Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Let the Games Begin!

“The Sox, one feels were ever touched with tragedy. But, lord, have they ever played in a beautiful ballpark. ... The beauty that is Fenway is something to behold. Go out on a bright, warm day in early summer, or a clear, crisp day in early fall, and you'll see a sight you'll never forget. The greenest green in creation sparkling beneath a perfect blue sky. ‘How God meant baseball to be played,’ John Pesky said to me once upon a time.”

--John Anderson, Boston Magazine

A season’s passed since the “Curse” was lifted. My beloved Red Sox, in a star crossed 2004 season, ended what Harry Frazee had started in 1920 when he sold Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees. When I wrote the piece I’m re-running today the regular season wasn’t quite over, but the Sox were already assured of a playoff spot.

From that point on the magic seemed to envelop Fenway Park. Sox fans will always remember how the “Idiots” stared down what seemed to be certain defeat and dug their way out of a three to zero hole to defeat the New York Yankees. For those of us who had seen the painful collapses, defeating the boys from the Bronx would have been reward enough for a lifetime. But it didn’t end there. The Red Sox swept a really good St. Louis Cardinals team in four games to win the World Series.

A year has passed and the setting is once again familiar. The Red Sox have made the playoffs, as a “wild card” team. Their first order of business is the Chicago White Sox, a team that has a curse of their own to lift. The last time they claimed the title of world champions was 1917. Two years later, in 1919, they made it to the World Series again, only to be caught in the most infamous scandal in baseball history. The monkey this year’s White Sox are trying to lift from their backs is far weightier than the Curse of the Bambino. Gambling and deceit did the 1919 White Sox in. One phrase has captured the feeling of the Chicago faithful ever since – “Say it ain’t so, Joe.”

While I can’t say that I have the same emotional investment this year as I did last, I have to admit that I’m still going to tune in. With one curse already exorcised, will another also be lifted this year? Will my Red Sox find a way to win again? Will the Yankees take it all? Will the St, Louis Cardinals, a superb team with great hitting, great fielding, and great pitching bring another world championship home? Or, will the Houston Astros, a team that’s never competed in the fall classic, pull a great upset?

My post from last year now follows as a reminder that at this wondrous time of the year all things are possible. With that said, let the games begin!

“My beloved Red Sox are in second place, two and half games out of first in the eastern division of the American League. They’ve already clinched a playoff spot.

For all of us unrequited Sox fans this is familiar territory. We’ve been in these situations before, with our hopes up and emotions poised to celebrate, only to have our collective hearts broken by one strange play after another. In the 1946 World Series it was
Johnny Pesky double clutching a relay throw that allowed Enos Slaughter to score from first base on a single that did us in. In 1978 Mike Torres served up a gopher ball to Bucky Dent, a .243 hitter who had only four home runs all year, that cost us the pennant. That was the year that the Sox led the Yankees by 14 games in July only to collapse down the stretch.

In 1986 we thought we had it won. The Sox were one win away from ending the half century drought. We were up by two on the Mets in the bottom of the tenth. The fateful inning started with such promise:

“Wally Backman hit a fly to left for the Mets first out in the bottom of the tenth. Keith Hernandez followed with a deep fly to center for the second out. With nobody on and two outs, the Shea Stadium scoreboard read "Congratulations Boston Red Sox, 1986 World Champions." Boston pitcher Bruce Hurst was selected as the World Series MVP.”

Then, “something happened:” “Gary Carter hit a 2-1 fastball for a single to left. Kevin Mitchell (who was in the already in the clubhouse arranging for his plane ride home) was called upon to pinch hit. Mitchell and Schiraldi had played together in Jackson, Mississippi in 1983. Mitchell remembered that Schiraldi had once told him that if he ever faced him, he would start with a fastball inside, and try to get him to bite on a slider away. Schiraldi started with a fastball inside, and Mitchell lined the slider to center; Carter was on second. Ray Knight faced Calvin Schiraldi. Schiraldi got ahead with a 0-2 count; Boston was one strike away from winning. On the next pitch, Knight blooped the ball into short center; Carter scored and Mitchell advanced to third. The Mets were down by one, 5-4. Bob Stanley came in to face Mookie Wilson. The count went to 2-2; Boston was again one strike away. Third base coach Bud Harrelson advised Mitchell to be ready to charge home on a wild pitch. Wilson fouled off two balls.”

I’ll leave you there for a moment or two to digress.

My wife and I had only been married for a couple of months, but she was well aware of my passion for my Bosox and the
“Curse of the Bambino.” I’d told her all about the strange doings that followed them ever since 1920, when Red Sox owner Harry Frazee sold Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees for $125,000 in cash and a $300,000 loan. Frazee used the money to produce a Broadway play, “No, No, Nanette.” In 1920 and 1921 the “Bambino” hit 109 home runs. And, you know the rest. The Red Sox have not won a World Series since that infamous sale. The Yankees have won twenty six. TWENTY SIX! In short, Harry Frazee, Broadway producer extraordinaire got “No, No Nanette and the fans of New England got “No, No, Bosox.”

When I told Nancy about the “curse” she just laughed. “There’s no such thing.”
“I’m tellin’ you Coach, something happens every time we get close. It always does.”
“It’s just an old wive’s tale, Slick.”
“There’s more to it than that. How do you explain ’46? How do you explain ’78?”
“It’s just baseball. The Yankees were just the better team.”
“You keep that up and we’ll be in counseling. There’s no way they’re better than my Sox. I mean we’ve had Tris Speaker and Ted Williams and Jimmy Foxx.”
“Yeah, and they’ve had DiMaggio and Ruth Gehrig and Mickey Mantle.”
“We’re still better.”
“Well then maybe this is your year.”

It was October 25th. We’d just gotten home in time to watch what appeared to be everything I’d waited for years to see. It was the bottom of the tenth. There were two outs and nobody on. It seemed like a sure thing. “See,” Nancy said. “This is going to be your year.”
“I can’t stand it. I can’t watch. I’m going downstairs for a while. I’ll come back up to watch the celebration.”
“You’re not serious.”
“I’ve gotta’ go.”
“Don’t you want to see this. I mean you’ve waited so long.”
“I do, but something always seems to happen.”

I went downstairs for what seemed to be 30 seconds. It actually turned out to be forty five minutes. I came back upstairs, hoping for good news. When I got to our bedroom where the TV was on Nancy looked at me, stunned. “I don’t believe it, the ball just went through his legs. It was such an easy play; how could it happen? How did you know it was going to happen?”
“I didn’t know “it” was going to happen. I just knew “something” was going to happen.”

For those of you who don’t remember what happened, the account of those fateful moments follows:

“Stanley's next pitch bounced off of Catcher Rich Gedman, allowing Mitchell to score the tying run. Knight advanced to second base. With Knight taking a large lead, Marty Barrett snuck in for what seemed like an easy pickoff, but Bob Stanley was too focused on the plate to realize. Wilson fouled off the pitch. On the tenth pitch of the at-bat, Wilson hit a slow grounder towards first. The ball rolled under Bill Buckner's glove into short right as Knight rounded third to score the winning run. Boston stranded fourteen runners in the game. McNamara later said that he had left Buckner in the game so that he would be on the field when the team won the World Series.”

That was eighteen years ago. It’s now September 29, 2004. My Sox are two and half out. They’ve made the playoffs and they’ve got a shot once again to lay the “Bambino” to rest. Is this to be the year? We’ve got Pedro and Curt and a Manny and David. Everything seems to be right. But, as I sit here typing I wonder. Will some mysterious thing happen this year like it has since 1920? Will a baseball do something that defies the laws of physics and doom the Sox once more? Will the Bambino strike again. Or will the Sox finally requite the love and adoration of the fans of New England and those dispersed, but still attached to Fenway. Let me know sometime in early November, because I’m going into hiding till then.”

1 comment:

Douglas said...

We have an enemy that has sworn our destruction, a border with more holes than Carter has pills, a Republican party that spends like drunken Democrats, and you're writing about baseball?!? Bah, humbug!

On the other hand, I take comfort in your writing...maybe that's not a bad idea after all...