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The Myth of the Curse

What has the selling of the Babe wrought for the Red Sox? Exactly what the Boston faithful wanted: 8 1/2 decades of self-indulgent suffering

PERHAPS IT is best that we begin with some truly Veteran Scribes. The mysterious Whoever who wrote the Bible, for example, and warned us that pride goeth before the fall. Or the ancient Greeks who, while hanging around the Parthenon inventing Western civilization, cautioned us that hubris was a curse, deadlier than most.

Ah, but like so many other people, neither the author of Proverbs nor that gaggle of bewhiskered Hellenic layabouts ever anticipated the Boston Red Sox and those to whom the team would come to matter. In the case of this franchise, pride is always taken in the fall, and if the Red Sox have proven anything in 8 1/2 decades of futility it is this: If hubris is a curse, then a curse can be hubris as well.

Regarding the Curse of the Bambino, a romanticized hoodoo that allegedly has attended the team since it peddled a clubhouse cancer named Ruth to the Yankees back in 1920, there has always been an alternative case to be made: It is not a curse that's haunted the team so much as the conspicuous pride that Red Sox fans have taken in being uniquely the victim of Fate's great cosmic whoopee cushion. It is one thing to acknowledge a run of bad luck. It's another thing to wallow in it. It's one thing to decide that you're born to be Destiny's doormat. Its another to turn it into a tourist attraction.

The ancient Greeks would have recognized this for the willfully prideful indulgence that it is, a temptation to the dark gods to give you exactly what you're asking for. And then all the ancient Greeks would have thrown up their hands and become Padres fans.

Consider the public displays of ostentatious misery: the cemetery stalkers who haunt Babe Ruth's grave; the periodic reappearance of Father Guido Sarducci from wherever it is that those people reside who are nearly as funny as Laraine Newman; the regular visits to Fenway Park by healers, mystics, crystal wavers, chant moaners and postcard witches from Salem. Not to mention the significance given (by National Public Radio, of all things) to the fact that on the day that the ALCS began, a house that had belonged to one of the Babe's ex-wives was torn down, which seems a rather roundabout method of exorcism unless you're trying to cast out divorce lawyers and general contractors.

The culture of the curse has done far more damage than the curse itself ever did. This is because the culture of the curse actually exists, while the curse doesn't. The culture of the curse is equal parts mystical self-love and karmic exceptionalism, two elements long abundant in Boston, which started out claiming to be a shining "city upon a hill" and then abandoned modesty entirely.

However, there is great hope to be found in this particular Red Sox team, a scruffy band of renegades whose sense of history--and, better yet, whose sense of self-importance--doesn't seem to extend as far back as last Thursday, let alone 1918. There is about them a soothing obliviousness of the darker forces that move the cosmos, and that also sell many T-shirts. This is a team for those morning hours when you come to realize that any curse is merely the dark closet of imagination's childhood and that, for all these years, you've been cowering under the covers, terrified of the clothes you put on every day.

A lifelong Red Sox observer, Charles P. Pierce is a native of Massachusetts, but he's from out by Worcester, which makes all the difference.