Reversing the Curse

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9780618517480: Reversing the Curse

For nearly a century, the Boston Red Sox played the underdog to the indomitable New York Yankees in what ESPN named the number-one sports rivalry of all time. But in 2004 the snakebitten Sox finally got their revenge. After Aaron Boone's history-making Homeric blast, which sent the Red Sox packing in October 2003, and the infamous deal that put A-Rod, baseball’s highest-paid player, in pinstripes, the age-old rivalry escalated to dizzying new heights. The result was a season in which a plucky team of comeback kids improbably brought down the House That Ruth Built and went on to right eighty-six years of jinxed history by winning Boston's first World Series since 1918. From right on the frontlines, from the front office to the bleachers, Dan Shaughnessy goes inside to chronicle this unforgettable journey, revealing how a self-described band of "idiots" was able to accomplish what eighty-five teams before it couldn't -- or didn't. We witness the colorful antics of baseball’s best-known stars, the dramatic play on the field punctuated by bench-clearing brawls, and the cold war-style battle being waged behind the scenes. We sit alongside young Theo Epstein as he tries to settle in to one of baseball's most scrutinized jobs. We watch with the Red Sox brass into the wee hours of the night as the Yankees come almost unbearably close (again) to squashing Sox dreams. We join the players on the wild ride to redemption, replete with Jesus in the outfield, a lunar eclipse, and a bloodied sock on the mound. We also come to understand in an intimate way what it’s like to be caught up in all of this as a fan. With lively reporting, penetrating insight, and a keen sense of history, Shaughnessy brings the 2004 season alive in all its glory, drama, and euphoria, definitively recounting a sports saga that will long be etched in the minds and hearts of baseball fans around the world.

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About the Author:

Dan Shaughnessy is an award-winning columnist for the Boston Globe and the author of several sports books, including The Curse of the Bambino, a best-selling classic. Seven times Shaughnessy has been voted one of America’s top ten sports columnists by Associated Press Sports Editors and named Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year. He has appeared on Good Morning America, The Today Show, The Early Show, CNN, Nightline, NPR, Imus in the Morning, ESPN, HBO, and many others. He lives in Newton, Massachusetts.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

1 The Moon and the Stars

Finally, the planets were aligned. Truly.
A lunar eclipse, the first ever during a World Series game, gave the moon a bloody hue. And while the Boston ball club seemed to be comfortably leading in the fourth and final game of the World Series, Sox fans in Dunstable, Massachusetts, and White River Junction, Vermont, wandered out of their homes to take a peek at the big red ball in the black sky.
Finally, the Boston uniforms were not too heavy. Larger forces ran the base paths with the Olde Towne Team. The Red Sox were going to win the World Series. It had only been eighty-six years.
Eighteens and eighty-sixes were all over the place. It was Wednesday, October 27, 2004, the eighteenth anniversary of the last time the Red Sox lost a World Series in a seventh game. It was also the eighty- sixth anniversary of the last time the Sox won a World Series, when they beat the Cubs in six games in 1918 with the help of a stout left-handed pitcher named Babe Ruth. Now, eighteen years after the ’86 Series and eighty-six years after winning in ’18, the Sox were going to eighty-six the Curse of the Bambino. And a giant full moon was bleeding red as it rose in the sky above Presque Isle, Maine, and North Conway, New Hampshire.
More than a thousand miles to the southwest, where the Sox were writing history, the scarlet moon was hidden by a cloud cover over Busch Stadium in St. Louis. The Sox were far from home but never alone, and the voices of the Nation could be heard in the National League park as the Bostons took their 3 0 lead into the late innings of Game 4. The game had been decided on the fourth pitch, when Johnny Damon, the Jesus action figure who played center field for the Sox, led off the night with a home run over the right field fence. Trot Nixon added two more runs with a bases- loaded double in the third, and pitchers Derek Lowe, Bronson Arroyo, Alan Embree, and closer Keith Foulke were nailing down Boston’s fourth consecutive win against the overwhelmed Cardinals. In the end, the poor Redbirds, who had defeated the Sox in the 1946 and 1967 World Series, were mere props in the runaway Red Sox story of 2004.
As the inevitable and wonderful final out neared, folks were still cynical in Great Falls, Rhode Island, and Putnam, Connecticut, and any other place where Sox fans were gathered. They’d been duped before by Boston teams who seemed to have it sewed up, only to compound decades of misery with yet another colossal fold. But this time it truly seemed different. This time the Sox were going to finish the job. After all, they’d already passed the toughest test of all. They had done what no team in the history of baseball had ever done they had won four straight games after losing the first three games of a seven-game series. And they had done it against the hated New York Yankees, the bane of Boston’s baseball existence since 1920, when Ruth was shipped to the Big Apple for one hundred thousand pieces of silver. The Sox and their fans had been paying a price ever since. Some called it the Curse of the Bambino. This was the night it was all going to end.
In Marshfield, Massachusetts, Paul and Marilee Comerford woke up their young daughters and put them in front of the television so they would always be able to say that they witnessed the event. It was the same scene in Medford, where Hank Morse roused eight-year-old Abbey with one out in the ninth. This was history, and Hank had to hold her small face in his giant hands so that the little girl’s sleepy head wouldn’t drop while Foulke wound up for each pitch.
Vacationing in Ireland, Steve and Karin Sheppard of Nantucket prepared a second wedding. They’d married in April of 1986 and concluded their wedding vows with Till death do us part, or until the Red Sox win the World Series.” The full moon had dropped from the sky in Iraq. It was already Thursday morning in Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit when Captain Mike Tilton of Laconia, New Hampshire, sat in a morale welfare center watching the game on television with about forty-five other soldiers, all Red Sox fans, most from New England. All members of the First Infantry Division, they had gathered in the dark at 4 a.m. to watch Game 4. It connected them with home.
It was almost dawn in Spain, where Harvard softball player Pilar Adams and dozens of other American students gathered in a bar in Seville. A well-known local matador was buying drinks for the young Americans every time the Red Sox rallied, and when victory seemed assured, a couple of students from New Hampshire and central Massachusetts made plans to swim naked across the Guadalquivir River. They would have time. Classes didn’t start until 8 a.m., aand the Sox were playing more quickly than usual.
At 11:40, just twenty minutes before midnight back in Boston, with one on and two out, Caaaaardinal shortstop Edgar Renteria hit a hard one- hopper straight back to the pitcher’s mound. The ball seemed headed for center field, which would have raised anxiety levels throughout the Nation (tying run at the plate? Here we go again!). However, Foulke, who had been purchased in the previous off-season for exactly this kind of moment, leaped and gloved the ball over his head. He took seven or eight steps toward first was he going to run all the way over there and make us wait even longer? then underhanded a short toss to first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz, and the Red Sox were World Series Champions.
Finally. The seemingly interminable wait was finally over. The Curse had been reversed.
Catcher Jason Varitek jumped into the arms of Foulke that would be the cover shot on Time magazine the week the leader of the free world was reelected. Mientkiewicz joined the happy huddle, followed by Arroyo, who had come out of the dugout. Then more teammates streamed from the bench, the bullpen, and their positions on the field. It was a giant pile of happiness and hair. Overcome, catcher-leader Varitek collapsed facedown on the infield grass while his teammates hugged and hopped around him. Within minutes, close to five thousand Red Sox road-trippers were congregated around the third base dugout, chanting Let’s Go, Red Sox!” while the players doused one another with Mount Pleasant, 2003 Brut Imperial (green bottles with orange labels). Around the globe, bottles were uncorked, church bells pealed, and car horns honked.
And in the small New England towns where the October skies are blackest, the crimson moon shone brightest. If you looked at it long enough, and maybe had some Brut Imperial coursing through your veins, the smiling image of Babe Ruth started to appear on the full face of the scarlet sphere like a Bambino version of Jackie Gleason’s fat face on The Honeymooners.
How sweet it was. New England’s midnight moon dance, beneath the cover of October skies.
Red Sox fans needed no more signs. The man in the moon was Babe Ruth.

The 2004 Red Sox were the Laughing Gashouse Gang, a band of rogues who let their hair down, drove motorcycles, drank shots of Jack Daniel’s before games, wore their shirts untucked, and smeared pine tar all over their helmets. They grew beards, shaved their heads, and braided their hair into blond cornrows. Pedro Martinez looked like he had black broccoli under his hat, and Manny Ramirez’s barbershop explosion could not be contained by any cap or batting helmet. They were raggedy men who proudly called themselves idiots,” but when it mattered most, they did two things no team had ever done: They did not merely lift the Curse of the Bambino, they demolished the eighty-six- year-old pox on the House of Fenway. They had Jesus playing center field, for God’s sake.
Sitting in bed at home in Cambridge, watching the Sox celebrate on the Busch infield, fifty-three-year-old Mike LaVigne knew what he had to do. A house painter and assistant soccer coach at Boston College, LaVigne grew up in Groton, Massachusetts, one of five children of Dr. Richard LaVigne, chief of radiology at Burbank Hospital in Fitchburg. When the LaVigne children were young, their dad would take them to work with him on Saturdays, and they’d help him by stamping some of the x-rays. Part of the routine included breakfast at the Moran Square Diner, where Dr. LaVigne was always teased about the Red Sox by its owners, Angie and Louie. They were Italian immigrants who loved the Yankees because of Joe DiMaggio. The Yankees, naturally, were always beating the Red Sox, and Angie and Louie took delight in breaking the doc’s chops. When Dr. LaVigne was on his deathbed in 1979 at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, he made a final request of his son Michael. He said that if the Red Sox ever did win a World Series, he wanted Michael to buy the best bottle of champagne he could find, take it to the diner, and say, This is from the doc!” Thursday, October 28, 2004, was an unofficial holiday in New England. Not much work got done. Thousands of fans went to Fenway Park early in the morning and greeted their returning heroes by dawn’s early light. Kids were late for school. Teachers were late, too. The entire Nation was functioning on a second consecutive week of late nights and early mornings. Warren Zevon’s I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead” served as the mantra for the nocturnal masses. On the morning after the final late night, Boston newspapers were suddenly scarce. The Boston Globe had more than doubled its daily press run from 500,000 to close to 1.2 million but papers were still hard to find after fans hoarded stacks of the daily rags. Within twenty-four hours, copies of the 50-cent October 28 Globe were fetching $25 on eBay.
It was more than a sports story. It was bigger than the magnificent deed of a band of twenty-five baseball brothers. It was bigger than a Nation founded on hope. By the autumn of 2004, the Red Sox were America’s team, almost global. Their championship run marked the end of an eighty-six-year quest that had consumed the lives of millions of people with roots in New England. The Red Sox connect generations. They remind you of your father and mother, maybe your grandfather, too. And they remind you of your sons and daughters and all that you taught them when they were young. Like green eyes, freckles, and big feet, love of the Sox is passed through bloodlines, and the shared passion can bridge gaps that come with maturity and growth. In every family there’s inevitable distance sometimes geographic, sometimes philosophical or emotional. But the Red Sox are common ground. They connect and unite.
In the second two weeks of October 2004, Sox fans connected as never before. Siblings who’d grown apart started calling one another. People who moved away after growing up in New England watched the games on TV from their homes in Colorado, Arizona, and Florida, as they remembered growing up with the mellow voice of Curt Gowdy pouring out of the porch radio into the humid summer nights. The citizens of this global Nation watched the games and thought of parents or spouses who had died. They thought about how much they missed Uncle Joe and Aunt Elizabeth.
Those who’d adopted Boston, millions of students who spent their college years in New England, shared the family secret. They carried with them a love of the Sox, along with memories of that first beer in the Fenway bleachers. For many of them, Kenmore Square’s Citgo sign, which looms beyond the infamous Green Monster, was the lighthouse that guided them back to their dorms on those first wobbly nights of undergrad freedom.

The Red Sox, a charter member of the upstart American League in 1901, have not always been worthy of the faith and loyalty of their fans. Nor have they always been good or especially popular. They were not consistently championship-driven nor particularly well run. They were at times unlucky, inept, controversial, racist, and petty. Many years, Sox ballplayers were nothing like the fuzzy, stuffed-animals come-to-life on the 2004 roster. They were not always perceived as gritty, clutch, and talented. At times they truly were idiots, and there was nothing lovable about them. But they have always been there, as indigenous to Boston as swan boats, clam chowder, Paul Revere, the L Street Brownies, Sam Adams (the man, not the beer), and the golden dome of the State House.
For Red Sox fans, it wasn’t always about winning that was the province of the Yankee fans. It was about wanting to win. Hoping they would win. The weight of the wait. Which is why the fans came back, year after year, even after so many near misses. There was something at once noble and naive about the dynamic between the fans and their team.
As decades passed, Red Sox Nation offered no asylum for those in need of instant gratification. Believing the Sox would win a World Series in 2004 required an act of faith not unlike one’s commitment to a Higher Being. There were few lucid souls old enough to clearly recall the World Series win of 1918. Fans were required to believe in something they had never seen. And they did. Through the years, Red Sox fans developed a devotion to their team that was something like a religion. Fenway became a place of worship, and rooting for the Red Sox was a lifelong passion. Just as devout Catholics search for a Sunday mass schedule when they find themselves in a new town, Sox fans sought a lifeline to the Red Sox when they left New England. In the twenty-first century, the Internet tethered Sox Nation to the mother ship in Boston. Fans could read the Globe online or follow games live on MLB.com.
All of the above brings us to the Curse of the Bambino, which gave some Sox fans a handy way to explain the inexplicable. It was too deflating to simply admit that the Red Sox were not good enough to win the World Series every year. Sox fans needed a more agreeable reason for decade after decade of second-place finishes and October collapses.
It’s superstition over science, a trip into the twilight zone between the on-deck circle and the batter’s box. Baseball, probably more than any sport, is governed by superstition. The black cat crossing in front of the dugout guarantees bad news, and you’d better cross your fingers when the team bus passes a graveyard or you’ll never get another hit. You don’t wash your uniform when you’re on a hitting streak, and you don’t tell your pitcher that he’s got a no-hitter going because the next batter is certain to get a hit. For some, the Curse was easier to accept than the reality that the Sox somehow weren’t good enough to win it all.
There was no published mention of the Curse of the Bambino until I wrote a book with that title in 1990. Before the book, there were various theories regarding those near misses and outright collapses. Certainly the preposterous fold of 1978 put the wheels in motion that Sox fans were destined to suffer. In that memorable campaign, the Sox led the Yankees by fourteen games on July 20 but managed to blow the entire lead and then lost a one-game playoff when Bucky Dent hit a pop-fly, three-run homer into the net above the Green Monster. But there were other frustrations. The Sox lost the 1946 World Series to the Cardinals in seven games after being prohibitive favorites. They lost a one-game playoff to the Indians in 1948 and blew the final two games in New York in ’49 to lose the pennant to the Yankees by one game. Boston’s Impossible Dream summer of 1967 ended with a World Series Game 7 loss to the Cardinals. A big fold in 1974 prompted the estimable Peter Gammons of the Globe to declare that Sox fans won’t get fooled again.” But the fans always came back, and in ’75 they were rewarded with another World Series, only to lose again in Game 7. Then came the mind-blowing disappointment of 1986, when the Red Sox came closer to winning a World Series without actually winning than any team in baseball history. The S...

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