There are curses in every culture. Ancient Egyptian priests trampled and melted wax effigies of the chaos serpent Apophis to curse his name. The biblical figure Noah cursed his own son, Ham, after the young man unwittingly discovered his father naked in a drunken stupor. When they wanted to bring evil upon their enemies, Irish pagans muttered curses as they stroked and turned bullaun stones. Voodoo necromancers stuck pins in cloth dolls to make their adversaries suffer. In the 16th century, witches were burned at the stake for allegedly hexing their opponents. Even on American television, teen comedy "The Brady Bunch" featured an episode where the Brady kids discover a cursed Tiki amulet and are befallen by a rash of bad luck.
It's no surprise, then, that baseball has its own rich history of curses. For every inspiring story of an underdog's triumph, there's also a tale of some sinister character who has cast his malocchio (evil eye) upon the sport and cursed a player or even an entire team.
In this article, we'll count down baseball's 10 most legendary curses. Our first curse involves a set of bobblehead figurines and a sports franchise that hasn't won a World Series in more than 25 years.
Rumors of a curse have plagued the Mets for decades. It wasn't until 2002 when Gold's Horseradish began producing commemorative Mets bobblehead dolls, however, that fans had a scapegoat upon which to heap their many woes.
As Ken Belson of The New York Times details, nearly every Met who has ever been memorialized with a bobblehead doll has ended up fizzling out the following season. Mike Piazza was the first New York Met to have his likeness emblazoned on a bobblehead. The following year, he hit a piddling 11 home runs, down from 33 the previous season. 2003's winner John Franco went down with an injury. Kazuo "Kaz" Matsui (2004), Pedro Martinez (2005), Paul Lo Duca (2007) and Jason Bray (2010) all failed to live up to their hype after being enshrined in a figurine. 2009's Francisco Rodriguez injured his hand when he punched out his father-in-law, and 2011's Ike Davis was already on the disabled list when Gold's announced that they were commemorating him with a bobblehead [source: Belson].
The bobbleheads may be the least of the Mets worries, however. Some fans swear that the team suffers from a curse that's even more pervasive. What else could explain why such a promising team has spent so many seasons at the bottom of the league?
Many believe the Mets curse is lifting, however. In June 2012, pitcher Johan Santana (2012's bobblehead honoree) pitched a no-hitter for the first time in Mets franchise history. While some say the Mets curse endures (and will until they win another World Series), our next curse has recently been lifted.
By 2003, Texas Rangers third baseman Alex Rodriguez had become one of the most valuable players in baseball. His batting averages were among the best in the game. He'd been voted the American League's most valuable player (MVP), and his star was on the rise.
Then, in an unprecedented move (no currently reigning MVP had ever before been traded), the Rangers inked a lucrative deal to trade A-Rod to the Red Sox. Because the trade included a voluntary salary reduction by Rodriguez, Major League Baseball put the kibosh on the deal. In what some fans later speculated was a repeat of 1918's cursed trade of Babe Ruth, the Yankees stepped in and snatched up the rising star.
At the time of the trade, in spite of being, by all accounts, one of the strongest players in the game, Alex Rodriguez had never won a World Series. After the Yankees acquired the star, fans were sure all that was about to change. As 2004 passed without a World Series victory, however, fans began picking apart Rodriguez' career. "Look at how promising teams floundered after they signed A-Rod," they whispered, "Maybe he's cursed!" By 2005, sports media began drawing parallels between the A-Rod and Babe Ruth trades and speculating that perhaps Babe Ruth's curse of the Bambino, broken in 2004, had morphed into the curse of A-Rod. As year after year passed without a World Series win, the curse of A-Rod became legendary.
Then, in 2009, the Yankees won the World Series. Today, some claim the curse of A-Rod never existed at all. Others blame the Yankee's losing streak on a coach.
Long before Alex Rodriguez batted his first ball, baseball superstar Don Mattingly ruled the game. He was so beloved, in fact, that fans christened him with two nicknames: "Donnie Baseball" and "The Hit Man." By the time Mattingly retired in 1996, most fans were already taking bets on when he'd be inducted into baseball's Hall of Fame.
Year after year, however, Mattingly is passed up for the honor. New York Post writer Robert A. George says it's because he's cursed. Despite all of Mattingly's success as a Yankee, George argues, the team never won a World Series while Mattingly manned first base. Following his retirement, however, the Yankees celebrated World Series victory four times. Then, in 2004 after Mattingly returned to the team as a hitting coach, the Yankees promptly bombed the last four games of the Series, losing 4-3 to the Red Sox. Further fueling curse speculation is the fact that when Mattingly left the Yankees in 2007 the team went on to cinch the 2009 World Series victory: Coincidence or curse? "In a game where superstition accounts for quite a lot, Don Mattingly is the black cat, the broken mirror and the crack in the sidewalk all rolled into one," concludes Robert George [source: Suellentrop].
Players and coaches aren't the only ones to blame for baseball's most legendary curses, however. Our next cursed team, Japan's Hanshin Tigers, blames its fans. Find out why next.
Most of the curses on our list are the result of greed, disrespect or questionable decision-making on the part of baseball's players, coaches or team owners. Blame for the curse of the Colonel, however, lies squarely with the fans.
Almost 30 years ago, a team called the Hanshin Tigers won the Japan Series in an upset victory over the Seibu Lions. Exuberant fans took to the streets to celebrate. The party ended up on a bridge overlooking a local canal, where supporters plunged into the river one by one, each man shouting each player's name as he leapt from the bridge. It so happened that the number of players surpassed the number of willing jumpers. As luck would have it, there was a life-size statue of Colonel Sanders standing in front of a nearby Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant. The crowd seized it and tossed it into the river in honor of MVP Randy Bass. Thus began a losing streak that continues to this day.
In 2009, a body was spotted in the canal, and divers were sent in to recover it. Instead of retrieving a corpse, however, it turned out that they had rescued the torso of the desecrated Colonel Sanders statue. Fans were hopeful that recovering the statue would break the curse. No such luck. The Tigers' losing streak continues -- for now.
Fans may be to blame for the curse of the Colonel. In our next segment, however, it's a memorial statue that held the grudge.
When it was erected in 1901, Philadelphia City Hall, topped with a statue of town founder William Penn, was the tallest building in the world. Sports fans never connected the statue with the success of its sports teams until one fateful day in March 1987. On that day, a new skyscraper, One Liberty Place, was erected, dwarfing the statue of Billy Penn by almost 400 feet. Immediately, Philadelphia sports teams were plunged into a decades-long losing streak.
The curse of Billy Penn not only affected hometown baseball heroes, the Phillies. It also affected Philadelphia's other sports franchises. In the years that One Liberty Place overshadowed the statue of William Penn, The Flyers lost the Stanley Cup finals, the Eagles crashed and burned in the NFC Championships and the 76ers blew the NBA finals. There was even a Pennsylvania racehorse that bombed at Belmont.
Some scoff at the idea that a statue could curse the sports dreams of an entire city. Those scoffers were silenced, however, when the Phillies rallied to win the 2008 World Series. It turned out that a couple of enterprising ironworkers had snuck a statuette of William Penn onto the top of The Comcast Center, which in 2007 had surpassed One Liberty Place as Philly's tallest building.
The curse of Billy Penn isn't the only famous baseball curse to have been levied by an inanimate object. The curse of Captain Eddie is coming up next!
In 1918, New York Giants player "Captain Eddie" Grant became the first major league ball player to die in World War I. The team honored him with a commemorative plaque at center field in New York's Polo Stadium in New York. Overseen by Captain Eddie, the Giants went on to win the World Series in 1921 and then again in '22, '33 and '54.
Then, in 1957, unhappy with the diminishing physical condition of Polo Stadium, the Giants relocated to San Francisco. Captain Eddie's plaque disappeared. Fans stormed the field after the team's last game at Polo Stadium, and some say the plaque was looted. Others claim it was simply lost in the move. In any case, the Giants seemed to lose their mojo after they made the move to San Francisco. As decades passed with no further World Series wins, a legend sprung up that Captain Eddie had cursed the Giants.
Finally, team owner Peter Magowan ordered a replacement plaque. It was installed in AT&T Stadium in 2006, and in 2010, the Giants won the World Series. Reinstalling the plaque may have reversed the curse of Captain Eddie, but for close to a century, it looked like nothing would save the Red Sox from their curse. Curious? Read on.
The curse of the Bambino is probably the most legendary curse in all of baseball. The story goes like this: Once upon a time, there was a wildly successful baseball team called the Red Sox. They won the first-ever World Series in 1903, and in the decade that followed, they stockpiled a mind-boggling five more wins. They owed much of their success to their star player Babe Ruth, also known as "the Bambino." Then, in 1919, the Red Sox traded Babe Ruth to their archrival, the Yankees. 86 long and frustrating years passed before the Red Sox finally won the 2004 World Series, breaking the curse of the Bambino.
There were countless attempts to break the curse its 86-year history. Beginning in the early 1990's fans regularly altered a "Reverse Curve" sign to read "Reverse the Curse." In 1992, a Boston radio station held an exorcism in front of Fenway Park. In 2001, uber-fan Paul Giorgio climbed Mount Everest and left a Red Sox ball cap on an altar at the summit. In the lead-up to the 2004 overthrow of the curse, Ford Motor Company even aired a television commercial featuring a hitchhiker who was on his way to Boston to because he had "a curse to break."
Though legendary, most would agree that the Red Sox probably didn't deserve to suffer for 86 years. The team that suffered from our next curse, however, deserved everything they got.
In 1919, bitter over salary disputes, eight White Sox players put their heads together and figured out a way to get the money they felt was their due. The scheme they concocted resulted in one of the biggest scandals in baseball history.
As ringleader Arnold "Chick" Gandil confessed in a 1959 Sports Illustrated article, he was approached by two men, "Sport" Sullivan and Arnold Rothstein, who proposed a conspiracy to throw the 1919 World Series. Soon, another gambler, Bill Burns, got wind of the deal and said he'd top their offer. Rather than choose between the two deals, eight greedy White Sox conspirators decided to cash in from both parties. Earnest money was exchanged, and the deal was sealed.
Before they could throw the series, however, reporters started sniffing around. Conspiracy rumors ran rampant and several players got cold feet. In his article, Chick admitted to the scheme, as well as to the fact that the players accepted $10,000 in earnest money, but he maintained that the Sox didn't actually throw the game. Ultimately, the eight players were put on trial and found to be innocent. However, they were banned from baseball for life, and for the next 86 years, the team known as the White Sox suffered the curse of the Black Sox. The curse was finally laid to rest in 2005 when the White Sox won the World Series.
Unlike the curse of the Black Sox, our top two most legendary baseball curses of all time remain unbroken.
The White Sox weren't the only team to be cursed because of greed. The curse of Rocky Colavito, some say, can also be traced directly back to the tight-fisted financial practices of the Cleveland Indians general manager, Frank Lane.
Right fielder Rocky Colavito was a star player, a real homerun hitter. In the two seasons that preceded his trade in 1960, Colavito had more home runs than any other player in the American League. He thought that entitled him to a raise, but Frank Lane disagreed and traded him to the Detroit Tigers. Maybe it was the cold-hearted way team manager Joe Gordon broke the news to him, coming up to Colavito on the field and telling him "That's the last time you'll ever bat for the Indians," but Colavito is still bitter about the trade. He's quoted in a 2010 Cleveland Plain Dealer article as saying, "I loved Cleveland and the Indians. I never wanted to leave" [source: Pluto].
The Indians bought Colavito back in 1965, but the move didn't reverse the curse. This, Colavito maintains, is because he didn't curse the Indians; Frank Lane did. Whatever the reason, the curse remains. The Cleveland Indians haven't won a World Series title since 1948. That could change in 2016, however. Our next curse has been in effect even longer. Find out which team has the longest-running curse in baseball history next.
In the early days of baseball, the Chicago Cubs were prizewinners. They took home the World Series title in both 1907 and 1908. In 1916, wealthy industrialist William Wrigley bought the team and hired upstart sports writer William Veeck to help him run it. Under the guidance of the "double Bills," the Cubs won the National League pennant four times.
The team had a few fallow years following their 1938 pennant win, but nothing that elicited whispers about a curse. Then, in 1945, William "Billy Goat" Sianis tried to bring his pet goat, Murphy, into Wrigley Field for game four of the World Series. Sianis and Murphy enjoyed the game until owner P.K. Wrigley, who had inherited the Cubs from his father William, ejected them from the stadium claiming that the goat smelled. Incensed, Billy Goat Sianis left the field muttering a curse on the team. Since then, it's been downhill for the Cubs.
In 1969, the Cubs had all but cinched the pennant and a shot at the World Series when, in a crucial moment, a black cat streaked across the field. Not only did the Cubs lose that race, they also choked in 1984, 1989 and 2003. In fact, the Cubs are currently suffering from the longest championship drought in all of American sports history. It doesn't get much more cursed than that! But that could finally change this year when the Cubs face the Indians.
Fans can be pretty rabid about their sports teams. The next time you're tempted to place a curse on your favorite team, remember the curse of the Billy Goat and think twice about where you aim your evil eye!
Baseball's fourth out is just one of the kookier rules in the not so simple U.S. pastime. Learn what a fourth out is at HowStuffWorks.
- Belson, Ken. "The Mets' Bobblehead Curse Lives." The New York Times. May 25, 2011. (Aug. 1, 2012) http://bats.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/05/25/the-mets-bobblehead-curse-lives/
- Bogen, Gil. "The Billy Goat Curse: Losing and Superstition in Cubs Baseball Since World War II." McFarland & Company. 2009. (Aug. 1, 2012) http://books.google.com/books?id=PCpHkucJCrUC&dq=baseball+curse&source=gbs_navlinks_s
- Borer, Michael. "Faithful to Fenway: Believing in Boston, Baseball, and America's Most Beloved Ballpark." NYU Press. April 1, 2008. (Aug. 1, 2012) http://books.google.com/books?id=kPTm_kRC3yAC&dq=mt+everest+yankee+cap&source=gbs_navlinks_s
- Bradley, Mickey and Dan Gordan. "Haunted Baseball: Ghosts, Curses, Legends, and Eerie Events." Lyons Press. 2007. (Aug. 1, 2012) http://books.google.com/books?id=6kRtax5fgtUC&dq=baseball+curse&source=gbs_navlinks_s
- Davey, Monica. "Baseball: Curses, Old and New, Haunt the Cubs' Fans." The New York Times. Oct. 16, 2003. (Aug. 1, 2012) http://www.nytimes.com/2003/10/16/sports/baseball-curses-old-and-new-haunt-the-cubs-fans.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm
- Gandil, Arnold (Chick). "This is My Story of the Black Sox Series." Sports Illustrated. Sept. 17, 1956. (Aug. 1, 2012) http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/vault/article/magazine/MAG1131689/index.htm
- Pluto, Terry. "50 Years Later: The Cleveland Indians Trade of Rocky Colavito still Stinks." The Cleveland Plain Dealer. April 16, 2010. (Aug. 1, 2012) http://www.cleveland.com/pluto/blog/index.ssf/2010/04/50_years_later_colavito_trade.html
- Rubin, Roger. "After Babe Ruth's curse was broken, attention has turned to Alex Rodriguez's failures in the clutch." New York Daily News. Sept. 30, 2009. (Aug. 1, 2012) http://articles.nydailynews.com/2009-09-20/sports/17932289_1_yankee-fans-baseball-fans-curse/3
- Shaughnessy, Dan. "Reversing the Curse: Inside the 2004 Boston Red Sox." Houghton Mifflin Company. 2005. (Aug. 1, 2012) http://books.google.com/books?id=7oTz2QOi9KoC&dq=baseball+curse&source=gbs_navlinks_s
- Suellentrop, Chris. "The Curse of 'Donnie Baseball'." The New York Times. Oct. 26, 2007. (Aug. 3, 2012) http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2007/10/26/the-curse-of-donnie-baseball/