At 73 years, the Cleveland Guardians have one of the longest championship droughts in North American sports. They last won it all in 1948, when they had Bob Feller, Satchel Paige and Larry Doby on their roster. Only the NFL’s Arizona/Chicago Cardinals have been without a title longer at 74 seasons.
So, what’s the deal? Like the Red Sox and Cubs before them, are they cursed?
Back in 1958, after just 67 games and a 31-36 record, the Cleveland ownership was not happy with the way the season was going. So, manager Bobby Bragan was abruptly fired. GM Frank Lane had a memorable quote at the time that, if we had to guess, probably rubbed Bragan the wrong way.
“Bobby, I don’t know how we are going to get along without you, but starting tomorrow, we’re going to try,” Lane said.
Bragan wasn’t happy but eventually left the team. Before he did, rumors swirled that he went out to second base at Cleveland Municipal Stadium and placed a curse on the team — saying it’d never win a World Series again. Almost 30 years later, in 1984, a journalist confirmed it.
“There was a writer for the old Cleveland Press by the name of Doug Clarke,” longtime Cleveland sports radio host Greg Brinda told me. “He wrote that the Indians had been in this way of not being good for a long time because Bobby Bragan had put a curse on them.”
So, what does an eccentric, fun-loving radio host in a city starved for championships do when he hears there’s a curse on one of the sports teams? He decides it’s his job to break it.
Brinda called up Bragan right away, and the former manager denied that he had put a hex on the club, then known as the Indians. Still, he could’ve been lying or embarrassed, and Brinda trusted Clarke’s account. It was time for Brinda to get to work. The first step?
“I’m going, well, I guess I’m gonna have to find a witch,” he said.
Fortunately, for some reason, Brinda had taken a witchcraft course during his senior year at Kent State. The class was, as expected, taught by women who were self-proclaimed witches. Being a somewhat recent grad, he still had one of their phone numbers. So, he reached out.
“I called them up and I go, ‘Hey, I was in one of your classes in 1978. It was a great class and, you know, I’m looking for a witch to take a curse off a baseball team,'” Brinda recalled. “They kind of laughed, and I said, ‘No, no, no, really.'”
The problem? These witches lived way over on the east side of Cleveland near Pennsylvania. Brinda lived on the west side. He needed a witch closer to him. Luckily, his professor witches did have a witch connection in the east in Lakewood, Ohio: Her name was Elizabeth and she worked at a flower shop that Brinda was familiar with. He had a lead.
He thanked the witches — telling me “you should always thank a witch” — and he drove out to the shop located just outside Cleveland. He asked for Elizabeth when he got there, and the woman at the register told him she was in the back.
“I walk in the back and I go, ‘Hi, you’re Elizabeth, aren’t you?'” Brinda told me. “She looked at me and goes, ‘Yeah?’ I said, ‘This is gonna be really weird, but I understand you’re a witch.’ She just looked at me like, ‘Who are you?'”
Brinda explained who he was and the dire situation the club was in. Elizabeth wasn’t a sports fan, but thought about it for awhile, and decided she’d do it. Cleveland agreed to stage the event the day before its April opener. It was on.
In the meantime, Brinda gathered some background info on the eastern Ohio witch.
“She lived on a street in Lakewood, and she was known to be a white witch,” Brinda said. “She was not the wicked witch of the west. Her neighbors told me that when there was a summer solstice or winter solstice, she would come outside her house and dance around.”
Brinda originally wanted to fly Elizabeth onto the field on one of his radio station’s traffic helicopters, but she politely declined. So, Brinda picked the witch up in his car and drove her to the stadium. Even though there was no game or crowd there that day, the media descended on Cleveland Municipal Stadium to watch Elizabeth work her powers. The New York Times described the proceedings in detail.
Cleveland, as you probably know, did not win anything in ’84. It went 75-87 and finished sixth in the AL East. Brinda brought Elizabeth onto his show the next year — hoping she could really break the curse this time around. Alas, it did not happen. Cleveland was even worse in 1985. Much worse. The team went 60-102, putting up the second-worst record in all of baseball.
Sports writer Doug Clarke eventually found about all these wild attempts to break Cleveland’s curse and talked about it in a story a few years later. Turns out, there may not have even been a curse in the first place.
“He wrote something like, ‘God, they’re doing all this stuff and I completely made it up,'” Brinda said.
Unbelievable. All this show, all this ridiculousness — an actual witch casting spells on a baseball field — for nothing.
Still, it just shows how big a sports town Cleveland is, and the lengths a diehard fanbase, a radio show host and a team will go to try to bring home championship glory.
“We just had a lot of fun doing it,” Brinda told me. “[Elizabeth] was a great sport about it. I’ve always just thought outside the box and tried to do something crazy. And that’s one of the most crazy things I’ve come up with in my career.”
Brinda feels that fans aren’t holding out hope for a title this year — even though they’ve made it to the ALDS against the Yankees. He says it’s just been a delight that the young team played well down the stretch and swept the Rays. Beating New York might be too tall a task. Still, maybe the Guardians will be wearing rings soon?
“I’m still waiting,” Brinda told me. “Hopefully they win one before I die.”