Baseball: A World of Curses and Superstitions

By Lisa Welz


The world of professional baseball is rife with so-called curses and superstitions, something that isn’t nearly as common in other sports. While the Chicago Cubs seem to have the most curses following them, their competitors have their own to deal with. It seems as though any lackluster season or hated trade or failure to win this game or that pennant is grounds for the blame game, and what’s more fun than blaming it on some curse?
Perhaps the most amusing is the spreading of the well-known Cubs’ curse to other teams by way of the “Ex-Cubs Factor,” a theory that freelance journalist Ron Berler developed in 1981 when he declared it would decide the World Series winner that year.
The premise he stood on applied, he said, to any team with three or more former Cubs players on its roster, post 1945. It would be the kiss of death to any team playing in the World Series. He pointed to several games as proof: 1958 Milwaukee Braves, 1966 Los Angeles Dodgers, 1978 Los Angeles Dodgers, and the 1980 Kansas City Royals.
“This seems a trivial observation,” Berler wrote, about the game that pitted the New York Yankees against the Los Angeles Dodgers, “But it will spell the Yankees’ doom should they reach the World Series. According to The Ex-Cub Factor, it is utterly impossible for a team with three or more ex-Cubs to win the series. No doubt this comes as startling news to the betting public: Behind every major failure in the sport stands a Chicago Cub.”
He added, “It’s no secret that Cubs have always been ‘different’ from other major leaguers. In fact, some say that the Cubs are the Moonies of baseball, that the ball club possesses eerie, bewitching powers over its players.”
The only exception to his theory, he said, were the 1960 Pittsburg Pirates. Since his article was published, the list has been added to with: the 2001 Arizona Diamondbacks, the 2008 Philadelphia Phillies, and the 2011 St. Louis Cardinals.
Columnist Mike Royko added his own, modified Ex-Cub Factor when he declared, “A team with no ex-Cubs probably has an edge on a team that has even one.”

Curse of the Bambino

The “Curse of the Bambino,” depending on who you talked to, of course, was generally not taken too seriously by Boston Red Sox fans. It’s said to have its roots in famed player Babe Ruth, who was sometimes called “The Bambino,” when he was sent to the New York Yankees during the 1919-1920 off-season.
The result was an 86-year stretch that ended in 2004, where the team would fail to bring home a World Series win. Prior to that, the team had brought home World Series titles, making them one of the most successful teams to that point. The curse continued as the success shifted from the barren Red Sox to the triumphant Yankees, and only added to the two teams’ rivalry.
The curse had become so accepted as a part of Boston’s culture that a road sign on Longfellow Bridge had been decorated with graffiti reading, “Reverse the Curse” and was not cleaned off by the city. When the team won in 2004, the graffiti was changed to “Curse Reversed.”
The “Curse of the Colonel” is often compared to the Bambino curse and was supposedly done by Colonel Harland Sanders, of Kentucky Fried Chicken fame, because he was mad that fans of the Hanshin Tigers in Japan tossed his statue into the canal while celebrating their win in 1985. They have returned to the Japan Championship Series three times since then, losing each time.

Curse of Rocky Colavito

In another trade-inspired curse, this one is attached to the Cleveland Indians and began in 1960 when they traded right fielder Rocky Colavito for Harvey Kuenn. It was a trade of the “The Rock,” their beloved home run champion of 1959 for the Detroit Tigers 1959 hitting champion.
The curse was first trotted out in print as a possibility by sports writer Terry Pluto in his 1994 book, “The Curse of Rocky Colavito: A Loving Look at a 33-Year Slump.” In the book, he said the trade, made by general manager Frank Lane, was the catalyst in denying the Indians the ability to finish a season within 11 games of first place since 1960 until the year his book came out. At that time, the team had not won a pennant since 1954 or a World Series since 1948.
Since then the Indians have won seven division titles and two American League pennants, but have not won a World Series Championship. It is that failure that leads some to believe the curse is still in place.

Curse of the Yankees

While there is no official “Curse of the Yankees,” there are several different people or actions that have had some declaring a curse is in place. They range from player/coach Don Mattingly to the 1912 road uniform.
Robert A. George, a New York Times editorial writer who blogs on Ragged Thots, wrote in 2007, “Mattingly IS the ‘curse’ of the Yankees. He is the best player the Yankees have ever had WHO NEVER WON ANYTHING. I made this point in one of my earliest RT posts. Time has proven my point even more: The Yankees haven’t gotten out of the first round of the playoffs since Mattingly returned to the team as a coach.”
The Yankees’ road uniform from 1912, when they were still called the Highlanders, saw what have been the worst season ever, finishing the season with 50-102, 55 games behind the champion Red Sox.
100 years later they reprised the uniform for their 2012 game against the Red Sox and might have broken any curse that existed with a 6-2 win that day. It was the first time in Yankee history that the team wore a “throwback” uniform of any type.

Curse of Taylor Swift

Proving that anyone can be blamed for a team, or teams, losing games is this year’s Curse of Taylor Swift. Fans claim it has hit the Washington Nationals, Houston Astros, and the San Diego Padres.
Rachel Handler, writing for Time, pointed out, “Pre-Swift concert, the Houston Astros were 55-45 and held the first wild-card spot. But since Swift blew into town in September, Houston has turned in a lackluster 7-11 record, including losing seven of the eight games that followed her appearance. As ESPN—which calls the situation a “curse”—points out, ‘When was the last time the Astros missed the postseason after being at least 10 games over .500 at the halfway point of the season? In 1989. Coincidence? I THINK NOT.’”
Another time, two nights after Swift was in Washington’s National Park, the lights went out and play was suspended. The Nationals then blew a lead in the NL East. Similarly, the Padres went 11-17 since Swift appeared at Petco Park.
Max Scherzer, a pitcher for the Nationals, on July 17, 2015, tweeted, “Well who was the last one to use Nationals Park last? Taylor Swift..I blame her for the power outs tonight. We now have #BadBlood.”

Baseball has weird superstitions

It’s certainly possible that other sports have their own superstitions, but baseball has a lot of really weird ones. generously outlined 50 of them. The most amusing of the bunch cover a wide range, beginning with New York Yankees’ Jason Giambi, who wears a gold thong when he is in a slump.
They also report: that Moises Alou, who battled Steve Bartman for the foul ball while playing for the Cubs, was said to pee on his hands to make them tougher; Toronto Blue Jays pitcher R. A. Dickey names his bats; Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Matt Garza goes to Popeye’s Chicken every day he is scheduled to start; Ryan Dempster, when he played for the Chicago Cubs, always ate the night before a home game at a favorite Italian restaurant; Wade Boggs, the third baseman who played most of his career for the Boston Red Sox had several superstitions that led him to take batting practice at 5:17 p.m. when playing a night game, only accepting exactly 150 grounders during warm up, and writing the Hewbrew word chai, which means life, in the dirt of the batters box with his bat.
her amusing superstitions include: Kevin Rhomberg who would tag back any player that tagged him out; Turk Wendell who jumped over the foul line when entering or leaving the field, chewed four pieces of black licorice each inning he pitched, would brush his teeth between innings, wore 99 on all his jerseys, signed a contract in 2000 for $9,999,999.99, and wore a necklace made of teeth from hunted animals as a good luck charm; and Charlie Kerfeld, a pitcher with the Astros for almost his whole career, insisted he be given 37 boxes of orange Jello with his contract (his number was 37) and he wore his favorite Jetsons t-shirt under his uniform at every game.