Curses Aren’t to Blame for Indians’ Postseason Woes
Vince Guerrieri | On 18, Oct 2017
The abrupt end to a season – especially one with expectations as high as the Indians had – is always met with a certain amount of navel contemplation.
What did the players do wrong? What did we as fans do wrong? What can we do better? Who stays? Who goes?
Unfortunately, it’s also met with a certain amount of irrationality (standard disclaimer: “Fan” is short for “fanatic”), and this year promises to be no better.
There’s a lot of talk of curses – something that happens any time a team exhibits a strange sustained skid. And it’s easy to look at the Indians and believe there’s some kind of otherworldly force aligned against them. I mean, the team won 102 games this year and was all but penciled in for the World Series. But everything went wrong for the team in their three straight losses to the Yankees, from batting to pitching to fielding.
And it’s easy to think the team’s snakebit. This is the third time in the Tribe’s last four postseason appearances that the season ended with three straight losses after a two-game advantage in a playoff series. In the entire history of the World Series, there have been four winner-take-all Game 7s that have gone into extra innings. The Indians have lost two – 19 years apart, in 1997 and again last year.
For the 40 years of futility between the Indians’ 1954 sweep in the World Series and their Central Division crown in 1995, columnist Terry Pluto coined the idea of the curse of Rocky Colavito, who was traded away for Harvey Kuenn in a pathological fit by Frank Lane – and later reacquired at the cost of Tommie Agee, Tommy John, and John Romano.
But as of late, there’s a theory that the Indians have been vexed by the bad karma engendered by their mascot, Chief Wahoo.
The popular origin story of Chief Wahoo is that Bill Veeck, when he became owner of the team in 1946, commissioned a caricature of an Indian to serve as the team’s mascot, and he’s been part of the team’s logo and apparel since. However, like the origin of the team’s name, it carries more myth than fact. There has been an Indian mascot on uniforms dating back to the 1920s, and drawings that look a lot like Wahoo appeared in the Plain Dealer 15 years before the first official iteration of Chief Wahoo.
Now, the purpose of this piece is not to litigate Chief Wahoo (but if you’re clamoring for my opinion, I’d be happy to see it go. It appalls me that a team that’s been as racially progressive as the Indians – home to the first African-American manager in Major League Baseball and the first African-American player in the American League – has as its mascot what could charitably be described as a caricature). It’s to talk about curses.
It’s easy to use curses as an excuse. Boston’s Curse of the Bambino conveniently ignores the Red Sox’s own history of racism. The Cubs’ curse of the Billy Goat ignores decades of neglect from owners. And Chief Wahoo didn’t make the Indians hit .150 in the last three games of the American League Division Series, or commit seven errors in the last two games.