Can Matt Stairs and the Phillies break the Canadian curse?

In 1969, the year the Expos and Canada first joined the Major Leagues, the Amazin’ Mets shocked the baseball world by winning the World Series. In the Mets bullpen was Ontario native Ron Taylor, who recorded a save in Game Two. Since that victory, it has become incredibly difficult for a team carrying a native Canadian on its roster to win the World Series.

In fact, there have been only two exceptions to this cruel rule since then…

In 1993, the Toronto Blue Jays, who defeated the Phillies in the World Series, gave Rob Butler (Ontario) two at-bats. But, since they are a Canadian team, it seems normal for them to have been immune to the curse. The second exception came last year, as Eric Gagné (Quebec) and the Red Sox put a serious dent in the curse by winning the World Series. They did not, however, totally break it, since they defeated the Colorado Rockies and Jeff Francis (B.C.) in the first Fall Classic to feature Canadian players on both teams. The curse is powerful, but in that situation, not much could be done.

Therefore, since that 1969 Mets team, no American team with a Canadian on its roster has been able to defeat a team without a Canadian player to win the World Series. In fact, the curse has been terrible. Since 1970, among American teams, the ones carrying a Canadian player have won only 11 of 39 playoff series against teams with a non-Canadian roster.

This has been a sudden reversal of fortune, as having a Canadian was, up to 1969, a good thing. Until then, 11 of 14 playoff teams with a Canadian won the World Series, including the 1936-41 Yankees teams that won five times with George Selkirk (Ontario), in the outfield.

The Canadian curse and the famous curse of the Bambino, which plagued the Boston Red Sox after they traded Babe Ruth, collided a few times. In 1975, the Red Sox lost in the World Series with pitcher Reggie Cleveland (Sask.) on their team. They also fielded Canadians during their 1995 (Stairs and Rheal Cormier (N.B.)) and 1999 (Cormier again) early-round exits. When they finally broke the Ruth curse in 2004, not only did they have no Canadians on their team, but they also received help from the Canadian curse. The almighty Yankees, who had employed no Canadians on their team during their recent run of success, that year featured Paul Quantrill (Ont.). The power of the curse was unleashed, and the Yankees dropped the ALCS after leading 3-0. The Red Sox then defeated Larry Walker (B.C.) and the Cards in the Fall classic. Note that those Cards failed again in 2005 with Walker on their team, before winning it all in 2006, after Walker had retired.

The Canadian curse also paired-up with Chicago’s Billy Goat curse a few times to keep the Cubs in their misery, as they had B.C. natives Steve Wilson (1989), Ryan Dempster (2007-08) and Rich Harden (2008) on their playoff teams.

Other examples of the power of the Canadian curse include the Minnesota Twins, who reached the playoffs four times in five years between 2002 and 2006, without ever making it to the big dance. They had Canadians on their team every year, and sometimes as many as three (Corey Koskie (Manitoba), Justin Morneau (B.C.) and Jesse Crain (Ont.)).

Oakland A’s General manager Billy Beane, who said that his magic did not work in the playoffs after seeing them fail to win it all in five trips to the playoffs between 2000 and 2006, might turn to the Canadian curse to explain his failures. He lost in the first round with Stairs in 2000 and Rich Harden in 2003. The A’s won their only playoff round in 2006, defeating the Canadian-filled Twins in a series in which Harden did not pitch. He did appear in the League Championship, where the A’s were defeated by the Tigers.

Matt Stairs (N.B.) and the Phillies will not only have the chance to become champions in the upcoming World Series, they will also have the opportunity to deliver the final blow to this incredible stretch of bad luck. Stairs has played his part up to now with a big homerun in Game Four of the NLCS, but note however that the Phillies only reached the Fall Classic by first defeating Gagné and the Brewers, and then Russell Martin (Ont.) and the Dodgers.

The Rays have been described lately as a team of destiny. You now know that this destiny has probably been set in the Great White North.

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