November 2, 1985 The Curse of Colonel Sanders

Much has been written of 1930’s Japan and the military officers, who brought the nation to war. How different the 20th century could have been, had those guys picked up baseball, instead.

Baseball as we know it was introduced to the country in 1872. To this day, the game remains the most popular sport in the nation for participants and spectators, alike. In 1907, Tsuneo Matsudaira commented: “the game spread, like a fire in a dry field, in summer, all over the country, and some months afterwards, even in children in primary schools in the country far away from Tōkyō were to be seen playing with bats and balls“.

Oh. Did I neglect to mention? The nation we’re talking about, is Japan.

Professional baseball got off to a rocky start in 1920s Japan and continued to flounder, until 1934. That’s when media bigwig Matsutarō Shōriki pulled off a “goodwill tour” with an all-star American team including Babe Ruth, Jimmie Foxx, Lou Gehrig, Connie Mack and Charlie Gehringer. Even Moe Berg was part of that 1934 entourage, the Jewish catcher known as “the brainiest guy in baseball,” who went behind enemy lines during World War 2, to spy on Nazi Germany.

“The [1934] party included future Hall of Famers Earl Averill, Lou Gehrig, Charlie Gehringer, Lefty Gomez, Connie Mack, Foxx and Ruth, along with several other American Leaguers (asked to accompany the tour when the National League forbade its stars from coming along). Even Moe Berg, the big league catcher who would eventually work as a United States government spy, was a member of the ball playing entourage”. H/T baseballhall.org

Much has been written of 1930’s Japan and the military officers, who brought the nation to war. How different the 20th century could have been, had those guys picked up baseball, instead.

The first Japanese professional league was formed in 1936, becoming large enough to split into two leagues in 1950, the Central and Pacific.

Today, the Kansai region of Honshu is the 2nd largest metropolis, in all Japan. That’s where you’ll find the Hanshin Tigers, those perennial underdogs of Nippon Professional Baseball and arch-rival to the Yomiuri Giants of Tokyo, widely regarded as the kings of Japanese baseball.

As a life-long Red Sox fan, this story is beginning to sound familiar.

35 years ago today was a time of unbridled joy for delirious Tigers fans, following Hanshin’s 6-2 drubbing of the Seibu Lions to win the ultimate prize, the Japan series pennant of 1985.

Now you may not know this, but Japan is one of the largest markets in the world for Kentucky Fried Chicken, #3 behind the United States and China. Not bad for a fast food outfit that opened its first Japanese franchise, only fifteen years earlier.

The Boston baseball fan is well acquainted with the “Curse of the Bambino”, the 86-year World Series championship drought, second only to the “Curse of the Billy Goat” that denied victory to long-suffering Chicago fans, for 106 years.

Since 1985, Japanese mothers have scared wayward children into acting right, with the curse of Colonel Sanders.

The Hanshin club emerged victorious in 1985, due in large part to the efforts of American slugger, Randy Bass. Delirious after unexpected victory in game one and superstitious as baseball fans the world over, Hanshin supporters gathered at the Ebisu Bridge over the Dōtonbori river in Osaka, to partake in one of the most bizarre spectacles, in modern sports.

Fans would shout out the names of Tigers players and someone who resembled that player, even vaguely, would jump into the river. There being no Caucasians in attendance to represent Mr. Bass, the crowd took hold of a storefront statue of Harlan Sanders, and threw it into the River.

What the hell. They both had beards.

Thus began the curse of Colonel Sanders, a losing streak brought on by the ghost of a man who didn’t appreciate being thrown into a river. Brief rallies in 1992 and again in ’99 brought hope once again to the Hanshin faithful, (gosh, this story sounds Really familiar now), only to have cruel fate, block the way. Repeated efforts were made to retrieve the Colonel from the river, only to be met with failure. The curse, dragged on.

The joy of victory smiled upon the land of Hanshin once again in 2003, when Yomiuri Giants MVP Hideki Matsui was traded to the New York Yankees, clearing the way to a Central League pennant for Hanshin. Even so, final victory remained elusive. The Japan series went to the Fukuoka Daiei Hawks that year, in 7 games.

Celebration turned to tragedy that year, when thousands of Tigers fans jumped into the river. 24-year-old Masaya Shitababa, drowned. The Osaka city council ordered construction of a new bridge over the Dōtonbori beginning in 2004, making further such jumps, next to impossible.

Divers discovered the upper part of Harlan Sanders’ statue on March 10, 2009 and the lower piece, the following day. And yet the Colonel’s other hand and eyeglasses, were nowhere to be found.

Colonel Sanders’ left hand and spectacles remain missing to this day and the KFC where it all started, is closed and gone forever. So it is for long suffering fans of the Hanshin Tigers, the curse of Colonel Sanders, lives on.

“Dangerous! Do not dive into this river. Osaka Regional Development Bureau and Osaka-Minami Police station” sign at the new Ebisubashi bridge H/T Wikipedia

Author: Cape Cod Curmudgeon

I'm not a "Historian". I'm a husband, a father, a son and a grandfather. A history geek and sometimes curmudgeon, who still likes to learn new things. I started "Today in History" back in 2013, thinking I’d learn a thing or two. I told myself I’d publish 365. The leap year changed that to 366. As I write this, I‘m closing in on a thousand. I do it because I want to & I make every effort to get my facts straight, but I'm as good at being wrong, as anybody else. I offer these "Today in History" stories in hopes that you'll enjoy reading them, as much as I’ve enjoyed writing them. Thanks for coming along for the ride. Rick Long, the “Cape Cod Curmudgeon”

21 thoughts on “November 2, 1985 The Curse of Colonel Sanders”

  1. …..a quirky, out of left field, finger licking good write-up! I met the Colonel one time. I was in the O’Hare airport waiting for a connecting flight to Toronto, and it was around 1968 and I was 21. He was just sitting in a waiting area in his signature white suit and cane/walking stick, and I immediately thought it was someone impersonating him, but no….it was Arlen Sanders. And he shook my hand and we got talking and I recall him saying that he donated all his Canadian profits to (I think I recall this correctly) the Pentecostal Church. And he said he had been in Chicago doing a commercial. And the only other thing I remember was him wearing a very large diamond ring. I was a draft resister (which I didn’t divulge), and was returning to my adopted country where I’ve now lived for some 50+ years. It was one of those out-of-the-blue occurrences we never forget, while wondering if it actually happened.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great one Rick. I’m glad to see they recovered the Colonel! Crazy how those things get started…though the Babe Ruth one had merit…who trades Babe Ruth?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Wonderful!! Back in the 80s I met a wealthy man from San Diego who had personally known the Colonel. He told me that in the beginning, Sanders drove around the nation in a beat up old station wagon hawking his chicken recipe. After something like 1,600 rejections to his franchise idea, the steadfast Colonel achieved success. Best to you, Rick. We’ve been fortunate with a beautiful fall, riding our mountains on our lovely horses. Stay well :)) Dawn

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It’s good to hear from you Dawn. Things aren’t too bad here on sunny Cape Cod except it’s becoming a tad colder than I’d like. We have an old joke around here, about the four seasons. We have almost winter, winter, still winter and bridge construction.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It’s weird, my 12 year old son and I were talking about Colonel Sanders yesterday. He wanted to know if he was a real colonel so we looked it up. I showed him your article and he already knew about it. LOL! I hadn’t!
        We really enjoyed this. I’ll be sure to pay WAY more attention to my “This Day in History” emails from now on. 👍🏻

        Liked by 1 person

      2. He’s always loved history and I try to foster that as much as possible. His history teacher is amazed by what he knows.
        He says “Hi” back to you. ❤🤗

        Liked by 1 person

      3. I always did the same with my daughter and son. It’s important to know where we come from and besides, history is fun! Thanks for coming along for the ride. Tomorrow’s a fun one too. Hope you both enjoy it – Rick

        Like

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