The Curse of the Colonel

The MLB playoffs are upon us, and while I’m not a huge baseball fan, I do like a lot of the lore that surrounds the game… especially the curses. You’re probably familiar with the Curse of the Bambino, where the Boston Red Sox were condemned to eternal failure (and the New York Yankees eternal success) after Red Sox manager Harry Frazee sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees to (allegedly) fund Frazee’s production of the musical No, No, Nanette. The curse was finally broken in 2004, when the Red Sox won their first World Series since 1918.

And then there’s the far more colorful Curse of the Billy Goat, where the Chicago Cubs were condemned to eternal failure by a Greek immigrant named Billy Sianis, who owned a tavern close to Wrigley Field. It seems that one fateful day a goat fell off a passing truck and limped into the bar. Sianis nursed the goat back to health and eventually took him to Game 4 of the 1945 World Series between the Cubs and Detroit Tigers. Billy and his goat were allowed on the field before the game, because the goat was wearing a blanket embroidered with the phrase “We got Detroit’s goat!”. As gametime approached, ushers shooed Billy and his goat off the field and into the box seats that Sianis purchased two tickets for (one for the goat and one for himself). All was well until Cubs owner Philip Knight Wrigley decided to eject Sianis and the goat due to the goat’s “objectionable odor”. On the way out of the stadium, Sianis cursed the Cubs, saying that they’d never win another pennant in Wrigley Field because of the ejection. Sianis went back to Greece for a vacation, and the Cubs ended up losing the series, prompting Sianis to write “Who stinks now?” in a letter sent to Philip Wrigley from Greece. And then there’s the Curse of the Black Sox, the Curse of Rocky Colavito, and the Curse of Billy Penn.

But did you know that baseball teams in other countries have curses of thir own? It’s true! Just ask the fans of Japan’s Hanshin Tigers!

The Tigers are based in Japan’s second largest metropolitan area. They thus have lots of cash to spend on players, and lots of rabid fans to cheer the team on. Like the Chicago Cubs, the Tigers are perennial underdogs, but their fanatical fans always come out in droves to watch the games, no matter how poorly the team is doing. So it was a surprise to most everyone in the country when the Tigers made it to the Japan Championship Series, Japan’s equivalent to the World Series, in 1985. And people were even more surprised when the Tigers actually won the series, due largely to the batwork of the American slugger Randy Bass.

Tiger fans went nuts and gathered at the Ebisubashi Bridge in Dotonbori, Osaka. Once there, the fans yelled the names of each player, and a fan that resembled that player jumped from the bridge into the canal below. However, it soon became obvious that there was a problem: the Tigers had no American fans, so there was no one around that even vaguely resembled Bass. Thinking quickly, some of the mob went to a nearby Kentucky Fried Chicken and swiped the statue of Colonel Sanders that stood by the door. At the appropriate time, the crowd shouted Bass’ name, and the statue was flung into the canal below.

This apparently angered the Colonel. After the 1985 triumph, the Tigers went on a 18-year losing streak, placing last or next-to-last in the league. An urban legend sprang up whereby the Tigers would be doomed to failure until the statue was found and returned to its proper place. Several attempts were made to recover the statue – including using divers and dredging equipment! – but the statue has never been found. Fans even apologized to the KFC manager, but the curse remains as long as the statue is lost. The Tigers have had brief runs of success in the 2000s, but they still haven’t won a JCS title since that fateful day the Colonel was tossed into the river!

UPDATE (03/11/09): Apparently the statue of Colonel Sanders has been found! According to Yahoo! News,

A diver checking for unexploded bombs from World War Two in the river as part of a clean-up found the Colonel’s top half on Tuesday, minus his hands and glasses but still sporting his trademark string tie and grin.

The Colonel’s smile might have widened if it could on Wednesday, when his bottom half was recovered and reunited with the top. “It’s only a statue, but I felt as if I was rescuing someone,” a worker told reporters after the lower half was found.

“When I heard the statue had been found, I felt that history had ended,” Yoshio Yoshida, 75, Hanshin manager at the time, was quoted by the Asahi newspaper as saying. “Recalling 1985, I’d like them to achieve the dream of being Japan No. 1 again.”

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