The one team standing between the Hanshin Tigers and the end of the Curse of the Colonel will be the Softbank Hawks, who won the Pacific League title earlier today (Eastern Time)/last night (Japan Time).
Okay, jump into your nearest Wayback Machine, DeLorean, TARDIS, or George Carlin-approved Phone Booth, and go to the year 1985, to the Kansai Region of Japan. The Osaka area, to be exact. The Hanshin Tigers have just beaten the Seibu Lions, 4 games to 2, to win the Japan Series. It’s the first time they’ve won the NPB championship, and the first time the team has been Japan’s champion since 1947, three years before the founding of NPB.
In celebration, fans of the Tigers* gathered near a local river, with fans shouting out the names of star players followed by people who resembled the player then jumping in. However, there was one problem: The team’s star player, Randy Bass, was not Japanese, but instead a bearded American named Randy Bass. With nobody around who resembled him, they instead grabbed a statue of Colonel Sanders from a nearby KFC and threw it in instead.
The following year, they fell to third in the Central League. The year after that, they were last. The year after that, they were last again. In fact, they would prove to generally be asecond-division team every year until 2003. In that time, an explanation was come up with- it was a curse. A curse from Colonel Sanders.
Visits to the Japan Series in 2003 and 2005 ended in defeat, and four playoff appearances since had seen them go out in the first stage of the “Climax Series” (the first stage of the “Climax Series” is roughly analogous to the LDS round of MLB, although the fact it pits the 2nd and 3rd best teams in each league make it a bit similar to the Wild Card Play-In).
But then, this year, they got through the first stage of the Climax Series (defeating Hiroshima) and got to Stage 2 against their rivals, the Yomiuri Giants. Now, Stage 2 of the Climax Series is a weird thing to American eyes. While it essentially is a LCS round, it’s a best-of-6. Yes, you read that right: best-of-six. The team with the better record/home field gets a 1-game advantage to start the series, meaning that they only need to win 3 games, while the other team needs to win 4.
The Giants are winners of 35 Central League titles and 22 Japan Series titles in their history. When you consider that the modern NPB was founded in 1950, you can see why they are called the “Yankees of Japan”. And this year, they again had great success, winning the Central League by 7 games over Hiroshima and Hanshin and racking up the best record in Japanese baseball.
But, what do you know? The Tigers swept them 4-straight, winning game four by a 8-4 score, with home runs by Matt Murton, Tsuyoshi Nishioka and Kosuke Fukudome and a late 2-run double by Mauro Gomez. You can see highlights here.
Their fans celebrated, of course, by jumping into the river:
So, now, the Tigers head to the Japan Series. They will face either Soft Bank or Nippon Ham. Will they win? I don’t know. But there is something to be noted here. Something that is different from the last few post-curse times they reached the Japan Series.
You see, a few years ago, a good chunk of the Colonel Sanders statue was found. This will be the Tigers’ first appearance in the Japanese Series since the Colonel was recovered. And so, it won’t be long until the world learns… whether the Colonel’s Curse lives.
*You may remember the Hanshin Tigers from my discussion of a Pokemon baseball episode.