Curses, foiled again

0 franchises remain haunted for 25 years

By T.R. Sullivan

Knight Ridder Newspapers

FORT WORTH, Texas -- The Boston Red Sox exorcised the Curse of the Bambino last fall, ending 86 years of torment when they finally won the World Series.

That leaves 10 teams that have gone more than 25 years without having won the World Series. And four have gone a half-century or more without winning the Fall Classic.


The other six, all expansion teams, have never won a World Series.

The Chicago Cubs are still synonymous with the phrase "long suffering." It's been 94 years since the Cubs won. Their crosstown brothers, the White Sox, have gone 87 years without winning the Series.

The Texas Rangers/Washington Senators hold the distinction as the oldest franchise to have never won a World Series.

The Cubs blame their misfortune on the Billy Goat Curse.

The Rangers and White Sox will have to be more creative trying to explain their futility.

A look at the unfortunate 10:

Chicago Cubs

Curse: 96 years


Last World Series title: 1908 Pennants since: 1910, 1918, 1929, 1932, 1935, 1938, 1945 Division titles: 1984, 1989, 2003

Why they were bad: Former commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis hated the concept of a farm system, equating it to slavery. So the Cubs in the '40s and '50s didn't build one, buying players from independent teams instead. And in the 1969 division race against the Mets, a black cat walked past the Cubs' dugout, not a good sign.

The one that got away: Losing the 2003 National League Championship Series and blaming it on the poor fan who tried to catch a foul ball was bad, but so was losing the 1984 NLCS to San Diego. The Cubs won the first two games in the best-of-five series, then lost three in a row. In 1929, the Cubs were down 2-1 to the Philadelphia Athletics in the World Series, but had an 8-0 lead in the seventh inning of Game 4. The Athletics promptly rallied for 10 runs that inning.

Sunburned: For many years, it was said that the Cubs couldn't win because Wrigley Field had no lights. Playing their home games during the day in the summer heat was too sapping. But they haven't won much under the lights, either. Owner Phil Wrigley was planning to install lights as far back as 1942, but World War II broke out and Wrigley donated the material to the war effort.

Chicago White Sox

Curse: 87 years

Last World Series title: 1917 Pennants since: 1919, 1959 Division titles: 1983, 1993, 2000

Why they were bad: After the Black Sox Scandal in the 1919 World Series, owner Charles Comiskey released the eight players accused of throwing games.


Those eight were subsequently banned. It took years for the White Sox to recover.

The one that got away: The White Sox relied on pitching, speed and defense to win the American League pennant in 1959, then faced the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series. The Dodgers were a mix of the aging "Boys of Summer" from Brooklyn and young players who would become big stars in the '60s. The favored Sox won the opener 11-0, but the Dodgers won the Series in six games.

The curse of UHF: The White Sox had Harry Caray. They had Jack Brickhouse. They had WGN. They could have built a national following as the Cubs have. Instead, they left WGN after the 1967 season, moving their games to a UHF station. But cable TV, not UHF, was the next big thing. Caray left the Sox for the Cubs and WGN in 1983. The White Sox became the second team in the Second City.

Cleveland Indians

Curse: 56 years

Last World Series title: 1948 Pennants since: 1954, 1995, 1997 Division titles:1995-1999, 2001

Why they were bad: Akron sportswriter Terry Pluto traced 40 years of bad baseball in Cleveland to April, 17, 1960, when All-Star right fielder Rocky Colavito, with the home run bat and rocket right arm, was traded by general manager Frank "Trader" Lane to Detroit for shortstop Harvey Kuenn. The Indians had been a strong franchise in the 1950s, but plummeted after Colavito and other good players were traded.

The one that got away:The Indians were three outs from a 2-1 victory in Game 7 of the 1997 World Series, but Florida rallied to tie the score against closer Jose Mesa on singles by Moises Alou and Charles Johnson and a sacrifice fly by Craig Counsell. The Marlins then won the Series in the 11th on Edgar Renteria's single.

The Curse of Bobby Bragan: Fort Worth's favorite son was fired as Indians manager by Lane in the middle of the 1958 season. Bragan wrote in his autobiography, "There's an ongoing rumor I put a curse on the Indians after Lane fired me. (People) ask if it's true. No, it isn't. I didn't need to hex the club. Having Frank Lane as its general manager was curse enough."

San Francisco Giants

Curse: 50 years

Last World Series title: 1954 Pennants since: 1962, 1989, 2002 Division titles: 1971, 1987, 1989, 1997, 2000, 2003

Why they were bad: The Giants had one of the best minor league systems in baseball under Hall of Fame pitcher Carl Hubbell, who was also an extraordinary farm director. But the system fell apart when he retired in the mid-'70s. Trading Gaylord Perry for a washed-up Sam McDowell and then slugger George Foster for utility infielder Frank Duffy during that decade didn't help.

The one that got away: In the 2002 World Series, the Giants were up three games to two against Anaheim and led 5-0 going into the seventh inning of Game 6. When starter Russ Ortiz, working on a two-hitter, gave up a pair of one-out singles, manager Dusty Baker pulled him. The Angels rallied for a 6-5 victory and then won Game 7.

The Curse of Al Dark: The Giants of the mid-'60s were loaded with extraordinary talent, including Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, and Latin stars Juan Marichal, Orlando Cepeda and the Alou brothers. But manager Alvin Dark had a backward attitude when it came to race. He was fired after the 1964 season. The Giants spent most of the '60s in contention, but could never grab the brass ring.

Texas Rangers

Curse: 44 years

Last World Series title: None Pennants: None Division titles: 1996, 1998-99

Why they were bad: Owner Brad Corbett set up a confusing front office in the mid-'70s that included vice president Eddie Robinson and general manager Dan O'Brien. Either could have done the job, but Corbett often ignored their advice and made a series of bizarre trades that would doom the franchise to mediocrity. Then, under George W. Bush's watch, the Rangers traded Sammy Sosa.

The one that got away: The Rangers almost derailed the Yankees' most recent dynasty before it got untracked. They won the first game of the 1996 division series in New York and led in each of the next three games. But the Yankees rallied to win all three.

Curse of the Gold Club: The Rangers played in one of the worst stadiums in baseball from 1972-1993. In 1994, they moved into a new ballpark and won their three division titles. Then they built the Gold Club behind home plate in 2000, which changed the wind patterns and turned the ballpark into a hitter's paradise. A secondary whammy is the Curse of A-Rod: Even the Yankees don't win the pennant when Alex Rodriguez is in their lineup.

Houston Astros

Curse: 43 years

Last World Series title: None Pennants: None Division titles: 1980, 1986, 1997-1999, 2001

Why they were bad: Letting Nolan Ryan get away after the 1988 season was a poor public relations move. But the real killer for the Astros came after the 1980 season, when general manager Tal Smith was fired by owner John McMullen. The Astros had just won their first division title, and Smith had them headed in the right direction.

The one that got away: The Astros, with Nolan Ryan on the mound, had a 5-2 lead against Philadelphia in the eighth inning of the deciding game of the 1980 National League Championship Series. But the Phillies scored five in the eighth and ended up winning 8-7 in the 10th inning to win the pennant.

Curse of the Killer B's: Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, Lance Berkman, Derek Bell and Kevin Bass (in '86) were major contributors during the regular season, but in 82 playoff games they have batted a combined .225 with 71 hits in 315 at-bats, with nine home runs and 31 RBI. Carlos Beltran, a Killer B who defied the odds in 2004, left to sign with the New York Mets.

San Diego Padres

Curse: 36 years

Last World Series title: None Pennants: 1984, 1998 Division titles: 1984, 1996, 1998

Why they were bad: The 1984 Padres won the pennant with Jack McKeon as their general manager and Dick Williams as their manager. But owner Ray Kroc had died, leaving control to his wife and son-in-law. After the 1985 season, Williams was forced out as manager and the franchise spent a decade in ownership disarray.

The one that got away: The Padres have been to the World Series twice. In 1984 they faced the Detroit Tigers, who had won 104 games during the regular season. In 1998, they faced the New York Yankees, who had won 114 regular-season games. In other words, they never had a chance.

The Curse of Bad Geography: The National League wanted to expand to Dallas in 1969, giving Houston a natural rival, but the shortsighted Astros blocked it. So the league put a franchise in San Diego. As Padres broadcaster Jerry Coleman noted, there was the Pacific Ocean to the west, Mexico to the south, the desert to the east and Vin Scully to the north.

Washington Nationals

Curse: 36 years

Last World Series title: None

Pennants: None

Division titles: 1981

Why they were bad: The Montreal Expos had a highly productive farm system, and probably had the best team in both leagues in 1994. But the late-season players' strike shut down the game that year and wiped out the playoffs and World Series. With a fast-shrinking fan base, the Expos were forced to unload just about every good player they had -- John Wetteland, Pedro Martinez, Moises Alou, Ken Hill, Cliff Floyd, Marquis Grissom, Larry Walker and Vladimir Guererro, among others. They never recovered and finally moved to Washington.

The one that got away: The Expos had the best record in baseball in 1994, but in the 1981 best-of-five NLCS, they won two of the first three games against the Los Angeles Dodgers and needed one more to get to the World Series. They lost the next two, including Game 5 on a ninth-inning home run by Rick Monday off Steve Rogers.

The Curse of the Bad Stadium: In the end, Montreal's Olympic Stadium, built for the 1976 Summer Olympic Games, cost taxpayers more than $1 billion. It was never suitable for baseball. The retractable roof didn't retract properly. Plus, the ballpark was built in the wrong part of town.

Milwaukee Brewers

Curse: 36 years

Last World Series title: None Pennants: 1982 Division titles: 1982

Why they were bad: The Brewers were reasonably competitive for a 15-year stretch from 1977-92. But after Sal Bando took over for Harry Dalton as general manager, they let Paul Molitor leave as a free agent, Robin Yount retired, a young Gary Sheffield was traded away and a once-great farm system died. Ace pitcher Teddy Higuera was basically hurt for all four years of a four-year, $13 million contract, a big deal at the time.

The one that got away: Rollie Fingers saved 29 games for the Brewers in 1982, one year after he had won the MVP and Cy Young awards. But an elbow injury kept him from pitching in the postseason, and the Brewers (then in the AL) lost their only World Series to St. Louis in seven games.

Curse of Miller Park: The Brewers' new ballpark has not rejuvenated the franchise. Instead, it's been nothing but trouble. The opening of the park was delayed for a year because of a construction accident that left three people dead. Once opened, there were multiple problems with the retractable roof. Extended litigation over the roof was finally resolved in January.

Seattle Mariners

Curse: 28 years

Last World Series title: None Pennants: None Division titles: 1995, 1997, 2001

Why they were bad: The Mariners went through a series of cheap, profit-first owners -- most notably, George Argyros -- who were convinced that Seattle was stuck in a hopeless small-market situation with a terrible stadium. Twice they threatened to move the team to Florida. Argyros made a profit but refused to spend money on players or player development. In the winter of 1986-87, Argyros cut the salary of every player, then suggested they attend a seminar on positive of thinking.

The one that got away: The 1997 Seattle Mariners were loaded -- Randy Johnson, Ken Griffey Jr. Alex Rodriguez, Edgar Martinez, Jamie Moyer and Jay Buhner -- all healthy and at the top of their game. But the Baltimore Orioles were just as good and won three of four from the Mariners in the AL division series. Johnson was traded the following season and that core of players never reached the playoffs together again.

Curse of Ball Four: Before the Mariners, there were the Seattle Pilots, a 1969 expansion team that lasted just one season before moving to Milwaukee. The Pilots (64-98) were really bad. But they went down in history as the subject of the best-selling "Ball Four" by Jim Bouton, the first tell-all book about baseball. Oh, the Curse of A-Rod applies here, too.

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