October 22, 2004

The Curse of Enrique Wilson
by Steve Lombardi

From 1996 through and including the year 2000, the New York Yankees won the World Series every season - sans 1997.  In the one year that they did not win, they were knocked out of the post-season in the American League Division Series (ALDS) by the Cleveland Indians.  In Game 4 of that 1997 series, the Yankees were four outs away from advancing to the next round of the playoffs when Mariano Rivera allowed a dramatic game tying homerun to the Tribe's Sandy Alomar Jr.  Cleveland went on to win that game in the 9th inning - and later the overall series, in five games.

Just 11 days prior to that Game 4 of the 1997 ALDS between the Indians and Yankees, a young infielder by the name of Enrique Wilson made his major league debut with Cleveland on September 24, 1997.

The very next season, Yankee fans got to know the name Enrique Wilson thanks to another post-season moment between Cleveland and New York.  In the top of the 12th inning of Game 2 of the 1998 American League Championship Series, Wilson - in the game as a pinch runner - scored all the way from first base on a play where the Yankees Chuck Knoblauch had a "brain cramp" on a bunt play and stood there yapping at the umpire (and ignoring the ball in play).  Cleveland went on to win that game, 4 to 1, and some of the papers in New York City the next day ran the headline of "Blauch Head" in reference to Knoblauch's stupidity.  Wilson's run home on the play also stands out in the memory of many as he rumbled and stumbled his way to the plate.

Some consider this particular incident for Knoblauch as the starting point for the mental deterioration adversely impacting his defensive play at second base - which eventually lead to the end of his major league career (just 4 years later at age 33).

Enrique Wilson would go on to play (to date) a career high 113 games for Cleveland the next year in 1999.  However, his stay with the Indians would not last much longer.  In 2000, after appearing in 40 games for Cleveland, he was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Wilson started the 2001 season with Pittsburgh.  And, then, on June 13, 2001, ignoring the hint of a possible connective negative mojo from the Knoblauch incident in 1998, New York acquired Enrique Wilson in a trade with the Pirates.  And, at that moment, "The Curse of Enrique Wilson" took root for the defending three-peat World Champion Yankees.

The very first pure "as a Yankee" occurrence to "The Curse of Enrique Wilson" would occur less than five months after he joined New York.  In a clubhouse team meeting prior to Game 7 of the 2001 World Series, Yankees closer Mariano Rivera - who usually never made comments at such a meeting - closed the gathering with what many saw as an awkward statement.  Rivera told the team "Whatever happens tonight is in the hand of God."

How does this get back to involving Wilson?  It does - in a huge way.  As it turns out, Enrique Wilson, anticipating the Yankees to win the World Series in 2001, booked a flight home to the Dominican Republic for November 12, 2001 - this late date allowed time for a parade in New York City (and any celebration that would follow the win).  However, after the Yankees lost Game 7 of the Series, Wilson ended up taking an earlier flight.  And, the flight that he was supposed to take ended up crashing shortly after take-off and everyone on board, very sadly, was killed.  The following Spring Training, Rivera told Wilson that "I am glad that we lost the World Series because it means that I still have a friend."  In the eyes of the pitcher who blew Game 7 of the 2001 World Series, there was some sort of divine intervention connected to the life of Enrique Wilson which brought cause for the Yankees failure in 2001.  This was the first impact to the Yankees as a result of "The Curse of Enrique Wilson."

The next outcome from "The Curse of Enrique Wilson" would come about eight months after the 2001 World Series.  On June 29, 2002, in an inter-league game versus the New York Mets, on national television, Enrique Wilson made an error in right field (while playing in the outfield on an emergency basis).  The miscue angered George Steinbrenner, the principle owner of the Yankees, so badly that he made a snap judgment to acquire outfielder Raul Mondesi (from the Toronto Blue Jays) within hours following Wilson's bad play.  Mondesi was renown for being recalcitrant, lazy and was extremely overpaid.  On top of that, he was far from being a productive player.  Raul was such a bad presence in the Yankee clubhouse that he was shipped to the Arizona Diamondbacks the next year for practically nothing.  A year later, Mondesi's attitude cost him his big league career.  And, while he was in New York, Mondesi reportedly was a terrible influence on the Yankees Alfonso Soriano (a fellow native of the Dominican Republic) - helping give the young and promising talent a head way too large for a player with his then still developing resume.  Related, in the 2002 ALDS, where the Anaheim Angels waxed the Yankees, knocking New York out of the post-season, Mondesi batted .250 and Soriano hit .118.  Further, Mondesi made a bad play in the field on a hit by the Angels Adam Kennedy in the 8th inning of Game 3 of that ALDS allowing the Angels to break a tie score and go on to later win the game.  All this bad fortune in the 2002 post-season can be linked as the residual effect of "The Curse of Enrique Wilson" coming from that one play in right field in June.  Without Wilson's act, the Yankees do not trade for Mondesi.

The next year, in 2003, "The Curse of Enrique Wilson" would strike again - this time in the World Series.  In Game 5 of the Series, in the 5th inning, the Marlins had Pudge Rodriguez on second with one out.  The score of the game was 4 to 1 in favor of the Marlins.  Florida's Jeff Conine hit a shot to third which was gloved by the Yankees Aaron Boone - and he threw to second base to trap Pudge between the bases.  Enrique Wilson was playing second and took the throw.  However, Wilson then made an error in throwing to ball towards third base - putting runners on second and third.  The Marlins Mike Lowell later singled to score both runners.  Florida took a 6-1 lead in a game that they eventually won the game, six to four.  New York was now down in the Series three games to two as a result of this final score.  In the next game, the Marlins won the Series.

And what about 2004?  Was there anything to "The Curse of Enrique Wilson"?  While nothing "play" or "game" specific comes to mind off the bat there is something about Enrique Wilson's "contribution" to the 2004 Yankees that cannot be ignored.  It is the fact that he contributed nothing to this team - nada, zip, zilch, zero.  Wilson was by far the least productive member of the Yankees this year.  He was given the starting nod at second base coming out of Spring Training and not much longer after that he spit the bit.  While the Yankees won 101 games, you have to wonder how many they could have won with a slightly more productive player in place of him on the roster.  A valid argument can be made that Enrique Wilson's offensive effort in 2004 was the worst season by a player on the New York Yankees in the last four years (since Wilson joined the team).  In fact, Wilson was so bad this year that he was only allowed to bat nine times in the month of September. And, while he was on the Yankees post-season roster this year, Wilson made no appearances in any of the 11 games that New York played - because he added no value whatsoever in any situation.  This season, Enrique Wilson was the "roster dead weight" poster child.  Cannot carrying a dead weight for an entire season be considered, to some extent, as being cursed?

In any event, whether one wants to agree with the points made herein on Wilson's bad luck influence on the team or not, the following truth cannot be debated:

The New York Yankees won four World Series in a five year span just before they acquired Enrique Wilson; and, since he has joined the team four years ago, they have not won a single World Series - and lost some very heartbreaking post-season series.

Now, I have nothing against Enrique Wilson as a person.  He is actually sort of endearing in a Jiminy Cricket kind of way.  But, if you are the New York Yankees, why let this potential situation go any further?

It is a well known reality that Enrique Wilson and Manny Ramirez of the Boston Red Sox are very close friends.  In a July 5th issue of Sports Illustrated this year, Manny was quoted as saying "Enrique, man, you know, Enrique is my brother, man.  You're my brother, you're my brother no matter what, no matter if you play for the Yankees or whoever."

Why not send Wilson over to the Boston Red Sox then - so he can be united with this "brother"?  Manny would love the company - especially if Boston's Pedro Martinez leaves town as a Free Agent this winter.  Besides, the Red Sox may be in the market for a new curse if they win the World Series this year - and "The Curse of Enrique Wilson" will give Red Sox Nation something new and fresh to lament over.  What do you say Boston?  Please?  Pretty please?  Consider it a bone for the "choke on up 3-zip" trick that the Yankees just performed for you.  It's only fair to throw a dog a bone once a while, right?  You know what it is like when you have a curse that needs to be reversed.  Besides, why give your rival, the New York Yankees, an excuse for not winning a World Series in a long time - like the "Curse of the Bambino" excuse that the members of Red Sox Nation have been using for nearly a century?

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