30 October 2007

and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring

So are my Red Sox the new Yanks? Uh, no, not quite, as any Yankee fan will eagerly tell you. Two World Series wins after an eighty-six year drought is not quite the same thing as decade after decade of dominance (so I can still root for the Red Sox without feeling that it's like rooting for Bank of America, which is what rooting for the Yanks is like). But you become what you battle, and it's been quite some time since a Red Sox fan could without hypocrisy accuse the Yanks of "buying their titles", which I guess means paying high wages to the players, or think of themselves as scrappy underdogs. I've been at A's games where Red Sox Nation was so omnipresent and so vocal that the A's players, who really are scrappy underdogs and whose payroll is fairly small, must have felt they were playing in Fenway. (Unfortunately I won't have too many more opportunities to go to A's games since their current owner, who in an astonishing coincidence is also a real-estate developer, is planning on dumping them in Fremont, and not near the BART station either.)

It’s not the Yank's record of success that really irks the non-Yankees fan, I think; it’s an assumption so deep-rooted that I’m not sure it even counts as arrogance that while it’s fun for the rest of the country to play let’s pretend, anything that really matters happens with, to, for, or by the Yanks. I was pondering this during the last innings of Game 4 the other night, when it looked as if the Rockies would pull it out and at least prevent a sweep – and that was the moment A-Rod chose, with a total and typical lack of class, to announce that he was exercising his free-agent clause and would be leaving the Yankees. The Fox announcers – and of course, this figures because everyone on Fox who isn’t animated, yellow, and four-fingered is a total suck-up to power, preferably reactionary power – were panting with excitement and spent the next suspenseful inning or two wondering if the firing of Joe Torre was involved and where A-Rod would go and gee, maybe he’ll end up at the Bosox replacing their current third baseman (that would be Mike Lowell, who would be named World Series MVP at the end of the game) and wouldn’t that really stick it to the Yankees? Apparently this announcement was too big to wait a day or two until others had a chance to celebrate in the limelight. But then that self-involvement is usually seen as a general New York attitude, not limited to their American League team. Personally, I love New York, and wish I could spend more time there, but I decided long ago that I didn’t want to spend that much energy on sheer survival and that given my tendency to overspend culturally I would shortly be ruined as surely as a rich man in Balzac who has found an enticing new actress.

I don’t even think the Patriots are the new Yankees, an opinion I hear fairly often, since people tend to have incredibly short memories. When I lived in Boston the Patriots were widely considered a bad joke, and football fans looked to Doug Flutie and Boston College instead. After reading about the Red Sox news in the Globe, you might turn to the little football updates to see which player had been arrested the night before for carrying concealed weapons, probably on the way to visit an ex-girlfriend who had accused him of beating her up. Around the time I moved out of town, Bledsoe came in and things started looking up for the Patriots. I always thought Bledsoe was a class act, particularly in the way he handled his injury and the ascension of Tom Brady. But given the nature of football, any team is always one injury away from years of disaster.

But I have to wonder what all of this celebrating is doing to New England’s image of itself (the reality is no doubt unchanged). I always thought the whole Puritan influence thing was vastly over-rated. Yes, they have rough winters and they used to hang witches, but soon we’ll all have terrible winters thanks to global climate change and the witches are now quite the revenue stream for Salem. The remaining blue laws were repealed shortly after I moved to Boston, though it was startling the first time I went downtown on a Sunday and found the place deserted. But any actual serious Puritan influence was long ago and is completely dissipated by now. New England just isn’t that isolated.

While New England grapples with the haunting specter of athletic success (which can breed its own terrors – just look at the bitter back-biting and rumor-mongering that surround the Yankees or the 49ers when they don’t win it all), or at least tries to recover from sleep deprivation caused by game after game that ended after midnight, I’d like to take a moment to – well, a Yankees fan would say whine, but let me call it a chance to reflect on what has changed. After 2004, a Yankees fan I know said to me, “You know, your team is now basically the Minnesota Twins.” I had to laugh – a good team that wins every once in a while definitely lacks the romance of the team that keeps coming close only to have the champagne snatched cruelly away at the last minute. I’m enough of an old-school Sox fan to have watched the last game against Cleveland in the ALCS and to have thought, Bottom of the 8th, 11 to 2 Boston – they could still blow it. But of course they didn’t, and every time they don’t, that attitude becomes a little more of an affectation. It’s a shame, in a way. There should be a place in American life to acknowledge that life is difficult, that bad things happen to good people, and that sometimes things just don’t fall your way. There have been points in my life when I’ve thought, I’m single, I have no children, I have no driver’s license, I don’t even have an apartment in my name – basically, in the eyes of the world, I don’t exist. A few years after the big loss in ’86 made me a Sox fan, I started reading articles in the Globe about how Bostonians were coping with the latest economic downturn, ways that mostly involved taking only one vacation to Bermuda that winter, or getting spa treatments less often. Load up the Pellegrino water, Tom Joad, we’re moving out to Californee. Clearly to the eyes of these writers I and my ilk had become invisible, and I wasn’t nearly as badly off as the ragged, deranged, and suffering beggars who were becoming a frequent sight in any urban area at that time, thanks in large part to various government policies, and who could at least demand attention by standing on the sidewalk screaming. It’s easier to support destructive policies if you pretend the victims don’t exist or are undoubtedly to blame for their fate in some way.

Lots of fans in both Boston and Denver were holding up signs saying that They Believed, as if that’s enough. Belief can do a lot of things, but scoring runs for your team isn’t one of them, and giving you complete control over your fate is another. If you win, it tends to be the nature of reality that someone else loses. I was happy the Red Sox won this year, of course, and I’ll be going on-line to get the requisite T-shirts and caps (all the old-school teams can count on the merchandising to help them compete with the Yank’s payroll), but to be honest this is a bit less exciting for me than ’04, and though it’s ridiculous to talk about the tragic sense in relation to any sport – Manny was right, it wouldn’t have been the end of the world if they’d lost – it’s a shame for American society to lose any glimpse, however romanticized, of how hard and painful life can be.

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