- The Washington Times - Monday, November 1, 2004

BOSTON — The curse of the Bambino, which in popular lore prevented the Boston Red Sox from winning the World Series for 86 years, lives on in some commercial precincts.

Retailers of everything from T-shirts to ice cream and cookies had been making money off the team’s championship drought for years. When the Red Sox finished off a World Series sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals on Wednesday to win their first title since 1918, a reliable marketing strategy collapsed.

But retailers aren’t surrendering to history; they’re just modifying their message. An ice-cream company staged a contest to rename its “Reverse the Curse” flavor, and apparel makers are trying gimmicks like printing the word “curse” backward to signify its reversal. But “Reverse the Esruc” doesn’t thrill everyone.

“This is a challenge for creative thinking,” says Stephen A. Greyser, a Harvard Business School professor and marketing professional.

No matter what new slogans emerge, retailers say it will be tough to top the “Curse of the Bambino,” which is said to have started when Harry Frazee, an early owner of the Sox, traded Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees, where he became the game’s greatest legend as a prodigious hitter of home runs.

“I think it’s naive to think it won’t tail off some,” says Chuck Green, president and chief executive of Brighams Ice Cream, the company behind the flavor-renaming contest. “But a lot of people said, ‘Just because we won, don’t stop making this stuff.’ We think it has a little more legs to it than what I would call ‘hula hoops’ items.”

Brighams, which sells its ice cream at its 26 Boston-area shops and at supermarkets, introduced the Reverse the Curse flavor in May. A pair of spiritualists blessed the first batch produced at the Arlington factory as a Babe Ruth-lookalike took off a Yankees jersey to display a Red Sox shirt underneath.

Reverse the Curse — vanilla with chocolate, fudge, caramel and peanuts — became the fastest-selling new flavor in the chain’s 90-year history.

At a downtown store Thursday, the line of customers extended onto the street, and owner Vinnie Jankord placed special orders to keep the flavor in stock.

Mr. Green credits the flavor for a nearly 10 percent sales increase in his company’s 16-flavor line during the baseball season.

Brighams announced a winner of its renaming contest yesterday: “Curse Reversed.” The company made good on the promise it made in the spring, when Brighams counted itself among the Sox optimists who expected 2004 to be the year the curse was broken.

Mr. Greyser says getting customers hooked on the flavor, rather than its name, is the key to its survival. Nonedible curse-themed products such as shirts, hats and posters might be doomed, however.

That hasn’t stopped retailers from rushing out gear this week carrying phrases such as “From cursed to first,” “Now I can die in peace” and “It happened in my lifetime.”

Moments after the fourth and final World Series game ended 20 minutes before midnight Wednesday, LogoSportswear.com began offering T-shirts and caps bearing the word “curse” in reverse text. The shirts feature an image of a gravestone reading “RIP 1918-2004.”

Dozens of orders came in every hour on Thursday, and the shirt was outselling more conventional “Boston Red Sox 2004 World Series Champions” shirts 10-to-1, says Frank Nevins, owner and president of the Cheshire, Conn.-based business.

“I think there’s a certain kind of spiritual effect that this Red Sox victory has had for the fans,” he says.

The curse legend has been chronicled in books, including Boston Globe sports columnist Dan Shaughnessy’s “The Curse of the Bambino,” which has gone through more than 20 printings since 1990 and been updated three times to add a total of 41 pages.

But Mr. Shaughnessy suspects the book’s popularity is past.

“I would think it would be time for that book to hit the road,” he says. “It now stands as ancient history.”

In February, he began writing a new Red Sox book to be published in March. The working title is “Reversing the Curse.”

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