The phrase “Curse of the Bambino” didn’t become part of New England lexicon until 1986 and Bill Buckner's error, an event so catastrophic to championship-starved Red Sox fans that the notion of a curse gained credence. Until then, years of frustration — mostly at the hands of the Yankees — just seemed a part of life for Red Sox Nation. But once the drought — no titles since 1918 — had a name, it also took on a life of its own.
Until the Red Sox swept the Cardinals to win the World Series after beating the Yankees in the greatest postseason collapse in baseball history, many people actually believed there was something to “The Curse.” Its origins, of course, date to the January, 1920 sale of Babe Ruth to the Yankees for money that Boston owner Harry Frazee desperately needed to pay the mortgage on Fenway Park. After the shocking transaction, Frazee became known as “Hairbreadth Harry.” He was hung in effigy throughout New England and mock “For Sale” signs were erected at other Boston landmarks, like Faneuil Hall and the Boston Public Library.
Even the most jaded Red Sox fans, however, could not have imagined what would become of the fortunes of the two baseball franchises. Ruth’s home run heroics transformed the Yankees into the pre-eminent dynasty in all of sports and his legacy extends to the 21st Century, where the Yankees’ 26 world championships are the most of any American professional sports team. The Red Sox, meanwhile, who had won four World Series in the early years of the sport, had not won a single title since the Ruth sale until beating the Cardinals.
The Red Sox sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees in 1920.
No wonder Boston’s denizens celebrated the sweep and historic four-game comeback against the Yankees in the 2004 ALCS with such fervor. To many fans, 86 years of frustration had been erased. We don't believe in curses and don't blame New York for all of the Boston failures since 1918.
But the circumstantial evidence is overwhelming that the Big Apple had a stranglehold on the fortunes and hearts of New England’s loyalists — until Oct. 20, 2004, when the Sox completed baseball’s first-ever comeback from a 3-0 deficit in games to shock the Yankees . . . on Mickey Mantle’s birthday! Here are some of the moments that tortured Red Sox Nation for nine decades, but don’t seem so painful today.
1. Babe opens trade corridors
If it were only Babe Ruth who went from Boston to New York, perhaps there never would have been a curse. But Frazee continued to tear apart his franchise by dealing players to the Yankees, where they excelled and became key components of a dynasty that produced championship after championship in the 1920 and 1930s.
Need pitching help? How about Waite Hoyt, Carl Mays, Joe Buish and Sam Jones all shipped by Frazee to New York in 1921, the year the Yankees won their first of 39 pennants. Infield a little shaky? Take Jumpin’ Joe Dugan to fill that void at third base. He was part of the Murderers’ Row Yankees of 1927 considered by many the greatest in baseball history. In 1923, the Yankees pilfered left-hander Herb Pennock and right-hander George Pipgras from Boston and New York would own the Roaring Twenties. A 1930 deal that sent yet another Hall of Famer, Red Ruffing, to the Yankees helped the Yankees dominate the 1930s as well.
Boston fans still rue the day the Red Sox traded reliever Sparky Lyle to the Yankees for infielder Danny Cater. Lyle won the Cy Young Award in 1977 for the Yankees, and helped them win world championships in 1977 and 1978. And don’t even get Red Sox Nation started about the painful irony of Roger Clemens winning two World Series rings with the Yankees after launching his fabulous career in Boston.
2. Joe D beats Teddy Ballgame
It was Ted Williams’ great misfortune that most of his magnificent career overlapped that of Joe DiMaggio. Williams was the greatest hitter of his generation — and one of the greatest of all-time — but DiMaggio was the greater fielder and played for the greater team. So while Williams had MLB’s last .400 season in 1941, it was overshadowed by DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak. Except for 1946, the Red Sox couldn’t beat the Yankees during Williams’ tenure. They finished second six times and third three times.
No race was more difficult to lose than the 1949 pennant. Boston entered the last two games of the season with a one-game lead and needed to win just one game at Yankee Stadium to go to the World Series. The Red Sox had beaten the Yankees five out of six earlier in September to grab the AL lead, but couldn’t win one more when they needed to. Unheralded reserve outfielder Johnny Lindell hit a home run in the Yankees' 5-4 victory in the first game and light-hitting infielder Jerry Coleman dumped a bloop triple down the rightfield line with the bases loaded in a 5-3 pennant-winning triumph.
3. The Boston Massacre
If ever there were a year for burning the history books in New England it would have been 1978. The misery index reached an all-time high that baseball season. The Red Sox built a lead as high as 14 games in mid-summer and appeared poised to dethrone the Yankees, who had won the World Series in 1977, their first title since 1962 — a modest drought by Boston standards.
But the combination of Boston injuries and a New York hot streak narrowed the gap to four games as the Yankees came to Fenway Park for a four-game series on Sept. 7-10. What followed lived in infamy until 2004. The Yankees swept the Sox in stunning fashion winning by scores of 15-3, 13-2, 7-0 and 7-4. That's four wins, 42 runs and 67 hits for the Yankees; zero wins, nine runs and 21 hits for Boston.
With 20 games left, both teams were 86-56. A week later, the Yankees won two of three in New York to grab a 2½-game lead that the Red Sox would heroically erase down the stretch, forcing a one-game playoff. That became the famous (or infamous) Bucky Dent game.
4. Bucky (bleeping) Dent
On Oct. 2, 1978, a sunny, cool New England afternoon, a light-hitting shortstop became the poster-boy for Red Sox futility. Russell “Bucky” Dent’s three-run homer onto the netting above the Green Monster off Mike Torrez — more irony; he was an ex-Yankee who was part of New York’s 1977 title team — gave the Yankees a 3-2 lead. A home run by Reggie Jackson helped build the lead to 5-2 and the Yankees hung on despite a gritty rally by Boston to win, 5-4. It was the Yankees’ 100th victory in their 163rd game.
Ninety-nine wasn’t good enough for the Red Sox in those pre-wild card days. Right-fielder Lou Piniella was another key figure, finding a way to ruin Boston twice with defensive gems. He snared Fred Lynn’s line drive to right to save two runs early in the game and then managed to reach out and grab Jerry Remy’s single in the ninth that he had originally lost in the sun. If he hadn’t caught it, holding Rick Burleson at second, the Sox would undoubtedly have tied the game against Goose Gossage, and likely won, given the situation. Instead, Gossage got Boston icon Carl Yastrzemski to pop to Graig Nettles to end one of the most emotionally draining games in the history of the rivalry.
5. Bill 'E' Buckner
It wasn’t the Yankees who inflicted this torture on the Red Sox, but the New York link to the “Curse of the Bambino” could not be ignored. Had Boston held onto its 5-3 lead in the 10th inning of Game 6 of the 1986 World Series at Shea Stadium, it would have been able to drink from the 20 cases of champagne that had been put on ice. It would have erased the pain of Game 7 defeats in the World Series of 1946, 1967 and 1975.
The “curses” would have come from the Mets’ clubhouse. Instead, the names of John McNamara, Calvin Schiraldi, Bob Stanley and Bill Buckner live in infamy. Why didn’t manager McNamara use a defensive replacement for Buckner, who was limping painfully on a bad leg? Why couldn’t Schiraldi have gotten one more out — there were two outs and none on when the rally began? Why couldn’t Bob Stanley have thrown a strike to Mookie Wilson, instead of uncorking a wild pitch that allowed the tying run to score? And why couldn’t Buckner have kept his glove down and perhaps made the play to extend the game? There was still a Game 7 to play and the Red Sox actually led 3-0 entering the bottom of the sixth, but the Mets scored three to tie it and added three more in the seventh to take the lead for good. No champagne on this night.
6. Pedro wins, Sox don't
The Red Sox had a glorious moment on Oct. 16, 1999 in one of the most anticipated games in Boston history. Boston and New York were meeting in the postseason for the first time and Roger Clemens — the “traitor” who began his career in Boston and signed with the Yankees as free agent that year — was pitching against Pedro Martinez in Game 2 of the LCS. The Fenway Park fans were vile, vicious and victorious that day as the Red Sox blew up The Rocket with five runs and six hits in two innings. Meanwhile Pedro Martinez was brilliant, striking out 12 in seven innings in a 13-1 mini-Boston Massacre.
Alas, as was the Red Sox fate in the 20th Century, it was their only victory in the series as the Yankees won, 4-1, and went on to sweep the Braves for the second of what would become three consecutive world championships. Boston would have to settle for a hollow victory over Clemens and the continued frustration of losing to the Yankees. They would finish second in the AL East to New York from 1998-2004, an unprecedented run of bridesmaid status in baseball history.
7. Aaron (bleeping) Boone
Kathy Willens / AP
The Yankees' Aaron Boone leaps after scoring the game-winning run on his 11th- inning solo home run against the Boston Red Sox in Game 7 to win the American League Championship Series on Oct. 16, 2003. Celebrating with him is teammate Bernie Williams.
Inexplicably, Boston manager Grady Little did not remove Martinez until after Posada’s hit. Still, the game was not decided then. In the bottom of the 11th, Aaron Boone stepped in to lead off against Tim Wakefield, whose knuckleball had befuddled the Yankees in two earlier LCS victories as a starter. But he was needed in relief on this night and already had a scoreless inning behind him when he threw his first knuckler to Boone, who was batting a brutal .125. Boone belted the offering into the leftfield seats. Pandemonium – and maybe a few ghosts – took over Yankee Stadium. “I believe in ghosts,” Jeter said. But after what happened this year, perhaps even the Yankees’ captain would have to admit that reality is even scarier.
Posnanski: Albert Pujols' at-bats used to be buzzworthy, must-watch events. Now, they're not. Here's the result of his struggles the past few years.
Taking a look at some of the greatest catchers off all time.