Before gaining his greatest fame with the New York Yankees, Babe Ruth was a star with the rival Boston Red Sox. As an ace pitcher and slugging outfielder, Ruth helped Boston win three World Series titles in his first six seasons with the team. Then, after the 1919 season, Red Sox owner and Broadway producer Harry Frazee sold the man nicknamed the “Bambino” to the Yankees for $125,000 and a $300,000 loan that he used to pay Fenway Park’s mortgage and stage the musical “No, No, Nannette.”
The Red Sox also received something else in return—misery.
The fortunes of both franchises quickly changed after the transaction. The Yankees, who had never appeared in a World Series prior to Ruth’s arrival, became a dynasty. Boston became Mudville. New York captured 26 World Series titles in the eight decades after the sale of baseball’s biggest icon compared with zero for the Red Sox.
The transformation of the teams was so stark that superstitious Red Sox fans mused that a vengeful Ruth had cast a spell over the club after his departure. Much like the Babe himself, the “Curse of the Bambino” took on legendary proportions—until a teen with an improbable connection to Ruth seemingly broke the hex in 2004.
The Red Sox Endure a Title Drought After Babe Ruth's Sale
For Boston baseball fans, the worst part of the “Curse of the Bambino” wasn’t just that the Red Sox didn’t win—it’s that they lost in the most excruciating ways possible. To say nothing of numerous regular-season collapses, the Red Sox reached Game 7 of the World Series four times in the decades after Ruth’s departure. Four times they lost.
In 1946, Boston’s Johnny Pesky briefly double-clutched on a relay throw in the eighth inning of a tied game, allowing St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Enos Slaughter to score from first with the winning run. Twenty-one years later, Cardinals ace Bob Gibson pitched a complete-game victory and belted a home run to boot to end Boston’s “Impossible Dream” season one game short of a championship.
In the 1975 World Series, the Red Sox won Game 6 with a dramatic Carlton Fisk home run off the Green Monster’s foul pole in left field. But the next night Boston squandered a 3-0 lead at Fenway Park and lost when the Cincinnati Reds scored a run in the ninth inning.
Cruelest of all was the 1986 World Series when the Red Sox were one strike away from the title after taking a 5-3 lead over the New York Mets in the 10th inning of Game 6. To Boston fans, what followed was worthy of a Shakespearean tragedy: three straight singles, a wild pitch and a dribbler that rolled through first baseman Bill Buckner’s legs to lose the game.
In Game 7, the Red Sox lost a three-run lead and the Series. Boston fans couldn’t help but wonder if they were suffering some puritanical penance for Frazee’s cardinal sin.
A Strange Coincidence Occurs at a 2004 Red Sox Game
The curse appeared to be alive and well as 16-year-old Lee Gavin arrived at Fenway Park in a limousine on the last day of August 2004 to celebrate a friend’s birthday. Although surging, the Red Sox remained 4½ games behind the hated Yankees, who had again crushed Boston’s spirit a year earlier with an extra-inning, walk-off home run in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series.
In the bottom of the fourth inning of that night’s game against the Anaheim Angels, a fly ball off the bat of Boston slugger Manny Ramirez sliced out of play. In Section 9, Gavin reached to catch it. He missed. The ball slid through his hands and struck his face, leaving his lip bleeding and his two front teeth on the ground.
“I went in a limousine and left in an ambulance,” Gavin recalls.
The high school junior and lifelong Red Sox fan also left with the bloodied baseball, which the Red Sox later arranged for Ramirez to sign. The incident would have been just another day at the ballpark except for one thing—the house in which Gavin lived his entire life was once owned by Ruth himself.
The Red Sox Win a World Series Title in 2004
Even after his sale to the Yankees, Ruth continued to live in the Boston area. In 1922, he purchased a pastoral, 155-acre farm in the Boston suburb of Sudbury. Many thought the Babe wasn’t cut out to be a farmer. They were right. He sold “Home Plate Farm” in 1926, and decades later, Gavin grew up in the five-bedroom farmhouse and played baseball on the Bambino’s former lawn.
After Gavin’s encounter with the foul ball, his friend’s father mentioned the incident to a former colleague at the Boston Globe, which ran a story about the strange coincidence and wondered: “Has the blood of a teenage boy lifted the Curse of the Bambino?"
The newspaper noted another odd event had occurred the same night as Gavin’s injury: The Yankees suffered the most lopsided defeat in the team’s 101-year history, a 22-0 loss at home to the Cleveland Indians.
By the postseason, the Yankees had regained their winning form and took a commanding 3-0 lead against the Red Sox in the 2004 American League Championship Series. Yankees fans’ haunting chants of “19-18,” a reminder of the last time Boston won the title, had extra bite after a 19-8 throttling in Game 3 because no team in Major League Baseball history had rebounded from a 3-0 postseason deficit. A World Series title for Boston seemed unlikely.
And then history happened. The Red Sox were down by a run in the ninth inning of Game 4. Then a stolen base by Boston pinch-runner Dave Roberts put him into position to score the tying run on a Bill Mueller single off Yankees closer Mariano Rivera. Red Sox slugger David Ortiz won the game on a walk-off homer in the 12th inning.
The next night, Ortiz drove in the winning run in the bottom of the 14th inning. The series returned to Yankee Stadium, “The House That Ruth Built,” where the Red Sox won Games 6 and 7 to complete the improbable comeback.
With his teeth restored to their rightful places, Gavin joined the fans in Fenway Park cheering on the Red Sox during the series. “I’m not sure I would say something supernatural was at work, but there were several coincidences that occurred in 2004 that lined up nicely to make you think about it,” Gavin says.
Another one of those coincidences happened hours before Game 1 of the American League Championship Series when contractors began razing a home in Watertown, Massachusetts, where a January 1929 fire had killed Ruth’s estranged wife, Helen. As Red Sox fans harvested pieces of wood from the demolition scene as souvenirs, a banner placed on a nearby fence proclaimed: “Reverse the Curse."
After defeating the Yankees, the Red Sox needed considerably less drama to sweep the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series to claim the team’s first title since Ruth’s sale. It truly seemed as if Gavin had exorcised the curse by offering a blood sacrifice to a baseball god.
“Being the huge Sox fan that I am, I was willing to accept that fate!” said Gavin, who was brought back to Fenway to meet the team. “I was very excited to see the Sox actually win the World Series that year and imagining having something to do to help accomplish the feat!”
In a final cosmic sign, the Red Sox celebrated their first championship in 86 years during a lunar eclipse in which a crimson moon floated in the sky—just like a blood-stained baseball.