The Curse of the Bambino

Special Features   The Curse of the Bambino In theatrical history, Broadway and baseball have not been very compatible companions.
Babe Ruth
Babe Ruth

Shows centering on the sport have not done well. There are two theories about this animosity. The first is that more theatre tickets are bought by women than men and that women are not overly fond of the sport. The second theory centers on the legendary "Curse of the Bambino."

In 1916, a Broadway producer and theatre owner named H.H. Frazee (he built the Longacre Theatre) bought the Boston Red Sox. He was an avid baseball lover, but he made a fatal error. In 1920, he sold Boston pitcher Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees. The Red Sox didn't win another World Series for over 80 years (they won in 2004), leading fans to believe the team was under The Curse of the Bambino. To add insult to injury, when reporters asked Frazee why he sold the immortal Babe Ruth to New York, he replied that he wanted the $125,000 to produce a Broadway musical. The show turned out to be the hit No, No, Nanette, which further enraged Boston. Legend has it that since then, no Broadway show about baseball could succeed.

In 1928, sportswriter and humorist Ring Lardner wrote Elmer the Great, a Broadway comedy about a baseball player, played by Walter Huston. The actor gave a brilliant performance as a great pitcher who falls in with the underworld but is saved by the woman he loves (played by Nan Sunderland, who offstage became Mrs. Walter Huston). Produced by George M. Cohan, it was a flop that closed after 40 performances, but was, surprisingly, made into three Hollywood films.

Another prestigious baseball show that failed to gain an audience was the 1981 musical The First. It depicted the struggle of Jackie Robinson (superbly played by David Alan Grier) to break into white-monopolized baseball. Although it received three Tony Award nominations, it closed after only 37 performances.

Of course, there have been notable exceptions that have defied the infamous curse: for example, the 1955 smash hit Damn Yankees, starring Gwen Verdon. But even this show started with a jinx. The musical's initial poster and PLAYBILL cover featured Verdon garbed in a drab baseball uniform, and tickets were not selling very well. When producers changed the cover photo to Verdon in sexy black lingerie (after all, she did play a tempting seductress in the musical), the box office suddenly responded. The show won seven Tony Awards and ran for 1,019 performances. Another exception was Brother Rat. The hit 1936 comedy by John Monks, Jr. and Fred F. Finklehoffe concerned Bing Edwards (played by Eddie Albert), the best pitcher at the Virginia Military Institute, who has problems. He is secretly married and his wife is expecting a baby at the time of his crucial game. The cast also featured José Ferrer and Ezra Stone. It ran for 577 performances on Broadway and was made into three films.

The success of Take Me Out may have put the curse to rest forever. Richard Greenberg's play about baseball won a Tony Award as the Best Play of 2003. Its unusual plot concerned a major league player who comes out of the closet and reveals to the media that he is gay. The show ran for 355 performances.

Finally, there was the Off-Broadway hit that has been touring the country. Nobody Don't Like Yogi stars Ben Gazzara in a one-man show about the legendary Yogi Berra. This triumph is doing much to kill The Curse of the Bambino.

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