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Sports views: A curse is a terrible thing to waste

Posted: Thursday, October 06, 2005

A curse is a terrible thing to waste. The Red Sox milked theirs for 86 years before throwing the Bambino under the bus. The Cubs still run theirs as a profitable little side business. They like to pretend they've been jinxed by a billy goat, a black cat, and lately, a guy who picked an inopportune moment to do some souvenir hunting.

The White Sox curse, though, comes with a better back story than either. They didn't just sell their best player or cross paths with ornery house pets. They threw the 1919 World Series.

If there are baseball gods, the Black Sox scandal is precisely the kind of thing that would really tick them off. And even if there aren't, the story should be good for some motivational mileage.

''I saw the movie, 'Eight Men Out,''' White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said. ''It was great.''

This was Tuesday afternoon, several hours before his team would clobber the Red Sox 14-2 in their playoff opener. But at the moment, the last thing Guillen wanted was anyone to confuse his favorable review with an endorsement of curses, hexes, jinxes, bad luck or anything of the sort.

Earlier this season, he dismissed the supposed curses in Boston and the north side of Chicago in terms that can't be reprinted here. And he was no more breezy, nor less romantic, explaining why the south side of the city has remained barren of championships since 1917:

''Lousy teams,'' Guillen said, only he chose an adjective way on the other side of lousy. Looking up to see a reporter's exasperated grin, Guillen volunteered to help out. He pointed to the notebook and said, ''Just put down 'bleep.' It's OK. Lots of things I say in the paper have bleeps in them.''

Apparently, that's not the only place. Chicago coach Joey Cora, like Guillen a former White Sox player, was preparing to hit some practice groundballs when someone asked what he knew about the curse. He paused and looked around, checking to see if Guillen was within earshot.

''I don't know nothing about any curse on this team,'' he said. ''The only reason I know about the Red Sox or the Cubs is because I was home watching the playoffs on TV last year and they made a big deal on TV.

''The curse we've got to worry about is the curse of Manny Ramirez. And David Ortiz,'' he added. ''Not Shoeless Joe Jackson.''

Chicago starter Jose Contreras did his part for eight innings, snapping Ramirez's 17-game postseason hitting streak and limiting the damage Ortiz could provide with a pair of hits. His job, in turn, was made a lot easier when the White Sox piled up five runs in the first inning.

Nearly as satisfying as their performance on the field, at least from Guillen's point of view, must have been the performance in the locker room afterward. The manager has done everything possible to squelch any talk about being a team of destiny, and this team sounded loath to get ahead of itself.

''It's nice when you get a game like this, but we've played enough of the other ones to not expect this,'' first baseman Paul Konerko said. ''I don't think we really felt comfortable until we were up eight, 10 runs.''

There were precious few students of history on either side, but Guillen was among the few who knew the White Sox beat the Dodgers 11-0 in Game 1 of the 1959 World Series before getting swept. And anybody whose memory extends back even one season remembered how Boston lost Game 3 of last year's ALCS to the Yankees by a 19-8 score and then won eight straight and their first World Series since 1918.

''They didn't go out there saying, 'Let's find a way to end the 86-year curse.' It's a good story line,'' Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein said, ''but it doesn't carry over between the lines.''

The manager who first said momentum is only as good as the next day's pitcher did not believe in hexes, and like Guillen, he wasn't about to let his ballplayers believe in them, either. Still, every step, even a baby step closer to that elusive title makes the temptation tougher to resist.

''What those guys did last year, without question in my mind, is the best story, it's got to be one of the best teams ever to overcome all the stuff they had to overcome,'' said Konerko, who grew up in Red Sox territory.

''I think there's some similarities here. I don't think you can quite make it out to that extreme, but it would be comparable if we could ever pull this thing off.''

Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitke@ap.org.



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