The coronavirus pandemic has had all sorts of unfortunate effects on the world of sports, both in America and around the world. Just as Major League Baseball is on indefinite hold, so too is Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball. Commissioner Atsushi Saito has said that he hopes to pick things up sometime in April, but it’s unclear whether or not that’ll happen. Calls to postpone July’s Tokyo Olympics have already begun.
That’s bad news for everyone involved in NPB, including the Hanshin Tigers. The Tigers haven’t won a title since 1985, and some attribute it to a curse involving not Babe Ruth, but Kentucky Fried Chicken. No baseball in 2020 would mean Hanshin won’t get a chance to break the Curse of the Colonel.
The finger-lickin’ curse was placed on the team following their triumph in the 1985 Japan Series over the Seibu Lions. Revelers took to the streets of Osaka in celebration of their favorite team’s first championship, and many of them gathered on Ebisu Bridge for a familiar ritual.
Japanese baseball fans are like soccer fans. They don’t stoically sit in the grandstand and only make noise when prompted to by organ players or jumbotrons. They have chants and songs for all sorts of occasions and for every player, with brass instrumental accompaniments. Japanese baseball, you see, actually encourages fun.
So there upon the bridge, they sang the songs for each of the victorious players and selected a member of the crowd who most looked like each of the players, and gave them the honor of jumping down into the canal below. This was all well and good until they got to Randy Bass, who had just won the series MVP award for the Tigers. There weren’t any Caucasian guys in the crowd, so the revelers purloined a statue of Colonel Sanders from outside of a nearby KFC and tossed it into the canal.
This has since been regarded as a karmically poor decision, as the Tigers proceeded to finish under .500 for the next 18 years.
The idea that the team had been cursed by making the Colonel sleep with the fishes quickly spread. Numerous attempts were made to recover the statue to no avail, and the proprietor of the KFC outlet was apologized to, but nothing could seem to cure the team’s misfortune. The Tigers didn’t make the Japan Series again until 2003, but were defeated. They also lost in the title round in 2005.
Colonel Sanders (or at least his plastic lookalike) was finally located in 2009. He was pulled from the river looking much worse for wear, and without both his left hand and his glasses. Some thought that the curse may finally have been broken, but the Tigers lost in the Japan Series again in 2014.
Hanshin has not been plagued by the vengeance of the eleven secret herbs and spices for the 86 years that the Red Sox were denied from the promised land, or for the 71 years that the Cubs endured the Curse of the Billy Goat. But losing even one chance to receive the good Colonel’s blessing would be terrible for the Tigers’ rabid fans.
Here’s hoping that the NPB season will be able to take place in some capacity this year. Japanese baseball is exceptionally fun, and what’s more, there’s a curse that needs breaking. The Tigers finished just one game over .500 last year, but all they need is a shot. After all, anything can happen in baseball, including a fast food-related curse.
Do not anger Colonel Sanders, dear reader. He will plague you from beyond the grave.