Red Sox sink like the great Titanic

Karl Marx believed that religion is the opiate of the masses. I have always thought that sports are the true “opium of the people.” What better escape has there been from the news about the European debt crisis, volatile domestic financial markets, quotidian social incivilities, and the self-destructive atmosphere of current politics, than a summer in which the Red Sox were one of the two best teams in baseball? The “best team ever?” Better than the 1927 Yankees, 1990s Bulls or 1960s Celtics!

Today’s morning- after headache and nausea ( worse than that in 1978), the need for sports talk-show grief counseling, take me back to all those decades of what it truly means to be a suffering Red Sox fan. My grandmother, at whose knee I learned to love the Metropolitan Opera and the Boston Red Sox, never knew what a Red Sox winning season was, though she was thoroughly versed in local legends Dom Dimaggio, Ted Williams, Jackie Jensen and Jimmy Piersall. My 11-year-old grandson lives on another planet. He has never known the traditional hometown failures, the soaring only to plummet. And here I am, buffeted by the drama of the day, trying to understand.

The two highest payrolls, New York and Philadelphia, won their divisions. But shelling out over $157 million didn’t cut it for the Red Sox. And, as Brian McGrory wrote, the “overpaid underachievers” of the 2011 team never represented Boston. Going with the most lucrative contract doesn’t equate to being an authentic part of the home town. Rooting for the Red Sox (or any team) may well be, as my husband claims, merely rooting for the Hessians and cheering for laundry. But there’s something more at play.

J.D. Drew, John Lackey and Carl Crawford together earned more than the entire Tampa Bay roster. Despite the obsession with sabermetrics and the errant celebration of Billy Beane, his progeny and statistics-driven Money Ball, Tampa Bay, which gave up its top stars last year to free agency and concentrated on nurturing its young players, has become the feel-good story of the season. . They showed heart, energy, and determination. As the Wall St. Journal notes, it’s about more than numbers. Don’t forget about “gut instinct, tradition, money, mystery – and plenty of dumb luck.”
An organization can amass all the talent on paper it wants, but the team has to execute on the field. A big payroll team may well win the World Series, and the Rays can crash early in the playoffs. But clearly Sox salaries were inversely proportionate to their September performance. Jim Rice, in his NESN post mortem, decried the spa-like orientation of the team and said that, though Theo or Terry might become scapegoats , the players themselves were most culpable.

In recent years, parts of Red Sox Nation have taken on a narcissistic swagger more reminiscent of Yankee fans. It’s sometimes cheaper to fly to Baltimore and go to Camden Yards than it is to park and visit Fenway. And Red Sox fans in Baltimore have been known to behave offensively not only to hapless Oriole fans inside the park, but boorishly to others in bars and on city streets. Add to that the classless behavior of some of our pitchers who during the season threw intentionally at Baltimore batters. Bad blood existed between the two teams right up to the end, and the last series between the erstwhile juggernaut Red Sox and the Eastern Division cellar dwellers had the makings of a mini morality play.

Yet we hung on until the very last minute, inoculated by 2004 and 2007, and sure that, like the Titantic, the great ship promoted as that “which God himself could not sink,” we would be victorious in the end.

Rather than being an escape from day-to-day conflict and challenge, the historic collapse of the Red Sox seems to be a metaphor what’s happening in the larger world. In both sports and politics, events have challenged our understanding of the way things are supposed to work. Unlike baseball, however, government and politics offer an opportunity to confront old questions with new answers. It is the beginning of a Massachusetts Senate race and a Presidential season. We can still set right the course of the ship of state. There’s nothing we can do about the 2011 Red Sox. As my grandmother would say, wait till next year.

Please let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.

photos AP, Getty, AFP

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