| FEATURED in the SHORT STORY Newsletter DTD: 13 APR 2005
86 years ago
Babe Ruth walked into the dugout and threw his bat down on the dirt floor in disgust. His teammates looked up at him, half in awe, half in disapproval. Babe was a passionate man about baseball, but he could also be a prima donna if he wanted to be. He knew he was a great player and so did his teammates.
“Babe, shake it off. So you struck out. Big deal. You’ll get another at bat,” said his teammate, Stuffy McInnis from the bench. Stuffy was average for a ball player, average height, average weight, but an above average third baseman.
Ed Barrow, the Boston manager with his thick, dark eyebrows, looked the towering Ruth in the eye, trying to settle down the Babe. “Stuffy’s right, Babe. We need your head in a good place when you go out there to pitch next inning.”
Barrow spit a wad of chewing tobacco onto the floor and kicked dirt on it. It was the first game of the 1918 World Series, and the Boston Red Sox were playing the Chicago Cubs. They were in Chicago but were playing the game in Comiskey Park, home of the American League Chicago White Sox. The owner of the club, Charles Weeghman, wanted to play in a bigger park that would accommodate more fans so the Cubs were without their familiar field. It was all about money, even then.
“I don’t want to let you guys down, that’s all,” said Ruth, his eyes full of fire for the game to be played.
“Babe, it ain’t all about you,” said Ed, crossing his arms and looking up at his massive player, “The only way we’ll win the World Series is with team work.”
Babe stood there, paused, tried to let the words sink in, and then walked over to the water cooler in the dugout for a glass of water. The next at bat he’d hit a home run. Just you wait and see, Scott.
Scott Ellison shot up out of bed, his head reeling. It was still dark in his apartment. Quiet. His alarm clock was blaring. 6:30 a.m. Anxiously, he took a deep breath and ran his hand over his forehead to wipe the sweat off it. That was the most intense dream he’d ever had.
Scott felt like he was a teammate of Ruth’s in that dingy Chicago dugout. The odor of tobacco lingered in his nose. Whiteman. George Whiteman. He looked at Ruth as his only ticket to win the World Series. Why did that name come to him? Who were the 1918 Boston Red Sox?
“That’s crazy,” muttered Scott. He was not George Whiteman. He didn’t know a George Whiteman. He was Scott Ellison, Pulitzer award winning sports columnist for The Boston Globe.
Tall and lanky with a full head of wavy brown hair, Scott lived and breathed Red Sox baseball. He had ever since he was a five-year-old kid when he learned to flip baseball cards.
He threw off the covers to his bed, reached over to the nightstand and shut off his clock. He slid on his pajama bottoms and put on a white t-shirt. He lived in a small apartment in downtown Boston. The familiar sounds of the city coming to life filtered in through his window. He walked over to it and peeked out of the blinds. People were rushing into the Metro station down below as the sun just peaked over the horizon. Time to check for his paper. He grinned at the thought.
He walked to the door, found The Boston Globe and stumbled to his kitchen. The coffee pot, set to automatically start at 6:30 a.m. was all ready brewing.
He still couldn’t shake off the eerie feeling of being George Whiteman.
Scott flipped to the sports page. Last night was something special and he was delighted to watch it. He’d submitted his feature thirty minutes after the game, that’s how excited he was about it. “Sox come back, Win in extra innings with Ortiz.”
It was past midnight when David Ortiz hit a two run home run in the twelfth inning. The Sox now trailed the Yankees 3-1 in the ALCS. It was an exciting game and Scott was glad he was there. It wouldn’t be easy for the Red Sox. They would have to win every game of the ALCS to go to the World Series and the Yankees were good. Damn good. And they had the Curse on their side.
Scott’s head immediately flung up and he instinctively looked toward the kitchen window. “What?!”
“Were you there in 1918? Do you know?”
“Who are you?!” cried Scott. Now he really did fear that he was going crazy. He could have sworn he saw the figure of a man dressed in baseball pinstripes in his window.
Scott stood up. He was a rational thinking man. Sure, he’d experienced déjà vu a couple of times in his life, but this was not possible! People didn’t see things like this.
“The curse is broken.”
“You’re crazy!” Scott’s eyes grew large as the apparition’s features came into view. The man had dark hair, dark eyes, and as his arms crossed his chest, his biceps were defined. He had an outfielder’s arm.
“No, Scott, no. I’m not crazy and neither are you. I’ll show you why. Trust me.”
Scott’s heart leaped in his chest! This could not be real! The apparition of Whiteman disappeared leaving the newspaper reporter stunned by its incrediable claim.
Scott had a mission. Quickly he poured himself a cup of coffee. He had a lot to do before going to Fenway Park tonight to cover the game.
Scott sat in the sports writer booth over looking the baseball diamond at Fenway Park. Built in 1912, Fenway Park was the oldest baseball park in commission. Wrigley Field was built in 1916 for the Federal Baseball league, which folded after a couple years. When it did, it became home to the Chicago Cubs. He had found out a lot about baseball history today and what he found out simply rattled him to the core.
It was almost midnight. He’d taken diligent notes on the game, which again, had gone into extra innings, both teams tied at 4.
“Here you go, Scott,” said his friend and fellow co-sports writer for the The Herald, Steven Bailey, as he put down a cup of coffee in front of Scott from a vending machine outside of the writer’s booth. Only the local Boston and New York press were allowed in this vintage booth.
“Thanks, Steve,” said Scott as he turned on his laptop. Time to write his article. He glanced at his notepaper, realizing he’d written, “George Whiteman, 1918, and Outfielder” all along the margin.
Steve hovered over Scott’s shoulder. “Scott, who’s George Whiteman?”
A sudden cheer erupted in Fenway Park. Boston had retired the side and it was now their turn to bat.
Scott tried to maintain his cool. “George Whiteman was an outfielder for the Red Sox in 1918 when the team last won the Series.”
“Really? Was he any good?” asked Steve, sipping his coffee.
“He was good enough.”
“So how did the Red Sox win the 1918 Series? Did the Babe carry them?”
“It wasn’t a one man show,” said Scott, proud of newfound knowledge, “But what was remarkable was that Babe not only pitched but he continued to hit like a slugger – like David Ortiz. Did you know he pitched two games in the World Series that year on what would be considered short rest by today’s standards and won both of them?”
Steve raised a surprised eyebrow. “I didn’t know that but I wouldn’t have put it past the Babe. Say, how did you become so smart about the 1918 team?”
“I did some light reading,” said Scott down playing his investigation.
“Umph,” said Steve as he sat down and began his own article.
Scott stared out into Fenway Park from the booth. The Green Monster stood tall and proud in left field. George Whiteman was in the mid-30’s, brought up early in Boston’s season that year when the team lost a lot of men to World War I enlistments. He was considered too old for the game in his thirties, but quickly proved his worth to the team with his solid defense and his ability to get on base. George Whiteman was indeed a living, breathing player on the Red Sox team of 1918 and this discovery practically consumed Scott’s thoughts during tonight’s game.
In the fourteenth inning, The Rex Sox won the game with an RBI single by David Ortiz. Something, some feeling deep inside Scott dared to hope the Curse was truly broken. But how do you break a curse when there was probably never any curse to begin with? Despite everything that had gone on in nearby Salem, witches didn’t exist and they certainly didn’t in the 20th century.
Scott typed away furiously at his laptop. The series was now moving to Yankee Stadium, the House that Ruth Built. The 2004 Red Sox would have to stare the Curse of Ruth right in its face to overcome it. Were they up for the task? What had they done to the break curse that Whiteman’s ghost had insisted existed? What was the real curse of Babe Ruth? Did he really throw a piano into the icy lake on a cold January day when he learned of his trade to New York? Why did Whiteman come to him? Scott needed more answers.
He knew it was Game 3 of the 1918 World Series. They were still playing in Chicago. The Series was tied, 1-1. After this, the teams would travel by train to Boston for the rest of the series.
Stuffy and George watched from the bench as Babe Ruth stood up at the plate. He was playing in the outfield tonight instead of pitching.
“Boys,” said Ed Barrow stepping up to them. He offered them a wad of chewing tobacco from his pouch. Stuffy took some. George waved him off as he threw a peanut into his mouth.
Babe swung, fouling off a ball.
“Ruth has heart,” said Ed watching his star player’s at bat.
“Ruth almost left us high and dry a couple of months ago. Remember that?” said Stuffy shoving his tobacco into his mouth. “When he held out for more money.”
“I think Babe’s learned since then,” said Whiteman.
“Learned? What?” asked Stuffy giving him a challenging look.
“Takes more than teamwork, Boys, to win the World Series,” said Ed.
“Ed, come on, don’t start philosophizing,” said Stuffy in a patronizing tone of voice.
Ed looked at Stuffy like Stuffy had pulled his cat’s tail and hit him upside his head, knocking his cap off. “I’ll give you philosophizing! You want to win this series, you Boys need to go a step further. You all need to be unselfish. It’s not about you or your damn glory or your star egos, Stuffy. It’s about doing what you gotta’ do for ALL the Boys here on this team.”
“Shit!” cried Scott as his alarm clock once again tore him out of his dream. It was just as powerful as the first. He felt everything Whiteman had felt. He smelled the dirty air of the dugout. He felt the chill in the Chicago air. He felt nervous, anxious, but exited to be watching Ruth up to bat. Ruth was a bear of a man. He was tall, stocky, muscular, and the muscles in his arm spoke of untapped power and years still to play.
Scott got up and packed his bag. He was taking a shuttle down to New York and he didn’t want to be late.
The House that Ruth built was massive. Scott walked into the Yankee Stadium surrounded by proud Yankee fans filtering in for the game. Several of them held pictures of Babe, daring to invoke the “Curse.” He laughed at that. It was a Curse spoken so long ago that no one truly understood it now.
Lots of excitement was in the air. Boston ace, Curt Schilling, was pitching for the Red Sox tonight. Yankee pitcher, Mike Mussina, was taking Schilling on. His cell phone rang as he made his way up the spiral walkway to the pressroom. If it was one thing he learned about New York, it was the public transportation was great. A metro station was within walking distance of the stadium.
“Scott, I saw your article on last night’s game.”
“Hi, Kristen,” he said with a smile.
“I miss you, Honey.”
“I miss you too, Baby, but I’ve got to cover these games. This is my bread and butter right here. You know that.”
Besides, there was no way Kristen would understand his dreams and the driving determination behind them to discover The Curse of the Bambino.
“You love those Red Sox too much, Scott.”
“Everyone in New England loves the Sox. You know that,” His L.A. girlfriend was clueless about the passion New Englanders felt for the ageless team. He could barely describe it himself. It was something he felt since he was a boy. It was something everything New Englanders knew since they were kids. America was mom, apple pie, and the Red Sox. He couldn’t put the intense feelings into words past that.
“Okay, Baby. Call me later. Hope your Sox win.”
Scott hung up.
“Scott, hurry up! Come here!” cried Steve as he put his fingertips to the glass in the pressroom and stared out the window.
Scott walked into the press box and saw everyone staring out the window with Steve. He put down his coffee on their table and rushed to join him.
“Mark Bellhorn just hit a home run! It was initially ruled a double but all the umpires huddled together and reversed the call!” cried Steve.
Scott’s mouth dropped open. Something was telling him this was destiny.
“The play-by-play just announced the ball bounced off a fan and back into the field!” cried another reporter as he held up a small transistor radio.
Suddenly Scott was in another time and place. He felt George’s pure, raw excitement as Babe Ruth hit that home run. The Sox led the 1918 series 2-1.
“Geez, luck is on Boston’s side tonight!” cried a rival reporter from New York as he walked back to his desk and threw his pencil down.
Scott knew this was more than luck.
“Bronson Arroyo is applying the tag – oh, no! The ball came out! Jeter scores! Rodriguez is at second with a double!” The same small radio boomed the play-by-play into the room.
“Ah, Shit!” muttered Steve as he frowned.
“That’s wrong, Scott.”
Scott felt butterflies in his stomach.
“The Curse!” yelled another exasperated Boston reporter.
Scott swallowed. His throat was dry. George said the Curse was broken!
“It is, Scott. Believe.”
“The Yankees are coming back!” said the same elated New York reporter.
Just then Scott noticed the umpires huddling. The call was reversed. Alex Rodriguez had deliberately slapped the ball out of Arroyo’s glove. Scott shivered as he realized Whiteman’s ghost was right. The Curse was broken! But how?! Calls like that hadn’t gone the Red Sox way for over 86 years! Boston won the game, tying the ALCS at three games each.
“George, it’s wasch a hell of a year!” cried Ruth loudly into the bar, practically drunk. The 1918 Red Sox were celebrating their World Series win at Tom’s Pub, in the heart of downtown Boston. The bar was wild. Ruth had a girl on each arm as he poured a mug of beer down his throat. He loved to drink.
“Yeah, Babe, it was a great series,” said George drinking his beer more slowly, but still sharing that satisfied gleam in his eyes with Ruth.
“George, can I tell you something?”
“My arm hurts like hell. I don’t want to pitch anymore. I want to hit the ball,” said Babe staring at George with a sudden powerful intensity, “But I did it for you. I wanted all you guys to win a World Series, so I pitched through the pain. I did it for you guys, George. I know you’ll never get another chance like this, Guy. I know the only thing Frazee cares about is the money. I did it for all you guys.”
Scott shot up in his hotel bed. What the hell was Whiteman telling him? Curt Schilling said practically the same thing when the reporters asked him about his ankle. Were the 1918 Red Sox unselfish? Did they make sacrifices? Were they just a bunch of idiots playing ball? Were those things the common denominators between the 2004 and the 1918 Red Sox?
“Shit, this is nuts.” Scott reached for the remote and flicked on the TV. ESPN’s Baseball Tonight was on. Curt Schilling was being interviewed.
“Curt, how’s your ankle?”
“But you gave the Red Sox seven solid innings, allowing only one run…”
“I just wanted to play my heart out for those guys. They’re a great bunch of guys. They deserve a chance,” said Schilling.
Scott wrapped his arms around himself. Both Schilling and Ruth played through the pain, the ultimate act of sacrifice.
It was late. He didn’t care. Whitman had told him what he needed to know. The 46, 67, 75, and 1986 Red Sox didn’t have that same special chemistry the 1918 and 2004 teams shared.
“Oh my God!” muttered Scott as he watched the House that Ruth built come tumbling down. Johnny Damon just hit a grand slam home run in game 7 of the ALCS to put the Red Sox in the lead. Scott stood up, staring at Damon as he ran the bases.
“Scott, the Sox just might do it!” cried Steve. “They might break the Curse!”
Scott turned toward his friend. The press box was buzzing with activity.
“The last out hasn’t been recorded yet, Steve,” said Scott.
“Who in New England isn’t right now? Look, I’ll be back,” said Scott. Something was telling him to leave. He had something to see, something valuable.
“Where are you going?” asked Steve.
“For a cup of coffee. I’ll bring you back one.”
Scott walked out into the halls of Yankee Stadium, past the concession stands, down the stairs, using his press pass to gain access to the field level. Whiteman was taking him here. He walked past the Yankee’s locker room, to the storage closets. He walked into a very old closet and went directly to the back of it, past the piled up trophies and banners of past Yankee glory.
“Pull on that locker.”
“Why am I here?” whispered Scott as he moved several yellow cardboard boxes away from a series of old fashioned lockers. One locker had “Mantle” written in broad white strokes across it.
Scott reached in and pulled the locker next to Mantle’s. It came lose easily and Scott took out a yellow stained box. Sensing its fragility, he carefully took the lid off revealing an old Yankee pinstripe uniform. In the collar was written “Ruth.” Scott sat down on the floor, at the foot of the rare Yankee paraphernalia and drew in the musky scent of the uniform. His eyes glazed over.
“I can’t believe that bastard!” cried Ruth as he ran into the Red Sox locker room.
“Babe, what’s wrong?” asked Stuffy.
“That bastard Frazee confirmed it! I’m traded. I thought it was just talk but that gutless coward waited until I went on vacation to California to do it! He traded me to New York!” cried Ruth in a fury. He lunged at his locker and began to wildly throw his possessions into the room. The 1919 Red Sox were stunned.
“Babe, calm down,” said Ed.
“That bastard can afford to pay what I’m asking for! He’s cheap! He’d rather finance those stupid wimpy plays of his!” carried on the Babe in his fit of anger.
No one went near Ruth. He was in a state of fury that no one wanted to deal with. Scott did not sense Whiteman’s presence in this flashback, just over the overpowering being of Ruth. Scott felt his anger as vividly as Ruth felt it.
“Babe, look, we’ll go to talk to him as a team…” began Ed Barrow. “That’s why I called everyone here.”
“Won’t do any good, Ed,” said Ruth turning his rabid attention onto his manager. “I’m traded.”
The clubhouse locker room as silent as the news sunk in.
“It’s the stupidest mistake Frazee has ever made,” muttered Ed.
Ruth lunged for his locker bag and began throwing his property into it.
“Babe, what’s Frazee getting?” asked Stuffy quietly.
Babe turned on him, his eyes on fire. “100,000 dollars plus a 350,000 loan! Probably for a stupid play! He can’t pay me 20,000 a year but will trade me for 100,000! Well, I promise you this – he’ll never win another World Series! Not in Boston! Never! I don’t care who he sells the team too! I don’t care how long it takes – until he finds twenty-five guys who gave to each other unconditionally like we did back in 18, this team will never win another World Series!”
“Babe!” cried the guys.
“Geez, Babe…” muttered Ed, “Don’t say shit like that.”
“Come on, Babe…”
Babe Ruth crossed his arms and looked at his new ex-teammates with defiance. “Winning the game isn’t about egos. It isn’t about money. It’s playing your heart out because you love the game and you love your teammates,” continued Ruth. “Frazee is a greedy bastard and his greed will cost him the pride of the Red Sox!”
“Ruth, shut the hell up!” yelled Ed rolling his eyes at him. “You’re mad right now and that’s understandable but saying shit like that ain’t gonna’ do anyone no good.”
“It makes me feel better, Ed,” said Ruth, “I know what I am to this game and years down the road Frazee’s gonna’ know it too!”
Scott felt sick to his stomach. Harry Frazee, the owner of the 1918 cost them 86 years. But what did the 2004 Red Sox do to break the curse? He stood up, uniform in hand.
“Leave it here, Scott.”
“George, this uniform is rare – priceless…”
“It’s not meant to be found yet. I only showed it to you so you would understand the Curse.”
“You weren’t there?” whispered Scott. “You weren’t in the locker room.”
“No. Frazee traded me to an independent league in Toronto in 1919. That’s why I had to show you the shirt. I had to give you a link to show you the memories,” explained George He stood as a full sized man, in Boston gray.
“What happened to you, George? Why did you come to me?” whispered Scott.
“The 1918 Red Sox were punished for delaying the start of game 5. See, back then, the players only monetary reward for being in the World Series was a percentage of the seats sold. Frazee cheated us out of that percentage so we threatened not to play game 5. The baseball commissioners promised us our fair share so we went out to play after a delay. We never received our emblems or our player rings for winning the World Series that year. I never got mine, not even posthumously.”
Scott was appalled to discover this. The 1918 Red Sox never received their rings?! “I’ll do what I can for you, George.”
“Thank you. I knew you would understand. That’s why I came to you.”
“I understand the Curse now, I think. It had nothing to do with Babe’s piano did it?”
George laughed.“Trust me, Babe sunk a piano on an icy New England day when he was stone-assed drunk, but it had nothing to do with cursing the Red Sox. He was in California on vacation when he found out about the trade. He came home and Ed Barrow called a meeting. He wanted to barge into Frazee’s office with the entire team threatening to leave Boston if he didn’t do the right thing and keep the Babe but ultimately, Babe realized Frazee had no intention of ever keeping him. That’s when Babe realized it isn’t about the game, it’s about the money. No one would ever cheat him again like how he was cheated in 1918.”
“What did the 2004 Red Sox do to break the Curse?” whispered Scott.
“Read your articles, Scott. You know what they have in common. The answer is in your words.”
Scott nodded his head. Nothing else was said. Scott put the uniform away and went back to the pressroom.
Scott entered the pressroom and carelessly dropped a cup of coffee in front of Steve. Steve was glued to the scene unfolding on the diamond before them. Scott began going over his saved articles on his laptop looking for the moment the Curse was broken.
“That took a while. Where did you go for the coffee? Seattle?” asked Steve glancing at his buddy.
“Hang on,” said Scott, barely hearing his friend’s jab. He read his article for game 4 but that wasn’t it. He turned to game 3 and the humiliating loss the Red Sox suffered at the hands of the Yankees, 19-8.
"It was in the second or third inning that I volunteered," Tim Wakefield said. Wakefield, who was supposed to be the Red Sox starter in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series on Sunday, went up to manager Terry Francona in the dugout. The runs were adding up and Wakefield knew the bullpen was going to be raked over the coals. Someone needed to step up. Someone needed to save that bullpen and that someone was Tim Wakefield who forfeited his game 4 start to give the bullpen some much needed rest.”
Scott’s head shot up. Because of Wakefield’s unselfishness, because he sacrificed his start, he set in motion the very events needed to put his team on the road to the World Series. He could never explain this so people would understand.
“And the Boston Red Sox have just made history be defeating the New York Yankees in a never before done come from behind win!” blared the audio play-by-play into the press room.
Scott looked up from his laptop and stared out into the field. The Red Sox players came together in jubilation. Baseball’s most notorious superstition was banished by a team that just days ago had no chance in hell in going to the World Series.
“Thank you, George,” whispered Scott as a small tear of joy fell down his cheek. A new chapter in the lore of the Boston Red Sox was just beginning and while Tim Wakefield’s name would never be on the lips of New Englanders like the Babe’s was, him, Schilling, Martinez, Lowe, Vartiek, Millar, Mueller, Bellhorn, Foulke, Timlin, Embree, Ramierz, Ortiz, Damon, Nixon, and Roberts would become legends in their own rights.