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HBO presents
Curse of the Bambino (2003)

"Did you just say 1986 to me?"
- Michael Chiklis (actor and long time Red Sox fan)

Review By: Jeff Rosado   
Published: October 21, 2004

Stars: Ben Affleck, narrator, Denis Leary, Michael Chiklis, Steven Wright, Mike O'Malley, Peter Casey
Other Stars: Dan Shaughnessy, Matt Wilson, Glenn Ordway, Thomas Bosswell, Leigh Montville, Shaun Kelly, Glenn Stout, Robert Creamer
Manufacturer: DVCC
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (mild language)
Run Time: 00h:59m:51s
Release Date: June 01, 2004
UPC: 026359236525
Genre: documentary

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- A-B+B+ D-

DVD Review

Remember last fall during Game Six of the National League Championship Series when the Chicago Cubs were five outs away from their first World Series in decades? With a 3-0 lead in the top of the eighth inning, Florida Marlin batter Luis Castillo hits a fly ball to left field. Although it might have a chance to go foul, Moises Alou appears to have an imminent catch ahead. But as those of you watching know, an overanxious fan caught up in the moment wound up with a souvenir—and the wrath of millions of Windy City faithful. In mere seconds, the well-meaning local was pelted with debris, cusses, and more media attention than Britney Spear's last marriage.

Could a 59-year dry spell for the residents of Wrigley Field be due to a curse? I don't think so. All the men in blue and white needed to do was win Game Seven. But it just wasn't meant to be. From the moment Sammy Sosa overslid while trying to catch a fly ball heading toward the gap in the opening stanza, the Cubbies were playing way too tight. But did the Bleacher Bums buy that? Not a chance; they were still busy playing Lt. Gerald looking for their scapegoat equivalent of Richard Kimble.

Now I say all this as a fan. Next to the Atlanta Braves (first team I ever saw play the game as a kid, so you never forsake or forget your first love), the Chicago Cubs are dead-heat runners-up in terms of lifelong loyalty. Growing up with the "hey-hey" enthusiasm of Hall of Fame broadcaster Jack Brickhouse, waiting for the Lead-Off Man to hit the air followed by afternoon baseball during summer vacation courtesy of WGN, were high points of my adolescence. Though it stung worse than running into a beehive to watch their dream of making it back to the national pastime's ultimate showcase go down again, common sense tells me no supernatural forces played a role. Take all the fabled evidence from banished goat to letting Greg Maddux get away in the 1990s, the simple fact of the matter is that like many other franchises, you have your share of up years, down periods, and near misses; no way do I believe the Cubs were born under a bad sign.

No, that honor belongs to the Boston Red Sox.

Kidding (sort of) aside, I've never really bought into the Babe Ruth curse. You see, my philosophy is that winning teams are not due to the results of just one individual. Playing together as a unit is what creates champions. But come to think of it, George Herman did hit in the upwards of 600-plus home runs once he donned those pinstripes, and the Yanks really didn't thrive until he came along. Oh yeah, the Bo Sox missed out on potential legends by playing the race card in the 1940s, too. Say, what about that easy ground ball that slid through Billy Buckner's legs in 1986 allowing the Mets to live another day?

Well, maybe there is something to this curse after all...

Curse of the Bambino, an HBO Sports documentary detailing the sad but somehow uplifting story of a baseball franchise that many a city would have forced to pack its bags ages ago, but lives in eternal hope of a happy ending each October. Narrated by longtime supporter Ben Affleck, this 60-minute retrospective gathers opinions, one-liners, haunting memories, and fascinating trivia from a diverse lot of devotees including sportwriter Leigh Montville, state representative Shaun Kelly, the late broadcaster Will McDonald (to whom the film is dedicated), and humorist (and diehard loyalist) Denis Leary.

For many in the 18-49 age bracket, it's probably hard to fathom that their team could once boast of an incredible dynasty. Way back in the early days of the American League, Boston won five World Series championships in their first 15 years of existence, with unbelievable players like pitching legend Cy Young (whom inspired one of the sport's top awards) and of course, Babe Ruth, who was no slouch on the mound himself. But the soon-to-be-legend was a handful off the field, prompting owner Harry Frazee to contemplate making a deal with the New York Yankees in 1918. Despite having a 27-HR season, most of Frazee's advisors told him to go for it. So while his pocketed cash enabled him to open one of Broadway's biggest hits (No, No Nanette), it unintentionally brought the curtain down on the Sox's consistency; it took years before they made it back to prominence.

Even then, bad luck hovered like a vulture over the club: in a long overdue return to the World Series in 1946, the Sox blew a climatic game when Johnny Pesky's fielding miscue enabled a speedy Enos Slaughter to score all the way from first base—St. Louis wins in a heartbreaker, 4-3. Highly touted off-season trades in the post WWII years failed to make a dent. Racism cost the team a chance to sign two future Hall of Famers: Jackie Robinson (the sport's first African-American to play the game) and the one and only "Say-Hey Kid," Willie Mays. How can one explain the lackluster performance of a team that has had the likes of Ted Williams, Jim Rice, Dick Stewart, Dwight Evans, Carlton Fisk, and my favorite, Carl Yazstremski, among their ranks?

In 1986, I witnessed for myself one such soul crushing moment that more than likely defines the endless heartbreak for its current legion of fans than any other event in recent times. Saturday, October 25th: Boston is on the verge of its first title in over six decades as they lead the New York Mets 5-3. Although their tri-state rivals are down to their last out, catcher Gary Carter and outfielder Kevin Mitchell manage back-to-back singles off reliever Calvin Schiraldi keeping a glimmer of hope alive. Despite getting ahead in the count to Ray Knight, the infielder connects with the third consecutive hit off the pitcher; Carter scores: Sox 5, Mets 4. As Schiraldi gives up the ball, fellow reliever Bob Stanley is summoned from the bullpen, a questionable move since he hasn't exactly been in top form as of late. In an unforgettable battle with Met great Mookie Wilson, pitch after pitch hooked foul as Stanley aimed for that elusive strike three. Instead, a wild pitch brought Mitchell home. It's all knotted at 5 apiece. Still, all Stanley has to do is score one into the strike zone and it's champagne time. In his 10th pitch to Wilson, a ground ball heads toward ace first baseman Bill Buckner whose timing is off; it gets through his legs and in one of the most incredible comebacks in sports history, the Mets manage to even the series at 3 games apiece. Despite a rainout that delayed the deciding contest by a day, not even Mother Nature's help could aid the Red Sox as they blew a three-run lead and wound up losing the series 8-5.

Though heartbreak, tragedy, controversies, unwanted karma (due to boneheaded moves of past owners) and near misses, it's a tribute to this team's rabid following and the "never say die" attitude of their city that makes the Boston Red Sox one of America's most beloved ball clubs; Curse of the Bambino does an excellent job of paying tribute to a "complex and endearing" franchise that never stops trying despite innumerous misfortunes.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: With its mixture of archival footage, historical recreations, video-to-film conversions and whatever, I'll just say that all the varied visuals blend together well; naturally, the earliest surviving materials fare the worst, but keeping their historical significance in mind, it's more than easy to forgive their shortcomings.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0English, Spanishyes

Audio Transfer Review: Not exactly a grand slam, but the incidental score is nicely separated across the fronts with not-half-bad low end coming to the fore during those artsy historical re-creation moments. Rear ambience could have been a little more active, but at least it doesn't go over the top.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 6 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Packaging: Keep Case
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: The extras are as exciting as an intentional walk. In other words, there aren't any.

Extras Grade: D-


Final Comments

In the same league as Ken Burns: Baseball and When It Was a Game, Curse of the Bambino is a must have for any serious student of baseball history and another fine example of HBO's stellar documentary unit.


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