No Zen, No Life: The Tigers, the Colonel, and the Curse

One Inch Deep in the Skillet


Colonel Harland David ‘Colonel Sanders’ Sanders was an Indiana native who set the world alight, or at least to about 175C (lower temperatures will result in soggy, grease coated chicken) in 1930 when he was entrusted to manage a service station in Corbin, Kentucky by The Shell Oil Company. Disenchanted by dwindling sales of out of date newspapers, overpriced ham sandwiches and Magic Trees, Harland traded piston rings for onion rings and lube jobs for loose bowels and set about polarizing the U.S. with his secret blend of 11 herbs and spices, three vials of which were permanently tucked inside the left breast pocket of his grease sodden seersucker suit.

One of the instigators of the franchise business model, the colonel expanded quickly and soon the skies across the southern states were a rich fug of hydrogenated vegetable oil, emulsifiers, artificial flavorings and preservatives.

Emboldened by his initial success, it was not long before the ‘chicken express*’ was juddering through America, Canada and Europe, long plumes of acrid smoke tarnishing the storefronts of the long established local poultry restaurants left in its wake.




In 1973 the wheels quite literally came off the gravy train when Sanders sued Heublein Inc., the then parent company, for allegedly serving ‘sludge’ like gravy and removing the beard dye, minced string ties and crushed wire-rimmed spectacles that had been, until then, a staple of the Southern meat sauce industry. Sadly, Sanders died in Louisville, Kentucky in 1980 at the age of 90, but his legend lives on through the innumerable life size plastic statues that beckon countless Japanese inside to sample authentic western style New Year’s cuisine at the 1,552 KFC restaurants currently operating nationwide. Only there is one branch that welcomes its visitors not with an avuncular plasticized embrace, but rather a grim sense of foreboding. Or it would, but it closed down. But you get the point.


Creamy Buffalo


The Hanshin Tigers are the second oldest pro baseball franchise in Japan and were founded on the 10th of December, 1935. Winning back to back championships in 1936-38, and singularly in 1944 and 1947, their fans, a swarm of yellow and black, are a familiar sight to those living in the Kobe-Osaka region. Each team in the Japanese baseball league has an allowance of non-Japanese players that they can draft every year; these players, often on the fringes of MLB, arrive in Japan to much fanfare and provide an invaluable service; holding up B4 size pouch laminated flags of their native countries to somnambulistic high schoolers, sitting blank faced and prostrate at slate grey Formica desks for 8 hour stretches in complete silence, wearing regulation blue suits and any kind of tie whilst drinking refrigerated red wine from highball tumblers in Japanese-Belgian fusion restaurants and nodding politely: ‘Isn’t it delicious?’ ‘Yes, yes it is’- their skills are almost without limit.

In 1985 the Tigers drafted Randy Bass. Up until that point Oklahoma native Bass, his blue eyes and ginger hair offset by a height that is not listed on Wikipedia, was a sparsely used pinch hitter for the Minnesota Twins. He is now, however, firmly ensconced in Japanese sporting folklore as the driving force behind the curse of the colonel. (Colonel Sanders that is. Remember him? I wrote about him at the start for a bit.)


Finger In


In 1985 the Tigers defeated the Seibu Lions to win their first, and to date, only, Japan Series which prompted riotous celebrations amongst their success starved supporters, who took it in turns to jump into the Dotonbori River in homage to the player they thought they most resembled. Unable to find a blue eyed blond haired Japanese with a full ginger beard, the crowd, intoxicated by a heady brew of watered down beer, fried octopus and centuries of ingrained societal repression, confused a five foot plastic effigy of a silver haired geriatric chicken baron for Bass, at that time not fashioned of plastic but skin, and not standing immobile outside the foyer of a fried chicken shop but in reality moving quite freely, approximately one foot taller and probably at that time somewhere else entirely.


Mingo Jones


And so began an 18 year losing streak for the Tigers, who tumbled down the league rankings like fried chicken down the back of a Collectramatic** 519 high pressure fryer, forever to be stuck behind a congealed oil covered table leg next to bits of old lettuce and what is that black stuff there? God I’m not touching that. No way. You can do that one.


Tropical Hardwood Fiber


The myth of the colonel was born. As each year passed, and the Tigers languished in the periphery, grief stricken fans convinced themselves that their team’s inability to catch, throw, hit and sometimes even hold a ball was not due to a serious lack of investment in grassroots youth development, training facilities and sports technology but that an inanimate plastic statue, its lack of emotions and consciousness undercut by simmering hatred and supernatural powers, had placed a curse on their beloved team from its watery grave.

Determined that the only way to lift the curse and restore the Tigers to the top of the league was to return the colonel to his rightful home, fans began searching the river. After numerous unsuccessful excavation attempts over the years by fan-led groups, the colonel was finally recovered in 2009 while a construction team dredging the river found what they believed to be a huge barrel at the bottom of the river bed. The elation at finding such a unique treasure was quickly replaced by horror when it was feared that this large, barrel sized hollow plastic shape in a molded cream dinner jacket and matching black tie was actually part of a human corpse. Horror quickly turned to relief, elation and then eventually dread, as the plucky river-men established that the lack of blood, skin, hair, internal organs, bones and DNA meant that this was, in fact, the long lost remains of the colonel.


Growth Hormones


And so the curse was lifted, the colonel was returned to his rightful place in front of the Dotonbori KFC restaurant even though it’s not there anymore and the Tigers soared triumphant, winning back to back titles and crushing their opponents like bacon, Monterey Jack cheese and Colonel’s sauce between two 100 percent white meat Original Recipe® filets.***


by Stephen Harlan, Flickr Commons
by Stephen Harlan, Flickr Commons

NB: The colonel currently resides in a branch of KFC near Koshien stadium.

Tigers fans had a replacement handmade to try and lift the curse, and there was some other stuff too, but this article really went on a bit didn’t it? I thought I’d nip it in the bud. Does KFC even sell onion rings?


Scott Patterson


*not an actual term

** Some kind of oven

***They didn’t


Feature image by kimtetsu, Flickr Commons


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