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Published: Saturday, 9/13/2003

HBO dissects Bambino's curse

Babe Ruth was beloved in Boston and New York.

Bostonians cried foul when baseball's first superstar was sold for $400,000 by the Red Sox to the Yankees. New Yorkers welcomed George Herman Ruth with open arms and treated him like he was always one of their own.

The deal, made by then-Red Sox owner Harry Frazee in 1920, remains an enigma for many Red Sox fans today, more than 80 years after the fact and more than 50 years after Ruth's death in 1948.

Some Red Sox fans believe a curse overtook their franchise when Frazee sent Ruth to New York. The Red Sox claimed five of the first 15 World Series championships before the Ruth deal. They've not won one since, while the Yankees have bagged 26 World Series titles.

A one-hour documentary on HBO at 10 Tuesday night delves into the phenomenon known to Red Sox fans as The Curse of the Bambino. By the time the well-done piece reaches the credits, you are left wondering whether Ruth's departure has had the kind of lasting effect on the Red Sox that qualifies it as a curse.

This piece is as much about the history of the Red Sox and their loyal fans as it is about Ruth and the Yankees. It's an up-close look at some diehard fans and what they go through rooting for a perennial loser. It certainly captures the Red Sox fans' pain.

Clearly, many fans in Boston believe in the curse. Entertainers and media types from the Boston area also share their thoughts, and even a Boston-based rabbi describes the Red Sox' fate after the trade as “Jobian existence.”

What makes The Curse of the Bambino really work and enjoyable to watch is that it's done with a level of levity that pokes fun at how the Red Sox became recognized as lovable losers, alongside a team like the Chicago Cubs. The documentary may help put the Red Sox franchise in a place all its own as the No. 1 hard-luck ballclub of all time.

Besides providing details behind one of the most famous deals in professional sports, The Curse of the Bambino, narrated by Boston native Ben Affleck, looks at how people have even attempted to reverse the curse.

Bucky Dent and Bill Buckner are recognized among those who have unexpectedly played a part in Boston's curse chronicles. Yet the show looks beyond a curse for reasons why the Red Sox have not won a Series since 1918. It offers more practical reasons behind the fall of the franchise. Poor management decisions over the years, which included being the last team in the Major Leagues to sign an African-American player, are discussed.

Even if you're not a Red Sox fan you'll find this story fascinating. Not only is the documentary done in a mystical, X-files-like way, it captures the essence of what it's like to grow up in Boston post-Ruth.

Channel changing

The Cleveland Browns and Detroit Lions hit the road tomorrow for Week Two of the NFL season. The Browns play at Baltimore (Channel 11) and the Lions play at Green Bay (Channel 36), both at 1 p.m.

Former Browns lineman Orlando Brown, who is returning from an eye injury and plays for Baltimore, will be featured on The NFL Today on Channel 11 at noon.

The Detroit Shock host to the Los Angeles Sparks in Game 2 of the WNBA Finals tomorrow at 4 on Channel 13.



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