Before last week, I had every reason to believe that the Red Sox were cursed. Now I don’t know what to think. They blew a double-digit division lead in 1978, only to lose to the Yankees in a one-game playoff on a home run by Bucky Dent, a defensive middle-infielder with a just handful of home runs during the entire season. They lost again to the Yankees in the 2003 American League Championship Series on a series-ending home run by Aaron Boone, who was the worst player on either team in the series up to that point. And of course there’s Bill Buckner, who let the 1986 World Series slip away with his fielding gaffe.
In order to reverse a curse, certain actions must be undertaken. I’m not talking about dredging a lake for Babe Ruth or annihilating a baseball that should have been a sure out – which the Red Sox and Cubs fans did, respectively, hoping to reverse their legendary curses. I’m talking about fixing the real cause. From 1903 to 1918, the Red Sox won five World Series. When the face of the franchise, Babe Ruth, was sold to the Yankees, the greatest player in baseball went from the greatest team of the first two decades of the American League to the greatest team of the last seven. Both teams were changed forever.
Even with Ted Williams, the self-proclaimed greatest hitter who ever lived, on the team for nearly two decades, the Red Sox couldn’t win. And whenever they managed to make the Series, they found a way to lose in seven games, which they did three times between 1918 and 2004.
Fast forward to 2003. After 85 years of suffering, frequently at the hands of the team that began its long history of “buying championships” with the purchase of Ruth, the Red Sox appeared to have all the ingredients to finally take down the Yankees. Since they couldn’t bring Ruth back to life or tear his legend away from the Yankees, they did the next best thing. They brought in a group of idiots, just like Ruth, who was notorious for his practical jokes, poor memory and erratic behavior. Still, the curse remained.
Alex Rodriguez was supposed to be the Ruthian addition that could overcome any curse. But when the trade fell through, all that remained were more disappointed Sox fans and an angry Nomar Garciaparra. Things only appeared to get worse when A-Rod went to, who else, the Yankees. And like Ruth, he changed positions to accommodate the transaction. Thank you Aaron Boone, again.
If I can pinpoint a single event that began the elimination of the curse, I think that, ironically, it was one of the most memorable plays in Yankees history. On July 1 at Yankee Stadium, Derek Jeter, the Yankees’ unquestioned leader, dove headfirst into the stands to make a catch. He was bruised and bloodied, but clearly would stop at nothing to win. Several innings later, Nomar Garciaparra, the identity of the Red Sox, was slouching in the dugout despite the game’s excitement. In fact, of all available players on the combined rosters, only Garciaparra was not used. It was clear at that moment that for the Red Sox’s fortunes to change, Nomar had to go.
For the first time since 1920, the Red Sox suddenly changed the face of their franchise. They traded Nomar, who, prior to the A-Rod talks, had been the most popular player in Boston since Carl Yastrzemski, to the only team that might be cursed more than them – the Cubs. Now, I realize that wouldn’t have happened if Nomar had accepted the earlier offer of $60 million for four years. But he didn’t accept it, and became expendable when A-Rod became available. And unlike Manny Ramirez, who was openly available, first to Texas, then to all of baseball when he was placed on waivers, Nomar whined.
After the trade, the Red Sox took on a new identity. They were relaxed when they played, and it showed, as they won 42 of their last 59 games. With Garciaparra on board in Chicago, the Cubs held a 2.5 game lead in the Wild Card on Sept. 24. By Sept. 29 they were overtaken by the Astros. No one knew it at the time, but in hindsight, it looks like the curse was broken with the July 31 trade.
Even when they trailed against the Yankees three games to none and were about to lose Game Four, somehow, they didn’t count themselves out. The Yankees, on the other hand, let Boston back into the series, and by Game Six, Curt Schilling found a way to pitch, which, for a cursed team, never would have been possible. First baseman Kevin Millar said that, starting that night, each Red Sox player took a swig of Jack Daniel’s for good luck. Sounds like something Ruth would do.
Swidler can be reached at email@example.com.