October 26, 2004

Curses Take Many Forms

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The Red Sox’s ‘Curse of the Bambino’ is oversimplified. Now, wait a minute. Don’t get me wrong: as a lifelong Yankees fan, I fully believe that our totally unobjectionable (note sarcasm) friends from Boston are clearly cursed, but looking at this from an entirely objective standpoint, it wasn’t just the Babe who is responsible for the likes of Buckner et al. There are other forces at work here, and we New Yorkers need to begin to appreciate that we are not necessarily the center of the universe (or at least in baseball).

Think about it. Babe Ruth wasn’t traded until Jan. 6, 1920, giving the Red Sox an entire year not to screw up and repeat their 1918 glory. They didn’t, however. In 1919, Boston would fall to sixth place despite another outstanding year from Ruth, and the Cincinnati Reds would take a free World Series from Shoeless Joe and company in the Black Sox scandal of that year. The Sox wouldn’t ever taste World Series glory after that point.

So really, is the Bambino’s getting traded to be blamed? Other factors may be at play here, and here are my personal top two.

Think fast: who’s the greatest Red Sox hitter of all time? If you didn’t say Ted Williams, you’re probably not only not a baseball fan, but also the Ithaca winters are beginning to slow your mind. Interestingly enough, the Splendid Splinter, arguably the greatest hitter of all time, was born the day before the Red Sox clinched the 1918 pennant that gave them the opportunity to win that year’s World Series. The Sox would not win another one in Williams’s lifetime, and in fact, it would be Williams who led Boston to the 1946 World Series, where they would suffer in typical Red Sox fashion one of the most exciting losses in World Series history.

Let”s continue with the main point though. In baseball, which is arguably the ultimate team sport on defense and one of the most individual on offense, there is an obvious dichotomy between the great hitters like Williams, and the great overall team players of all time, like Ruth, who could throw a shutout and hit a home run in the same day. Williams represented ultimate individual achievement. The Red Sox had plenty of this in Williams’s lifetime, and never once saw a championship.

My thought is that maybe the ‘Curse of the Bambino’ is also the ‘Curse of the Splinter.’ Who knows: maybe in exchange for the greatest individual of all time, during his lifetime, the Red Sox lost the chance at having a great team.

The story doesn’t end there though. There”s also an outside, perhaps less morbid, factor at play here, namely in my friend — unquestionably the most cursed gambler on Earth. To protect this 21 year old native New Englander and Cornell student’s identity, I’ll simply refer to him as Al. I met Al during freshman year, and the moment he told me his life story I knew he was cursed. Every bet that Al had ever made had ended in an astounding loss. For instance, the first bet Al ever made was on Tyson vs. Holyfield in 1996, where the seemingly invincible Mike Tyson was TKO’ed. Al had given his cousin 20:1 odds and lost $500 at 13 years old.

One would think that this would discourage Al from both losing money and single-handedly crushing athletes’ and sports teams’ dreams, but nothing could stop this young gambling fool. Fast forward to Super Bowl XXXVI back in 2002 where Al took the obvious choice St. Louis Rams, who were favored by two touchdowns. Al not only lost this bet and $50 for it, but also 12 of the other diverse 14 bets he made that day. The Rams didn”t just not cover the huge spread — they lost. What’s sad is that by winning two bets, Al had well outdone himself. In fact, he’s claimed to have lost thousands of dollars in his lifetime, and he’s only just begun.

Perhaps you see where this is going. This year, with the Yankees beating the Red Sox 3-0 in the ALCS, Al did the obvious. He took New York in game four. Then game five. Then game six. And yeah, then in game seven. He wouldn’t even tell me, his Yankee-fan friend for several days afterwards, and in fact, as you are reading this several Yankees fans are running to his apartment to beat him senseless.

So, with the combination of the Curse of the Splinter being gone, and Al’s efforts (since he’s now taken a special liking to the Cardinals), the Sox may have a chance, being up 2-0 and all. Just don’t be so single-minded when it comes to your curses. There are a lot out there, and the Bambino was only so fat.

Archived article by Mike Pandolfini