Have the NPB's Hanshin Tigers been cursed by the ghost of a fast food statue?
The Hanshin Tigers were always the bridesmaid, never the bride. Over their first 35 years in Nippon Professional Baseball, they finished in second 12 times, while their arch-rival Yomiuri Giants won 16 championships. Then, in 1985, they shocked Japan: Behind league MVP Randy Bass -- a former big leaguer and current Oklahoma state senator -- Hanshin went 74-49 and won the Japan Series for the first time in franchise history.
They even shocked their own fans. Despite years of frustration, Hanshin had developed a reputation as one of the most baseball-crazy cities in a baseball-crazy country -- the gates at Koshien Stadium would open before noon for night games, in order to give the thousands who'd camped out overnight a chance to claim a seat in the bleachers. And, now that their beloved Tigers had finally won it all, it was time to celebrate.
After the decisive Game 6, fans congregated on Ebisubashi Bridge in Osaka in accordance with a long-standing tradition: One by one, the crowd would chant the names of each Tiger, and a fan who bore a physical resemblance to the player called would jump into the Dotonbori River. When it came time for Bass, though, there was a problem: No one on the bridge looked anything like him.
Rather than panic, the crowd simply got creative. They immediately began looking for something or someone that could pass as Bass, and it didn't take long before they found it -- a statue of Colonel Sanders outside a nearby KFC. As you can see, the resemblance is uncanny:
Without hesitation, the crowd carried the statue onto the bridge, dressed it up in a Tigers jersey and tossed it into the river. And with that, the Curse of the Colonel was born.
The next year, Hanshin finished a disappointing 60-60. The year after that, they plummeted to last place. Before long, the whispers began: The team had been cursed by the ghost of Colonel Sanders, furious at the way his statue had been treated.
Tigers fans tried everything. They apologized profusely to the manager of the store. They launched multiple expeditions to the bottom of the river, to no avail. Meanwhile, the losses kept racking up: Over the next 18 years, the team posted just one winning record.
Things seemed to take a turn in 2003. Yomiuri had just lost star Hideki Matsui to the Yankees, and thanks to a pitching staff led by Hideki Irabu, Hanshin made a run all the way to the Japan Series. After clinching the Central Division title, KFCs all over Osaka brought their statues inside for safe-keeping -- this time, though, the Colonels stayed dry, while thousands of fans jumped into the river:
Alas, the Tigers lost a tense seven-game series, and the curse lived on. The team returned to the Japan Series two years later, but was promptly swept by the Chiba Lotte Marines. Fans began to wonder whether their fortunes would ever turn around ... until, in 2009, they got some astonishing news: After all these years, divers had found and extracted the Colonel Statue from the bottom of the river. He was missing one hand and his glasses, but the smile and the string tie remained:
Finally: The Colonel's ghost could rest in peace, his likeness returned to its natural place, and the Tigers would win again.
"When I heard the statue had been found, I felt that history had ended," Yoshio Yoshida, the manager of the 1985 team, told the Telegraph. "Recalling 1985, I'd like them to achieve the dream of being Japan No. 1 again."
It hasn't worked out so far -- in the seven years since the Colonel was recovered, Hanshin has notched three second-place finishes in the Central Division but failed to make it back to the Japan Series. Look on the bright side, though: If recent history has taught us anything, it's that curses were made to be broken.