Mansfield Fox

Law student. Yankees fan. Massive fraggle. Just living the American dream.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Why I'm for Boston

First and foremost, because I lost a bet. Before the ALCS started, Airdog and I made a friendly little wager: whoever's team lost would have to post a picture on his blog of himself in his rival's cap, and publicly endorse the victor. And so, being an honorable man, I will now say those horrible words I never thought I'd have to say: I am rooting for the Boston Red Sox to win the World Series.

There are other reasons I'm throwing my support to the BoSox, which I'll now lay out in ascending order of importance:

1) League Pride. I'm an American League man, through-and-through. I make it a point to root for my league's representative (admittedly an easy task since it's been my own team all but three years since 1996) unless there's some strong countervailing reason (the AL team is a hated rival; I've developed a quirky attachment to the NL team). The National League can keep it's "pure" style of baseball; give me the exciting ways of the American League, where no-one except Tony Clark is an easy out and no lead is ever safe. (I'm this way in all sports, by the way: my default is to root for the AFC team in the Super Bowl, and the Eastern Conference team in the NBA finals.)

2) "We was beaten by the best." If I have to get driven out of the playoffs, I want it to be to an unstoppable machine, to team nobody could have beaten. I want to lose to the best. That's a large part of why I supported Anaheim in 2002 - if the Yankees were going to get creamed like that, you wanted it to be to the eventual world champion. I said earlier that the Red Sox were the best team in the postseason, and even when we were up 3-0 I think I still believed it. If the Sox win the series, at least I have the comfort of knowing we lost to the best; if they get beaten by the Cardinals or Astros, where does that put us?

3) It's best for Yankees. So long as "The Curse" remains unbroken, every time a good Red Sox team makes the playoffs it's going to be, as it's been the last couple years, "BoSox vs. History", with the Yankees, primarily, playing the role of History. Well, we've been playing the role of history for the past two years and, frankly, it sucks. It drains a huge amount of the fun out of rooting for the team. You're not just trying to win a series and advance anymore, you're trying to keep an 85-year-old cold streak going. It takes a lot of the glory out of winning - since you had "The Curse" backing you up - and, as we've seen in the last day or so, magnifies the pain of losing a hundred-fold. If the Sox win the World Series, every subsequent playoff series will just be a titanic battle of arch-rivals, duking it out in an attempt to advance and win a world title. It'll be a regular great playoff series, without all that history bullsh*t. A huge weight will be lifted from our collective shoulders, and these games will be really, genuinely fun again. Yes, we'll have to give up "19-18!", one of the all-time great sports chants (four syllables that sum up the most deeply felt rivalry in American sports) and that pains me more than I can express in words, but if it has to happen, it has to happen.

4) It's best for New England. I firmly believe that "The Curse" (or more precisely, the idea of The Curse, since there is no actual Curse, it being just something George Vescey invented as a literary device in 1986 and Dan Shaunessey popularized as a way to sell books. I repeat: "The Curse" is less than 20 years old) has had a deeply warping effect on the collective character of the people of New England. Or rather: "The Curse" is the foundation of the whole culture of the "Red Sox Nation" thing, and that distorts the region's character. New Englanders are baseball fans like none other, and I don't mean that in a good way.

First off, there's the endless vitriol, the bile-spewing hatred, that the Nation has for the Yankees, for Jeter, and especially for Steinbrenner. Look: I understand feeling hostility towards your arch-rival team. And I recognize that Jeter's a pretty-boy whose reputation as clutch postseason player is more than a little overstated (he's not that dominant offensively or defensively in the playoffs - it's just that through a combination of luck and skill he's made a decent number of big plays in big moments that stick in the minds of sportswriters and fans). And I understand, all too well, that Steinbrenner's a jerk virtually without peer. He's a felon and a bully, he doesn't really understand baseball all that well, he does try to buy championships, and his free spending has made it much harder for small-market teams to compete. I understand all of these things. That said, you have to ask yourself: do these things mean you have to spend all of your time wishing ill of these guys, rejoicing in their setbacks and, generally, hating them? It's one of my core beliefs that hating someone else is one of the most self-destructive things a person can do. Living such a hate-filled life eats a person from the inside. I think it's the same way with groups, or even whole regions. I'm not sure how much a Sox victory can change this - Steinbrenner, especially, will always be a lightning-rod - but I think it would help.

The other thing is that breaking "The Curse" is that it will seriously undercut the quasi-messianic aspects of Red Sox fandom. There's a decidedly religious cast to the way Sox fans talk about their team: it's full of words like faith or belief. The documentary about the 2003 season was called Still We Believe. They're always comparing Johnny Damon to Jesus ("The Passion of the Damon", et al) and while I'll admit that with his long hair and beard he does look like the Son of Man, he also looks like a caveman (especially with his sloping brow) but virtually no-one makes that comparison anymore. "Unfrozen Caveman Outfielder" is a great nickname, and substantially less sacrilegious, but it goes almost totally unused now. There's also the Fenway Pledge of allegiance, with "one team, under Terry" instead of "one nation, under God". Even "The Curse" itself is a bit of neo-pagan superstitious nonsense: the idea that Babe Ruth's spirit remains on earth, with the power to render assistance or do harm, that he's still punishing New England for what Harry Frazee did 85 years ago, that you can deprive the spirit of power by destroying its earthly dwelling. It's a kind of perverse ancestor-worship.

But these are all just specific examples that may do as much to obscure as to reveal. The point is that being a Red Sox fan is a kind of civic religion for most of New England. Red Sox Nation is waiting for this world championship like Israel awaiting the Messiah. (I'm obviously overstating my point here.) They've been betrayed by false-messiahs in the past, but when the true messiah comes he'll throw down their enemies (the Yanks) establish a millennial kingdom of peace, joy and endless bragging rights.

Except it won't. Even when the Red Sox win the World Series, New England will still be an awful place to live. It'll still have frozen winters and wet, unpleasant springs. It'll still be governed by an incompetent and corrupt group of boobs. It'll still be mostly dead-and-dying mill-towns and emptying boroughs, with some small pockets of economic dynamism and some college towns. Nothing the Red Sox do can change that. Because it's all false-messianism. With a win that'll be revealed, and maybe New England can put this idolatry behind it. A loss, especially a seven-game loss, and we're back awaiting the eschaton all over again.

So that's it. That's how I became the newest and unlikeliest Sox fan of all. This offer's only good until the 31st, at which point I will revert to my usual Yanks-loving, Sox-bashing self, but 'til then I'll be rooting my ever-lovin' heart out for that bunch of idiots.