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Comparing the curses
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10/17/2003  2:56 AM ET 
Comparing the curses
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Roger Clemens gives the Babe a kiss after Game 7. (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
"Whose Curse Is Worse?"

So read the sign held up by a fan at Yankee Stadium after Aaron Boone's 11th-inning walk-off home run sent the New York Yankees into the World Series against the Florida Marlins. It is a fair question to ask now.

The Red Sox had a 5-3 lead in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series. The eighth inning did them in. The Curse of the Bambino, real or imagined, continues with no world championship since 1918.

The Chicago Cubs had a 5-3 lead in Game 7 of the National League Championship Series. An eighth inning did them in. The Billy Goat Curse, real or imagined, continues with no world championship since 1908.

Whose curse is worse?

Ask the fans of Boston and Chicago, and you will hear reluctant but provincial claims. Ask baseball people, and they will tell you that it doesn't matter. Indeed, the game is played between the lines. The Red Sox say the Yanks were just a bit better. The Cubs said that of the Marlins. The rest is major mythology.

But this is unbelievable.

Just think: It could have been the Red Sox and Cubs each celebrating the 100th anniversary of the World Series -- one of them guaranteed to make sure that articles like this one never see the light of day again. Instead, the two longest active world-title droughts in the Major Leagues live on for another year.

The Red Sox were five outs away from going to the World Series when a questionable act of judgment occurred. Boston left right-handed starter Pedro Martinez in to face left-handed-hitting Hideki Matsui, who hit an important double. Some people think reliever Alan Embree should have been used instead.

The Cubs were five outs away from going to the World Series when a questionable act of judgment occurred. A fan reached up to catch a foul ball from Luis Castillo, preventing left fielder Moises Alou from catching an important out.

Whose curse is worse?

The Curse of the Bambino is traced to 1920, when Harry Frazee, the Red Sox owner, sold Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees for $125,000 and a loan of more than $300,000 (secured on Fenway itself). Legend had it that Frazee was cash-strapped, needing to somehow finance his original theatrical production of No, No, Nanette. The Red Sox had beaten the Cubs in the 1918 World Series -- and had won five of the first 15 World Series. They have yet to win since the Ruth deal.

"No other club could afford to give the amount the Yankees have paid for him, and I do not mind saying I think they are taking a gamble," Frazee said after that transaction, according to the Boston Globe. "The Boston club can now go into the market and buy other players and have a stronger and better team ... (than) if Ruth had remained with us."

Ruth hit 54 homers the next season, and all 26 Yankee world championships have come in the years since he switched to pinstripes. Game 7 of this ALCS was another quintessential moment in the subject that torments New England, only perpetuating talk of the curse. Even to those who would rather just talk baseball, the intangible is inescapable. Boone's homer came a quarter-century after Bucky Dent's unlikely homer beat Boston at Fenway for a Yankee pennant.

"The Babe has got to be proud of us tonight," said Roger Clemens, who was assured of at least one more Major League start after his no-decision for the Yankees in Thursday's Game 7. David Wells, who also pitched in Game 7 and has been known to wear a Bambino-style cap, said: "We got the Babe on our side. The Curse is alive."

Sam Sianis, owner of the Billy Goat Tavern in Chicago, sits with his billy goat. (Steve Matteo/AP)

The Billy Goat Curse is traced to 1945, when Billy Sianis, owner of the Billy Goat Tavern just a block from the front entrance of Wrigley Field, was not allowed to enter the stadium with his goat, Sonovia, during that year's Fall Classic against Detroit. Peter Anthony, an employee at the tavern now, explained to MLB.com before Game 6 Tuesday: "He said to the Cubs, 'You'll never go to another World Series.'" Cubs owner Phil Wrigley in 1950 wrote Sianis a letter on club stationery, pleading with Sianis to "take the 'Hex' off the Cubs."

The letter, still posted on the bar's wall along with Sonovia's unused ticket, added, "Will you please extend to (the goat) my most sincere and abject apologies as well as those of the Chicago National League Ball Club for whatever it was that happened in the past, and ask him to not only remove the 'Hex' but to reverse the flow and start pulling for us."

The goat has had plenty of access to Wrigley in the years since, including during this past NLCS. Unlike the Red Sox's curse, which applies to winning it all, the Cubs' curse applies to just getting there. And the World Series flow has not changed.

Cubs catcher Damian Miller called the Billy Goat Curse "nonsense" in an MLB.com article posted after Game 7. Cubs manager Dusty Baker bridled when asked, after the Marlins scored eight runs in the eighth inning of Game 6, if history means anything.

"No. Naah. Naah. Doesn't have anything to do with the curse," he said. "Fan interference, then a very uncharacteristic error by Gonzo, because he doesn't miss anything. History didn't have anything to do with the game. Nothing."

Who's curse is worse?

The Red Sox saw the Yankees bring in a Game 1 starting pitcher, Mike Mussina, to pitch important innings of dominant middle relief.

The Cubs saw the Marlins bring in a Game 1 starting pitcher, Josh Beckett, to pitch important innings of dominant middle relief.

FOX commentator Joe Buck described "more heartbreak in New England" after the Red Sox lost Game 7. The Chicago Tribune ran the headline "HEARTBREAK" on the front page the morning after the Cubs lost Game 7.

Red Sox first baseman Kevin Millar, whose home run went for naught Thursday, said he is not a believer.

"You saw a home run go in the 11th inning and that was the game," he said. "That was the ending of the game. There was no such thing as a curse. That was a great baseball game. You saw a great baseball game with two teams competing their butts off."

Baker did a great job of instilling a current mindset in his players this season, shielding them from the start of Spring Training from talk about Cubs past. He frequently noted the importance of "teaching them to forget." But when asked after the elimination by Florida whether the Billy Goat Curse was a burden, he was less than thrilled to discuss the topic. Even though there is no chance it will go away unless the Cubs reach a World Series.

"If it's a burden this year, it will be 59 next year, so I don't think that was a burden," Baker said. "Our guys played hard. They played real hard. We were close and the Marlins took it from us. It's as simple as that, by quality play. Our guys got a taste of it. And next year, we'll go back to Spring Training, go to the drawing board, give the guys a couple of weeks off. I'll call the guys and make sure they start working out and make sure we get ready for next year."

Those last two words are the operative ones. That's what baseball curses seem to do.

Mark Newman is a writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.



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