Friday, March 16, 2007
Curses have always been a part of sports lore. Long suffering baseball fans in Boston and Chicago often explained failure as a result of their franchises being cursed. As I remember them, here are a few of your more famous curses.
- The Curse of the Bambino - The Boston Red Sox were very successful in the early part of last century, until they sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees, the story being that the Boston owner wanted money to finance a play. The result - countless world series victories for the Yankees. And a drought in Boston that ended in 2004 - their first victory since 1918. This is the most famous of curses (and probably the most tiresome).
- The Goat Curse - Supposedly in 1945 a fan tried to bring his goat into Wrigley to watch the Cubs play in the World Series. Although he had bought a ticket for the goat, he was denied and allegedly said that the Cubs would never make the World Series again. So far so good.
- The Curse of Pete Muldoon - Chicago sports franchises have long been saddled with the worst owners. Long before Bill Wirtz made the scene, the original owner of the Blackhawks (McLaughlin was his name iirc) made a name for himself as a bit of a nutcase. The Hawks won two Cups in the 1930s but the coach of the second Cup winner, Pete Muldoon, was fired anyhow. Muldoon proclaimed that the Hawks would never win another Cup. They did not for 23 years but their drought since that Cup win is now double that. The curse of Bobby Hull?
- The Black Sox - Not an actually curse per se but after the White Sox threw the Series in 1919 they did not win the Series until 2005.
The fact is, of course, that these cursed franchises were cursed by penny pinching owners (the cause of the Black Sox incident was their resentment of the notoriously cheap Charles Comiskey), managerial incompetence and just plain bad luck. I remember reading a few years back how the odds of neither Chicago baseball franchise winning the World Series from 1917 to 2005 were in the realm of 5000 to 1. That's a lot of bad baseball but the fact is that neither team built a club that was a legitimate contender year in and year out until the recent work of the White Sox. If you're not near the top of the league for extended runs then you're not going to be in a position to get those breaks to win a championship or even to play for one.
The overworked arms of Kerry Wood and Mark Prior, the morphing of Wrigley into theme park rather then the centre of an actual baseball operation (sound familiar Leaf fans?), the failure of the Red Sox to integrate until long after the rest of MLB and their lack of pitching year after year, the Blackhawks' failure to pay anyone, even Bobby Hull, any money.
The list goes on and on.
The mythology surrounding these curses take on a life of their own. Bill Buckner is remembered as the goat in the Red Sox' loss to the Mets in 1986 but few remember that long before the ball rolled through his legs the Mets were down to their last out with nobody on base before relievers Bob Stanley and Calvin Schiraldi could not close the door. Cursed or just the failure of a couple of mediocre relievers?
The point of all this - in fifty years will the remaining Oilers' faithful talk of the curse of Ryan Smyth? The hometown boy who was dumped for prospects and a pick? Will Andy Grabia bore his grandchildren about how he saw the Oilers win the Cup in 1990, muttering about Kevin Lowe and Don Meehan as he sits in his rocking chair overlooking his massive cattle and llama ranch? Will Vic Ferrari, as he draws his last breath, curse Cal Nichols for selling out the fans by dumping the boy from Banff? Will Tyler Dellow, as the ancient head of the Supreme Court of Canada, attempt to enshrine the Oilers' right to win a Stanley Cup as the law of the land, only to be thwarted by Prime Minister Matt Fenwick? Will an embittered Lain Babcock assassinate Pat Laforge by smothering him with a pillow when he encounters him in their assisted care facility? Will Chris! and Pleasure Motors light themselves on fire in front of the statue of Craig Simpson's hair in the Rob Schremp Arena concourse as a last act of defiance, their compadre Mike Winters long gone, killed by the lemon gin he guzzled in vast quanitites after the fateful day Smyth was signed by the Leafs.
And me, you ask, well your beloved Oilers will have fallen so far that I will be team captain.
Will five time Stanley Cup champion and Maple Leaf great Ryan Smyth, comfortably retired in Rosedale, respond to entreaties from Oiler fans everywhere by lifting the curse?
Or will he reply to the messengers bowing and scraping before him:
Kevin Lowe - you had better have a plan because this might turn ugly!
Posted by Black Dog at 1:33 PM