 20 as a pitcher, and 13 at first base, he batted .317 and led the majors in homers (11) and slugging average (.555). In 1919 he played 111 games in the outfield, 4 at first base, and 15 as a pitcher (9-5). He hit 29 home runs, the most ever and more than all but five other teams that season, and also led the majors in SA, .657; total bases, 284; RBIs, 112; home run percentage, 6.7; and runs scored, 103. In other words, he had emerged as the franchise player, but Frazee nevertheless sold him and the Sox never won another Series after winning the five they had already appeared in--1903, 1912, 1915, 1916, and 1918.

Frazee attempted to justify the deal by pointing out that the Red Sox had finished in sixth place that year and that Ruth had become a troublemaker in his personal behavior and in his contract disputes. Frazee also claimed that he would use the money to buy more players to rebuild the team: "No other club could afford to give the amount the Yankees have paid for him, and I ... think they are taking a gamble.... The Boston club can now go into the market and buy other players and have a stronger and better team ... [than] if Ruth had remained with us." But Frazee was more interested in financing his theatrical projects than in rebuilding the Red Sox. Not only did he trade Ruth to the Yankees, but from 1919 to 1923 he also traded pitchers Carl Mays, Joe Bush, Herb Pennock, Waite Hoyt, and Sam Jones, catcher Wally Schang, and shortstop Everett Scott, who helped the Yankees win three of the six World Series they appeared in during the 1920s.

To put the curse in biblical terms, Frazee, the New York snake in the garden of Puritan Boston, sold the sacred "Bambino" into bondage to the Babylon of the East on December 26, 1919. Consequently, over the next eight decades the Red Sox appeared in only four World Series, all of which they lost in 7 games and sometimes in bizarre ways. By contrast the Yankees went on to appear in 38 World Series, winning a record 26 of them. To make matters worse Frazee was not punished for his original sin, and he sold the Red Sox in 1923 for $1.5 million, which he used to finance a smash Broadway hit, No, No, Nanette, in 1925.

It is odd that the curse is said to have been exacted on the Red Sox by Ruth, who was given the opportunity to rescue baseball after the Black Sox scandal by becoming the most celebrated player on the great Yankee teams. In his first year he hit .376, with 54 homers, and had 137 RBIs; in 1923, when the Yankees moved from the Polo Grounds, which they shared with the New York Giants, to the "House That Ruth Built" in the Bronx, they won their first World Series after losing to the Giants in the two previous years. …

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