MVP Mike Lowell and the Boston Red Sox poured down hurt on the Colorado Rockies in the wretched World Series that ended in last night’s mercy killing Game 4 Sweep. Outside of Red Sox Nation, it was surely one of the dullest of Series in recent memory, the sum total of high drama amounting to the pitchers’ duel in Game 2, about two innings in Game 3, and, to be charitable, the final few innings of Game 4. Boston fans, during the 13-1 battering in Game 1, probably took a sort of Imperial Roman delight in feeding God’s Baseball Team to the lions. (The Rockies look for players with “character” and once hosted an event called “Christian Family Day” at Coors Field). The Rockies might be God’s Team, but remember what the Big Guy did to his own Son, after all. As for the Sox, they’re a pretty secular religion: Fenway’s ballpark organ played “Halleluiah” after Carlton Fisk’s 12th-inning Game 6 Homer in 1975.
The diehard Red Sox fan believes in his or her heart of hearts that if the score is 13-1 in the ninth that they will still lose, or that if the Sox are up 3-0 in the Series the other team will come back even though it is impossible. Tragedy, after all, is older than Christianity, and Fenway Park, as everyone knows, was built before the birth of Jesus. Fans of small market teams should enjoy or even pity rather than fear and loathe Red Sox Nation in their new ill-fitting dominance. Red Sox fans are now a little bit like lottery winners whose minds might teeter into self-destruction amidst so much inexplicable success. They’ll need counseling for post-post traumatic stress. The Sox are in their revolutionary Bolshevik stage: Their red banners have overthrown the joyless autocrats of Yankee Stadium, the power has shifted their way, and they are still honeymooning, no longer underdogs and not yet developed into fully-fledged bullies.
But, then again, see it the Sox Way. Manny Ramirez, asked about the improbability of the Sox getting to this Series at all after being down 3-1 to Cleveland, said, “Who cares? It’s not like the end of the world.” Manny is a Zen Master. Manny Being Manny reminds me of that old commercial for beauty products which said: “Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful.” Sox closer Papelbon Riverdances in his underwear on the field and sits in the dugout between innings he is pitching in a trance of semi-permanent psychosis. The bullpen clangs spoons and bottles in rhythm on walls and each other. Knuckleballs, dreadlocks, an undone hex, a manual scoreboard and a cranky old ballpark at home. What’s not to love, seriously?
Sure, the contemporary game is a model of conglomerate capitalism, in which not a monopoly but a consortium of big-time corporations squeeze out the competition, buy up anyone who threatens to beat them, and use sheer weight to crush smaller enterprises. Moneyball, the raiding of small market clubs, the bulldozing success of the big payroll teams. The small markets essentially becoming farm-teams, a minor league within the Bigs in which promising youngsters audition in Oakland and Florida for jobs in other cities. In some ways, the Red Sox fan is like the irrational Republican voter described by Thomas Frank in What’s the Matter with Kansas. He or she maintains a fervid belief in the underdog status of a dominant corporation, and is made to feel like helping “the little guy” by shoveling cash into the pockets of multimillionaires. Boston and New York: Not Red and Blue exactly, but a lot like the two-party electoral system.
2007’s World Series MVP Lowell and Boston pitching star Josh Beckett, of course, were on the 2003 Florida Marlins, who beat the New York Yankees at home in the Championship: Somebody up in Boston took note of that series. It’s intriguing to trace out the fortunes of the members of that Marlins team, and realize how many of those players have given propulsion to the playoff bids of other teams since then. I think of those Marlins in part because they were the team that benefitted from the Bartman Play that kept my Cubs out of the 2003 World Series. (Governor Jeb Bush offered asylum in Florida to Bartman, a Cubs fan who accidently spoiled a key out trying to catch a foul ball in the stands.) Your 2003 World Champion Florida Marlins! Catcher Ivan Rodriguez, who made his major league debut and threw out two base runners on the same day he was married, went to the World Series with the Detroit Tigers after leaving the Marlins. Juan Encarnacion won another world series with St. Louis. Derrek Lee helped my Cubs win the NL Central this year. Juan Pierre, who holds the record for lowest strikeout percentage among active baseball players, and Brad Penny, a 2007 All-Star, both went to the Dodgers and even so the team can do nothing in the sluggish smog. Carl Pavano had one of those terrible Yankee pitching experiences that don’t work out. Ramon Castro became a Met, along with, eventually, Luis Castillo, a lifetime .294 hitter who was at bat during the Bartman Fiasco. Dontrelle Willis stayed in Florida, and this year he didn’t seem very happy there (surely the Red Sox should acquire his services as soon as practicable). The fact that all these players – Beckett, Lowell, Rodriguez, Encarnacion, Lee, Pierre, Penny, Pavano, Castro, Castillo, and Willis – were on the same small market team at the same time is wholly remarkable, the fact that the team was in Florida is even more remarkable, and the fact that this particular roster scattered with such velocity and haste after winning the Championship is more than remarkable, it’s sad. Connie Mack did the same thing to his Philadelphia Athletics when he needed money, back in the day.
I digress, but researching whatever happened to the 2003 Florida Marlins was how I managed some of the dullest, open-laptop innings in postseason baseball for the last ten years. Something about baseball seems to invite all sorts of unsatisfying analogies, templates imposed upon a game that in truth cannot mean anything. Manny is right on the literal level – Who Cares? If He is There, we must hope God does not, he has bigger Fish to fry than answering Rockies prayers, although a sports-distracted Fan-God could be a powerful mechanism for explaining the current state of world affairs. But Manny’s “Who Cares?” is not a fan’s statement, it’s too cosmic and impartial, it’s too calm and wonderful, too blissed out, too correct, too perfect. Who Cares? Then why did we throw so many hours away watching this season? What exactly were we watching or waiting for? Gerald Early wrote in his essay “House of Ruth, House of Robinson,” in The Culture of Bruising, that baseball is a game “inextricably bound to story.” Franklin Foer wrote a witty book about How Soccer Explains the World. How Baseball Explains America has already been done very well by Ken Burns and Co., and, on a more literary level, by Don DeLillo in Underworld, amongst myriad examples. We care, so we make the game mean something it probably doesn’t, except that it does, because it means something to us, right?