Notebook > Sports

End of the curse

Sports

Issue: "Year in Review 2004," Jan. 1, 2005

Even the Boston Red Sox's World Series drought couldn't outlast Fred Hale. Born in 1890, four years before Babe Ruth was born, Hale was 16 when the Red Sox played their first season. He was 27 in 1918 when the Red Sox beat the Chicago Cubs in six games to capture their fourth World Series championship. As Hale grew older, he caught Red Sox fever from his wife and children. And this autumn, at 113 years old and as the oldest documented man in the world, Hale watched the first few innings of each Red Sox playoff game with his 84-year-old son at a retirement home outside Syracuse, N.Y., where they both lived.

No one seemed to ask Hale what he thought of Curt Schilling, whose storybook effort in the American League Championship Series both sent the Yankees home and the Sox to the series. But Hale knows a good arm when he sees one. "He was a great pitcher," Hale said, referring not to Mr. Schilling, but to Babe Ruth who won 89 games as a Red Sox pitcher. He also said he didn't much believe in curses, rather blaming Boston ownership through the years for pinching pennies. Red Sox fans-young and old-don't have much reason to believe in curses anymore.

Instead, the 2004 Red Sox showed how a gritty team could defeat not just the New York Yankees but their own history. Dave Roberts demonstrated how simple and pure speed could change a series. David Ortiz, who slammed three home runs in the ALCS and hit .400 in the playoffs, showed what a power hitter in a groove could do. Johnny Damon learned perseverance pays off when he hit two homers (including a grand slam) in the Red Sox Game 7 win over New York despite enduring an embarrassing playoff slump. And then there was Mr. Schilling, who with an ankle held together by staples gritted through inning after inning as blood oozed through his sock.

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It was all a wonderful gift for Hale who, though he had nearly perfected the art of waiting until next year, hadn't a year longer to wait. On Nov. 19, three weeks after watching Boston's World Series sweep and two weeks shy of his 114th birthday, Hale died in his sleep.

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