ST. LOUIS – Harry Frazee was ready for the reaction.
The Boston Red Sox owner had just sold Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees for $125,000 and a $350,000 loan.
“Ruth had simply become impossible and the Boston club could no longer put up with his eccentricities,” he said. “While Ruth, without question, is the greatest hitter the game has ever seen, he is likewise one of the most selfish and inconsiderate men that ever wore a baseball uniform.”
So began what’s now known as The Curse of the Bambino, on Jan. 3, 1920. It lasted until Wednesday night, when the Red Sox beat the St. Louis Cardinals 3-0 for a sweep and their first World Series title since 1918.
The Series flag will return to Fenway Park on April 11, and the Yankees – of all teams – will get to watch it rise. New York, which blew a three-games-to-none lead against the Red Sox in the AL championship series, is the visiting team in Boston’s home opener.
For the first time in more than eight decades, the Red Sox can put behind them the sad history that is so well known by players and fans who suffered with them for all those years.
“I heard about it before I got here,” Boston closer Keith Foulke said Wednesday. “I mean, it’s funny that a team that’s been this good hasn’t won for all those years, but the reason they didn’t win wasn’t because of a curse. The curse thing doesn’t affect anyone here.”
The Red Sox had won five of the first 15 World Series before the trade.
Ruth, then a pitcher, too, threw a six-hit shutout against the Chicago Cubs in the opener at Comiskey Park, winning 1-0. He then beat the Cubs 3-2 at Fenway in Game 4 on three days’ rest.
When Stuffy McInnis gloved second baseman Dave Shean’s throw to first on Les Mann’s grounder to seal Boston’s 2-1 victory in Game 6 at Fenway, the reaction was muted. Perhaps it was because World War I caused the major leagues to stop the season a month early. That final game, played on Sept. 11, drew just over 15,000 fans.
“Boston is the luckiest baseball spot on earth, for it has never lost a world’s series,” The New York Times reported the following day.
Still, the gloominess was unmistakable.
“After the game, the crowd filed out of the gates with about as much enthusiasm as a party of home folks trooping out of a poor-moving picture show,” the report said. “No hero was proclaimed, no player got a ride on any one’s shoulders. no star was patted on the back or wildly cheered to a niche in baseball’s temple of fame. The finish was as uneventful as the last moment of a double-header in Brooklyn.”
And then came the drought.
Boston didn’t get back to the World Series until 1946. That’s when shortstop Johnny Pesky did or didn’t hold the relay as Enos Slaughter scored from first on Harry Walker’s eighth-inning double, which provided the go-ahead run in the Cardinals’ 4-3 win in Game 7 at Sportsman’s Park.
In 1967, the Red Sox and Cardinals went to the seventh game again and started Jim Lonborg, who pitched a one-hit shutout in Game 2 and a three-hitter in Boston’s Game 5 win. Pitching on two days’ rest, Lonborg lost 7-2 at Fenway to Bob Gibson, who pitched a three-hitter on three days’ rest for his third win of the Series.
In 1975, Carlton Fisk hit a 12th-inning homer off the left-field foul pole to win Game 6, jumping and famously waving his arms to will the ball fair. But Boston wasted a 3-0 lead in Game 7, also at Fenway. Joe Morgan blooped a go-ahead ninth-inning single off Jim Burton in Cincinnati’s 4-3 win.
Perhaps the worst torture came in 1986 when the Red Sox came within a strike of winning the title in Game 6. But then came Bob Stanley’s tying wild pitch and Mookie Wilson’s winning grounder through the legs of first baseman Bill Buckner. Boston again wasted a 3-0 lead in Game 7, losing 8-5.
“This team deserved better,” Stanley said then. “We deserved to win, but we didn’t.”
Even if it took years for all that bad luck to be formally called The Curse, Boston’s dismay was immediately clear when Ruth was sent packing.
“This is not the first time that Boston baseball has been shocked by the sale of a wonderful player,” The Boston Post said in an editorial. “Cy Young and Tris Speaker went their ways, much to the disgust of the faithful, but the club did not suffer materially. But Ruth is different.”
Perhaps too different for Frazee.
“Had he possessed the right disposition, had he been willing to take orders and work for the good of the club like other men on the team, I would never had dared let him go,” Frazee said. “Twice during the past two seasons Babe has jumped the club and revolted. He refused to obey orders of the manager.”
And the rest is history.