In the summer of 2004, a family vacation took us to Toronto. We stayed at the Hilton Toronto.
In Room 1918.
I joked in a postcard to my brother that even in Canada I could not escape the “Curse of the Bambino.”
If you were a long-suffering fan of the Boston Red Sox – as I was, some 37 years into my lifetime membership – you would have known what I was talking about.
By 2004, the Red Sox had not won a World Series since 1918. As the story went, they would be cursed forever for having sold Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees.
Into Lake Ontario
It’s all so hard to believe now, given what has transpired in the decade since that fateful visit to Toronto and that stay in Room 1918.
This year marks the 100th anniversary of Ruth signing his first pro contract with his hometown Baltimore Orioles, then a minor-league team. Strapped for cash, the Orioles soon sold Ruth to the Red Sox, who had him in their lineup for five games but also assigned him to their Providence Grays farm team.
Ruth was the starting pitcher for Providence on Sept. 5, 1914, when the Grays traveled to Toronto to take on the host Maple Leafs. His powerful left arm led his team to a 9-0, one-hit win, his ultimately more famous left-handed swing crushing a ball out of Hanlan’s Point Stadium and into Lake Ontario.
It was the first professional home run of Ruth’s career. He would add 714 more in the major leagues. He would become the greatest baseball player ever. He would be blamed for putting a curse on the Red Sox.
But was there a connection between our visit to Toronto – where Ruth’s home run prowess began – our stay in Room 1918, and ending the Curse of the Bambino?
Of course there was. The only proof I need is that a little more than four months later, the Red Sox won their first World Series in 86 years. (They also won in 2007, not even two months after we took my son, Jack, to the Babe Ruth Birthplace and Museum in Baltimore, and again in 2013.)
When we visited Toronto again in 2012, we took a ferry to Centre Island and rode our rental bikes to the west end, where Hanlan’s Point Stadium long ago gave way to an airport.
Only a modest plaque notes Ruth’s connection to that spot. Ruth was 19 in 1914, only months removed from St. Mary’s Industrial School, where he learned how to play baseball. St. Mary’s, which has been dubbed “the House that Built Ruth,” closed in 1950.
Help from Ripken and Ollie’s
From 1962 until it closed in 2010, Cardinal Gibbons High School, later Cardinal Gibbons School, inhabited the St. Mary’s property, including the ball field that Ruth played on.
The field is going to be renovated this year, as part of a partnership among the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation and St. Agnes Hospital. Harrisburg-based Ollie’s Bargain Outlet donated $200,000 toward the project. You can see a rendering of what the new Babe Ruth Field will look like toward the bottom of this page on the foundation’s website.
The field is only minutes away from the Babe Ruth Birthplace and Museum. Every Feb. 6, the museum marks Ruth’s birthday. I was there in 1995, when The Babe would have turned 100 (he died from cancer in 1948, at age 53).
Jon Miller, then a broadcaster for the Orioles, served as emcee for the century celebration. I asked him whether he believed in the Curse of the Bambino; at that time, the Red Sox’ run of World Series futility stood at 76 years and counting.
Miller’s response was matter of fact.
“They just have to stop trading their best players,” he said.