The greatest home run in history for reasons we all understand.
Boy, is Boston a sports town.
“The Curse” of Babe Ruth which kept the Boston Red Sox baseball team from a title for 86 years will be part of sports lore forever, and all those heartbreaking years no doubt added character to a town and a region. The 2004 World Series victory for the Red Sox, 4 games to none, over the St. Louis Cardinals, felt anti-climactic after Boston came from behind, down three games to none against their hated rivals, the New York Yankees—by far the richest and most successful franchise in baseball history—to win the pennant. Watching those seven games was thrilling and exhausting. Aristotle would probably say losing is more interesting than winning, and he would probably be right. When the Red Sox finally won, beating St. Louis, it was eerily banal and quiet up there in baseball heaven, which is paved with pennants, not world series rings—except perhaps for the ring belonging to Bill Mazeroski.
But yes, Boston has been a sports town since Harvard rowers took to the Charles to take on Yale. But boy, is Boston a sports town now.
Tory Boston, puritan Boston, revolutionary Boston, Democrat Boston, historical Boston, College town Boston, Biotech Boston, Smarty-pants Boston is now completely overwhelmed by Sports Boston.
It’s now common to see three sturdy adult males walking along with crisp, matching green and white jerseys that say “Rondo.” It’s cute when children deck themselves out in decorative and team-boosting sportswear, but now millions of New England men and women proclaim loyalties in a way once confined to children.
Self-esteem issues are now instantly cured by donning Boston sports regalia, with the same three or four surnames corresponding to a billionaire’s roster purchases. Nor is history forgotten: occasionally one will see “Orr” or “Bird.” But history pales in the blinding light of the flashing jerseys which brag of current success, saying: I don’t just belong; I belong to winners.
Boston, long calling itself “the Hub,” has always thought itself a little bit smarter than the rest of the country. Mention Sarah Palin or George W. Bush in Boston, and before you can say Whitey Bulger, the snarling knives of ridicule come out. Compared to Boston, the rest of the nation is a swampy backwater of neanderthal rednecks. Boston’s famous Back Bay was built on harbor landfill; why doesn’t the rest of the country do the same? Cover up your swamps and build successful sports franchises like Bostonians! Losers!
Before Ralph Waldo Emerson preached, and Henry David Thoreau kept a journal, and professor Longfellow taught Languages at Harvard, and Henry Adams traveled to Tahiti, Boston has lectured and sermonized, scolded and harangued the less fortunate on how to live.
Think of the obese novelist, Henry James, who traveled with the idle rich, dismissing the workaholic journalist Edgar Allan Poe as “immature.” That’s Boston.
In case you didn’t know it, Boston is, and always will be, smarter than you.
But things have gotten worse.
With the recent fortunes of their sports teams, Boston’s superior attitude, once muted behind an austere, blue-blood facade, is now in-your-face.
The Boston Globe, the New York Times-owned daily paper for the educated set in Boston, with about 5 pages of real news, has 15 pages of sports news, with big headlines and big pictures. The Boston sportswriter, as you might expect, is a whole breed apart from other sportswriters. They are literary. They pun incessantly. When the Boston Bruins lose a playoff game, it is “Unbearable!” Boston sportswriters—the best in the world, of course—believe in their hearts that life imitates sports, and sports imitates their writing (which is so inventive and hard-hitting and punning and full of cultural references.)
In perfect keeping with Boston tradition, Boston players are always lovable, heroic, and gallant (except those Boston players who don’t behave according to the strict standards of the locker-room jury of the Boston sportswriters). Players on other teams, however, always have a flaw, when they are not downright boorish, violent, dishonest, or greedy.
Barry Bonds, drug-user and baseball’s all-time home run champ, is persona non grata in the good ol’ town of Boston, but when performance-enhancing drugs are found to be used by the Patriots or the Red Sox? It was to “heal an injury.” When a Boston coach or player is caught doing something dishonest, and they are called on it by another city’s press, the Bostonian shakes with indignation. When a Boston player plays dirty, or a coach cheats, it is no longer a wrong, because everybody does it.
Boston fans never forgive a great player who leaves Boston to play for another team.
Today, however, when the Red Sox spend money at near-New York Yankee levels, Bostonians chuck their high principles, and instantly adore great players who arrive from other cities to don a Red Sox uniform.
We rooted for the Red Sox when they were underdogs, but now that they have a couple of recent championship rings and they spend like the Yankees, we just cannot do it. Call us disloyal, but our loyalty lies with this principle: fair contest—which is what sports, or sporting, is all about.
Baseball, the game intellectuals tend to adore, has become a game of haves and have-nots. The last straw was the Red Sox off-season stealing of Carl Crawford from their low-budget rivals, the Tampa Bay Rays. The Sox now act like the Yanks—if a team beats you on the field, just go out and take their best players from them, by offering them more money than anybody else. This is “sports” today.
The Yankees’ owner George Steinbrenner bought himself a couple of championships in the 1970s when he raided the World Champion Oakland A’s of their best players: star pitcher Catfish Hunter and star hitter Reggie Jackson.
Easy. And just because some teams spend a lot of money and fail does not make this practice fair.
As a Red Sox fan, it was once so easy to hate the Yankees.
But that has all changed.
Now they should have a few T-shirts that say:
Red Sox Suck.