Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Bleachers' Brew #149 Curses! Foiled Again.
Curses! Foiled Again.
Or "Sassafrassarassum"
by rick olivares

You might recognize the above catch phrase as one oft uttered by Dick Dastardly, the infamous Hanna-Barbera cartoon character whose gross incompetence prevented him from winning those Wacky Races. He even had that hench-dog Muttley that had a wheezy laugh and muttered, “sassafrassarassum” when chastened.

Save from that cartoon that I loved as a kid, I don’t think I’ve heard of curses in the sport of car racing. However in baseball, curses and superstition have a curious attachment to the game.

Folks from the Red Sox Nation believed in the Curse of the Bambino (that begun when Babe Ruth was traded to the New York Yankees in 1918) for 86 years until they finally reversed their misfortune in 2004 to win the World Series in dramatic fashion.

Prior to their historic victory, Boston fans tried all sorts of exorcisms from burning Yankee apparel to suggesting that Ruth’s body be exhumed in order to personally apologize to it. As ludicrous as they may sound, they were nonetheless a phenomenon, one that weaved itself into baseball lore and urban legend.

The end of their woes can arguably be traced to that game in August 2004 at Fenway Park when former slugger Manny Ramirez smacked a foul ball into the stands that struck a fan who lost two teeth. Incredibly, that fan happened to live in a farm that was once owned by the Babe. That same day, the Yankees were scalped by the Cleveland Indians 22-0 and Boston has since supplanted New York as the top dog in the East.

While the curse was mostly quoted in a tongue-in-cheek manner, some took it seriously like Gino Castignoli, a Bronx-based Red Sox fan. The handyman once worked as a construction hand in the new Yankee Stadium and there he buried a David Ortiz jersey under three feet of cement hoping to further jinx their ancient rivals.

Whether Yankee officials were unnerved by the Castignoli’s claims, they quickly had the offending jersey found and excavated. "The first thought was, you know, it's never a good thing to be buried in cement when you're in New York," said Team President Randy Levine. "But then we decided, 'Why reward somebody who had really bad motives and was trying to do a really bad thing?

The hapless Chicago Cubs, on the other hand, have not been to the World Series since 1945. Baseball’s current longest streak for futility is explained by the Curse of the Billy Goat.

The story goes that Billy Sianis, proprietor of the Billy Goat Tavern, a popular watering hole for Chi-town’s personalities took his pet goat to a game against Detroit on October 6, 1945. He purchased two tickets, one for himself and another for his goat. By the seventh inning, security asked him to leave because of the goat’s odor. Sianis left but not before cursing that the Cubs won not win another World Series.

The Cubs lost that match on October 6 that leveled the series at 2-2. They have not been back to the Fall Classic since.
Sianis and a nephew of his as well as some fans have since attempted to break the curse by trotting out goats. It has been somewhat successful as the Cubs won their division on occasion, but they have yet to play in the big game.

The curse has also taken on an added life when 32 former Cubs won a World Series title after bolting the Windy City.

While the Cubs struggle to break out of the doldrums, in the Far East, residents of Osaka, Japan, home to the Hanshin Tigers hope that the sun has set on their own curse.

After the Tigers won the Japan League on November 2, 1985 by beating the Seibu Lions 9-3 in Game 6 to close out the series in six matches, fans celebrated by dressing up to resemble the players on the Hanshin line-up and jumping off the Ebisubashi Bridge into the murky waters. Since no one remotely resembled the team’s American import, slugger Randy Bass, fans stole the statue of Colonel Sanders from a nearby KFC restaurant and threw it into the river.

The statue was not recovered and the Tigers, although they have won two Central League crowns (just as Major League Baseball is divided into the American and National Leagues so is the Japan League with the Central and the Pacific) they have not won another Japan Series; the equivalent of the World Series.

But there is hope on the horizon. Last March 10, the statue was found rather inadvertently when construction workers building a new walkway along the adjacent the Dotonbori Canal found the upper half of the Colonel. Although the lower half was found the following day, the Colonel’s eyeglasses and left hand are still missing.

Should the Tigers, who have been considered the Boston Red Sox of Japanese baseball, finally win again, the Osaka City Council ordered the Ebisubashi Bridge rebuilt to make it more difficult for revelers to jump off. In the meantime KFC outlets in the city have placed statues of the Colonel inside the stores and have riveted them to the floor to make them difficult to steal.

Incredibly, last Thursday Match 12, KFC President Roger Eaton further fed the fettered imagination of the superstitious when he advertised an open letter to announce the fast food giant’s plans to help the Cubs and the Tigers end their curses and title droughts.

Wrote Eaton, “Our hope is to bring it to Chicago for opening day. As you can tell by the photos, the Colonel is in a fairly delicate state, and likely isn’t up for a road trip around the National League. Plus, the fans in Japan probably won’t want to let him out of their sight for long, so he’d probably stay in Chicago just for the opening homestand.

“While we can’t promise the statue will snap curses of billy goats, black cats or even a foul-ball-interfering fan, we figure it can’t hurt.

“After a quarter-century, we think there’s enough good luck stored up in the statue to benefit the Hanshin Tigers and the Chicago Cubs!”

Should the Hanshin Tigers not win it all this coming November, I’m willing to bet that they will dispel another baseball myth. One perpetuated by actor Tom Hanks’ character Jimmy Duggan in the 1992 baseball film, A League of Their Own.

I guess we will all then find out... if there is no crying in baseball.

Author's Note: Muttley! Do something!

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