Thursday, July 30, 2009

On Red Sox Nation

Well, that should just about do it.

Allow me a brief chronology: I first parted ways with baseball in 1994, when they chose to deep-six the World Series out of spite. I came back in 2000, when I moved to a cramped and leaky one-bedroom apartment in Boston, in a neighborhood known as the Fenway. I was close enough to the park that I could hear the crowd from my living-room window, and in the instant it took for the satellite to catch up, I knew that something intriguing was about to transpire on my television set. I was a graduate student, and I was perpetually broke, and I would walk to the gym on Lansdowne Street and purchase a five-dollar Italian sausage for dinner on the way home. The Red Sox were a distraction from my own work, a distraction from my attempts to write and to think and to comprehend a Samuel Beckett novel. Hell, the Red Sox were a Samuel Beckett novel.

And so I became a Red Sox fan, at age 27, for the same reason every vaguely literary soul who moved to Boston became a Red Sox fan back then; because they represented the eternal struggle of mankind. The Red Sox were made up of men like Rich Garces and Trot Nixon and Brian Daubach: They were a collection of likeable but flawed humans, forever nudging a boulder uphill. I pulled for them mostly because I could not help but sympathize with all those people who had bided the past eight decades in search of a single triumph.

And then, of course, not long after I joined up with these desperate souls, it just kind of happened; they stumbled into victory, and they did it behind a pair of (seemingly) guileless goofballs who pounded horsehides onto the Massachusetts Turnpike. And in the wake of that victory, the Red Sox themselves became something completely different; they became, as we are all well aware by now, a trend, a fad, a mainstream movement, an army of sorority girls in pink caps, a subsidiary of the school of fan obnoxiousness. The whole thing always seemed kind of hollow and false, as if their souls had somehow been inhabited by spectral figures who had wandered out of an Iowa cornfield. Now we know why. It is because the Red Sox, like everyone else in the game, sold their soul for victory.

And it doesn't matter that this whole issue is increasingly shrouded in moral relativism, and it doesn't matter that Bill James could very well be right when he says that, in 40-50 years, steroids will be rendered utterly mundane and will be accepted by the mainstream, and that no one will hold much against those who chose to engineer their own bodies. Because if nothing else, the steroid era has already transformed the most charming franchise in baseball into something hulking and unrecognizable. And I'm not sure there is any way of going back.

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