Most Famous Curses In Baseball
Legends are a part of any great sport, and the ones associated with baseball are among the most intriguing in sport. Many of these legends have even developed into “curses” fans blame for their teams’ lack of World Series wins.
From incidents involving goats to bitter rivalries to cheating scandals, teams saddled with such curses mope through the postseason, equal parts hopeful that they will break the curse and resigned to falling short of a title once again. Of course, looking at these curses in amusement becomes much easier now that the Cubbies’ Curse of the Billy Goat has finally been put to rest.
There is no physical proof these curses are “real,” of course. In most cases, they’re coping mechanisms used by teams’ fan bases to help explain futility on the field over an extended period of years or even decades.
Don’t tell that to the fans, however. To them, the curses are very real. Yet as tortuous as these curses can be for fans of various baseball teams, they can be equally — if not more — euphoric once the curse is finally broken, as the Cubs’ 2016 breakthrough showed us.
Here, in no particular order, are seven of the most famous curses in baseball history.
Curse of the Bambino
Boston Red Sox
How the Curse Started
It’s no secret Red Sox fans hate the New York Yankees, and this is one reason why. It all began in 1920, when the Red Sox sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees. Before the sale, the Sox had won five of the first 15 World Series played, including two in which Ruth was a key pitcher, during 1916 and 1918. Before the sale, the Yankees had never made it to the World Series.
In the 84 years after the move, however, the Yankees played in the World Series 39 times and won 26 titles, while the Red Sox played in four and lost each time. In each of those four appearances, Boston lost the World Series in seven games. One of the most infamous chokes came in 1986, when Bill Buckner committed one of the worst World Series errors of all time in Game 6. That helped the New York Mets even the series at three games apiece before going on to win in Game 7.
How the Red Sox Resolved the Curse
In 2004, the Red Sox trailed the Yankees 3-0 in the American League Championship Series while being outscored 19-8. Game 4 didn’t look much better, with the Sox trailing 4-3 in the bottom of the ninth inning. Boston pulled out game four in extra innings and eventually won the series to become the first team ever to win a seven-game series in the postseason after trailing three games to zero.
The Red Sox then went on to sweep the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series for their first championship since 1918. They have since won two more world championships, in 2007 and 2013.
Curse of Captain Eddie
San Francisco Giants
How the Curse Started
Eddie Grant was a solid-but-not-great player in his day. He spent 10 seasons in the Majors from 1905 to 1915, including his final three with the then-New York Giants. Grant later served as a captain in World War I, hence the name Captain Eddie, and in 1918 he was the first Major Leaguer killed in the war. The Giants erected a monument honoring Grant on Memorial Day in 1921 at the Polo Grounds, the team’s home stadium. They won the next two World Series, along with two more in 1933 and 1954.
The Giants left New York for San Francisco following the 1957 season, and after their final game at the Polo Grounds, Grant’s plaque went missing. A long drought ensued. San Francisco lost the World Series in 1962 and 1971, then didn’t make another postseason appearance until 1987. They lost the World Series again in 1989, and didn’t return until 2002. Grant’s plaque was still missing.
How the Giants Resolved the Curse
Finally, on Memorial Day in 2006, team ownership put up a new plaque honoring Grant at its stadium in San Francisco. At the time, a team official told author Mickey Bradley, “Baseball fans are so superstitious, and players are too, so you have to take this stuff seriously. And if by putting up a plaque we can break some sort of curse, who’s to say it’s not the right thing to do?”
It didn’t take long for the team’s fortunes to change. The Giants beat the Texas Rangers in five games in the 2010 World Series, following that up with championships in 2012 and 2014. They also beat the Mets in the 2016 NL Wild Card Game before losing to the Cubs in the NLDS.
Curse of the Colonel
Hanshin Tigers of Japan
How the Curse Started
Baseball curses aren’t exclusive to the United States. The Hanshin Tigers are one of the most popular baseball teams in Japan and known to have the rowdiest fans. The team was very successful in its early years, winning four Japanese Baseball League championships from 1937 to 1947.
In 1950, Japan adopted a two-league system similar to what we’re used to in the U.S., with the Central League and the Pacific League, similar to the National League and American League. The Tigers made Japan Series appearances in 1962 and 1964, then finally won the whole thing in 1985. That’s also when the current curse began.
Fans gathered on a bridge in Osaka after the championship win, and each time one of those fans screamed a name of a player from the winning team, someone who resembled that player jumped into the Dotonbori River. The problem came when nobody in the crowd looked like Randy Bass, a bearded American who was one of the team’s best players. Fans instead found a statue of KFC mascot Colonel Sanders, dressed it like Bass, and dumped it into the river. The team hasn’t won a Japanese championship since.
How the Tigers Resolved the Curse
This curse hasn’t been resolved, although it perhaps it will be eventually. In 2009, a group of divers located the Colonel Sanders statue in the river and pulled it out. Sanders’ glasses and one of his hands were missing. Since then, the Tigers still haven’t won a championship. They did, however, return to the Japan Series in 2014, losing to the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks. Maybe another Japanese title after 32 long years will come soon.
Curse of Billy Penn
How the Curse Started
This curse actually affected all of Philadelphia’s sports teams, including the Phillies, Eagles, 76ers and Flyers. It’s named after city founder William (“Billy”) Penn, a statue of whom sits atop Philadelphia City Hall. For years, City Hall was the tallest building in town, thanks to an unofficial agreement that didn’t allow new buildings to rise above Penn’s statue. That went out the window in 1987 with One Liberty Place, a skyscraper nearly 400 feet taller than the City Hall building.
After the skyscraper was erected, it seemed impossible for any of the major four pro sports teams in Philly to bring home a title. Many teams got close, including the Phillies in 1993. That team upset the Atlanta Braves in the NLCS and faced the Toronto Blue Jays in the World Series but lost in Game 6 thanks to Joe Carter’s famous walk-off home run.
How the Phillies Resolved the Curse
In 2007, Philadelphia became home to the Comcast Center, which at 975 feet remains the city’s tallest building. During its construction, workers placed a statue of William Penn on a beam in the building’s highest point, an attempt to recreate the idea that no building in the city should rise above Penn.
At the time, Liberty Property Trust CEO Bill Hankowsky told the Philadelphia Inquirer, “We don’t believe in the myth, but to be safe we’ve added the statue of Billy Penn.” The company was responsible for both One Liberty Place in 1987 and the Comcast Center in 2007.
Just over a year later, the Phillies reversed the curse with a five-game World Series win over Tampa Bay in fall of 2008. It was the first title for Philly in the four major pro sports since the 1983 76ers won the NBA championship. Somebody may want to check if Penn’s statue is still at the top of the Comcast Center, however. Since the Phillies’ 2008 World Series win, no other pro team in the city has won a league championship.
Curse of Rocky Colavito
How the Curse Started
It may be hard to believe, but the Cleveland Indians actually have won the World Series. In fact, they’ve done it twice, 1920 and 1948, and they also lost to the New York Giants in the 1954 World Series.
In 1960, the Indians traded star right fielder Rocky Colavito. He was coming off back-to-back 40-home-run seasons, and he had made his first All-Star game in 1959. After a run of success, he demanded a higher salary, which ticked off team general manager Frank Lane and moved him to trade Colavito to the Detroit Tigers for Harvey Kuenn.
Now, Kuenn was no slouch. He won the AL batting title in 1959, and he made the All-Star game in his first season with Cleveland in 1960. The problem was, 1960 was his only season with the Indians. The team turned around and traded him as well, shipping him to the San Francisco Giants following his first and only season in Cleveland. Meanwhile, Colavito was an All-Star in two of the next three seasons with the Tigers.
Cleveland’s bad fortune began after Colavito was traded. In fairness to the player, it wasn’t really his fault the trade occurred. He contends the curse should be named after Lane, and maybe he’s right. That said, “The Frank Lane Curse” doesn’t have the same ring as “The Rocky Colavito Curse.” As recently as 2010 — some 50 years after the trade — Colavito still wasn’t happy about the move. He told The Cleveland Plain-Dealer, “I loved the Indians. I never wanted to leave. It was ego. Pure ego, that’s why he [Lane] traded me.”
How the Indians Resolved the Curse
The curse has not been broken, although the Indians have come close to doing so. It did take some time, however. Since losing the World Series in 1954, the Indians didn’t make another postseason appearance until 1995, when they lost the World Series to the Atlanta Braves. Cleveland also lost the 1997 World Series to the Florida Marlins, and, of course, lost the 2016 edition to the Cubbies. During that time, the team has also made two other ALCS appearances, 1998 and 2007.
Curse of the Black Sox
Chicago White Sox
How the Curse Started
In the early days of baseball, the White Sox won two World Series, in 1906 and 1917. The team lost the Series in 1919, and appeared on its way back to another pennant during the 1920 season. The team suffered several suspensions toward the end of that season, though, thanks to the infamous Black Sox scandal, in which eight players were accused of throwing the 1919 Series in exchange for cash from gamblers.
The team missed out on the World Series that season and wouldn’t make another appearance until losing the 1959 Series to the Los Angeles Dodgers. After that, the Sox didn’t make a postseason appearance until a 1983 ALCS loss to the Baltimore Orioles. They lost again in the ALCS in 1993, and they didn’t return to the World Series until 2005.
How the White Sox Resolved the Curse
The 2005 season ended the curse for the White Sox, thanks to an impressive postseason performance. That team swept the Red Sox in the ALDS, beat the Angels 4-1 in the ALCS, and then swept the Astros in the World Series for their first championship in 88 years. Alas, since then, the Sox have made just one appearance in the postseason.
Curse of the Billy Goat
How the Curse Started
This is one of the most famous curses in all of sports, and now that it’s finally over, it’s near and dear to our hearts. You probably know the story by now, but here’s the short version.
Bar owner William Sianis and his pet goat, Murphy, were tossed out of Wrigley Field during Game 4 of the 1945 World Series because some fans weren’t pleased with the smell of the goat. Sianis was outraged and was said to put a curse on the Cubs, reportedly writing a telegram to team owner P.K. Wrigley in which he swore the Cubbies would lose the World Series because the goat had been disrespected. And apparently he was on to something.
The Cubs indeed lost that 1945 World Series. They hadn’t won the title since the 1908 season. After that, the curse went on and on.
How the Cubs Resolved the Curse
You probably already know the rest anyway, but it’s definitely one worth repeating. In 2016 the Cubs made their first World Series appearance since Sianis and Murphy were shown the door at Wrigley in 1945. The team had been close on a number of occasions, but we don’t have to get into that — thanks, Bartman.
On the 46th anniversary of Sianis’ death, the Cubs beat the Dodgers to clinch the team’s first Series berth in 71 years. Then, on Nov. 2, in one of the most exciting and dramatic World Series Game 7s ever played, the Cubs defeated the Indians — sorry Cleveland — 8-7 in 10 innings to win the team’s first championship since 1908.
Since ’45, many Cubs teams weren’t very competitive, so it was their futility become somewhat easier to deal with, or at least somewhat expected. In the years when the team was strong, it always found ways to disappoint in the end — ahem, Bartman. Those years were even tougher.
But no matter how old you are and how many of the bad years you endured, each and every season of futility made last year’s championship run even sweeter. What a fine way to break baseball’s worst curse.