April 4, 2009
Before Theo Epstein took over the Red Sox’ player decisions in
2002, the Sox were a racist, stupidly managed organization, who blamed their failures on a dead man’s curse. In baseball, making excuses and shifting blame are forms of cowardice, and Babe Ruth’s curse was a just an excuse for a front office that never fielded the best team it could have.
Epstein’s computers and modern statistical analysis upended entrenched, unquestioned beliefs within the organization. It’s no coincidence that the 2004 Red Sox broke the 86-year-old Curse of the Bambino, and won their first World Series since 1918.
The Curse never existed. Supposedly, Ruth was insulted when Red Sox owner Harry Frazee sold him to the Yankees in 1918, to finance a Broadway show. Ruth was more angry because he never got a share of the money Frazee made from the sale.
After World War II, Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey passed on future Hall of Famers Jackie Robinson Willie Mays, Larry Doby and Satchel Page, because they were black. Doby and Paige led Cleveland to a one-game win over the Red Sox for the 1948 pennant. As late as 1985, the Sox wanted to dump Jim Rice in his prime, but the fans rebelled.
The other management mistake was trying to tailor a team for quirky Fenway Park, though teams play half their games away from home, and good pitching and defense wins over a long season even in Fenway.
The Sox overvalued hitters who swung for the Green Monster every time, but could not scratch for a one run late in a game. Their pitchers had tired arms in September because they threw every pitch, all season, as hard, low, and far from the batter as they could, to keep opposing hitters from reaching the Green Monster.
So the fans, media, and management created a myth to explain the Red Sox’ futility. Let’s deconstruct some heartbreaking Red Sox losses that were always blamed on Babe Ruth’s curse.
JOHNNY PESKY did not lose the 1946 World Series by holding a throw from the outfield too long. The Cardinals’ Enos Slaughter made a great play, scoring from first on a ground ball single.
A substitute center fielder lost a few seconds picking up the ground ball. Regular center fielder, Dominic DiMaggio, one of the best fielders of his era, got hurt running bases, and came out of the game in the previous inning. Pesky never stopped hearing how he lost the ’46 World Series.
BUCKY DENT won the 1978 league championship with a home run for the Yankees in a playoff game with the Red Sox. The Sox fell apart and blew a 14-game lead in September while the Yankees were winning two-thirds of their games. That’s why the season ended in a tie, and why Dent was up to bat in a one=game playoff.
But according to Red Sox nation, the dead man struck again through a weak-hitting, unknown shortstop. Every time the story is retold, Dent, who actually carried the Yankees in their comeback, becomes more unknown and weaker at bat than he really was.
BILL BUCKNER did not lose the 1986 World Series by letting a ground ball go through his legs in Game 6. A bullpen full of tired arms blew a big lead, and allowed the Mets to put the winning run on third base. Manager John McNamara knew Buckner could not bend down because of a knee injury, but left him in. The Red Sox lost Game 6, and were beaten in Game 7 because they showed up too demoralizid to compete. Buckner could not come back to New England at all for 20 years.
PEDRO MARTINEZ was the most outstanding pitcher of his time, but he tired after 100 pitches. Manager Grady Litle left him in the game with the pennant on the line because his tired relief pitchers had been blowing big leads all September. Martinez blew a big lead, gave up the winning run, and the Red Sox lost the pennant. The fans ran Litle out of town.
After the 2004 championship. I could stop listening to all the whining about a curse, and baseball’s most devoted fans were finally rewarded with the team they deserved.
By the way, I saw my first crocuses in full bloom Tuesday.