Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Roll Over Bambino

The Boston Red Sox are on the brink of winning the World Series. It would be their first WS championship in my lifetime, indeed in my dad’s lifetime, though my Gran was three years old the last time. And she doesn’t turn 90 until January.

Assuming the Red Sox can seal the deal, this would be the end of the notorious Curse of the Bambino. The notion is that when Harry Frazee, Red Sox owner and Broadway producer, sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees in 1919 (in order to finance his B’way musical “No No Nanette”) a blessing was placed on the Yankees and a curse on the Red Sox. And you can’t deny that over the years the Red Sox have lost a lot of close contests under excruciating circumstances. Longtime fans can tick off the names on the roll of dishonor: Johnny Pesky. Denny Galehouse. Mike Torrez. Bill Buckner. Grady Little.

Bill Simmons, aka’s Sports Guy, is a lifelong Boston baseball fan, but he hates, in fact is offended by, the idea of the Red Sox curse. He thinks it suggests that Red Sox fans WISH for misfortune, ENJOY being seen as perennial losers. He prefers to think of the Red Sox nation as long-suffering rather than cursed.

I have to say, never having been a true Red Sox fan, the notion of the Curse has always appealed to me. Appealed to my Puritanical side, I should say. The baseball God is a jealous god, and Frazee’s disrespect to his franchise and to baseball’s greatest player deserved punishment. But perhaps 86 years in wilderness exile is enough. And my superstitious side feels that a Red Sox win would somehow bode well for the Massachusetts gentleman running for the presidency.

Certainly, there are several good non-supernatural explanations for why the Red Sox have fallen short so many times. Boston has often featured lineups that hit well but didn’t run or field or pitch particularly well. When you get to the playoffs, it helps to be able to win games in more than one way, and the Carmines were often too one-dimensional. Some people have observed that the Red Sox’s culture was one of brooding temperamental stars and a lack of team spirit, “25 players and 25 cabs.” There’s also the uncomfortable but valid argument that the Sox had a history of institutional racism that caused them for years to ignore the pool of talented players of color, and then for years afterward to have trouble attracting those players to or keeping them with the team. (See Howard Bryant’s Shut Out, an informative read despite being the worst-edited text I can ever remember grappling with.)

This year’s team addresses those problems. The core of the 2004 Red Sox, their emotional center as well as their core of talent, is a group of dark-skinned players: Manny Ramirez, Pedro Martinez, and David Ortiz. They seem to be fun-loving guys who help make for good team karma. At midseason this year, Boston traded away a marquee player, Nomar Garciaparra. Somewhat counterintuitively, the trade improved the team in two ways: (1) it lowered the stress level in the clubhouse, and (2) by substituting Orlando Cabrera for Nomar, the team’s ability to run, catch, and throw improved sharply. Pitching-wise, as patched-together as the Sox have often seemed the past couple of weeks, they have enough warm bodies, with a good mix of flamethrowers and junkballers. And you can't argue with the wisdom of going out and getting Curt Schilling and Keith Foulke.

I feel for the Cardinals (and for Jim B., my college roomie from St. Louis), but for once the Red Sox seem more well-rounded than their opponents. St. Louis has some big bats, but their pitching has looked pretty awful, and they are suffering the worst absence due to injury, starting pitcher Chris Carpenter. Wait till next year.

No comments: