Are the Chicago Cubs and Boston Red Sox Cursed?

"Yes and no," says a UB expert on superstitions

Release Date: September 30, 2004 This content is archived.


BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Technically speaking, the Chicago Cubs are "cursed," and the Boston Red Sox are "jinxed," according to a renowned anthropologist at the University at Buffalo who studies the origins of cults, superstitions and cultural identities.

"Specifically, a 'curse' involves spoken or written words or an intentional act; and in this definition, according to the popular accounts, the Cubs really have one," explains Phillips Stevens, Jr., UB associate professor of anthropology.

"The Red Sox situation is better described as a 'jinx,'" Stevens adds. "A jinx might involve some accident of nature: The network of cosmic interconnections that people believe makes things happen in particular ways has gotten out of whack, out of alignment, out of balance."

In other words, the Cubs' misfortunes can be traced to an actual curse supposedly uttered by a Cubs fan upset that he and his goat were denied admittance to Game Four of 1945 World Series pitting the Cubs against the Detroit Tigers. The Cubs lost that series and haven't been back to the World Series since.

Whereas, Boston's trading away of Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees in 1920 was a blunder of such cosmic proportions that the gods of baseball -- and the breaks of the game -- have been against the Red Sox ever since. Which is why they haven't won a World Series since 1918…or, so some people want to believe.

"The notion of a curse or jinx is very big in sports, especially baseball," Stevens says. It's part of humankind's universal disposition toward "magical thinking" -- the belief that thoughts, words or actions will produce an outcome that defies normal laws of cause and effect, he explains.

"We like to think that logical thinking is the hallmark of our society, but in reality there's a universal desire to find a blame for something that is beyond reason," he says. "Actually, having a curse to blame for misfortune can be psychologically beneficial -- at least, temporarily -- as it relieves people of a sense of failure."

"Scapegoating is another way people find someone or something to blame for their misfortune," he adds.

Red Sox and Cubs fans are very familiar with scapegoating, as well, Stevens points out. Infamous scapegoats Grady Little and Steve Bartman spring to mind from the teams' heart-breaking playoff losses last season.

As for his team favorites, Stevens says he was raised in Massachusetts and his dad's enthusiasm for the Red Sox was contagious; but he spent some time in Chicago in graduate school, and there he developed an affection for the Cubs, too.

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