The Bambino, the goat ... and Jim Deshaies
When a team wins one of its first 14 road games and two of its first 22, our job here at ESPN is to look for reasons.
When a team goes nearly a month and a half without holding more than a one-run lead in any road game, our mission is to look for trends. Or tendencies.
Or even curses.
Which brings us to the mysterious case of the 2005 Houston Astros.
Our ESPN investigators have finally uncovered the real reason these Astros have had so much trouble finding the bright side of the road. It's all because of
The Curse of Jim Deshaies.
"Yep," Deshaies admitted when we confronted him recently with the harsh truth. "It's me, the Bambino and a goat."
In case you're not familiar with our pal Deshaies, he appears, on the surface, to be your basic mild-mannered, quick-witted, always-incisive Astros broadcaster.
But if you delve beneath that theoretically innocent veneer, you will find he has a job description that would raise anyone's eyebrow during a season like this:
He only broadcasts this team's road games.
OK, any more questions?
Amazingly, not many folks, either inside or outside the Astros' little universe, have caught on to this seemingly inescapable connection.
"But I imagine," Deshaies chuckled, "that when you get done with this article, that's going to change, huh?"
Well, probably. But we can't help that. Just doing our job here, folks.
One man who has noticed, though, is Larry Dierker. Yes, he's the Astros' former manager. But that's not all he is. He's also the guy who, essentially, platoons with Deshaies on the Astros' broadcast team.
Dierker's gig: Home games. Deshaies' gig: Road games.
So, not surprisingly, the team's record when each broadcaster is in the booth looks slightly different. Dierker (through Thursday): four games over .500 (16-12). Deshaies: 16 games under .500 (7-23).
Which explains why, before one recent home game when that road-record topic came up Dierker couldn't help himself.
"You know," he said, "maybe the problem is Deshaies. I'm doing pretty good."
Whereupon the Astros went out and (what else?) lost. Which meant, Deshaies reported, that "Dierk had to immediately apologize to the gods of baseball."
But where are those gods of baseball when Deshaies needs them, huh? This poor guy went three and a half weeks at one point (April 15-May 9) without broadcasting a single Astros win. Which isn't easy.
Still, he never envisioned himself as being worthy of having his own curse named after him until we so helpfully brought him face to face with that reality.
"I haven't really bought into that whole thing about curses," he said. "But if this thing takes hold, I might have to become a little more proactive about exonerating myself."
Well, let's look back into Deshaies' past and search for previous curse indicators.
In his 12 years pitching in the big leagues seven with the Astros he once set a strikeout record even Nolan Ryan never set: On Sept. 23, 1986, Deshaies became the only pitcher since 1900 to strike out the first eight hitters of a game a streak so electrifying that manager Tommy Lasorda pinch hit for his pitcher in the third inning to stop it.
So that wasn't very curse-like.
OK, so Deshaies did finish his career with six straight sub-.500 seasons, including one (6-12, 7.39 ERA in 1994) in which he described himself as "the poster boy for bad pitching." But we can think of a thousand pitchers who had a worse career than Deshaies. So he sure didn't pitch his way into this curse.
And he certainly hasn't shown any prior curse tendencies as a broadcaster, either. Last year's Astros even went 44-37 on the road. They also made it to the playoffs in five of his first eight seasons behind the mike. So that can't be it.
And one thing that's been firmly established is no one has ever found any resemblance between Deshaies and Mr. George H. "Babe" Ruth although, Deshaies confessed, "I did used to do a killer Bambino home-run trot in college."
But "on the all-time home run list," Deshaies calculated, "he's ahead of me, 714-0 plus four in Little League."
In fact, Deshaies is just about the official anti-Bambino offensively. The Babe holds the all-time record for most extra-base hits in a season (119 in 1921). Deshaies, on the other hand, holds the all-time record for most career at-bats (373) without getting any extra-base hits.
So it's safe to say that if Deshaies has caught the curse bug, he didn't get it from the fabled Bambino.
As for that goat, Deshaies said he's not a big eater or drinker of any goat products even though he admitted, "We stop occasionally for some goat-cheese fudge in Haines City, Fla., during spring training." But that wouldn't seem to do it.
"I have been to the Billy Goat Tavern [in Chicago]," Deshaies acknowledged. "Maybe that's where I caught it. So I have been exposed to the curse germ, I guess. But it's very limited exposure."
At this point, though, the goal is no longer to find where the curse came from. It's to figure out what to do about it. And that's no simple challenge, either.
In New England, they once tried digging up the Bambino's piano from the bottom of a pond. But the only Deshaies broadcasting memorabilia we could unearth would be an old scorebook. And "you'd have to go through the recycling center in Houston to find that, I guess," he said. Not a real enticing thought.
Back in his playing career, Deshaies recalled, the Astros once lost 11 in a row in San Diego. So one day, while browsing through a bookstore, he came upon a book on witchcraft that he thought might help snap that Curse of Jack Murphy Stadium.
"I remember there were some specific twigs we had to gather," he said, "although we might not have gathered those exact twigs. Then we had to separate the twigs, light them on fire and say, 'The burner has burned. The turner has turned. Let everything but good come from this wood.'
"We did that, and we won. So that would be the last time I was actually in the curse-breaking business."
But he keeps forgetting to pack his twigs these days. So either he'll have to come up with a new incantation, he said, "or go watch 'Bewitched' this summer."
Then again, this would seem to be a trickier curse to bust than that one, mainly because Deshaies said he's not sure whether "I'm breaking a curse on myself or breaking a curse on the team. And if it's just the road, I mean, the road is kind of a vague notion. Isn't it?"
He figures he could always burn just the road portion of his pocket schedule, but that would involve some intricate scissor artisanship.
Or there's one particularly radical strategy he could try: Switching roles with Dierker and just working home games for a while.
"Have I thought about that? Absolutely," Deshaies said. "But there's a fear there. If people started to really believe this, and then Dierk went on the road and they started to win, I'd be dead meat.
"Then," Deshaies said, a tinge of sadness in his normally chipper voice, "I legitimately would be a curse. And that's a risk I'm not willing to take."
So we'll leave this up to you to decide. Maybe he's not a curse, and this is just coincidence (the Astros have, after all, won five of their last seven on the road).
Or maybe there's no such thing as curses. Which would even get that goat off the hook.
It's all your call. Here at ESPN, after all, we're not in the business of accusing, convicting or re-enacting those Salem witchcraft trials. We just lay out the facts. Make of them what you will.
Convincing as these particular facts may be, we want you to feel free to let this great human off the hook. He deserves that.
We just have one question: Why was he last seen gathering all those twigs?
Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
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