Babe Ruth as a member of the 1918 Boston Red Sox, the final season before the drought
External images
image icon Picture of the graffitied "reverse curve" road sign
image icon Removal of the sign (then re-graffitied to read "reversed the curse") by a crew including Governor Mitt Romney, following Boston's 2004 World Series victory.

The Curse of the Bambino was a superstitious sports curse in Major League Baseball (MLB) derived from the 86-year championship drought of the Boston Red Sox between 1918 and 2004. The superstition was named after Babe Ruth, colloquially known as "The Bambino", who played for the Red Sox until he was sold to the New York Yankees in 1920.[1] While some fans took the curse seriously, most used the expression in a tongue-in-cheek manner.[2]

Prior to the drought, the Red Sox had been one of the most successful professional baseball franchises. They won five of the first fifteen World Series titles, including the first in 1903, more than any other MLB team at the time.[3] During this period, Ruth was a contributor to the Red Sox's three championships in 1915, 1916, and 1918. Following the sale of Ruth, however, the once lackluster Yankees became one of the most dominant professional sports franchises in North America, winning more than twice as many World Series titles as any other MLB team.[4] The curse became a focal point of the Yankees–Red Sox rivalry over the years.

Talk of the curse as an ongoing phenomenon ended when the Red Sox won the 2004 World Series.[5] The Red Sox's championship was prefaced by them overcoming a 3–0 deficit against the Yankees in the 2004 American League Championship Series (ALCS), the first and, as of 2023, only time an MLB team won a best-of-seven playoff series after losing the first three games.

The curse had been such a part of Boston culture that when a "reverse curve" road sign on Longfellow Bridge over the city's Storrow Drive was graffitied to read "Reverse The Curse,"[6] officials left it in place until the Red Sox won the 2004 World Series. After the World Series that year, the road sign was edited to read "Reversed Curse" in celebration.[6]


Harry Frazee sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees

Although it had long been noted that the selling of Ruth had been the beginning of a decline in the Red Sox' fortunes, the term "curse of the Bambino" was not in common use until the publication of the book The Curse of the Bambino by Dan Shaughnessy in 1990.[7] It became a key part of Red Sox lore in the media thereafter, and Shaughnessy's book became required reading in some high school English classes in New England.[7][8][9]

The first articulation of the curse appears at the end of chapter two of the book, in a letter to Mr. Shaughnessy from the Rev. Darrell Berger of the First Parish Unitarian Church in Scituate, Massachusetts. As an avid fan and occasional baseball writer and broadcaster whose congregation dates from Puritan times, he was in a unique position to place the frustration of Red Sox fans into historical prospective. He replies to Mr. Shaughnessy’s inquiry as to why “curse” is an applicable term, citing “The House of the Seven Gables,” a tale of how one’s continuing ill fortune can be spun into a curse.

Rev. Berger writes, “In both cases you have a cursed family because of evil that had been done and it’s passed down several generations later. I think of the selling of Ruth as the sin that cannot be atoned for. There hasn’t been a savior that can come along and make that atonement. The Sox over and over again keep paying for that sin. Frazee sins against Sox fans by selling Ruth. This severs trust between fans and ownership that has never healed. A curse is also merely a folkwise way of explaining the unexplainable, but who wants to leave it at that? So is the Old Testament.

The key for the curse to be lifted is acknowledgement that both sin and curse exist and why, in the same way an alcoholic or any dysfunctional relationship must be named before it can heal. The great danger of a curse is that the closer it gets to being overcome, the greater the anxiety becomes. Anxiety causes bad things to happen and the curse continues.”

Although the title drought dated back to 1918, the sale of Ruth to the Yankees was completed January 3, 1920.[10] In standard curse lore, Red Sox owner and theatrical producer Harry Frazee used the proceeds from the sale to finance the production of a Broadway musical, usually said to be No, No, Nanette.[11] In fact, Frazee backed many productions before and after Ruth's sale, and No, No, Nanette did not see its first performance until five years after the Ruth sale and two years after Frazee sold the Red Sox. In 1921, Red Sox manager Ed Barrow left to take over as general manager of the Yankees. Other Red Sox players were also later sold or traded to the Yankees.[12]

Neither the lore, nor the debunking of it, entirely tells the story. As Leigh Montville wrote in The Big Bam: The Life and Times of Babe Ruth, the production No, No, Nanette had originated as a non-musical stage play called My Lady Friends, which opened on Broadway in December 1919.[13] That play had, indeed, been financed as a direct result of the Ruth deal.[14] Various researchers, including Montville and Shaughnessy, have pointed out that Frazee had close ties to the Yankees owners, and that many of the player deals, as well as the mortgage deal for Fenway Park itself, had to do with financing his plays.[13]

Yankee fans taunted the Red Sox with chants of "1918!" one weekend in September 1990.[15] The demeaning chant echoed at Yankee Stadium each time the Red Sox were there.[16][17]

Reportedly cursed results

Before Ruth left Boston, the Red Sox had won five of the first fifteen World Series, with Ruth pitching for the 1916 and 1918 championship teams (he was with the Sox for the 1915 World Series but the manager used him only once, as a pinch-hitter, and he did not pitch). The Yankees had not played in any World Series up to that time. In the 84 years after the sale, the Yankees played in 39 World Series, winning 26 of them, twice as many as any other team in Major League Baseball. Meanwhile, over the same time span, the Red Sox played in only four World Series and lost each in seven games.[7]

Even losses that occurred many years before the first mention of the supposed curse, in 1986,[7] have been attributed to it. Some of these instances are listed below:

Attempts to break the curse

Red Sox fans attempted various methods over the years to exorcise their famous curse. These included placing a Boston cap atop Mount Everest and burning a Yankees cap at its base camp[36] and finding a piano owned by Ruth that he had supposedly pushed into a pond near his Sudbury, Massachusetts farm, Home Plate Farm.[37]

In 1976, Laurie Cabot, the Official Witch of Massachusetts, was brought in to end a 10-game losing streak.[38] While the losing streak ended, the Curse of the Bambino did not.

In Ken Burns's 1994 documentary Baseball, former Red Sox pitcher Bill Lee suggested that the Red Sox should exhume the body of Babe Ruth, transport it back to Fenway and publicly apologize for trading Ruth to the Yankees.[citation needed]

Some declared the curse broken during a game on August 31, 2004, when a foul ball hit by Manny Ramírez flew into Section 9, Box 95, Row AA and struck a boy's face, knocking two of his teeth out.[39] 16-year-old Lee Gavin, a Boston fan whose favorite player was Ramirez, lived on the Sudbury farm owned by Ruth. That same day, the Yankees suffered their worst loss in team history, a 22–0 clobbering at home against the Cleveland Indians.[40][41][42]

Some fans also cite a comedy curse-breaking ceremony performed by musician Jimmy Buffett and his warm-up team (one dressed as Ruth and one dressed as a witch doctor) at a Fenway concert in September 2004. Just after being traded to the Red Sox, Curt Schilling appeared in an advertisement for the Ford F-150 pickup truck hitchhiking with a sign indicating he was going to Boston. When picked up, he said that he had "an 86-year-old curse" to break.[43]

End of the curse

Further information: 2004 Boston Red Sox season, 2004 American League Championship Series, and 2004 World Series

In 2004, the Red Sox once again met the Yankees in the American League Championship Series. The Red Sox lost the first three games, including losing Game 3 at Fenway by the lopsided score of 19–8.[44][45]

The Red Sox trailed 4–3 in the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 4.[46] But the team tied the game with a walk by Kevin Millar and a stolen base by pinch-runner Dave Roberts, followed by an RBI single against Yankee closer Mariano Rivera by third baseman Bill Mueller, and won on a two-run home run in the 12th inning by David Ortiz.[46] The Red Sox won the next three games to become the first and only MLB team to win a seven-game postseason series after losing the first three games.[47]

The Red Sox then faced the St. Louis Cardinals, the team to whom they had lost in 1946 and 1967, and led throughout the series, winning in a four-game sweep.[5] Cardinals shortstop Édgar Rentería, who wore the same number as Ruth (3), was the final out of the series, a ground ball back to pitcher Keith Foulke.[5][48][49]


Glenn Stout argues that the idea of a curse was indirectly influenced by antisemitism, although that aspect was not part of its modern usage; he even says "This does not mean that ... anyone who writes or speaks of the Curse today—as a journalist or a fan—is either anti-Semitic or even remotely aware of the anti-Semitic roots of the Curse."[50] Because Frazee was from New York and involved in theatre, it was assumed he was Jewish (he was actually a Presbyterian). Though Frazee was well respected in Boston, Henry Ford's Dearborn Independent ran a series of articles purporting to expose how Jews were "destroying America," and among these were articles lambasting Frazee, saying that with his purchase of the Red Sox "another club was placed under the smothering influences of the 'chosen race'."[50] These articles turned the tide of both baseball owners and public opinion against Frazee, and Fred Lieb's vilification of Frazee in his history of the Red Sox portrayed him implicitly as a Jew.[50] Stout argues that this hatred indirectly created the atmosphere where the "curse" could be accepted.

In popular culture

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Non-fiction works




Video games

See also


Inline citations

  1. ^ Shaughnessy 1990, pp. 31–32
  2. ^ Shaughnessy 2005, pp. 8–10
  3. ^ Shaughnessy 1990, p. 21
  4. ^ Shaughnessy 2005, p. 21
  5. ^ a b c Shaughnessy 2005, p. 3
  6. ^ a b Shaughnessy 2005, p. 231
  7. ^ a b c d Shaughnessy 2005, pp. 7–8
  8. ^ Kernan, Kevin (October 28, 2004). "Ding-Dong, Curse is Dead". New York Post. p. 86.
  9. ^ "The Yankees Vs Red Sox - Baseball Most Fierce Rivalry". September 14, 2023. Retrieved October 21, 2023.
  10. ^ Shaughnessy 1990, p. 1
  11. ^ Shaughnessy 2005, p. 11
  12. ^ Shaughnessy 2005, p. 23
  13. ^ a b Montville, Leigh (2006). The Big Bam: The Life and Times of Babe Ruth. Random House. pp. 161–164.
  14. ^ Shaughnessy 1990, p. 33
  15. ^ Maske, Mark (September 25, 1990). "Pennant Chases in East Still Flying High, West All but Flagged". The Washington Post. p. E3. Yankees fans had taunted the Red Sox all weekend with chants of "1918, 1918!"—the last time Boston won the World Series—and the Red Sox are not allowed by long-suffering New Englanders to forget the pain they have wrought with years of excruciating near misses.
  16. ^ Shaughnessy 2005, p. 26
  17. ^ Frommer & Frommer 2004, pp. 18, 78
  18. ^ Shaughnessy 1990, pp. 63–64
  19. ^ Shaughnessy 1990, pp. 66–68
  20. ^ Drebinger, John (October 3, 1948). "Bombers Bow, 5–1; Red Sox End Yanks' Flag Chances When Kramer Pitches a 5-Hitter". The New York Times. p. S1.
  21. ^ Shaughnessy 1990, p. 79
  22. ^ Drebinger, John (October 5, 1948). "Indians Win American League Flag, Beating Red Sox in Play-Off, 8–3". The New York Times. p. 1.
  23. ^ Frommer & Frommer 2004, p. 319
  24. ^ Vaccaro 2005, pp. 322–325
  25. ^ Shaughnessy 1990, pp. 98–99
  26. ^ Shaughnessy 1990, p. 102
  27. ^ Chavis, Christopher D. "October 3, 1972: Fenway faithful are left wondering 'what if' as Tigers win AL East by a half-game". Retrieved October 26, 2021.
  28. ^ Shaughnessy 2005, p. 7
  29. ^ Shaughnessy 1990, p. 138
  30. ^ Shaughnessy 1990, p. 175
  31. ^ Shaughnessy 2005, p. 8
  32. ^ Vecsey, George (October 26, 1986). "Sports of the Times: The World Series '86; Red Sox: 68 Years and Counting". The New York Times. p. A3. Archived from the original on May 24, 2015.
  33. ^ Vecsey, George (October 28, 1986). "SPORTS OF THE TIMES; Babe Ruth Curse Strikes Again". The New York Times. p. D33. Archived from the original on May 24, 2015.
  34. ^ Frommer & Frommer 2004, pp. 180–182
  35. ^ a b c Shaughnessy 2005, pp. 14, 29–30
  36. ^ "Fan summits Everest, burns Yankee cap". Associated Press. June 20, 2001.
  37. ^ Landrigan, Leslie (April 2, 2017). "Babe Ruth Throws a Piano Into a Pond: The Truth Behind the Legend". New England Historical Society.
  38. ^ Michael Clair (October 31, 2018). "The Red Sox once turned to a witch to end a losing streak ... and it worked".
  39. ^ McGrory, Brian (September 2, 2004). "Taking teeth out of curse?". The Boston Globe.
  40. ^ Shaughnessy 2005, p. 159
  41. ^ Popper, Steve (September 1, 2004). "Slide of the Yankees: Pinstripes Punished". The New York Times. p. D1.
  42. ^ Blum, Ronald (August 31, 2004). "Indians 22, Yankees 0". Associated Press.
  43. ^ Shaughnessy 2005, pp. 83–91
  44. ^ Shaughnessy 2005, p. 193
  45. ^ Shaughnessy, Dan (October 17, 2004). "Red Sox on brink of elimination as Yanks pound them, 19–8". The Boston Globe. Archived from the original on May 27, 2012.
  46. ^ a b Shaughnessy 2005, pp. 197–199
  47. ^ Shaughnessy, Dan (October 21, 2004). "A World Series ticket; Sox complete comeback, oust Yankees for AL title". The Boston Globe.
  48. ^ Shaughnessy, Dan (October 28, 2004). "YES!!! Red Sox complete sweep, win first Series since 1918". The Boston Globe. Retrieved October 29, 2018.
  49. ^ Browne, Ian (October 28, 2004). "Magic 8 ball: Sox rack up history". MLB Advanced Media. Archived from the original on February 7, 2005. Retrieved October 29, 2018.
  50. ^ a b c Stout, Glenn (October 3, 2004). "Curse Born of Hate". ESPN. Archived from the original on January 3, 2005.
  51. ^ Macgregor, Jody (July 28, 2018). "Major events in the Fallout timeline". PC Gamer. Retrieved August 14, 2018.
  52. ^ "Curse of the Bambino – you don't have to have Babe Ruth on your team to remove the curse. Just make 15 target hits".