Picktures and Pieces 3: The Curse (of the Curse) of Babe Ruth

The Curse (of the Curse) of Babe Ruth

by Randall Auxier


Cubs fans, take a knee. This concerns your souls and you need to listen. I have a message for you from the Baseball Gods. I don’t know why they chose me, a Cardinals devotee, (with some Braves leanings on the side), as the vessel of their judgment and their will, but they did. It’s up to them. Anyway, they have given me a message, a revelation really, and a prophecy, and you need to give heed. I don’t know how or why, but I understand the nature of your curse. I know how it happened, and I know how to break it.

Some people don’t believe in the Baseball Gods. The unbelieving dogs pretty much deserve whatever they get. But not exactly, because the Baseball Gods have only a nodding acquaintance with human affairs. They don’t care whether anybody “believes in them,” and they don’t always reward piety and they don’t always punish hubris. They could, if they wanted to seem Abrahamic. But the BG’s don’t know about modern religions (less than 2500 years old), and they don’t want to know and they don’t need to know. And neither do you, frankly. Let’s leave religion out of this, shall we?

I’m talking about something along the lines of well-organized superstition, but that’s such an ugly word. The BG’s exist in the shadowy region between destiny and fate, and every human being actually understands that place. Athletes understand it better than ordinary people, and baseball players understand it better than other athletes. The baseball gods actually preside over all athletic competitions, but they love baseball most. I think that’s because it showcases their real powers in their pure forms. It would take a book to explain it. But fate is an iron mistress, no room for negotiation, no escape. Destiny is the strong feeling, from a standpoint of limited knowledge, that particular outcomes will definitely come to pass, but there are lots of ways it could happen.

For instance, when the Red Sox won the 2004 World Series, they were a team of destiny, not of fate. It didn’t absolutely have to happen. It almost didn’t happen. But by the time they won Game 6 of the ALCS, I think everyone realized that the Yankees weren’t going to win Game 7. And even though the Cardinals had the best record in baseball that year, and easily the best team, they might as well have forfeited the series. But you still have to play the games, and when you play the games, well, stuff happens. Baseball isn’t governed by fate, but its sense of destiny is strong.

The Baseball Gods love all genuine sports because of their radical contingency, but baseball is a wide open, giant question mark on every single pitch. Some 220 times per evening (or more), one human being hurls a potentially deadly projectile toward another human being, the latter of whom does his dead-level best to launch it in some direction with a stick. The projectile arrives and departs at such a speed as to make it impossible to see, let alone think about. We are out of the human range of planned action. Even the spectators share a small part of the risk. It’s worth it. So don’t talk to me about your safe little Eucharist until you’ve held your front shoulder in while a curve ball comes straight for your head. You want communion? The Baseball Gods will give you a communion you may not survive, and if you do, you’ll either never forget it or never remember anything again. There are no BG atheists on the field.

So you want to know what went wrong? Part of the problem is that Cubs fans have selective memory. They almost never talk about the 1918 World Series. It’s Red Sox fans who used to talk about it, since it had been their last victorious outing, until 2004. Most Cubs fans couldn’t even tell you who the Red Sox beat that year. There were a lot of things that weren’t right about that World Series. It was pretty fishy. I am not the first to glean that this is the source of the problem. But no one has seen it clearly enough to know what to do. People keep thinking the Series might have been rigged. It wasn’t. There was a serious war on. People were making oodles of money on the Great War and didn’t need to rig the Series. By 1919 it was back to business as usual, of course.

When the Cubs lost the 1918 World Series, Babe Ruth pitched for the Red Sox and he won two games. As you already know, the next year the Sox moved him to outfield and then sold him to New York, a profanation for which they paid dearly for some 86 years –which is basically long enough to insure that no Bostonian who could remember the 1918 win was still alive when the baseball gods allowed the Sox to win again. We all know this as the Curse of the Bambino. The Baseball Gods decreed it, but they don’t always agree among themselves, so it was probably possible to break the curse with the right combination of sacrifices, appeasements, and pitching changes.

Now, what is often overlooked is how the Cubs are actually implicated in this curse. The last game the Babe ever won against a National League team was won against the Cubs, in the hallowed Fenway Park. But when the teams played in Chicago, the game was at Comiskey Park, not Wrigley Field. Why? Same reason that the Red Sox sold Babe Ruth: money. Comiskey held more people.

I want you to reflect on the decision to play the World Series in Comiskey Park, down on the south side. Rather than doing the pious thing and staying on the north side, where they belonged, the Cubs decided to play that series away from their fans, for more money. There they were beaten by Babe Ruth, in Game 1. They didn’t even fill the stadium. They sold on 19,274 seats for the game. The stadium would hold almost 32,000. I suppose the south-siders stayed home (duh). Now, between the Red Sox and the Cubs, which team hallowed its new stadium?

The next year Comiskey Park was defiled by the Black Sox scandal and Ruth was sold to the Yankees. The Cubs were caught in the middle of the most shameful year in baseball history, 1919, and had the ill fortune to have been beaten by the player who was marked for the most infamous trade in baseball history, along with having sold out their own fans just to be beaten by him, shut out, no less, in a stadium marked for infamy, that they temporarily occupied because of greed. It was the perfect storm.

Had the Cubs simply stayed on the north side, NONE OF THIS WOULD HAVE HAPPENED, NONE OF IT. Yes, the Black Sox would have thrown the 1919 series and the Red Sox would still have sold Babe Ruth, but it wouldn’t have affected the Cubs. That one little decision to move the series to Comiskey has cost the Cubs over a century of demoralizing, humiliating defeat. The bottom line is this: They didn’t respect their new park and their fans, they went after the bucks, and the the Red Sox and White Sox together did them in. The Cubs failed to respect the great privilege of winning and they failed to respect the game itself. The Baseball Gods noticed. They might not have (sometimes they don’t), but they were watching Ruth. They always watched him, about the way they always watched Gehrig and Aaron and Ripken, the most pious baseball players in history.

The remedy is actually very easy. This is what they told me. The Cubs have to play the Red Sox in Wrigley Field on Sept. 5, 2018, beginning at 1:05 PM, and they have to give away, absolutely free, 19,274 tickets, which was the exact number of Cubs fans they screwed on that awful day when Babe Ruth beat them. No one else allowed in the Park except north-siders who can prove their loyalty. Oh, and I have to be invited and given a box seat behind the Cubs dugout, with my wife. And I will wear Cardinal red, and you’ll all just put up with it. And I will cheer for the Red Sox, and you’ll put up with that too. (If you think about it, that’s how you would want it anyway.)

And the Cubs have to win that game. If they lose, it’s another 100 years. You say this isn’t the Cubs’ fault, and I agree that moving the games of 1918 to Comiskey was, in itself, not punishable by 100 years, but the decision risked the wrath of the baseball gods, whose sense of justice is unfailing –well, no, not unfailing but incontrovertible and final.

This can be undone, but only by doing as I say. Red Sox, 2018, Sept. 5, 1:05 PM, 19,274 free seats. Do it or keep suffering. That is what they told me. I didn’t make it up. Or even of I did, what do you have to lose, at this point? The worst that could happen is you convince the front office to promote a free game that will bring them more in publicity than they could ever afford to buy. Oh, and I get to throw out the first pitch. The Baseball Gods said so.