Billy Goats, Colonel Sanders, and the Great Bambino: Inside Sport’s Greatest Curses

A good sports curse is like a fine wine: it usually gets better with age. Short-term sporting woes can usually be explained away by a litany of excuses, from poor management to plain bad luck.

While there is no set formula for deciding when simple bad luck turns into a curse, when the championship droughts last for so long and defy the obvious explanations when people look to the supernatural. Here’s a look at four prominent curses.

The Boston Red Sox: The Curse of the Bambino

The Red Sox championship drought lasted between 1918 and 2004, a period of 86 years before Boston finally broke the curse. The curse started after Red Sox owner Harry Frazee allegedly sold star player Babe Ruth, aka the Great Bambino, to help finance a Broadway musical. The result: a team that won five of the first fifteen World Series suffered, and the New York Yankees went on to become the most successful franchise in North American sports.

The curse was penned after the Red Sox lost the 1986 World Series, highlighted by the famous ball through the legs of Bill Buckner in Game Six. Before this, though, the Red Sox had a long history of almost making missing the playoffs or losing in the postseason in dramatic fashion.

The Hanshin Tigers: The Curse of the Colonel

The Curse of the Colonel is an interesting curse from the realm of Japanese baseball. In the 1985 Japan Series, their championship series, the Hanshin Tigers defeated the Seibu Lions largely from the bat of American star Randy Bass. During the victory celebrations, Tigers fans gathered at the Ebisubashi Bridge in Osaka, shouted a Hanshin player’s name, and then threw another fan that looked like the player into the dirty canal under the bridge. There was only one problem: they couldn’t find a Japanese person who looked like Randy Bass.

The fans found the next best thing; they went their local KFC and tore loose a statue of Colonel Sanders, the only white guy they could find. They threw the statue in the canal and continued on their merry way. Or so they thought.

Following their 1985 victory, the Tigers went on an eighteen year losing streak, attributed to the lost statue in the canal. A legend arose that the team won win until the statue is recovered, long considered impossible. When they reached, and lost, the Japan Series in 2003, local KFC’s bolted down all their statues to prevent another theft.

Astonishingly, divers who thought they had found a human corpse finally found the Colonel Sanders statue on March 10, 2009. It remains to be seen if the curse if lifted.

The City of Cleveland: Longest Championship Drought of any American City

Despite having major sports franchises in baseball, football, and basketball, the city of Cleveland has not won a major sports championship since 1964. Way back then, before the NFL-AFL merger, the Cleveland Browns won the NFL Championship. Since then, all three major franchises have experienced misfortune.

Many of the unfortunate incidents surrounding Cleveland sports teams have earned nicknames in popular culture. For the Browns, there are The Drive, The Fumble, and Red Right 88. Willie Ways made one of the most famous catches of all time against the Indians in the 1954 World Series, and in 1997, the Indians lost the World Series despite winning for most of Game Seven. Michael Jordan even got in the fun by owning the Cleveland Cavaliers with his famous shot in the 1989 NBA Playoffs. Cleveland is so cursed there are multiple curses.

The Chicago Cubs: The Curse of the Billy Goat

The Chicago Cubs are affectionately known as lovable losers. The Cubs have not made a World Series appearance since 1945, and have not won a championship since 1908, the longest drought in North American sports. This curse was placed on the Cubs in 1945 by one Billy Sianis, who was asked to leave a World Series game because his stinky pet goat that he brought with him to the game was bothering other fans. On his way out, Sianis said, “ Them Cubs, they aren’t gonna win no more.”

The Curse of the Billy Goat has manifested itself many times, most recently in the 2003 National League Championship Series against the Florida Marlins, where fan Steve Bartman infamously obstructed a Cubs player from catching a foul ball late in the game in a crucial situation.

The only way the curse can be lifted, according to Sianis’s descendants, is that the Cubs show a genuine affection for goats and allow them into the stadium not because they were forced, but because they really want them there.

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