How my Urban Legend was Debunked on Snopes.com

Ten years ago today, on October 28 2004, I surprised even myself by ticking off what I thought would be a much longer term aspiration: creating an urban legend of sufficient worth that the esteemed Snopes.com team would debunk it.

You can see the original entry on Snopes here.

And the legend is thus:

I’m not one for omens, but every time the Boston Red Sox have won a World Series in the year of a Presidential Election, the incumbent has been defeated.

Don’t believe me? Check out the list:

Year Red Sox Won World Series     President     Was the President Re-Elected?

1912                                             William H Taft                            No

I think the figures speak for themselves…

If it’s not readily apparent, while an ‘urban legend’ (“Baseball Team’s results eerily predict Election outcomes”) this is a joke. And, for the time and audience, a funny one which is likely why it was published.

As Snopes pointed out, while humorous I did fail the history test. The Red Sox also won in 1916, the year Woodrow Wilson was re-elected. I was disappointed to be shot down thusly, but you can imagine my excitement seeing my own creation appear one morning on the Snopes “What’s New” page (which, I might add, is still required reading in the Facebook era).

I Don’t Get It

Dissecting a joke is almost as funny as dissecting a cat, but here we go.

  1. Timing.
    This was written in late October 2004 – just a week before the 2004 Presidential Election between George W Bush and John Kerry.
    I was (and remain) a keen Presidential Election pundit at the time – 2004 was the year I wrote my online Presidential election novel The Cookie from the Cookie Jar.
  2. Comparison.
    There used to be a famous urban legend that the outcome of the Washington NFL team’s last home game prior to a presidential election had predictive powers.
    If the Washington Football Team won, so would the incumbent party.If they lost, expect change on Pennsylvania Avenue. The streak dated back to 1936, and interestingly was finally ended (a week after my legend was published) in 2004.
  3. The Bambino’s October Joke.
    The Boston Red Sox used to be a Major League Baseball punchline.
    As another urban legend, the Curse of the Bambino foretold that trading Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees in 1919 also traded World Series victories. While the Red Sox won 3 pennants in 6 seasons with Ruth on the team, after the trade the Yankees would win 26 titles to the Red Sox Nil. None. Zilch. Nada.
    And then 2004 happened. Against the Yankees in the American League Championship, Boston were down 3 games to nil in a best of 7 series. The curse seemed in full force. And then, remarkably, they would win the next 8 games in succession – defeating the Yankees for the ALCS 4-3 and then sweeping the St Louis Cardinals 4-0 in the World Series. The Red Sox winning the World Series went from joke to miracle.
  4. Combination.
    So what I had done was combined a well-known Urban Legend (the Washington NFL Team) with a recent miracle (Red Sox World Series) in  a timely manner (day after the World Series win, and a week before the election) to create a joke.

I warned you…

But How did I get to Snopes?

I emailed them. Snopes has a ‘Submit a Rumor’ link on most pages. If that was the key question that drove you to this page, apologies for burying it here.

But there was slightly more than that. As an avid reader, I was aware that David Mikkelson (one half of Snopes.com with his wife Barbara) was a keen Baseball fan in addition to an obvious dedication for urban legends and truth. So in concocting this in an effort to have one of my creations appear on Snopes, some effort was put into ensuring it not only met the criteria that drives the site (timeliness, relevance, and debunk-ability) but that it would appeal to them personally.

I hoped it would stand out among all the other submissions, most of which I’m sure are ignored until they are received multiple times. And whether by design or luck, I made it.

These days I try my luck on a weekly basis with the Empress of the Washington Post Style Invitational. It’s basically playing the same type of social humor engineering, but at least the Empress asks for fictitious submissions.

Has Snopes.com ever run one of your entries? Or any other life goals you thought would take a lot more effort than they ultimately did? Feel free to brag in the comments below.

 

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