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Don’t Blame the Babe



John B Holway


The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious.  It is the source of all true art and science.


                                                                        Albert Einstein


            Sure, I believe in curses. 

I believe in love, though there is no empirical proof, only anecdotal evidence, that it exists. But I don’t believe in the curse of the Bambino.

There are other curses I do believe in, for example, the Curse of the Muldoons, laid on the Chicago Blackhawks hockey team in the 1930s, and the Curse of Noc-a-homa, of which more later.  I believe in them, because there is evidence to back them up.  I even wrote a book about them, Baseball Astrologer and Other Weird Tales, 2000.

But I don't believe in this one.  Nor in Chicago’s Billy Goat Curse, either.


John B Holway’s book, TED, will be published in 2004.


The Babe was a beer-guzzling, dame-chasing, homer-bashing man-child, who loved everybody, never hurt anybody, and certainly would never reach out from his grave to cast a curse on people he never even met.  The only curses he hurled were adjectives.

A Boston writer, Dan Shaughnessy, wrote a book with that playful title to explain Bucky Dent’s home run that sank the Sox in the 1978 playoff.

Catchy title.  Lousy history.

Still, sports writers, who haven't studied their history, bandy it about as a substitute for analytical reporting.

To me, a “curse” implies a long record of losing games one should have won.  But the historical record of the Red Sox is quite the opposite. 

In the last 57 years the Red Sox have never lost a post-season game to an inferior team.

Repeat that.  Let it sink in.

The team’s dramatic 2003 playoff loss to the Yankees is Exhibit A.  The Yanks won 101 regular season games, the Red Sox won 95.  New York was six games better than Boston.  If the Sox had beaten the Yanks, it would have been a major upset.  And they almost did.

That's been the Red Sox record ever since 1946.  Again and again they meet superior teams in the post-season, and again and again they take the series to the final inning and lose.

In 1967 the Cards were nine games better, but Boston almost beat them.  And they played without their home run star, Tony Conigliaro.

            In 1975 the Reds were 15 games better, but Boston almost beat them.  And they played without their rookie star, Jim Rice.

In 1986 the Mets were 15 games better, but Boston almost beat them.  And they played with a crippled Bill Buckner, who shouldn't  even have been playing.        

            And so it went in the league playoffs too. 

One year, 1999, they in fact upset a better team, the Indians.

This October Boston met the Oakland A's on almost even terms (the A's were one game better in the regular season) and beat them.

            On the down side, Boston lost the 1946 Series in seven games to the Cardinals, a team they were favored to beat.  And they lost the 1948 and 1978 sudden-death playoffs to the Indians and the Yanks, whom they had tied in the regular season.

            Those were heart-breaking defeats.  But hardly the stuff on which to construct bogus legends of a “curse.”  Those sports writers ought to get down on their knees and tell Babe they're sorry they’ve said such mean things about him all these years.

            OK, what about the Cubs’ Billy Goat curse?

Maybe you already know about it.  It was laid in 1945 by Billy Goat Sianis, owner of the Billy Goat Tavern in Chicago’s Loop, a watering spot for Tribune newsmen and tourists.  He had a goat, Sinovia, that butted customers, a cat that slurped beer, and a phone that gave the unwary an electric shock.

Anyway, Billy Goat bought a World Series box seat ticket for himself and another ticket for Sinovia.  Both goats, Billy and Sinovia, were given the heave-ho by the ushers.  He pasted the ticket stubs over his bar and laid the dreaded kakos inos -- the evil eye -- on the Cubs.

Chicago, which was leading the Series three games to one, lost the next three games in a major upset to Detroit, which had won ten games less in the regular season. 

In the 58 years since, the Cubs haven't  even been in the World Series.

After that the late Billy, or his nephew, Sam, lent Sinovia, or his descendants, out to the White Sox in 1959, the Bulls, and the Oakland Athletics of 1974, and each time the horned critter brought victory.

On July 4 1973 the Cubs were leading the league by 5½ games, and Sam bought two more tickets, hired a limo, and

drove up to Wrigley Field.  His chauffeur rolled out a red carpet, and Sam and Sinovia IV marched up to the gate with a sign saying, “All Is Forgiven.”

            Once more they were given the boot. 

Yep, the Cubbies lost the pennant to the Mets.

In 1989 the Cubs lost to San Francisco in the playoff, but the series was a toss-up – the Cubs had won exactly one game more than the Giants in the regular season.

In ’98 they lost to the Braves, but, heck, Atlanta had won 16 games more than Chicago that year.  Losing to them was no disgrace and certainly no evidence of a curse.

In 2003 the Cubbies (88 wins) scored a major upset over the vastly superior Braves (101 wins) in the divisional series. That doesn’t sound like a curse to me.

The 2003 NLCS against the Marlins again pitted them against a better team, 91 wins to 88.  If the Cubs had won, it would have been an upset, and they almost did.  One can feel the heartache of their fans that they couldn't quite win those final two games. 

But there’s no “curse.”  There’s no reason they can’t go out and win next year.

Incidentally, the Red Sox almost broke the curse in 1978 only to lose to Bucky Dent’s home run on the final day.  And the Cubs could have broken theirs in ‘89, when they lost to San Francisco.

And who was the manager of both teams? 

Perhaps we should name both curses more correctly and call them collectively, The Zimmer Whammy.

Of course the biggest curse of all is the Curse of St George and the Checkbook, which year after year puts together the best team money can buy.  If the Yankees had to operate with the Marlins’ or the Twins’ budget, they probably could never even reach the playoffs. 

The Red Sox can afford to buy the second-best team in baseball, but New York can afford a better one.

Based on his payroll, in 2003 Steinbrenner spent $1.8 million for each of his 101 regular season victories.  The Minnesota Twins spent under $250,000 for each of its 90 wins.


Payroll     Wins           Dollars/Win

Minnesota                    20-m           90           $   250,000

New York                   180-m         101             1,800,000


Is this a level playing field?

To put it another way, if Steinbrenner were as shrewd a baseball owner as the Twins’ owner Jerry Bell, he could have bought his first 90 wins for $20 million.  So New York’s last 11 wins cost $160 million, or $54 million for each one.

When it came to getting the most bang for the buck, the Twins were the best team in baseball.  The Yankees were actually one of the worst. 

One can run the same exercise for the ’03 Yankees and Marlins.  Florida had only $46 million to spend but spent it wisely, buying 96 wins with it.  Assuming that New York could do the same thing, that means the Yanks’ last six wins cost $134 million, or over $22 million per victory.  That’s as much as Minnesota spent for all 90 of its victories.

New York, which can outbid everyone for the best teams, has rolled up its impressive post-season record against mostly inferior teams like Minnesota, Boston, and Florida.  Only 12 times have they had to play better teams.  When they did face weaker teams, in 37 series, they managed to lose ten of them.


The Yankees have rolled up their impressive post-season record against mostly inferior teams.  Only 12 times have they had to play better teams.  They faced weaker teams in 37 series – series they should have won -- and still lost ten of them.

Some things money can't buy; for all else there’s George’s Checkbook.  The way to end the Curse of the Bambino is to spend more than George does.

I said there is one other baseball curse I do believe in.

It hangs heavily around the necks of the Atlanta Braves – the Curse of Chief Noc-a-homa. 

In 1969, the heyday of Hank Aaron, their mascot was Levi

Walker, an Ojibway Indian.  He did a war dance in front of his tepee in leftfield after every home run while they built up a 10½-game lead.

Then the Braves took his tepee away to create 150 more seats and went into a tailspin.  They dropped 15 of their next 17 games and completely lost their lead. 

Finally the fans implored the team to put the tepee back. The Braves recovered and won the pennant.  But two years later, in another economy move, they fired Noc-a-Homa.

Since then their idiotic tomahawk chop and war chant have angered native Americans.  (The Cleveland Indians’ Chief Wahoo caricature has also offended them.)

In the last 12 years, the Braves have reached the post-season 11 times.

They won only three times, against the Pirates in 1991, the overmatched Cubs in ’98, and the Indians in ’95 -- in a clash of two accursed teams, one of them had to win. 

In 2000 the Braves were evenly matched against the Cards and lost in three straight. 

They have been upset by inferior teams seven times:


1992 Blue Jays

            1996 Yanks

            1997 Marlins

            1998 Padres   

1999 Yanks

            2002 Giants

            2003 Cubs


Now that's a Curse.

If I were Braves owner Ted Turner, I’d call Levi Walker and change the team name to Georgia Peaches, and I wouldn't waste a minute doing it.

If there are curses, there are also lucky charms. 

In the 70s the Philadelphia Fliers hockey team virtually never lost when Kate Smith, or her recording, sang “God Bless America” at their games.

Salem Witch Laurie Cabot zapped the Patriots to the 1976

playoffs after a 3-11 season the previous year.  She helped them on alternate Sundays and made a difference of 21 points per game on average.  Her first victory – 48-14 over John Madden’s Oakland Raiders, their only loss in an otherwise perfect season.

            That same year a statuesque redhead, Rosemary DeWitt, psyched the Redskins into the playoffs after a disastrous start. 

Tales of lucky batboys can be documented by careful study of

the teams’ records before, during, and after the talismen’s tenures.

The Philadelphia A's hunchback, Louis Van Zelst, 1910-1914, and the New York Giants’ Charles Victory Faust, 1911, are the most famous examples.  Both died suddenly in the spring of 1915.  That year the Giants fell from second to last, and the A's fell from first to the basement.

My favorite is Tessie.  She was a lilting hit waltz of the Broadway stage went the Red Sox’ Royal Rooters first warbled her at the 1903 World Series.  The Red Sox came from behind to beat the favored Pirates. 

They won the pennant on the final day in 1904 over New York (no Series that year). 

They were led by Mike (Nuf Ced) McGreevey, owner of The Third Base Tavern (“a short stop on the way home”); mayor John “Honey Fitz” Fitzgerald, grandfather of a future president, sang the lead Irish tenor, and the Sox won again in 1912. 

The Rooters sang it for the Miracle Braves of 1914, who went from last-place to the pennant, then bowled over Van Zelst’s heavily-favored A's in the Series. 

Tessie next carried the Red Sox to victory in 1915 against the Phils and the favored Dodgers.

Then the aging Royal Rooters disbanded, Tessie was never heard again in Fenway Park, and the Red Sox won only one more World Series, in 1918.

It’s not the Bambino who has cursed the Red Sox.  It’s they who have rejected Tessie. 

I think she’s still pining somewhere up there, where forgotten sweethearts languish, waiting for those carefree, handsome young lads of summer to awaken her as the Fenway organ fills the air and 34,000 voices sing her praises once again.

She's never let them down before.  I believe she's up there now, waiting to lead them back to glory again.



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