May 8, 2010
In 1918, after dominating baseball for 15 years, the Boston Red Sox sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees and did not win again until 2004. Here’s why:
“The Curse of the Bambino” was a myth fans used to explain years of Red Sox futiity. The Sox were cursed by stupid management, cronyism, and racism, not Babe Ruth.
Tom Yawkey bought the team in 1935. In 2002, the Yawkey family sold the team to young businessmen, who installed Theo Epstein, then 26, as general manager. Epstein brought modern statistical analysis to the Red Sox, and they won the World Series two years later.
Tom Yawkey inherited a huge family fortune. At his first owner’s meeting in 1935, according to the book Game Six by Mark Frost, he threw his wallet on the table and offered to pay any price for the best players in baseball. He was one of the last owners to create a farm system to develop his own players.
He threw Jackie Robinson off the field during his try-out at Fenway Park, and refused to look at Willie Mays or scout the Negro Leagues after Robinson broke the color line in 1947. In 1959, the Sox became the last big league team to integrate when they hired utility infielder Pumpsie Green..
Many black prospects refused to sign with the Red Sox because they were told by a father, coach, or older friend that a black player would have no future in the Red Sox organization.
For years, the front office tried to tailor its team to fit the quirky dimensions of Fenway Park. They overvalued many hitters who could hit or clear Fenway’s short, high left field wall. They undervalued left-hand pitchers, and pitchers who won on breaking balls, guile and control, thinking only low, outside fastballs could keep balls from hitting the Green Monster in left field.
In September and the World Series, the Sox hitters were often unable scratch for a run, and pitchers had tired arms, according to Buddy Hunter, a long-time player and manager in the Red Sox organization.
The New England Media
When the team was ahead late in the season, the media wrote as if the team would find some new, heart-breaking, creative new way to lose. They would always remind fans of the Curse. They always blamed a Red Sox player, or manager, or general manager for losses. They never said the Sox lost because the other team played well.
They also drove many players to distraction, and out of town.
The media created a long list of heartbreaking last-minute losses that were all attributed to Babe Ruth’s curse:
1946: Johnny Pesky held the ball, and allowed Enos Slaughter of the Cardinals to score from first on a single to win the 7th game of the World Series, legend goes.
In David Halberstam’s book, Teammates, center fielder Dominic DiMaggio said his replacement was slow coming up with the ball. Slaughter, running from first, saw the play in center and blew around 2nd and 3rd, beating Pesky’s throw to home plate. Pesky made a normal play, and Slaughter made a great play. Pesky got the blame.
1948: The Sox lost the pennant on the last day of the season. Halberstam attributes it to tired pitchers They had to go with a spot starter, Ellis Kinder.
1975: After the Red Sox won Game 6 with Carlton Fisk’s dramatic home run, the Cincinnati Reds went to bed, according to Frost’s book Game Six. All New England, including the Red Sox players, celebrated all night. Cincinnati won Game 7 the next day because the Sox partied too late..
1978: Weak hitting Yankee shortstop Bucky Dent won a one-game playoff for the pennant with a game-winning home run. The Sox were in that playoff because they fell apart and blew the 14-game lead. The Sox pitchers had tired arms, and the hitters could not scratch for a run.
In fact, the Sox won half their games in August and September while the Yankees won 7o percent. But the myth of the Red Sox collapse, and the fluke home run by the weak-hitting shortstop persists to this day in Red Sox Nation. The Sox never lose because the other team plays well.
1986: Before Bill Buckner “lost” the World Series by letting an easy ground ball go through his legs, the tired Red Sox bullpen blew a big lead in the 9th inning. Manager John McNamara knew Buckner could not bend, but left him in the game. The loss only TIED the Series, and forced a 7th game. The Sox players were still in shock the next day, and the Mets won.
2002: With 2 out in the last inning of the AL Championship Series, Pedro Martinez blew a 5-run lead. Pedro could not get the last out, and the Red Sox lost the pennant. Everyone knew Pedro’s was way over his normal 100 pitch limit, but manager Grady Litle’s bullpen all had been blowing leads like that for two months. He thought he had a better chance with a tired Pedro, one of the best pitchers in baseball, than with the tired arms his bullpen.
Once Epstein and sabermetrics took over in 2002,, the Sox won two World Series and dominated the American League for 5 years. They are still perennial contenders.
Copyright Ken Braiterman. Contact the author to obtain permission for republication.