Is it an evil omen or harbinger of better days for hundreds of thousands of baseball fans in the Kansai region?

After nearly a quarter of a century at the bottom of the Dotonbori River in central Osaka, the upper half of a statue of Kentucky Fried Chicken founder and mascot Colonel Sanders was pulled from the depths Tuesday, Osaka City Hall said.

The 180-cm, 26-kg statue was found during cleanup work for laying a paved path along the river.

The statue was thrown into the river in 1985 by excited fans, overjoyed that the Hanshin Tigers had won the Central League championship for the first time in 21 years.

But the Hyogo-based team quickly returned to form, failing to win another pennant until 2003. Baseball lovers across the country jokingly placed the blame on “the curse of Colonel Sanders.”

“I was really surprised. It had been lost since 1985,” said Ichiro Takatsuki, a spokesman for Kentucky Fried Chicken Japan Ltd. in Tokyo.

Takatsuki said that after the 1985 incident, the company urged all of its outlets to bolt the statue of Harland David “Colonel” Sanders to the ground. Of the 1,150 outlets nationwide, probably about 80 percent display a statue of Sanders, Takatsuki said.

Tiger fans were drawn to the statue owing to its supposed resemblance to Randy Bass, a bearded American slugger who helped turn the team around.

So overcome by their team’s success that year, the fans pitched the statue into the river, one of the dirtiest in Osaka at the time.

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