Everyone is familiar with the Chicago Cubs “Curse of the Billy Goat”, and the Boston Red Sox (late) “Curse of the Bambino”, but few baseball fans are aware of one of the more recent curses to befall a baseball team. I am referring to the “Curse of the Colonel”.
I came across this story last winter, as I was preparing to head to Japan on business. The Hanshin Tigers are the local baseball team in Osaka, in the Kansai region of Japan. As Japanese baseball goes, the Tigers are the perennial runner up to the New York Yankees of Japanese Baseball, the Yomiuri Giants of Tokyo.
In 1985, the Tiger’s had a terrific season, led by journeyman American baseball player, Randy Bass. Bass was on a hot streak all year and the team had a magical run to the Japan Series title. After years of futility, the Tigers fans responded with a spontaneous celebration along the banks of the Dotonbori Canal. The legend goes that as fans shouted the names of the Tiger’s player, someone representing each player would jump into the canal. While this seems out of place for a people as reserved as the Japanese, as anyone who has spent time in Japan can tell you, the folks in Kansai are a little different than the rest of the country. They are a little bit crazy, loud, and boisterous, and party pretty hard.
According to the legend, as they called out Randy Bass’ name, no one jumped into the canal because no one looked like “Basu”. A crowd of fans, improvised by grabbing a life sized statue of Colonel Sanders from in front of a Kentucky Fried Chicken, and threw it into the canal. (Both Bass and the Colonel sported goatees) For no reason that has ever been explained to me, the Japanese have life sized statues of the Colonel in front of their KFC franchises. They are quite proud of them. One of my colleagues here at work grew up in Kansai, and worked at a KFC there, where she had to begin each day by washing down the Colonel.
And so the curse began. It has been claimed that the Tigers are doomed to never win the Series until the Colonel is recovered and the curse is lifted.
Which is why it was big news this past Spring when after near a quarter of a century at the bottom of the canal, workers installing a path along the bank dredged up his remains.
What does this mean for the Tigers? Could a run to the pennant be far behind? Will the local KFC offer free Extra Crispy? Alas, the curse continues. As of this post the Tigers are 4th in the 6 team Central division.
In Osaka, as at 20 Prospect, there is always next year.