There’s a tradition in Tigers baseball that is quintessentially Kansai. Whenever the Tigers win, fans who resemble Tigers players slap on that player’s jersey and jump into the Dotonbori canal while the crowd sings the player’s trademark fight song. With such a massive crowd, there were no shortage of people happy to jump into the filthy water. One by one, they go through the roster. There’s no trouble finding an Ikeda, Matumi or Okada in the crowd. But when it comes to Randy Bass, a burly 6’2” American with blond hair and a black beard, they simple couldn’t find anyone. But there was no skipping over Bass. He was the biggest star on the team, the MVP of the entire series, he had a record setting season. It would be a disgrace to forget Bass. Some creative fans found a solution in a statue standing outside a nearby chain restaurant, in Colonel Sanders. The fans steal the statue and joyously toss him off the bridge into the canal with the rest of the swimming fans. It was the perfect ending to such a great journey that was the 1985 Japan Series victory.
The following day, after the dust has settled, a couple of Tigers fans go back to that KFC and apologize for stealing their statue and attempt to recover the statue, but unfortunately can’t find it. The Colonel was lost.
From this moment on, the Tigers begin to lose, very consistently. In the 17 years that follow, they were in the bottom half of the league 15 times, 10 of which they were dead last. The team begins to look like they don’t really know what they are doing. The Japanese media jokingly began to refer to this losing streak as the “Curse of the Colonel,” that Colonel Sanders himself is responsible for the teams failures and the thought sticks with the general public. Variety shows begin to openly mock the team. Many say that the curse would remain in place so long as the Colonel’s remains stayed at the bottom of Dotonbori canal. Multiple attempts are made to retrieve the statue, with zero success.
Randy Bass achieved another Triple Crown in 1986. However, the Tigers unceremoniously terminate his contract in 1988 over a dispute concerning a leave of absence Bass took to be with his son, who had been diagnosed with brain cancer. At this same time, third baseman and pivotal team member Masayuki Kakefu was poised to retire due to mounting injuries. Blame for this and tons of pressure from fans and the press fell entirely on the general manager, Shinto Furuya, who got the job by raising through the ranks of the Hanshin Electric Railway Company, the Tigers’ parent company. After being on the job for only 40 days, he leapt to his death from his hotel room.
Even though Randy Bass’ departure was under far from ideal circumstances, he remains an icon and one of the most well known foreign ball players in Japan to this day. Bass had his name on a candy bar. He was paid 30 million yen (about $385,000 in 2016 US dollars) to shave his beard in a Gillette commercial. Also, his son made a full recovery. Today, Bass is a state senator in his native Oklahoma, spending most of his free time tending to his family farm, and also occasionally teaching baseball to his grandkids.
The Tigers return to the Japan Series in 2002. Under orders from company HQ, many KFC restaurants throughout Kansai decided to move their Colonel Sanders indoors for safe keeping until the games were over, with the Dotonbori branch bolting the plastic man into the ground, ensuring he wouldn't be making any future swims. Unfortunately, the Colonel’s plastic hands kept grasp on his curse, the Tigers lost the national championship to the Fukuoka Hawks in the 7th game of the series.
Many attempts were made over the years to retrieve the Colonel, many of which were televised, but all were failures. That is, until 2009. A construction crew building a new walkway on Dotonbori canal found something while dredging, originally thinking might be a barrel, maybe even a dead body. But it turns out it’s none other than the very Sanders statue that had been thrown in 24 years prior.