Eighty-six years is a long time — long enough, apparently, for the Red Sox to turn losing into a marketing tool.
They never did so overtly, of course. But the legend of the "curse of the Bambino," supposedly set in motion when the team's owner sold Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees in 1920 for enough cash to finance the Broadway musical, "No No Nanette," added immeasurably to the mystique of Fenway Park and the seemingly odd ways the team always found to lose when it mattered most.
Now the Boston Red Sox are again the champions of the world. The "curse" has been broken.
And already, some pundits and fans are beginning to wonder if life in Boston will ever be the same. After all, exorcising the ghost of a legend such as Babe Ruth from your ballpark may not be a good thing. Boston may now be nothing more than just another team that wins sometimes and loses sometimes.
That is, unless it doesn't win again until 2090.
No one has yet done a scientific study that measures how long a team has to go without a championship before it becomes a lovable loser that attracts fans because of its ineptitude. But it certainly takes a very long time.
Utah hasn't won a professional basketball title since 1971, and yet no one here is selling tickets on the hard-luck-is-fun-to-watch theory. There are no curses or jinxes, real or imagined, tied to the Delta Center. But then, Larry H. Miller hasn't equated the market value of Andrei Kirilenko to the cost of a musical.
No, the "Losers Inc." model of sports marketing seems peculiar to major league baseball, which owes much of its enduring popularity to its unique place in the fabric of American history. The Red Sox weren't alone. The Chicago Cubs haven't won since 1908, and their lack of success is supposedly tied to a curse uttered by a man with a goat in 1945. The spectacular way the team pulled defeat out of the jaws of victory in 2003 — after a fan interfered with the catch of a foul ball — added immeasurably to the legend.
The goal in any sport is to win. No one can blame the Boston Red Sox for reaching that goal. Quite the contrary. They should be congratulated. But as any Yankees fan can tell you, the perch at the top can be lonely and unpopular.