10/16/2003 3:05 PM ET
Calling on the Babe's 'mojo'
Fans flock to slugger's gravesite before Game 7
Yankees AL Championship Gear
By Kevin Czerwinski / MLB.com
HAWTHORNE, N.Y. -- Angelo Siconalfi didn't look a bit sheepish or embarrassed as he carried a brown lunch bag up the hill, stopping a few feet before the mammoth headstone.
The 33-year-old White Plains, N.Y., resident, decked out in Yankees attire, beamed as he pulled a 32-ounce bottle of beer from the sack. He placed the suds on the base of the headstone along with a bag of sunflower seeds, a cigar and a candy bar -- of course it was a Baby Ruth.
Never mind that the candy bar's name has nothing to do with the Babe. We're talking curses and Game 7's and Yankees-Red Sox. So, when you make the pilgrimage to The Gates of Heaven Cemetery in this bucolic Westchester County town, you pull out all the stops.
That's just what hordes of fans have been doing for the better part of a week at Babe Ruth's grave, some 25 miles north of Yankee Stadium. The Bambino and his wife, Claire, share a final resting place on a grassy hill, not too far from where Billy Martin, another Yankees legend, was laid to rest.
Boston fans have come to pray, cry and beg Ruth to lift "The Curse of the Bambino." They've left pictures and pennies, flags and newspapers, written messages and long-stem roses all in an effort to end the years of suffering endured by the Red Sox Nation.
Oh, the Yankees fans are there, too, exhorting The Babe to keep the curse going. They've left messages of their own, pictures and poems, even a Roger Clemens baseball card. It certainly makes for interesting theater even though the whole scene comes across as more than a bit morbid and disrespectful.
"I'm just coming to leave a little something for The Babe," Siconalfi said with a grin plastered ear-to-ear. "Long live the curse."
"The Babe ain't gonna let us down. We can't lose to those boys. We can lose to the Marlins,
but not these boys. I heard the Sox fans were here this week. They have nerve. This is our territory.
And he [Ruth] ain't letting us down."
-- Sebastian Adamo
He was just one of a steady stream of fans and media who stopped by The Gates of Heaven on Thursday morning, hours before the Yanks and Red Sox were to play the deciding game of the American League Championship Series. Ruth's grave is a tourist attraction almost every time of the year, along with that of Martin and actor Jimmy Cagney, who is also buried nearby.
But the grass leading up to Ruth's grave is now worn and brown, the result of all the foot traffic over the last 10 days. Earlier this week, there were several Boston fans at the gravesite trying to get the Babe to work his mojo for them. Whether any curse exists or not, it doesn't matter. It's as real to some as any pitch Clemens or Pedro Martinez will throw Thursday night.
"We're not going to let those Sox beat us," said Sebastian Adamo, a 44-year-old South Salem, N.Y., resident who left a copy of Wednesday's newspaper in front of the headstone. "The Babe ain't gonna let us down. We can't lose to those boys. We can lose to the Marlins, but not these boys. I heard the Sox fans were here this week. They have nerve. This is our territory. And he [Ruth] ain't letting us down."
Adamo was there with his friend, James Mazzucca, 28, of Pleasantville, N.Y. Mazzucca wrote a little message on a ball before reverently placing it on the headstone. Just as people left, more arrived, including a priest who made his way to the grave just as a local television crew pulled up.
"There are so many people that it's getting out of hand," said Bill Lane, the assistant superintendent at Gates of Heaven, a beautiful 255-acre site run by The Archdiocese of New York. "We're a public cemetery, so anyone who wants to visit can. It's just a matter of respect. We don't want people leaving offensive items. People have left hot dogs, beer bottles, beer cans and we don't want that out of respect for the Ruth family and everyone else.
"People have left balls and cards and newspapers, stuff like that. We'll leave those there until they become unsightly and old. We also never discourage anyone from coming, but we don't go out of our way to publicize it, either. This is sacred and blessed ground. We don't want a circus or this becoming a big joke."
Lane said that there haven't been any incidents at Ruth's grave, no clashes between Red Sox and Yankees fans. Last week, however, just before the series started, a gentleman wearing a Boston jersey sat down with his lawn chair in front of the headstone early on the day of Game 1. He cracked open a bottle of whiskey and also had a six-pack with him and that's where cemetery officials drew the line.
"We told him he could visit but that he couldn't stay and he couldn't have alcohol there," Lane said. "He was OK with that."
Ironically, Harry Frazee, the person who would be most responsible for any Curse of the Bambino, is buried less than a mile away at the neighboring Kensico Cemetery in the town of Valhalla. It was Frazee who sold Ruth to the Bombers to finance his play "No, No, Nanette."
But if you visit Frazee's grave, there are no flowers, no messages of hate, and no mention of a curse at all. All you'll find is a simple sarcophagus bearing his name with no reference to the Red Sox or the Yankees or Babe Ruth. It seems very few people even know he's there.
"We have a baseball tour come through and they visit all the graves," said Kensico sales rep Barbara Cardany. "But we can't put his [Frazee's] plot on the tour because we don't have the family's permission."
That doesn't mean there aren't plenty of other graves for baseball fans to visit. Like the Gates of Heaven, Kensico is the final home to some Yankees royalty as well. Lou Gehrig and his wife are buried not far away; his grave adorned with bats, balls, messages and beer bottles.
Colonel Jacob Ruppert, the man who owned the Yanks for much of Ruth's and Gehrig's careers, is also resting at Kensico, as is Edward Grant Barrow, the man who managed the Red Sox from 1917-19 and converted Ruth from a pitcher to an outfielder. He fled Boston along with Ruth, eventually becoming the general manager, president and chairman of the board for the Yanks.
Kensico is also the final home to actor Danny Kaye, bandleader Tommy Dorsey, author Ayn Rand and showman Florenz Ziegfeld. The most visited grave, however, according to Kensico public relations consultant Judy Mitchell, belongs to Russian musician Sergei Rachmaninoff.
Still, until someone comes up with a "Curse of the Composer" he will pale in comparison to Ruth.
Kevin Czerwinski is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.