Sunday, January 3, 2010

Woodward: The Curse

January 3, 1920, is often cited as the day on which the Boston Red Sox sold Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees, thereby incurring the "Curse of the Bambino" and condemning themselves to 83 more years without a baseball world championship. The deal to sell Ruth to the Yankees was actually reached the day after Christmas 1919, but some part of the paperwork was completed on January 3 and that is the date listed in most baseball histories.

Ruth had annoyed Harry Frazee, the owner of the Red Sox, with his unreasonable money demands. (He wanted his salary doubled to the unthinkable sum of $20,000 a year.) Frazee had also suffered some financial reversals in his other business -- producing Broadway shows -- and needed cash fast. And so on this day 90 years ago, the Bambino -- the best left-handed pitcher Boston had ever had and the best hitter New York would ever have -- was gone, and with him (if one believes the legend) went four generations' hopes of seeing the Red Sox win a World Series.

For those who believe the Curse was real, this is what it looked like in action. Bill Buckner (a very good first baseman, actually) improbably lets a Mookie Wilson ground ball roll between his legs, allowing the Mets to beat the Red Sox in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series and making possible a Game 7, which the Mets also won. (Ignore the commercial.)

And this is what it looked like when the Curse was broken at last.

The Red Sox got $125,000 for Babe Ruth in 1920. In June 2005, the sale contract -- the piece of paper -- was purchased at auction for $996,000.