(MCT) — MESA, Ariz. — In this curious tale of baseball hexes, the man who helped end the Curse of the Bambino for the Red Sox brought in a reliever who endured another one to try to end the Billy Goat Curse.
And if Cubs President Theo Epstein and new setup man Kyuji Fujikawa pull this one off, they’re likely to go down in the pantheon of all-time curse killers.
Few know of the Curse of the Colonel that was put on Fujikawa’s team in Japan in 1985.
Fujikawa, who signed a two-year, $9 million deal with the Cubs in December, confirmed a curse allegedly was placed on the Hanshin Tigers, considered the Japanese version of the Red Sox. It involved a strange celebration after the Randy Bass-led team won the Japanese World Series in 1985.
Townsfolk jumped into the Dotonbori River dressed as the team’s players, and to represent Bass, someone grabbed a plastic statue of Col. Sanders from outside a Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet.
“I remember the Tigers won and they threw the statue in the river,” Fujikawa said through an interpreter. “The next day everybody searched for it, and nobody found it. It’s famous for being a really dirty river and has a lot of mud piled underneath. And after that, the Tigers didn’t win again.”
Hanshin did win league championships in 2003 and ‘05 but failed to win the title. Fujikawa said he thought the curse was “just for fun” and not to be believed.
Then, when contemplating signing with the Cubs in December, Fujikawa heard the tale of the Billy Goat Curse.
Standing next to his locker in the Cubs’ clubhouse at Fitch Park, Fujikawa pantomimed pulling a goat on a rope, pretending he was tavern owner William Sianis.
“He was angry and didn’t go back,” Fujikawa said in English. “Then it was lose, lose, lose ...”
Fujikawa, 32, who sports orange, spiky hair and likes to stand it straight up after showering, is quite a bit more eccentric than former outfielder Kosuke Fukudome, the last Cubs free agent signed out of Japan. He said he first began paying attention to the Cubs in 1998, when Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire were dueling to break Roger Maris’ single-season home run mark.
Fujikawa then brought up a certain incident in the 2003 postseason.
“I remember the Cubs had a big chance (to go to the World Series) if a fly ball was caught,” he said in English, referring to Game 6 of the 2003 National League Championship Series against the Marlins.
Fujikawa then gave a dead-on imitation of former Cubs outfielder Moises Alou going over to the left-field wall, trying to make a catch on Luis Castillo’s eighth-inning foul ball. Fujikawa leaped, just as Alou did, and came down without the ball in his glove.
“I watched (a documentary) on it on TV five times,” Fujikawa said. “Unbelievable.”
Now Fujikawa is hoping to make some history for the Cubs. He figures to replace Carlos Marmol as closer in 2014 after leading Japan in saves in 2007 and 2011 and posting a 1.77 career ERA in 562 appearances.
Manager Dale Sveum said Fujikawa relies mostly on a four-seam fastball and split-fingered fastball but also throws a decent slider and curve. Sveum’s interactions with Fujikawa have been mostly about bass fishing. Fujikawa is very excited about a bass pond that’s part of the new spring training complex being built in Mesa.
“He’s got a great personality, from what I can understand anyway,” Sveum said. “He’s always got a smile on his face and is asking questions, usually about fishing or golf.”
Blending in with the Cubs bullpen has been a breeze. Veterans Marmol, James Russell and Shawn Camp are all easy-going, and bullpen coach Les Strode tends to keep things loose.
“Seems like he’s a pretty cool guy,” Russell said. “I sat next to him, and he seems fun. He’ll be fine. We’re not a hard group of guys to get along with. Everyone seems to have kind of the same personality. We’re not going to cast stones at anybody.”