The Hazlet Hex:
The Real Reason for the Reverse of the Curse
by Joe Nardini
Now that the Boston Red Sox have finally rid themselves and the baseball universe of the infamous Curse of the Bambino, has a new curse taken its place? A closer look at events from the 2004 season reveals a startling possibility.
Forget the fact that it was the trade of a pitcher from the Red Sox to the New York Yankees that started the legend of The Curse in the first place. Forget that it was a depletion of pitching depth that spelled the Yankees’ four-year free-fall from World Series dominance – a depletion aided and abetted by the announced ‘retirement’ of Roger Clemens at the end of the 2003 season, a former Red Sox pitcher who also played for the Yanks, only to un-retire for yet another Cy Young award winning season in 2004.
Enterprising researchers of baseball folklore may uncover a host of other coincidences that will amuse and provoke controversy among the truest aficionados of the game. Tucked away in a small corner of Hazlet, New Jersey, though, is where the real answer to the question, and the fate of The Curse may lie.
Stanley 'Stash' Branowski
Hazlet is home to one Stanley ‘Stash’ Branowski, staunch fan of baseball and much decorated World War II veteran. Stash’s Silver Star and Purple Heart exploits as a member of the famous 101st Airborne division precipitated his visit to Yankee Stadium on June 6, 2004, the 60th anniversary of the allies’ landing at the beaches of Normandy, France. New York Yankees’ owner, George Steinbrenner, invited Mr. Branowski and five other WWII veterans to attend, as his special guests, the Yankees’ game that day against the Texas Rangers.
When I first spoke with him last fall, Mr. Branowski described himself as a lifelong fan of baseball; and, he has the historical recall to prove it. While many of us pride ourselves on our memories of the great professional teams and the great players on those teams, Stash can name the entire starting lineup of the 1937 Newark Bears. After all, they won the International League that year by a 20-game margin. What true fan of the game wouldn’t know that?
Talking with Stanley Branowski, one gains an immediate appreciation for the uncomplicated, enduring wisdom that defines what author and ex-NBC news anchor, Tom Brokaw, calls the “Greatest Generation.” Remembering, for example, the $50 per month basic salary that the U.S. government paid its soldiers during WWII – about twice that if you served overseas and were a paratrooper – Stash observed that, while it was “not good pay, you could always borrow a buck; but, you had to pay it back or you couldn’t borrow again.”
Delivering a recent keynote address to the military cadets at West Point, Mr. Branowski confronted a frequently posed question about whether U.S. soldiers sent to fight in foreign countries give their lives in vain. Without pause, and with a clarity of conviction and conscience that can only be described as stirring, he asserted that, “Soldiers never die for nothing. They die for their country. Kids who O.D. on drugs and who get killed driving and drinking, they’re the ones who die for nothing.”
When I met him for the first time at his front door and asked how he was feeling, he stated matter-of-factly and without hesitation, “I got up this morning, doing good so far, glad for today, glad for yesterday, and happy for tomorrow, if I’m lucky enough to get there.” Right away I sensed that our conversation would indeed be something special.
Stash also brought something special to Yankee Stadium in the summer of ‘04. Just ask Yankees outfielder Bernie Williams, who, promptly after shaking hands with one of the few remaining survivors of Bastogne, hit a home run.
But it was something else, something special to Stan Branowski, that put the reverse on The Curse.
Stanley 'Stash' Branowski, alongside five other World War II veterans, received recognition at Yankee Stadium on the 60th anniversary of D-Day
On the day of his visit to Yankee Stadium, Stash explained, he presented to Joe Torre a commemorative WWII 101st Airborne banner, that the venerable Yankees manager promised to return by mail bearing the signatures of all the Yankees’ ball players. Nearly one year after-the-fact, Mr. Torre has yet to live up to his word. “Joe Torre didn’t do what he said he’d do.”
“I put a jinx on him,” says Stash, with a sly smile and a sparkle in his eye, “…and I’ll put it back on him if he doesn’t send it!” Borrow a buck, pay back a buck.
To a man who sustained a wounded leg and arm while taking out an enemy machine gun nest single-handedly, who knows the cutting edge, life-or-death prayer that a parachute opens when jumping into only 500 feet of night air, and who left 8,000 of his brothers-in-arms at a Bridge Too Far in Arnheim, Holland, returning a signed banner from his beloved Yankees simply ranks as no small matter.
Day of Honor: Looking back at a
day to remember
To Stash Branowski, it comes down to a matter of principle, a question of trust. Were it not for a promise not kept, would we have witnessed the Red Sox’ startling four-game sweep of the mighty Bronx Bombers, when the Boys from Beantown were down three games-to-none and three outs away from ignominious defeat? Could anyone have foreseen that the momentum of that improbable feat would then propel the Bosox through a second four-game sweep, en route to a World Series victory that had eluded them for the better part of a century? As with The Curse, we will never know for sure.
What we do know is that Stash Branowski, a renowned man of his word, continues to wait patiently for Joe Torre to live up to his. Who’s to say that Stash’s Hazlet Hex really spelled the end to The Curse of the Bambino? Then again who’s to say it didn’t?
Loyal to a fault, Stash is quick to remind that the slight from Mr. Torre in no way tarnishes his support for the team or his love for the game. Still, for as long as the promise that Joe T. made last June remains unfilled, fans of the Bronx bombers should know that, acquisition of the Big Unit or not, the Hazlet Hex just might revive in ’05.