I liked this book and would recommend it (with some caveats), but I have also had a very difficult time writing about it. Macomber was kind enough to send me a copy back in the spring and I've been procrastinating ever since.
At some point, I convinced myself that I should combine my thoughts about this book with how my attitude as a Red Sox fan changed after 2004. And as writers will sometimes do, I could imagine only the finished product when I thought about working on it, and felt like I had to knock out the final product as a first draft. There are few better ways to prevent yourself from writing.
As a Red Sox fan of 35 years, I'm not a curious or casual observer of the team and its fans; I have strong opinions. As I read, I wondered if my opinions were clouding my assessment of the contributors. I was taking issue with an author's point of view and then being miffed enough to consider dismissing the entire chapter. I was taking offense at things that probably should not have been provoking offense.
Am I a smarter (or "better") fan because I don't make snide remarks about J.D. Drew? Should I look down on someone because her hat is a different colour than mine or he uses what I believe are irrelevant, out-dated stats? If someone expresses what seems like a dumb idea, should I "penalize" him for it in a review? And if I answer Yes to any of these questions, what exactly does that say about me? I'm not sure how fair this is. It probably is not fair at all. What makes me nod my head in agreement might cause you to roll your eyes.
Several of the 26 essays are exceptional, but I wished that everyone had dug deeper into their subject matter, though I understand that might not have as much appeal to a general reader.
Marcus Giamatti ("What Binds Us Together") is the book's leadoff hitter. His father was a diehard Red Sox fan and his son understood early on that
This was a duty ...a lifelong quest to rise above and persevere. ... To be a true fan ... takes commitment. Total and complete. It takes faith -- faith that one day it will pay off. And if for some reason it doesn't, then the journey -- the process -- is the pay off.Sander Lee opens his essay, "Why Are They Our Red Sox?": "Why do normally sane adults root for the Boston Red Sox?" His answer:
[B]ecause we choose to. My wife sometimes asks me why I allow myself to feel bad when the Sox lose. She accepts that it might be fun to feel good when they win, but why torture myself when they lose? There's no good way to explain the pleasures and pains of the true fan to those who choose not to enter the magical realm of sports.John McHugh ("Grady Little, the Impartial Spectator, and My Short Fuse") thinks it is odd to get so riled up by simply watching the Red Sox, when we aren't actually doing anything. But that's the problem, isn't it? We are helpless, at the mercy of these players and the fickle luck of the game.
McHugh cites the stoicism of Epictetus, who believed we should focus only upon the things we can control -- our actions and reactions. That seems like a very Mannyesque way of seeing the world, though Nolen Gertz ("On The Genealogy of a Rivalry") draws a connection between Manny and Nietzsche.
In "Why Red Sox Fans Are Moral Heroes", one of the book's best essays, Karolina Lewestam and Orla Richardson write about the fan's unyielding commitment, her sense of loyalty despite the unpredictability of future events. In a world dominated by hip irony, that vulnerable state of being is "disturbing and obsolete".
But every fan remains blind to the future, so what makes Red Sox fans so special? Depending on the length of our relationship with the team, we have suffered more than most, I suppose. Still, there is a sense of Red Sox exceptionalism in many of these essays and I have to admit it annoyed me.
Corey McCall wonders if "The True Red Sox Fan" exists. He cites Immanuel Kant and talks about the idea of the enlightened individual who can construct his life -- think for himself -- and give his life meaning as he defines it.
He wonders if post-2004 fans are "less worthy" than us older farts who have paid more than our share of dues. It's a question that also comes up in Stephanie St. Martin's provocative exploration of the pink hat, "In Sync With Pink?". Her basic ideas -- we all follow the game at our own level and anyone playing the "superior fan" card is guilty of the same behaviour as the cellphone putzes behind the plate -- are solid, but the piece does not gel quite as well as I hoped.
St. Martin initially says the pink hat was created "to make sure that everyone can be a Red Sox fan, including women", but six pages later, she claims, "The pink hat isn't about women -- it's a bandwagon thing."
Why can't a woman wear a traditional cap? And as much as the term "pink hatter" has come to mean an ignorant follower of the team, it is also unmistakably sexist. Girls wear pink and boys wear blue.*
* Did you know that up until the 1950s, pink was for boys and blue was for girls? It's true. Ladies Home Journal explained: "The reason is that pink being a more decided and stronger color is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl."
I am guilty of some of what St. Martin describes. Like many fans, I see my cap as a symbol of my fandom. It is weather-beaten and dirty; it shows the scars of being a diehard. I finally had to replace my old cap a few years ago -- the bill soaked up so much sweat that it never got completely dry (actually quite disgusting) -- but I was not looking forward to putting on a crisp, clean hat. And that hesitancy was mainly because of how I thought it might look to others. I did not want to be confused with someone who had just discovered the team.
In "Wicked Faithful", Patrick Tiernan wonders, when we use religious terms like belief and faith to describe our connection to the Red Sox, what are we keeping faith in? He draws upon William James and Joseph Otto to put forth the idea that our faith is not merely a set of beliefs, but a mindset, an innate disposition, something we are in, not something we have.
From David Roochnik's "The Art of Losing":
Losing is a vastly more complicated experience than winning ... Loss is complicated because it includes both itself and what is not itself. ... Victors relish being who they are; losers feel the pain of who they are not. ...Rory E. Kraft Jr. ("Forgiveness, Virtue, and Red Sox Nation") looks at our tendency to evaluate people by the actions they take, seeing them as an extension of those actions. This is why J.D. Drew gets criticized for stuff that mainly exists in fans' heads while Josh Reddick can actually say he is now a better hitter because "I stopped caring so much" and everyone pretty much yawns.
[R]ationalization [is] a way to defuse the hurt. We diminish the importance of the game only because we were on the losing side. ... "It was only a game." ...
Victors are not driven to become reflective. ... They have no need to think. ... [The Yankees] treat loss as an insult, rather than the life-lesson it is.
I also enjoyed Kevin Maguire's "What Kant Would Have to Say About Jon Lester's No-Hitter", in which he floats the idea that, since Kansas City had almost no chance of winning that game, "there may have been an obligation for the Royals to make less of an effort".
Matthew Konig is the lone Yankee fan on the roster. He mentions Schopenhauser's philosophy of pessimism and how success only creates a new dissatisfaction -- an idea that reminded me of what David Foster Wallace expressed about the room service on his cruise vacation.
Okay, the complaints.
Joel W. Cade ("Thou Shall Steal! How the 2004 Boston Red Sox Reconciled Faith and Reason") misrepresents Moneyball right away. Everything he says about sabermetrics is wrong. He writes some very strange things about the 2004 team. I swear he thinks it's crazy that wins are directly related to a team's ability to score runs. And he actually refers to "statistics crunched by sabermetricians in their basements".
Jonah P.B. Goldwater ("Bill James and the Science of Red Sox Religion") says some wonderful things about James: he "instigated a baseball revolution" and his work is "a mix of daring hypothesis, meticulously collected data, and acerbic wit .. [with] the detachment of ego that's essential in the search for truth."
But Goldwater also says James is in the business of predicting the future, claims the "new science of Sabermetrics threatens to eliminate the unique, the magical", and this scientific way of looking at baseball -- as opposed to "common sense" -- by James "and his ilk" doesn't accept the notion of unique events at all (though at times it is hard to figure out where he is merely stating what some people think and where he is giving us his own opinions). He sums up by saying these "Jamesean statistics aren't statistics meant for the fans, if by 'fan' one means someone who enjoys the game most when unexpected and seemingly miraculous events occur." Those abstract stats "seems to ruin what's most special for many people" about baseball.
I cannot give these ideas a bigger finger than the one I'm giving them right now.
Weaver Santaniello ("Breaking the Mold: From Ruth to Ramirez") looks at five Boston players who defied convention and had antagonistic relationships with the fans and/or the media: Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Bill Lee, Jim Rice, and Manny Ramirez. Most of the essay is great: Santaniello places the sale of Ruth in the context of Kant, he sees TSW and Lee as existentialists, and notes that all Rice wanted to do was "do his job and go home". Then he ruins his entire enterprise by abandoning the facts and relying solely on his opinion regarding Ramirez, after presenting the previous four players in a neutral light. (He also claims that Sox fans fear a new curse because we traded Manny.)
At least five writers get the history of Bill Buckner wrong, by saying that it was not until 2008 (or maybe 2004) that Red Sox fans showed forgiveness for his sins in 1986. However, Peter Gammons wrote in Sports Illustrated that Buckner was given a standing ovation at a rally in Boston two days after the Red Sox lost Game 7. They also cheered him on Opening Day in 1987 and a couple of years later, as well.
McHugh claims Boston got Curt Schilling by throwing the most money at him. ... Kraft quotes an expression as "Manny to be Manny". ... Joseph Ulatowski ("We Believe"), in noting that Sox fans "treat players who have chosen (albeit unwisely), to abandon us very well" and mentions Nomar Garciaparra -- who did not choose to leave Boston. ... Then there is one essay about which my notes say "this is a fucking mess".
Roochnik also got my blood boiling by writing:
[N]ever forget those dark and haunted days before October 2004. We were special then. Never forget the strange sensation of being cursed ... We understood ourselves back then. ... Maybe when the Curse ended something weirdly valuable was lost as well.Unfortunately, with so much discussion of faith and fate, even after 2004, the CHB's Meal Ticket gets mentioned quite a bit (under its more well-known moniker, which I have decided never to type or say again), and that soured several essays for me.
Overall, though, I enjoyed reading these essays and I would love to know if some of the writers here have written more extensively about philosophy and the Red Sox.
I'll give the last words to Erin E. Flynn ("Blursed!" (a combination of cursed and blessed)), writing about 2004:
We experienced a bliss that can only be born of impossible disappointment. ... The curse turned out to be a blessing, a necessary condition of the impossible joy that dawned with Roberts's steal of second, overwhelmed us in the rout in Game Seven and culminated in the sweep of the Cardinals in the World Series. ...
2004 couldn't have been what it was without reference to these other events [bad stuff like 1986 and 2003]. ... Hence no team could've done precisely what the Red Sox did in 2004. We experienced something that no other fans could've experienced. ... The suffering itself took on an entirely new significance. It suddenly had a purpose for me, a gift that made possible the singular bliss we felt as the Yankees crumbled and the Red Sox ascended. What else, after all, could a blessing be?