October 13, 2005

The Effect of a World Series Title on Red Sox Fans

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So, I guess this means that the honeymoon is over.

The 2005 Boston Red Sox were unceremoniously swept under the rug by Ozzie Guillen and his band of merry men from the South Side. No postseason Big Papi miracles this year, no repeat World Series Championship, no duck-boat victory parade on the Charles River. All that’s left is a winter to dwell on what went wrong, to languish in the disappointment of another season.

Just like old times.

I was recklessly careening eastward on the Mass Pike on Friday afternoon, desperately trying to get within range of WEEI in Boston before the end of the game (who’s the programming genius who decided it was okay to start a postseason elimination game at 4 p.m.? I’m sending ESPN my speeding ticket). Listening to a baseball game on the radio while driving is a harrowing experience, especially when the stakes are so high. There’s no visual, so you hang on every word – and after about 10 minutes of suffering through Jerry Trupiano, “hanging” looks like a desirable alternative – and try to compile a mental picture in your mind’s eye. You visualize the game, forming an image using all the idiosyncratic details collected from a season’s worth of baseball – the way David Ortiz spits on his hands before settling into the batter’s box like a stone-cold killer, the way Johnny Damon crashes into the outfield wall like a prehistoric linebacker, the way Kevin Millar runs the bases like a 78-year-old grandmother with rheumatoid arthritis. It’s all there, in sharp relief. Then all of a sudden, two huge taillights zoom in front of you and you’re skidding into a ditch.

I never even heard the call for the final out. As I arced over the Cape Cod canal atop the Bourne bridge, the radio turned to fuzz and I missed it: “…down to their final out in the bottom of thegzzzzzrrfffffffffffffffzzzzzzzrzrrrrrrzzzzzzzzzzrzzzzzzzrrrrzzzzzrfffffffzzzzzzz and the Red Sox season is over.” Perfect.

I banged on the steering wheel a few times and screamed something my mother would be ashamed to see in print. And then I took a deep breath, cracked a smile, and drove the final 40 minutes home.

Let history show that I did not, even for a second, consider spinning the wheel and swerving headlong off the bridge, maniacally screaming “Damn you, Tony Graffanino! Damn you!” on the way down into the watery depths. I didn’t feel the need to pull over, call my therapist, and sob uncontrollably while he repeated to me, “It’s not your fault … it’s not your fault …” Hell, compared to my October reactions over the past twenty-odd years, I hardly batted an eyelash.

And I don’t think I was alone. Saturday morning’s edition of The Boston Globe was more of respectful requiem than the bloodbath of, say, 2003. None of my Sox friends had spontaneously combusted during the night. As a region and a Nation, we were saddened to be sure, but we chose to look back on the bright moments of the season, rather than wallow in the despair of a lost opportunity.

Because we’ve had our payoff. The 2004 World Series victory irrevocably changed the tenor of an entire fanbase almost overnight. I mean, I’m not running around the Arts Quad right now, wearing only a strategically-placed red sock and screaming incoherently because of the 2005 season. I don’t have to react like that anymore (thank God). The October success (or failure) of the Red Sox is no longer a matter of life and death. We’re free. We have seen the top of the mountain, and it was good. I remember last October. The champagne stains had yet to be steam-cleaned out of the living rooms of New England, and the public/media naysayers were already claiming that we’d fall right back into our hopelessness at the first sign of adversity. When they finally regained the power of speech, Yankee fans shoved their meaty fingers in our faces and tried half-heartedly to convince us that nothing had changed.

But things have changed, clearly, and for the better. Last year’s victory didn’t break “the curse,” it proved that such a silly thing never existed in the first place. What separated the fans of the Red Sox and Yankees wasn’t the disparity in championships, a culture of either suffering or arrogance, or even the 200-odd miles of I-95. No, the difference was that we literally believed in our team – we believed in the players on the field, a motley crew of idiots who didn’t know they were supposed to fail. Yankees fans had instead placed their faith in the ridiculous and the supernatural, relying on Mystique, Aura, and the Ghost of Babe Ruth. Our faith was in Damon’s hair, Ortiz’s bat, and Schilling’s enormous heart. And we were right. Finally.

We’re normal baseball fans now, and that’s all we’ve ever wanted. No one really believed us until Friday when the sweep was complete and the suicide rate in Boston didn’t spike. It’s like we had to prove something by not going insane.

What’s hilarious to me is that Yankee fans are going insane. They’re ranting and raving like lunatics, and with good reason. After 2004’s Ultimate Kick to the Groin, the Yankees battled through injury and inconsistency to yet again win the AL East. But yet again (and for the fifth-straight season), they failed. You can tangibly feel the 1980s culture of losing creeping back into the minds of Yankees fans. It’s spectacular.

The best part of the Yankee demise is how five minutes after Matsui’s season-ending grounder, everybody in New York City simultaneously agreed to push A-Rod down a flight of stairs. He’s been eviscerated over the past few days, for going 2-478 in the series and then acting smug about it. Ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce your 2005 AL MVP. Two weeks ago, everybody was falling over themselves to hand A-Rod the award over Ortiz because of the DH factor (which is ludicrous, by the way) and now A-Rod may not even carry his own district.

But where do we Red Sox and Yankees fans go from here? 2005 has turned out to be a year of detente in our ongoing cold war, and I’m confident that the Hot Stove will put us back onto the scent of each other’s blood. Next year will be another glorious season, with another 19 head-on collisions (and maybe more) to look forward to. But in the meantime, there are two more weeks of 2005 baseball to finish up. I’ll enjoy watching the playoffs, free from stress and angst for the first time in years. My team isn’t in it, but I’m okay. I’ve still got Orlando Cabrera and the Angels to root for, a World Series victory to remember, and a new year to look forward to.

Per Ostman is a Sun Senior Writer. He can be reached at per.ostman@mac.com. The Victory Lap will appear whenever he damn well pleases.

Archived article by Per Ostman
Sun Senior Writer