Click here to watch my celebration of legendary sports broadcaster Vin Scully in: My Homage to Vin Scully
Exactly ten seasons have passed since the Red Sox were defending champs for the first time since the Woodrow Wilson administration. (Nine if you completely disavow the Bobby Valentine fiasco.)
It was an entirely different environment for baseball fandom back then. Fans born today have no idea of the suffrage endured, the “better luck next year” anguish, the torment at the hands of Yankees fans. Oh, how times have changed. The greatest rivalry in American professional sports has gone stale (save for a fight between a drunk fan or two, but that’s all in a day’s game).
Sure, there have been long periods of calm before, interspersed by periods of violent conflagrations — Billy Martin and Jimmy Piersall fighting each other in the tunnel underneath the stands in the 50s; Fisk and Munson rolling around on the ground in the 70s; 2004, when Jason Varitek taught A-Rod about the health benefits of leather taken orally. I mean, this is a rivalry that once reached DEFCON 1, when Pedro was hitting Yankee batsmen as if he was playing “Duck Hunt” on his Nintendo Entertainment System. But this feels different.
For that was when we were frustrated and our buttons could be pushed. Now, we’re riding in duck boats on Easy (Boylston) Street. We’ve all seen that kid with the sign that reads “6 years old and 40 parades” or something like that. He will never know true hardship, that borne of shattered dreams and broken bat flare singles; the anger that comes from leaving a pitcher in the game too long like a turkey on Thanksgiving, or diminutive shortstops hitting one just over the monster. We were a nervous, sad sack of tears and regret back then, but it bred many of our best qualities — bravery, resilience, optimism, probably a little foolishness, but most of all, loyalty.
There are few remnants of those traits in the newest generation of Red Sox fans. It comes too easily for them whereas for us, the only ticker tape we ever saw came when a Telex factory dumped their refuse out the window. (This new generation doesn’t even have to deal with telex machines!) But regardless of the disappointment, I kept watching my team!
At one time, Boston executives couldn’t even get onto the same hotel floor as a Cuban import and now all flights to Boston seem to include a layover in Havana.
Gone are the days when the Red Sox would claim ex-Yankees off the scrap heap — Elston Howard, Rick Cerone, Ramiro Mendoza — and now we’re happily allowing them to overpay for our players — Stephen Drew, Jacoby Ellsbury. Heck, we’ll even cover the Amtrak fare down I-95.
I miss those days. I feel like I had an edge then. I was close to the borderline, baby! Don’t push me with your “19-18!” chants and your brags of 20-some-odd championships (most of which occurred before you were born).
Every hero needs a villain. Who do we root against now? A-Rod? Ha! Expecting anything from him is like expecting a glorious spring lawn once the snow melts and then remembering all the dog poop that’s still there.
Do the fans still bother us? (Well, yes, of course they do, they’re Yankees fans and verbal abuse is in their cholesterol-clogged arteries. Disregard the question.) I just don’t feel the same animosity for them that I once did. Their taunts don’t have the same bite anymore since the Red Sox have tripled the Yankees output of championships during this century. Those numbers they used to spew are now insignificant to an entire generation of fans.
Could it be that we’re the villains now? Nah. I know many teams don’t like us, but that never bothered us before. Did it? To be honest, I don’t even know who I am anymore. I enjoy the winning, that’s true, but it was more the thrill of the victory, which allowed the thrill of rubbing it in the faces of Yankees fans.
This week, we start a new season where the Yankees lineup is peppered with players either on the downward slopes of their careers or pulled from the FBI’s Witness Relocation Program softball team. There are no future Hall of Famers left, no MVPs, no Red Sox killers. They’re not going to put up much of a fight.
The nineteen games where the two squads will square off this year will not lead to seven more in the postseason. They’ll lack the drama, they’ll lack the sense of relief and joy after a victory, the kind we used to have. How do we stoke the fire and make the rivalry fun again?
Maybe Wade Miley starts head hunting since he doesn’t have to bat anymore. Perhaps Pedroia slides in spikes up to his old double play-mate Drew. We’ll be happy to take our cue from any of the guys on the field.
There’s a new league commissioner and maybe that signals a brand new day in this rivalry. But until then, we only have YouTube videos and Ben Affleck-narrated documentaries to teach our children what it means to be decent and hard-cheering fans, and to rekindle old feelings of a rivalry gone bland.
Andy Wasif’s “Red Sox University” (Triumph Books, 2009) will be mentioned in “501 Books Baseball Fans Must Read Before they Die” by Ron Kaplan (due out in April 2013). Ron Kaplan reviews books and interviews authors for his site Ron Kaplan’s Baseball Bookshelf.
Presumably “Red Sox University” will be among the top 501.
Ho! Ho! Ho! No, it’s not Herman Cain addressing yet another accusation from a mistress, but the commercialized call representative of the birthday of that most famous religious figure, that leader of men, that otherworldly phenomenon, Tim Te—er, I mean, Jesus Christ. (Sometimes I forget that Tim Tebow’s birthday is actually August 14th. My new year’s resolution is to get a petition to Congress to make that day a national holiday, I don’t care how many doors I need to knock on and how many hours I need to stand outside of malls.)
It’s Christmas time, and it’s the time for giving, a time for all of <i>fankind</i> to come together as one and treat each other with hospitality and friendship. For all the animosity you show to each other, this is a time to put bygones aside. In fact, let bygones be bygones; help them to grow up and live fruitful bygone lives, raising little bygones of their own, and then let those bygones be bygones, perhaps settling an organic bygone commune out in the woods somewhere.
Now is the time to allow for all our fellow fans, be he decked in silver and black, teal, or green and yellow with a hunk of cheese on his head; be his field green or blue; whether his horns be hooked or his tide rolled, he deserves something this holiday season and Santa (shhhh! It’s actually just a fat guy in a red suit and hat with a white beard) is here to give it to him.
Now, without further ado, let us reach inside the satchel and distribute the presents to these most deserving sports entities:
To Tony LaRussa – a phone that works and a peaceful retirement.
To the NBA – a new commissioner, six fewer teams, and plenty of Barkley and Shaq commentary.
To Dirk Nowitzki – singing lessons.
To Frank McCourt – a one-way ticket out of Los Angeles (it’s really for his own good as Dodgers fans can be quite aggressive.)
To Dodgers fans – a new owner, preferably one who is a step up.
To Jerry Sandusky – a trip from Penn State to the state pen.
To the Texas Rangers – a hearty “A” for effort.
To Nelson Cruz – a better jump on the ball.
To the 1986 Boston Red Sox – the long overdue opportunity to throw away the Buckner footage.
To @d_rovell (Darren Rovell) – a singing career.
To Dan Patrick – more movie appearances.
To Tim Tebow – a watch with the correct time to start “Tebowtime” 45 minutes earlier.
To opponents of the Broncos – a fourth quarter to go along with the three they currently play.
To Cleveland – something. . . ANYTHING.
To Lebron James – a book on magic to help with his disappearing act during the NBA Finals.
To Chicago Cubs fans – hope, if but for just an offseason.
To the “unnamed source” in sports reports – the courage to come forward with your name.
To the “player to be named later” – a name, preferably something cool, like Nnamdi Asomugha, or I hear “Ron Artest” is available.
To Chad Ochocinco – permission to tweet as much as you’d like.
To Ndamakoung Suh – an offseason job as the glass breaker at Jewish weddings.
Jim Schwartz – dinner with Jim Harbaugh.
Jim Harbaugh – the chance to stand Jim Schwartz up at dinner.
To Brett Favre – another chance. . . to throw an ill-advised game-losing interception.
To Vince Young – a different dream.
To the late, great Al Davis – a team in heaven.
To Peyton Manning – a new neck.
Andrew Luck – a good real estate agent in Indianapolis.
Eli Manning – finally a seat at the head of the table at family gatherings
To Brigham Young University – consensual relations during basketball season.
Mark Cuban – an MLB franchise.
CC Sabathia – opt out clauses every year.
Los Angeles – a football team. . . for a few years before it leaves for somewhere else.
Manny Pacquiao – a fight with Floyd Mayweather.
Rex Ryan – a Bill Belichick dart board for his game room.
Donovan McNabb – a cushy studio job.
Tony Romo – a big game win.
Big East – a new name.
To the Bowl Championship Series – a little love. . . similar to the love Lennie shows a puppy in “Of Mice and Men.”
To Chris Paul – a string of championships with the Clippers.
To the Los Angeles Clippers – a larger share of the market (something tells me if they start to win, Lakers fans will jump on board).
To Albert Pujols – 254 million reasons why it’s not about the money.
And to Tito Francona – a more respectful, celebrated exit.
Finally, to all of you from all of me, I give to you another year of buzzer beaters, fantastic finishes, shocking upsets, gutsy performances, inspired efforts, and the thrill of victory without the agony of defeat. . . unless, of course, you’re playing Tim Tebow.
Prior to the autumnal feast that shall soon be placed before us, we’ve already been given a lot to digest from this year in sports, including not one, but two labor strikes, improbable winners, ungracious losers, horrific tragedies, and a trip from Penn State to the state pen. Let us now take a moment to focus, not on the negatives that are overthrown passes and blown coverages (as we all know there was pass interference somewhere that should have been called), but rather on all the positives we can take away from the field; to take pause and give thanks for this culture in which we have invested our time and sanity.
Interestingly enough, the first Thanksgiving occurred when the Pilgrims went to the Wompanoag Tribe in 1621 for lessons in surviving the brutal winters of Massachusetts and how to deal with the annual collapse of the local wood-chipping team.
That autumn formed the basis of what we now know as Thanksgiving and for many years, the colonists lived peacefully and synergistically with the neighboring Indian tribes. That is, before shooing them off their land, claiming it for themselves, and then giving them casinos. It was kind of like running up the score. Nothing said they couldn’t, but it was generally frowned upon, especially by the Indians.
But I digress. These days, the holiday stands for overeating, creating weird hybrid meals like turducken, watching football, and spending time with the family you seek to avoid all year long; a chance to call a timeout to the hustle and/or bustle of our lives.
So with that tradition in mind, let me take a moment to present to you that which I am thankful from the past twelve months in sports. I am most thankful for:
Norv Turner, for defying logic and remaining gainfully employed as a head coach in the NFL. Seriously, does he have photos of A.J. Smith in a compromising position or something?
The 2011 Boston Red Sox, for making us all forget that “All My Children” had ended.
Theo Epstein, for giving Cubs fans hope, as blind as it might be, for that’s where it begins.
Jim Harbaugh, for showing that going from the college to the pros is easier than everyone prior to him has shown it to be.
Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison, for keeping the economy growing with fines levied from hits. C’mon, James, it’s been a while. Your country needs you!
The NFL, for making it a safe game to play again, except to the myriad players foolish enough to get injured on a weekly basis.
Tim Tebow, for being a great quarterback even though the numbers show he sucks at it.
Ndomakung Suh, for being a dirty player while remaining so damned likeable.
Andrew Luck, for saving the Indianapolis Colts while still at Stanford.
Boise State, for losing a game this year so as not to confuse things in the BCS as they did in 2009.
The Big East, for keeping the words “big” and “east” in their title even though both are misnomers.
Dirk Nowitzski, for winning that ring he deserved five years earlier.
The NBA players, for standing their ground and taking a charging foul.
The NBA owners, for arguing the call, saying it was a blocking foul.
David Stern, for continuing to ruin a league he once built to prominence. The guy’s like a gambler at Vegas who doesn’t know when to leave once he’s accumulated a stack of chips. It’s become quite comical to watch.
Novak Djokovic, for showing he should be on “Dancing with the Stars.”
Roger Federer, for finally allowing others the chance to win trophies.
Tim Tebow, for forcing us all to love him.
Bob Costas, for getting the interview with former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky so we could see the worst denial in the history of speaking, a 16-second denial on whether or not he is sexually attracted to young boys where the alleged child rapist repeated the question, qualified it, danced a little, then finally denied it once we had all switched over to “Dancing with the Stars” that we had TiVoed.
NCAA football conferences, for making geography class irrelevant.
Michael Vick, for regaining the respect of his fans, only to lose it again with his performance on the field.
St. Louis fans, for being so even-tempered.
Albert Pujols, for doing something legendary just days before his contract expired.
The Texas Rangers, for allowing networks to replace footage of the 1986 Boston Red Sox with them.
Playoff beards, for making a world of difference in how you play.
Cal Ripken Jr., as a reminder not to take his feat for granted. He played in 2,632 consecutive games. I, for one, took a week off between writing the beginning and end of this piece.
Tim Tebow, for making us all believe in ourselves.
Sports karma. That’ll teach you to take anything to South Beach.
Floyd Mayweather, for finally realizing he gets paid a ton of money to fight Manny Pacquiao. . . whether he wins or loses.
Mike Tyson, for being viable again. . . in some funny acting bits.
Coach K, even though we all hate your team, we gotta admit, you’re pretty good
Shaq Fu, the Shaq Daddy, The Big 401K, and so on, for his fun-loving personality we hope continues into retirement.
Chad Ochocinco, for his tweets before he got to “heaven.”
Major League Baseball, for stepping up to the plate and showing America it’s still a force to be reckoned with.
And finally, Tim Tebow, for making every day just a little brighter.
What a year it’s been. Sports are as they always are – intriguing captivating, nauseating, emboldening, and demoralizing. And that’s only on a Sunday. Here’s to the other six days of the week. Now, pass the turducken. I’ve still got some eatin’ to do before I watch “Dancin’ with the Stars.”
[Featured image by: David Castillo Dominici]