Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (June 17, 2004)
Why do we develop our partisan attitudes toward sports teams? A number of factors interfere, but sometimes our loves and hates lack much clear reasoning. Of all teams pro and college, I loathe none quite as much as the Boston Red Sox. I maintain a genuine disdain for the BoSox, so I feel true delight when the team inevitably fails.
Over the last 85 years, the Sox have found new and creative ways to disappoint their fans, and a documentary called The Curse of the Bambino examines the factors connected to their failures. Narrated by Beantowner Ben Affleck, we find some archival footage and interviews. The roster of participants includes only New England natives. We hear from Boston sportscasters Glenn Ordway and Eddie Andelman, comedian Steven Wright, actor Michael Chiklis, Washington Post columnist Tom Boswell, Boston Globe writer Leigh Montville, Massachusetts Representative Shaun Kelly, Rabbi Jeffrey Sirkman, actor Mike O’Malley, Matt Wilson, comedian/actor Denis Leary, Red Sox Century author Glenn Stout, Babe Ruth biographer Robert Creamer, Curse of the Bambino author Dan Shaughnessy, elderly fan Peter Casey, Pawtucket Red Sox owner Ben Mondor, newspaper columnist Harvey Robbins, young fan Richard Hanson, film/theater critic Jeffrey Lyons, Kieran Meagher, Providence Journal writers Art Martone and Sean McAdam, Jerry Thornton, newspaper writer Mark Leccese, Cheri Giffin, radio host Mike Barnicle, Bob McGarry, comedian Lenny Clarke, former Yankee Bucky Dent, The Curse of the Bambino playwright Dave Kruh, mountain climber Paul Giorgio, farmer Michael Wissemann, Babe Ruth Piano Restoration Project leader Kevin Kennedy, writer Robert B. Parker, Sports Museum of New England curator Richard A. Johnson, Boston journalist Clark Booth, Boston Globe writer Bud Collins, Edward Cossette, sports journalist Will McDonough, sportscaster Ted Sarandis, Shut Out: The Story of Race and Baseball in Boston author Howard Bryant, Ouisie Shapiro, John McKeon, Ben Birnbaum, Boston Globe writer Jackie MacMullan, Paul Sullivan, Luke Salisbury, radio host Scott Cordischi and John Tobin
Curse follows the history of the Sox in a somewhat elliptical way. It tells us of the team’s early success, as they won five of first 15 World Series. We then hear of Babe Ruth’s stint with the team and his popularity as well as how owner Harry Frazee sold him to the Yankees after the 1920 season because he needed money for his New York theater. We watch the immediate impact this had on the Sox and find out a little more about Frazee, as the show debunks some myths. The program also covers support for the deal at the time and how Ruth’s behavior caused problems while with the Sox.
From there Curse looks at the immense hatred of the Yankees possessed by most New Englanders and we watch some examples of Sox collapses. We examine their failure in 1978 and the infamous one-game playoff with the Yanks that inspired the legend of Bucky “Bleeping” Dent. Some general notes about other failures appear and then we hear about the legend of the curse. We get pro and con comments about how the selling of Ruth caused a curse as well as attempts to erase it.
In addition, Curse looks at other issues that caused Sox problems over the years. We hear of the team’s institutional racism throughout the years and its on-going impact. Finally, the program gives us a fairly in-depth view of the Sox’s greatest failure, the collapse in the 1986 World Series.
Curse offers a fitfully entertaining program filled with highs and lows. Unusually, some of its strengths also are weaknesses. The fan interviews fall into that category. Curse relies too heavily on these, and they occasionally dilute the impact of the material. We see game footage of significant events, but the program interrupts these for comments, and that often makes them less effective. For example, it’s good to see the Bucky Dent home run, but the show mars the presentation with too many fan remarks.
On the other hand, when the interviews work well, they add a lot to the show. The best example comes from the examination of the 1986 Series. The Sox made the World Series three times in my life. I was an infant in 1967, so obviously I have no memory of it. I was eight for the 1975 Series, so I maintain some recollection of it, but not a strong one.
1986, on the other hand, took place in my late teens, and I have a very vivid memory of watching it in my college apartment. My hatred of the Sox was well in place by then; I never liked the Mets either, but I’d root for Satan himself over the Red Sox. I recall the ecstasy I felt when the Sox made that most improbable of collapses.
Curse doesn’t show matters from my side of the coin, but its interviews with Sox boosters aptly boosted my memories. I felt like I was back in that apartment watching it take place in front of me. The interviews seemed very vivid and allowed us to get a “you are there” feel, at least from the Sox fan point of view.
The 1986 elements are definitely the best parts of Curse. On the negative side, the show doesn’t delve into the team’s history as much as I’d like, and it seems like a scattershot examination. The construction seems awkward, as it flits from era to era without much logic, and it doesn’t follow a logical path. I’d have liked more information about other eras instead of just 1978 and 1986.
A flawed but generally entertaining documentary, The Curse of the Bambino lacks the coherence to be a terrific show. Nonetheless, it gives us an interesting look at its subject. It seems most suited for non-fans of the Sox, as I don’t think their partisans will get much from this painful walk down memory lane.