Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Bambino Cursed in 21st Century

After a seemingly endless chase, Barry Bonds hit his 715th home run on Sunday to pass Babe Ruth for second place on the all-time list. The 20th century was a glorious time for the Bambino, but things have not been so rosy for the Yankee legend since the new century began on January 1, 2001. Indeed, the 21st century has been very unkind to the ghost of Babe Ruth.

There was no hint of the Babe’s upcoming misfortune as the 20th century ended, as his impact still loomed over the game in numerous ways. In 1998, The Sporting News named Ruth as #1 on its list of baseball’s 100 all-time greatest players. His New York Yankees won the last three World Series of the century, and thanks to his curse, the Boston Red Sox were still 82 years removed from their last title. Even his birthplace was celebrated as Oriole Park at Camden Yards, built a block from his boyhood home, drew rave reviews after opening in 1992. Ruth’s ghost often watched the action at the new ballpark, and according to legend, he caused Brady Anderson’s monster 1996 season by wagering the ghost of Ty Cobb that “I can get any chump to hit 50 taters.” Ruth added, “Mmmm… taters.”

As the turn of the century neared, even those named Babe or Ruth experienced success. In 1993, Ruth Bader Ginsburg became the second woman to serve on the United States Supreme Court. The 1995 film Babe captured hearts and was a Best Picture Academy Award nominee. Fortunately for the title pig, his namesake slugger was not alive, or he might have celebrated by roasting the swine on a barbecue spit.

2001 brought a downturn in the Bambino’s fortunes. Bonds served notice that he would someday pass the Babe by smacking a record 73 home runs. Also, the Yankees fell short in their bid for a fourth straight title, dropping a classic World Series to the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Bronx Bombers have not won the Fall Classic since then, losing to the Florida Marlins in the 2003 edition. In the meantime, his old neighborhood has seen lousy baseball, with the Orioles finishing every season this century with a losing record. One would expect the Babe to distract himself with alcohol, but Camden Yards has a strict policy against selling beer to ghosts.

Most painful, of course, were the 2004 playoffs. The Red Sox finally broke the Curse of the Bambino, sweeping the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series. Earlier, Boston had rallied from three games down to embarrass New York in the ALCS. Yankee Stadium, where the Red Sox won games 6 and 7, was once known as “The House That Ruth Built.” Now it is called “The House that Papi Owns.” Ruth’s resulting drop in the curse hierarchy was quite embarrassing. He could deal with getting passed by Hank Aaron in 1974. However, being surpassed by a billy goat was just humiliating.

Additionally, the names Babe and Ruth have taken a hit over the past few years. Mythical lumberjack Paul Bunyan recently announced that his blue ox has made a long overdue change in his name. Formerly known as Babe, he now goes by Hank. Also, Maxim had planned a “Babes Named Ruth” edition in honor of the slugger’s legendary skirt-chasing. However, the magazine scrapped the issue, as not enough hot girls named Ruth could be found.

As the Barry Bonds home run circus subsides, Babe Ruth must come to grips with the weakening of his aura. If the hardships continue, the Bambino will face the same consequence of all Yankees who struggle. George Steinbrenner will call him out in the media.