Are Cubs and Red Sox on a Collision Curse?

Curses! The Cubs and the Red Sox are in the playoffs again!

You know what that means. Round-the-clock talk of hexes and vexes and grudges from beyond the grave, as if decades of neglecting the most important facet of baseball -- people, it is called "pitching" -- had nothing to do with long championship droughts in Chicago and Boston.

The Chicago Cubs haven't won the World Series since 1908. The Boston Red Sox haven't won the World Series since 1918. Noting these numbers, the self-absorbed fans of the Cubs and Red Sox believe they are cursed.

They're not the only ones.

For the next week at least, for as long as the Cubs and Red Sox can hold out, we are going to be inundated with song and verse about this curse and that curse, Billy Goats and Bambinos, "Bull" Durham and Bill Buckner, Don Zimmer and Don Zimmer, and, oh, woe is us, can't you feel our pain?

Sorry, we can't. In this part of the country, we're too busy trying to dig out from under the curse of Piazza, the curse of Georgia, the curse of the Donald and the curse of McSorley's curved stick.

Give us a break. We're still recovering from the heavy lifting required for the removal of two of the worst curses on the landscape, the curse of Disney and the curse of the Halos. It took 42 torturous years for the Angels to purge their hellish demons, finally getting the monkey off their backs and replacing it with a video "rally monkey" that somehow didn't die of overexposure during the team's championship run of 2002.

(And if you think that's the kind of trade you'd be willing to make, Cub and Red Sox fans, you might want to first give us a call.)

Red Sox fans think their team is cursed because the Red Sox won the World Series in 1918, sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees a little more than a year later and haven't won the World Series since.

Cub fans think their team is cursed because the last time they reached the World Series, in 1945, the team refused to play along with a publicity stunt by the owner of the Billy Goat tavern, denying William Sianis' goat entry into Wrigley Field for Game 4. According to the legend, an angry Sianis held up both hands and declared, "There will never be another World Series played in Wrigley Field" and, well, the Cubs and their fans are still waiting to prove Sianis wrong.

Sianis was no high priest of dark magic. He just owned a bar in Chicago. But, he was a smart businessman -- smart enough to turn a mangy goat into nearly 60 years' worth of word-of-mouth publicity, and smart enough to know how to hedge his bet.

Note that Sianis cursed the Cubs. Not the Yankees, or the Giants, or the Dodgers, or the Cardinals. The Cubs.

Anyone can put a "curse" on the Cubs and come away looking fairly warlock-like.

Let's try another:

I hereby declare the Tampa Bay Devil Rays will never win the World Series.

There.

It's all silly stuff, this notion of baseball teams being cursed, as if the avenging gods have nothing else to do with their time but manage their rotisserie league. In the grand cosmic scheme, the fact that the Red Sox sold Babe Ruth for $125,000 before the 1920 season is peanuts compared to, say, the Red Sox not integrating their roster until 1959.

If you're looking for a tangible reason why the Red Sox haven't won it all in 85 years, start there. As the current HBO special, "The Curse of the Bambino," points out, the Red Sox had chances to sign Jackie Robinson and Willie Mays when they were prospects. They both could hit, run and field, but they lacked the skin color Tom Yawkey's Red Sox preferred, so they signed elsewhere, and won elsewhere, while the Red Sox watched the game pass them by.

Pumpsie Green broke the Red Sox's color barrier in 1959, 12 years after Robinson's debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers, making the Red Sox the last major league team to officially join the 20th century. The team's racist past haunted the Red Sox more than any ghost of Ruth. During baseball's first decade and a half of free agency, from 1976 to 1992, the Red Sox failed to sign a single black free agent.

The Red Sox have also been hindered by the thing that most defines them, their fabled home field, Fenway Park. Seduced by the park's inviting left-field dimensions, the Red Sox built teams to beat the Green Monster instead of the Yankees, loading their roster with lumbering right-handed home-run hitters who couldn't run or field and really didn't know how to cope with those 81 games the Red Sox had to play away from Fenway every season.

And, the Red Sox have been guilty of sabotaging themselves. All this teeth-gnashing over Bucky Dent's playoff-winning home run in '78 and Buckner's ground-ball gaffe in '86 could have been avoided if Red Sox management had paid more attention to the team's bullpen over the years, or if the '78 Red Sox hadn't blown a 14 1/2-game lead over the Yankees in August, or if Manager John McNamara had brought in Dave Stapleton as a defensive replacement for Buckner in the 10th inning of Game 6 of the '86 World Series.

But "The Curse of the Racist Team That Was Too Mired in Self-Pity to Notice That the Real Problem Here Just Might Be Itself" is hard to squeeze onto the cover of a paperback. And though HBO might be edgy as TV networks go, that kind of title wasn't going to fly when there's footage to be aired of Father Guido Sarducci performing a Fenway exorcism and divers scouring the bottom of a New England lake searching for the remains of Babe Ruth's piano.

HBO has yet to check in on the Cubs, but Cub fans are a determined group. Not wanting to slip behind the Red Sox in the all-important curse publicity standings, a trio of Cub fans brought a goat to Houston's Minute Maid Park on Sept. 22 in a calculated attempt to reverse the Billy Goat curse.

With television camera crews and newspaper photographers looking on, three Cub fans and a goat tried to enter the Astros' ballpark. History repeated itself: The goat was denied at the door.

The Cub fans immediately declared they were passing the curse onto the Astros and read aloud the following incantation:

Two years shy of 60 cursed,

For all this time, the Cubs were worst.

Armed with goat and mystic verse,

We hereby reverse the Curse!

You had your chance to let him in,

But now no more will the Astros win.

We'll take our goat and leave this place,

Along with your hopes in this pennant race!

The Astros lost to the Cubs that night, blowing the game in the ninth inning, and wound up finishing a game behind Chicago in the National League Central standings.

The Astros, by the way, haven't won a pennant during their 42 years of existence, were the first to inflict the scourge of AstroTurf upon the major leagues and initially named their new ballpark after Enron. As far as curses and cosmic comeuppances go, the Astros didn't need any additional kindling.

If fans of the Cubs and the Red Sox truly want to get to the bottom of this curse business, why haven't they look more closely at the famous ivy crawling up the outfield walls of Wrigley Park?

Those ivy vines were planted by Bill Veeck in 1937. Veeck started out with 350 Japanese bittersweet plants and 200 Boston ivy plants.

Bittersweet. Boston.

And then Veeck went on to run the Cleveland Indians, who last won the World Series in 1948, and the Chicago White Sox, who last won the World Series in 1917.

Explains a lot, don't you think?

So the Cubs and the Red Sox are ready for another October up against it. To get to the World Series this time, the Cubs will have to weed through the gnarled karma of the Atlanta Braves, who bear the curse of grandiose underachievement, and then, probably, the San Francisco Giants, who last won the World Series in 1954, when they were called the New York Giants.

The Red Sox, meanwhile, appear doomed already.

Do you know who narrated "The Curse of the Bambino?"

Ben Affleck.

That's right. "The Curse of Gigli" does "The Curse of the Bambino."

If HBO thought it was helping the cause of the Red Sox fan, it didn't do its homework. Now the Red Sox curse has been doubly cursed. And we with it. Because we are the ones who will have to hear about it, over and over, for the next 85 years.

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