The real curse in Beantown

Nov 032003
Authors: Josh Pilkington

For years the much-maligned baseball franchise that is the

Boston Red Sox has whined, wailed and cried of a curse.

“The ghost of the Bambino haunts us,” moans Alex McCrary, a

devoted Sox fan of 28 years and Fort Collins. “You can look at one

day in Sox history, one event that changed our franchise, and it

was that day.”

“That day,” as McCrary phrased it, was in 1920 when Red Sox

owner Harry Frazee needed money to finance his girlfriend’s play,

“No No Nanette,” so he sold George Herman (Babe) Ruth to the New

York Yankees for $100,000. Prior to ‘that day’, Ruth had led the

Red Sox to their first World Series title in 1918 as a pitcher. The

franchise has yet to win one since. On the other hand, the Yankees

went on to win an unsurpassed 26 World Series titles, thus “The

Curse of the Bambino” began.

That decision, however, was just the first in what has since

become a series of poor management decisions by Red Sox owners.

Though those die-hard fans of Red Sox Nation everywhere may deny

it, the curse has little to do with the franchise’s losing ways,

poor management is the real curse in Beantown.


As opposed to chasing the Yankees during the 1920s and ’30s by

signing and attempting to develop less-talented players, the Bosox

could have challenged their dominating foes from the Bronx by

signing a Satchel Paige, Bullet Rogan, Slim Jones, Bill Jackman or

any number of Negro League stars. Instead they chose to toil in


Maybe, if Boston became the first team to integrate, as opposed

to the last, they could have challenged the Yankees’ dominance from

the 1930s into the 1980s. But the Red Sox waited until 1959 to

integrate – 12 years after Jackie Robinson made his Major League


While other Major League clubs plucked Jackie Robinson, Henry

(Hank) Aaron, Willie Mays and other black stars from the minors,

Sox management chose to remain pat and honor its bigoted


In the words of Neil J. Sullivan, a professor at the University

of New York and author of “Baseball and Race: The Limits of

Competition,” “the intellectuals invoke muses, angels and perhaps

the devil to explain the ghosts that haunt Fenway. But the simple

truth of much of the team’s misfortune is more profane: at least

until the 1960s, championships eluded the Red Sox because they were

committed to bigoted management.”

The Clemens fiasco

Bigotry aside, the Red Sox have had other opportunities to win a

Series and failed. In 1967, Bob Gibson shut down the Bosox, winning

three games in the seven-game series. In Game 6 of the ’75 Series,

Carlton Fisk managed to persuade his game-winning home run to stay

fair and force a Game 7 at Fenway against the Cincinnati Reds. The

Reds bounced back and won Game 7. The world blames Boston first

baseman Bill Buckner for allowing a grounder to roll through his

legs, which allowed New York Met Ray Knight to score the winning

run in Game 6 of the ’86 Series – although the Red Sox bullpen

allowed the Mets to get into a position to win by allowing a

three-run, ninth-inning lead to disappear. The Sox then went on to

lose Game 7. The pitcher of note on the mound in that series was

Roger Clemens, who went 24-4 that season while winning the American

League MVP and Cy Young awards. His story adds another chapter to

this sad Sox tale.

In 1996, having watched Clemens post the second losing season

(10-13, 3.63 ERA) of his career, then Red Sox General Manager Dan

Duquette decided to let the future Hall-of-Famer go, saying he was,

“in the twilight of his career.” Mulling in that twilight phase,

Clemens went to Toronto where he won his fourth and fifth Cy Young

awards in 1997 and 1998 while leading the AL in wins, strikeouts

and ERA in both seasons. Perhaps the finest moment for Clemens came

following that ’98 season, when in 1999 as a member of the Yankees

he won the deciding game of the World Series and obtained that

elusive – for Red Sox anyway – championship ring. Fittingly,

Clemens took the mound in Game 7 in the 2003 American League

Championship Series at Yankee Stadium and watched as the Red Sox

blew a three-run lead in the eighth inning and eventually lost the

game 6-5 in 11 innings.

The latest blunder

Which brings us to the latest Red Sox blunder: the firing of

manager Grady Little. In that 6-5 loss, Little chose to leave a

struggling and tired Pedro Martinez on the mound to face Yankee

catcher Jorge Posada with one out, runners on second and third and

a 5-3 lead. Martinez gave up a bloop double, allowing two runs to

score and tie the game. The Sox lost the game in the 11th on a solo

home run by Aaron Boone. Everyone from the Pacific to the Atlantic

questioned Little’s judgment. Radio talk shows, newspaper

columnists and TV personalities called for the second-year

manager’s head. Boston management was happy to oblige. General

Manager Theo Epstein and Owner Larry Lucchino chose to dismiss

Little on Oct. 27.

“This is not an organization that makes decisions of this

importance based on one event,” Lucchino said in a press conference

following the dismissal.

If not based on that one event, what was the decision based on?

Perhaps it was Little’s 93 wins in his first season as manager or

his 95 in 2003. Perhaps it was his ability to deal with a pampered,

self-serving athlete like Manny Ramirez (speaking of poor

management decisions), or to manage a bullpen that posted an

AL-high 5.56 ERA or the way he helped after-thoughts like David

Ortiz, Todd Walker and Bill Mueller resurrect their careers.

Regardless, Little is gone; Ramirez will be soon, while the Sox

absorb a huge portion of the remaining $105 million from his

8-year, $120 million contract; barring a sudden change of events

Martinez will walk after the 2004 season; and the Sox will once

again finish behind the Yankees.





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