the negative pragmatics of soxmania: or

3lisha S3ssions writes:
“It’s only in recent years that the word “curse” came to be associated with the Red Sox’s particular brand of hope-dashing bad luck. Before 1986, the last time the Red Sox went to the World Series, in which they were one strike away from winning it all, they were perhaps more pragmatically known for simply being choke artistes of the highest caliber. No lead was too large for them to find a way to blow it. No weakly-hit ball could be considered a sure out. When Billy “Bad Wheels” Buckner let that little squib of a ground ball through his legs in game 6 of the 1986 World Series, it was merely the culmination of a disastrous inning that saw three straight hits and a wild pitch from Calvin Schiraldi that allowed the Mets to inch that much closer. I couldn’t take it, and went back to my parents’ bedroom to stare at the ceiling and wonder why this game was so cruel to my team. So I didn’t see the famous grounder go between Bill Buckner’s legs. My dad came in five minutes later to tell me. But somehow I already knew.

“Such moments form a litany as familiar as a rosary, a new bead being added each year or two, with which we poor mis-shapen souls atone for our particular choice of team to root for. Some stop practicing the religion altogether, or find new champions, because of the formidable exhaustion and heartbreak involved. Those who stay on try to harden our hearts and immunize ourselves to the blandishments of this year’s promising crop. We roll our eyes as a reflex. It’s almost comforting to know that victory will always be just out of reach: if defeat is foretold, we can say that we knew it all along. When the Sox finally won a game against the Yankees, cutting the deficit to 3-1, Red Sox Nation let out a collective groan. When they won again, we were proud of them, but we knew it would only jack up the eventual pain. When the Sox evened the Series we wanted blood: to be down 3-0, come back 3-3, and then lose in the 7th and deciding game – well, surely the only disappointment greater would be to choke in the World Series.

“The World Series. Which the Red Sox have famously failed to win since 1918. The outlook this year is of course propitious. Reebok has constructed what they call a “magic shoe” for Curt Schilling. Does sports gear get any more talismanic than that? We have the legendary god of numbers, Bill James, on our payroll as well – the inventor of “fantasy league” sports, and a seer amongst the thickets of statistics this sport produces each year. But his presence is at least half-totemic, too, like a cardinal or bishop versed in oblique obscurities, capable of offering advice, but really more of a lucky charm. After all, And although an underwater search failed to raise the piano that Babe Ruth reportedly pushed into the pond behind his house during a particularly crazy party – back before the Babe played for the Yankees, before the pinstriped team from the Bronx convinced him to give up his remarkable pitching career to try swinging the bat a little more, before he got sold so that Boston owner Harry Frazee could finance a musical called “No, No, Nanette,” after which the Red Sox never again won a World Series, despite having won half of the first decade’s worth of them – despite dozens of complex rituals, which count amongst their number the placement of Sox paraphernalia on the summit of Mount Everest and secret hexes thrown over Babe Ruth’s grave – and despite the deep pockets of its owners, who must spend a king’s ransom each year just to keep within spitting distance of George Steinbrenner’s Yankees, who cost about 70M more than these, your Boston Red Sox – each year they find a new way to lose.

“This is why Sox fans are unhappier now than we were when we were down 3-0 to the Yankees. Because we know how this script ends and we’d like to get it over with. Living in the shadow of the Yankees is comforting, because it’s not really about us, it’s about everybody else who keeps us down (the Sox fan’s most popular – and most pathetic – chant mentions the Yankees but not the Red Sox). Now it’s about us, and we’re frightened out of our wits. We are the perennial loser, the promising son who disappoints, the prodigy who falls apart in public performance. And now we really will have no one to blame but ourselves. And the curse, of course. For the last 86 years the Red Sox have come up short. 1986 was our last shot at it. That was 18 years ago. We last won it in 1918. “A remarkable coincidence,” stat-guru Bill James might say. Red Sox fans know better than to believe in coincidences, but we also know better than to believe we might win. Watching the World Series this year will be like seeing an old favorite film on videotape. But privately, some seed of infernal hope will blossom in our hearts unbidden. A snappy play from Pokey Reese, a couple of quick innings, and who knows what crazy thoughts we might begin thinking. We might even start thinking that this is the year. Because there is a script that contains all other scripts, and that one says that someday the low places will be raised up and the mountains shall be brought low, the crooked places made straight, and the rough places plain. To plod with willful diffidence against such a day, to accept that the videotape will show the same scene that it did the last time, would make life far more bearable. But apparently, we’re cursed.”

posted on MR H4ND’S behalf by…