The Blog

There Was No Curse

Why Red Sox fans have stayed the course for so long--and why the Curse of the Bambino was always a myth.

1:30 PM, Oct 28, 2004 • By FRED BARNES
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

THERE ARE no former Boston Red Sox fans. And it isn't a sustained act of perversity to stick with the Red Sox over the years. Failing to win the World Series for 86 years didn't create a masochistic love for the team. Instead, the attraction of the Red Sox is very simple: they were always in the hunt, a good team with attractive players, but not a great team until this year. So nobody gave up on them. There was hope.

I became a Red Sox fan when I was 6 or 7 years old. It was the day my dad gave me a baseball autographed by players on the team he coached at the Presidio of Monterey in the mid-1930s. One player was a ringer. He was a teenager named Dom Dimaggio, Joe's brother. When I got the ball he was the centerfielder for the Red Sox, a very good player but not a Hall of Famer. At that moment, I became a Red Sox fan for life.

Red Sox fans tend to pass along, but not impose, their enthusiasm. Thus, my wife, my son, my three daughters, my sons-in-law, my godson--all Red Sox fans. It wasn't the dark lure of cheering for a supposedly cursed team that attracted them. It was the team itself, always striving, never quite achieving.

There was no curse. But you'd never know it from following the Red Sox on TV and in the papers. After they had swept the Cardinals in four, ESPN was repeating the alleged origin of the curse. That, as everyone knows, was the sale of Babe Ruth to the Yankees in 1919 for $100,000 so the Red Sox owner could finance the musical No, No, Nanette on Broadway, which flopped. This is a myth. The play didn't arrive on Broadway until 1925 and it was a spectacular hit.

Why did the Red Sox lose all those years? They faced better teams, that's the reason. The Yankees were the powerhouse in the American League for most of the 20th century. They had more good players than anyone else. Yes, the Red Sox got to the World Series in 1946, 1967, 1975, and 1986, losing all four. The Cardinals in 1946 were at least as good as the Red Sox and the Cardinals with pitcher Bob Gibson in 1967 and the Big Red Machine in 1975 were way better. The Mets in 1986 were luckier.

Anyone who's followed the Red Sox for any length of time is aware of the real problem they had: not a curse, but lack of pitching. The Red Sox could always match any team hitter for hitter. And Fenway Park was conducive to a lineup of right-handed sluggers. If it wasn't Manny Ramirez, it was Jim Rice or Jackie Jensen. But the pitching was never as strong.

So what did Theo Epstein, the 30-year-old general manager, do differently this year? He got more and better pitching, first a top-flight reliever, Keith Foulke, and then a world class starter, Curt Schilling. That was the difference. Schilling won 21 games in the regular season and, despite a serious injury, key games against the Yankees and Cardinals. Foulke blew away the Yankees in relief and closed out the Cardinals in all four World Series games.

Epstein, my candidate for most valuable Red Sox, made two other moves that made the Red Sox champions. He is a believer in statistical analysis of players, a system that downgrades fielding and base stealing. But he traded shortstop Nomar Garciaparra for better fielding, which turned out to be critical. And he got a base stealer, Dave Roberts, whose steal of second against the Yankees was pivotal in winning the American League championship.

Winning a championship feels good. Beating the Yankees felt good. But the feeling is a warm and satisfying one. It's not that a burden has lifted, but that a nice wonderful chapter in the team you love has been written.

Fred Barnes is executive editor of The Weekly Standard.