The Curse of the Bambino’s Piano
By Curt Garfield
Sudbury Town Historian
Relief for the 84-year-old Curse of the Bambino that has denied the Red Sox a World Series Championship since 1918 may well be under 15 feet of water and half again as much silt on the bottom of Willis Pond in Sudbury.
If local historians and researchers are correct, there’s an upright piano lying down there in the murky depths, thrown there in the winter of 1918 by one Herman “Babe” Ruth who was annoyed that the instrument was out of tune. The piano hasn’t been seen since. Neither have World Series rings for the Red Sox.
Five divers from the Quincy Underwater Recovery Unit had no success in locating the piano last February despite four hours or probing through suspended silt that reduced underwater visibility to less than ten feet. They will return later in the spring when the water is warmer and the silt has settled. They will bring sophisticated sonar equipment capable of pinpointing the piano’s position.
Chris Hugo of the Massachusetts Board of Underwater Archaeological Research insists that this is no wild goose chase. Last December he probed the area with an infra-red camera and discovered a rectangular object covered with wire weeds in 15 feet of water close to shore.
When Ruth was brought up to the Red Sox as a hitting pitcher in 1914, many of his teammates owned or leased fishing and hunting camps on the clear lakes and streams of Sudbury. Ruth leased a waterfront camp from sports enthusiast Larry Joyce of Waltham in 1917 and 1918. Four years later when he bought the Silvester Perry farm, the camp was part of the deal. Ruth renamed the farm “Home Plate.” The camp he called “Ihatetoquitit.”
Ruth raised chickens and reportedly kept a few pit bulls until neighbor Henry Ford complained that Ruth’s dogs were chasing his chickens. The pit bulls mysteriously disappeared.
Ford was more than a little miffed that Ruth drove a Packard instead of one of his Lincoln Zephyrs. He tried on several occasions to sell Ruth a tractor, but Ruth didn’t want to get that serious about farming.
One thing that Ruth was serious about was his roots. Raised in an orphanage in Baltimore, he attended trade schools and learned, among other things, to use a sewing machine. He delighted in showing off this skill at any opportunity.
Two or three times a year several school busses filled with children from orphanages in Boston would pull into Ruth’s driveway. Ruth threw a lavish picnic and organized ball games that lasted all afternoon. At the end of the day, each child went home wit a bat, ball and glove. Ruth never forgot where he came from.
Ruth bought Home Plate after a disastrous 1922 season that saw his weight go up and home run production go down in equal proportions. He told the New York press that he was retreating to his Massachusetts farm to chop wood and lose weight. Ruth kept axes all over the place on the off chance that a writer or photographer might show up, but as soon as the press had departed a couple of local teen-agers would finish up the chopping while the Bambino drank beer and talked to them.
Kevin Kennedy of Sudbury, a frustrated Red Sox fan and a director of the Restoration Project, a program designed to rehabilitate the mentally ill and people with severe head injuries through the restoration and repair of furniture, is the mover and shaker of the recovery effort. He heard the piano story from ballplayers at nearby Haskell Field.
His subsequent research took him as far away as the Babe Ruth Birthplace and Museum in Baltimore, Maryland. Here he obtained copies of pictures of Ruth outside his fishing camp and letters mentioning the piano. Armed with this proof, Kennedy obtained permits from the State to locate the piano and restore it if found.
“We’re confident we can restore it and play it again,” he said.
Ruth’s Red Sox won three World Series in his first four years in the big leagues, so it was a rude shock to Red Sox fans when owner Harry Frazee sold Ruth’s contract to Jacob Ruppert, owner of the hated New York Yankees. The money went to bankroll “No, no Nannette,” a Broadway musical which was never to be a big attraction in Red Sox Nation, or to the baseball gods for that matter.
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