Babe Ruth inflicted quite a bit of damage during his historic career, shattering as many records as baseballs. But, as those familiar with his famous temper could attest, the destruction didn’t end there.
Legend has it that Ruth, the former Red Sox pitcher maligned in Boston for inflicting the mythical Curse of the Bambino, threw an upright piano into Willis Pond during his stay in Sudbury during the winter of 1917-18.
Now, a group of historians in this small, Massachusetts town are trying to find and restore the sunken piano. Fans hope that if the piano is found, it will break the Babe’s long-standing curse, which many believe is the cause of the Red Sox’s inability to win the World Series.
Curt Garfield, Sudbury town historian, said evidence exists suggesting Ruth may have indeed sunk the piano during his stay in Sudbury, approximately 20 miles from Boston.
“It was just one of those stories that people told,” Garfield said. “As far as evidence, we’ve dug up old letters describing scenes of Ruth and friends singing around the piano and pictures … of him standing right in front of the cottage.”
“My speculation is, being the muscle hero that he was — he could drive a baseball 500 feet — he was showing people how strong he was,” said Kevin Kennedy, who is in charge of the recovery. “He had the world in his hand.”
Vic Mastone, director of the Board of Underwater Archaeological Research, granted a permit in February to search the area for the sunken piano. He said a pile of manmade debris may suggest if the piano is in a specific area, although it has yet to be recovered.
“Due to the sediments, they could not locate the piano itself,” he said. “I didn’t expect that they would go out there the first day and find it.”
Garfield said a December search turned up a “rectangular object covered with wiry weeds,” which is hoped to be remains of the piano.
Eloise Newell, director of the Restoration Project, the organization sponsoring the recovery, said searchers will return in the spring, when the visibility has increased.
“They will return with high-tech equipment to see under the surface, including magnetometer and a sub-bottom profiler,” she said.
Kennedy, an upholsterer with Restoration Project, said he first conceived the idea while at a Little League game in Sudbury.
“I thought how [Babe Ruth] would appreciate this game,” he said. “I had a childhood memory of Babe Ruth throwing the piano into Willis Pond. I thought [about how] I work in furniture restoration, and we’re in dire need of funding in light of the economy.”
Kennedy said Restoration Project is a non-profit vocational program for adults with mental illness that also teaches patients to refinish and upholster furniture.
Newell sees the Red Sox’ losing streak is not a curse but a “mental block.” She said she hopes the restoration would increase support both for the team and for Restoration Project.
“Raising the piano from the depths would represent the people with mental illness coming out on top and becoming part of the community,” she said. “It will also make people aware of our organization.”
Newell said the project will probably cost between $100,000-200,000 and will be supported through fundraisers. Though the organization will sell the piano to the highest bidder, its hope is to have it put in Babe’s former workplace.
“What better place than Fenway Park, where 30,000 fans can listen to it?” Kennedy said. “We hope that it would take the place of the organ.”
The Red Sox, now in Florida for spring training, have not yet considered bidding on the piano, according to Kevin Shea, the team’s public relations director.
“We haven’t heard too much regarding the details of the Babe’s piano down here in Fort Myers,” he said. “If indeed they do find the piano and it is determined to be authentic … then we would be happy to discuss, debate and determine what involvement the Red Sox should have in it.”
Shea said he is optimistic about this season, however.
“The Red Sox have a great team this year with the returning core of All-Stars, including Pedro, Manny, Trot, Nomar and the off-season additions of Johnny Damon, Tony Clark and pitching depth,” he said. “Also, with new ownership beginning their tenure in Boston, wouldn’t it be great to win a World Series championship for Boston in 2002?”
Those involved with the project said they hope it will benefit the team as well.
“It certainly couldn’t bring them bad luck,” Mastone said. “Just as spring training starts, it gives people a lot more hope.”
Some fans, however, didn’t share the same enthusiasm.
“I think it would bring bad luck because of the Curse of the Bambino,” said Boston University School of Management senior Scott Seroll. “It’s not like he was a professional pianist.”
The Curse of the Bambino supposedly began in 1920, when Red Sox owner and Broadway producer Harry Frazee sold Ruth’s contract to the New York Yankees to fund a Broadway show. Since then, the Red Sox have not won a World Series, while the Yankees have won 26.
Matt Sieloff, 17, of Norfolk, said recovery of the piano would not end this alleged curse.
“Pianos have nothing to do with baseball,” he said. “Honestly, I think we should go and desecrate his grave, or make an equally foolish trade. Then we could have the ‘Curse of the Martinez’ or ‘Curse of the Ramirez.'”