taken from ChinMusic#4
by Mr. Brian Baker
Over the years, there are words and phrases that have been associated
baseball teams and players that evoke very palpable memories and
The Brown Bomber. The Green Monster. The Bambino. The Amazing Mets.
One of the most recognizable and formidable of these catch phrases from
history of baseball describes what was arguably the most concentrated
collection of talent ever assembled on a single major league team: The
Red Machine. The Cincinnati Reds in the mid-'70s were a juggernaut of
offense and defense, nearly invincible in must-win situations, and
unstoppable once they claimed a lead. The contributors included Johnny
Bench, who was busy rewriting the catchers' handbook for generations to
come, reliable infielder Tony "Doggie" Perez, who excelled at hitting in
clutch, slugging Joe Morgan, manager/heating and cooling expert Sparky
Anderson, and, of course, eventual all-time hit leader Pete Rose.
That roll call alone would have been enough to propel most teams into
World Series, but the Reds were even deeper than that, with an ace
staff and an incredible bench for rotating players in key situations, a
strategic talent that Sparky would take with him to Detroit in the '80s,
that ultimately earned him a well-deserved spot in Cooperstown this year
the only manager to ring up world championships in both leagues. The
back-to-back Series wins in '75-'76 were among the most thrilling
games ever broadcast.
But almost immediately after the '76 season, general manager Bob Howsam
began overhauling the Big Red Machine, to the point that once he had it
back together, there were pieces left over and rather than fix it
he discarded the leftovers. The mess that was left in the wake of idiot
trades and blown dealmaking would haunt the Reds throughout most of the
'80s. One of Howsam's final acts was to trade Perez to Montreal, a deal
he publicly regrets to this very day.
Shortly thereafter, Howsam resigned as general manager, to be replaced
Dick Wagner, who continued Howsam's destruction of the Machine. It was
Wagner who would commit the greatest atrocity in Cincinnati sports
by losing Joe Morgan and Pete Rose to free agency, an idea that Wagner
abhorent and refused to acknowledge as a legitimate baseball business
maneuver. (20 years later, local sports personality Dennis 'Wildman'
still ends his sportscasts on WEBN radio with this occasional
"Pete Rose forever, Dick Wagner never!") But there is another side to
story that has far more sinister repercussions than the moronic business
dealings of a little tin GM.
A substantial number of baseball players are ruled by their
compelled by primal forces to maintain a hitting or pitching or winning
streak by dressing in the same order before every game, or wearing some
talisman of luck, or eating the same meal. And it is this very
nature of some of the game's best players that may have led to the
of the post-Big Red Machine Reds. It has been alleged down the years
pitching ace Pedro Borbon, one of the finest arms to ever spring from
Dominican Republic, and certainly one of the truly vital components of
Big Red Machine, was so incensed at being traded in 1979 that he put a
voodoo curse on the Reds that lasted for an entire decade.
There was little hard evidence supporting the Borbon hex story as
more than an odd urban legend of sorts. Weeks of web surfing turned up
one single reference to the curse, and Cincinnati Enquirer sportswriter
Sullivan, who has been covering the Reds for the better part of the last
years, including the majority of the regrettable '80s, had never heard
anything about the purported hex. Sullivan suggested contacting veteran
sports scribe Hal McCoy, staff writer at the Dayton Daily News and
to the Reds for the past 28 years, to determine the veracity of the
McCoy verified the whole thing.
"I'm shocked that Tim Sullivan doesn't know that story," McCoy said in
response to our original local dead end. "It is absolutely true. Borbon
big into voodoo and curses and cockfighting. When he was traded, he said
was putting a curse on the Reds and they'd never win again."
So strong is the power of ritual and superstition in baseball that the
suggestion of an official otherworldly sanction against a team might be
enough to make it real. The Red Sox "curse," invoked when they sold Babe
Ruth to the Yankees in 1919, was still being groaned about nearly 70
later when Bill Buckner misplayed a sure ground out in Game 6 in the
Series against the Mets, ultimately costing the Sox the world
Of course, the question of the Reds' hex becomes one of perspective -
the dismal '80s inspire the legend of the curse, or did the curse
the legendarily dismal '80s?
There is at least some empirical evidence to suggest the latter. Looking
the Reds' teams during the decade of the hex, it's clear that they had
incredible amount of talent in nearly every year. Whether that talent
enough to win despite Borbon's mojo is a matter of pure conjecture, but
there is no disputing the fact that throughout the '80s, the Reds seemed
possess the caliber of players that would lead many sportswriters to
them to win their division, only to see them falter and fade by season's
A quick look at the Reds of the '80s shows an odd pattern of losing
their better than average chances each year. The Reds actually won the
division in the second half of the strike shortened 1981 season, but
the initial playoff round. After that, the Reds occupied a variety of
also-ran spots in the divisional standings, including three consecutive
second place finishes from 1986-88, and back-to-back last place finishes
1982 and '83. Even more intriguing is the fact that the Reds were the
team in the NL West that didn't win a divisional championship in the
The story of the hex is strange enough in its own right, but the story
its dissolution looms even larger in the history of baseball in general
the Reds in particular. After the end of the 1988 season, the Reds' made
some key acquisitions and moves (including Todd Benzinger and Mariano
in '88, and Billy Hatcher, Glenn Braggs, and Hal Morris in '89) and put
together what many observers considered to be the worthy successor of
Big Red Machine of the '70s. But with all of the high hopes for the
impending season, there was a single dark cloud that obscured the view
the 1990 season: the curse.
"The Reds had a good team in 1990, one that folks thought had a chance
win," McCoy recalls. "I don't know who did it, but somebody who knew
Borbon's curse got in touch and asked him to lift it. He said he would
did. Curious, yes, but also true."
So, at the behest of a party or parties unknown, Pedro Borbon erased the
mojo that his former team had been living under for all of the '80s.
said that when he heard about the curse being dismissed, he immediately
contacted Borbon for a response, and said that he replied, "Yeah, I
it. I told everybody when they traded me that I was putting a curse on
and they'd never win again. The people who did me wrong are not with the
team any more, so now I don't care if they win."
The team took Borbon at his word. The 1990 Reds won their first game of
season, and never looked back, compiling a record of 91-71, going
wire-to-wire in first place to win the NL West division, dominating the
playoffs against the Pirates to win the NL Championship, and ultimately
taking four straight away from Tony LaRussa's heavily favored Oakland
for the world championship. The synchronicity of the two occurrences is
to ignore. The team that won it all in 1990 was virtually the same team
had finished a desultory fifth the previous year.
Were the Cincinnati Reds destined to lose for an entire decade because
ancient forces unfathomable to modern man? Or were they simply undone by
hamfisted maneuverings of dimwitted baseball savants who accidentally
assembled the greatest team in sports history and then purposefully
dismantled it? The truth, as we know from the X-Files, is out there,
the case of the Reds' hex, it may forever remain unknown and unknowable.
Tess Lotta, ultimate fabulous babe and card-carrying member the bass-player bad-ass jet-set, is also affiliated to the fine folks from Vain hair care products. We at ChinMusic! use and endorse their excellent line of quality products. Especially the čber-excellent Intervention and Stick-Up. Tess is loved and revered by all.
Garth Brooks on the other hand gave up his baseball dream just prior to the start of the 1999 season.
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