The Curse of the Bambino…the Curse of the Billy Goat…the Sports Illustrated Curse. These hexes are known and accepted in sports lore. And yet, when I bring up Philadelphia’s sports curse, I am always scoffed down and shooed away by sports’ elite. But I was born and raised in Philly, and I’m here to tell you…the curse is real.
Not only is it real, it is much worse than its more famous siblings.
Check out the Sports Forums for comments on today’s column We have all heard Chicago and Boston fans wax poetic about the divine intervention that has impeded their happiness (thankfully, after 2004, we no longer have to hear from Red Sox fans). The incessant whining about their hapless baseball teams got incredibly tiring, especially to the poor people of Philadelphia. Because as far as sob stories go, Philadelphia has top bragging rights.
Look at the facts.
In Philly’s 23-year span of incompetence, Boston has celebrated seven championships (three from the Celtics, three from the Pats and one from the Sawx) and Chicago has brought home eight (one from da Bears, six from Michael Jordan and one from the ChiSox).
Even if you take the success of Boston’s and Chicago’s other sports teams out of the equation, Philly still has the Bambino and the Billy Goat beat. Babe Ruth’s curse lasted 86 seasons; Billy Goat’s hex, just 62. But the curse afflicting Philadelphia has been breaking the hearts of the “Boo Birds” for 94 seasons (I’d say it’s safe to include this year’s Sixers and Flyers).
So why does the ineptitude of the Red Sox and Cubs out-headline Philly’s four-sport woefulness? Simple. No national voice has laid out the curse that afflicts Philadelphia fans. I will use this space as an opportunity to do so.
First, let me say that I have researched this for years in vain. Many Philly folks thought they found it with the “Curse of Billy Penn” (hogwash about building skyscrapers taller than Philly’s William Penn statue that stands atop City Hall). But the timing is way off.
The first skyscraper taller than Penn’s top hat wasn’t built until 1987. Philly has been cursed since October of ‘83. A curse beginning in ‘87 doesn’t account for the tragic death of Pelle Lindbergh, it doesn’t account for the Phils’ collapse in the ’83 World Series, and it doesn’t explain why the dominating ’83 Sixers fell off the map. No, the “Curse of Billy Penn” doesn’t fit.
So I kept looking. I searched through the annals of Eagles’ ticket stubs to see if Birdman’s pet mongoose was ever denied entrance. No dice. I scoured through the Sixers’ accounting archives for evidence that they sold the rights to Wilt Chamberlain for $20 and the 10,000 phone numbers in his little black book. Nope.
I was just about to give up, when I found it. The turning point in Philly fortunes, the ultimate curse that foiled Philly’s providence from that day after; the apogee (or should I say nadir) of sports curses that does indeed belong to Philadelphia.
From this day forward, it shall be known as:
THE CURSE OF IVAN DeJESUS
I know what you’re thinking. Who the heck is Ivan DeJesus?
Allow me to explain.
Everything was peaches for Philadelphia in the early ’80s. A young **bleep** Vermeil took his team to the Super Bowl. The ’83 NBA Champion 76ers were bucking up for a decade-long run behind Dr. J, Moses, Mo Cheeks and Andrew Toney. The Flyers had some great talent including Lindbergh, a Hall of Fame lock at goaltender. And the Phils had won the World Series in ’80 and entered the ’83 Series looking for another.
Times were good. Philadelphia was sailing higher than Bobby Brown (who had the money back then).
But a new wind was about to blow. (You must recite this line out loud using your best “movie announcer guy” voice).
In the ’83 Fall Classic, the Phils split the first two games at Baltimore, and came home to the state-of-the-art Vet for three games in front of a raucous crowd. Game 3 saw Philly jump out to a lead behind Steve Carlton, who was pitching a gem. But then came the seventh inning. Dan Ford hit a weak grounder to short. Our anti-hero, Ivan Dejesus, booted it. Benny Ayala crossed the plate with the winning run. And the Phillies’ fate (as well as Philly’s fate) was sealed. The Phils would not win another game in that World Series.
Philadelphia’s four professional sports teams have been shut out ever since.
But Russakoff, one error does not a curse make. After all, it wasn’t called the “Bill Buckner Curse.”
Very true young Padawan, but let’s delve deeper. Ask me how Ivan DeJesus wound up on the Phillies in the first place. Go on, ask me. Never mind, I’ll just tell you.
The Phillies, feeling Larry Bowa was too washed up to play shortstop for a championship team, traded for DeJesus, a supposed upgrade at the position. The only catch: the Phils had to throw in an untested, unheralded minor-league prospect.
That’s right; Ivan was on the wrong side of the Ryne Sandberg trade–the worst trade in Philadelphia history. (Some would say the Charles Barkley trade for Jeff Hornacek, Tim Perry and Andrew Lang was worse, but at least Philly enjoyed eight years with Barkley.)
The Phils gave away Sandberg, possibly the best second baseman of all time (unless Chase Utley can keep putting up these numbers), before he could even put on that sweet baby-blue retro uniform.
Still not convinced Ivan DeJesus is evil? Get a load of this: Cubs catcher Jody Davis had the final say on Ivan Dejesus’ baseball ethics, accusing him of refusing to tag out Latino players when they attempted to steal second base. This DeJesus character put his friendship with other players above winning. And you think a player like that is above laying down the ultimate curse upon a city?
Add together Dejesus’ error in ’83, his swap for Bowa and Sandberg and his unethical behavior in the infield, and you have the holy trinity of curses, the Bermuda Triangle of hexes, the mother of all kyboshes…”The Curse of Ivan DeJesus”!
How else can you explain the tragic deaths of potential superstar players like Lindbergh and Jerome Brown? Or Phillies’ third base DEFENSIVE replacement, Kim Batiste, making error after error in the ’93 playoffs? Or Scott Stevens virtually ending Eric Lindros’ career with a vicious open-ice hit in the ’00 Eastern Conference finals?
Oh, the dubious list doesn’t end there…
What about Larry Brown leaving Robert Horry–the best clutch three-point shooter ever–wide open in Game 2 of the ’01 NBA finals? Or Terrell Owens breaking his leg in the middle of a season that was tailor-made for an Eagles Super Bowl run? Or, for that matter, Owens’ decision to implode a championship-caliber team, just for the fun of it.
Or that down-and-inside fastball to Joe Carter…that excruciatingly diabolical down-and-in fastball.
These things do not just continue to happen to an uncursed city. A city with a clean slate has to get one break. One break out of 94. But not Philly. The Big Lebowski character Jesus Quintana said it best, “Nobody messes with DeJesus.”
So, Philadelphia fans boosted by Jimmy Rollins’ boasts that the Phillies are the team to beat this season, or looking at Takeo Spikes as the final piece to the Eagles’ Super Bowl puzzle, or banking on a Sixers top draft pick to land Greg Oden or Kevin Durant, don’t let your hopes get too high.
If history has taught Philadelphians anything, it’s that good things just don’t happen anymore to Philadelphia sports. Ivan Dejesus made sure of that.
Email me at email@example.com; follow me on Twitter at twitter.com/leerussakoff.
The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.
Tue, 27 Mar 2007 15:57:50 GMT