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Jewish World Review
Oct 11, 2011
/ 13 Tishrei, 5772
Hubris 4, Bosox 3
The Lord's in his Heaven, the Boston Red Sox aren't in the World Series, and all's right with the world once again. The natural order of the universe, broken after the Bosox won not one but two World Series in the last decade, has been restored. It kind of revives one's faith. In tragedy.
No, it wasn't easy to set things right. It took some of the highest-paid talent in the major leagues for the Red Sox to bumble their way out of the American League playoffs this year, but somehow, against all odds, they managed it.
In their decisive game this season, the Sox went into the ninth ahead of the Baltimore Orioles 3 to 2, but Carl Crawford (with his seven-year, $142-million contract) snatched defeat from the jaws of victory by muffing a line drive to left. And the Sox lost 4 to 3 -- to the last-place team in the league. It was all over for the Red Sox but the groaning, and the firing/resignation of their manager.
Once again the furies had conspired to keep the Sox's record unblemished by victory. It was like the old days again, specifically 1918 to 2004, which is a long time between world championships.
Remember Bill Buckner? Everybody in Boston does. He was the first baseman who let a slow grounder roll through his legs at the crucial moment of the 1986 World Series. ("... and a ground ball, trickling, it's a fair ball ... gets by Buckner! Rounding third, Knight! The Mets will win the ball game! The Mets win! They win! Unbelievable. The Red Sox in stunned disbelief!" -- Bob Murphy and Gary Thorne on WHN, October 25, 1986.)
To this day in Boston and environs, Bill Buckner remains a figure of near-classical tragedy, like Charlie on the MTA. (Did he ever return?/ No he never returned/ And his fate is still unlearn'd/ He may ride forever/ 'neath the streets of Boston/ He's the man who never returned.)
Poor Charlie lacked a nickel to get off the train, the Red Sox lack something that can't be reckoned in dollars and cents. Call it the favor of the gods. You'd need a Sophocles in the press box to do justice to the Red Sox's travails, which compare only to those of the hapless Chicago Cubs in the other league.
This year the Sox managed to top even themselves (bottom themselves?) in the tragedy department. For the first time in baseball history, a major-league team going into September with a nine-game lead failed to make the playoffs. Amazing. In its own awful but traditional way.
The Red Sox's collapse followed a familiar, even classical script. For in the end, it was not the Orioles or any other team that beat them but a familiar figure in tragedy: Hubris. He hangs around the Red Sox clubhouse all season, then sneaks on to the field at pivotal moments, as when he throws Carl Crawford off his multimillion-dollar pace.
There is a reason classical tragedy elevates and consoles in a way comedy never can. For it teaches man the folly of heedless hope. After the game, Mr. Crawford sounded like some dispassionate, analtytical, up-to-date-in-every-way sportscaster talking in even tones about the offense and defense -- in baseball. He didn't even cuss. He's a real pro as well as multimillionaire. The man might as well have been discussing an unsuccessful corporate merger. As he saw the problem, "we had high expectations and didn't live up to them."
That's it. That explains it. As it explains all tragedy. Not the failure to live up to high expectations, but having them in the first place. Just ask blind Oedipus, who surely would have made the Red Sox roster with a handicap like that, probably as a left fielder. His big mistake wasn't killing his father and marrying his mother, for he did so unknowingly. Those decisions were not the essence of his tragedy. He could always have pled innocence, indeed ignorance, before the gods.
No, his tragic flaw was the utter confidence with which he chose to dig into the whole matter despite all the good advice he was offered to the contrary. He knew best, he was convinced. He didn't. It goes with being mortal.
There's no use fighting fate. Whether in a Greek tragedy or the modern version therof at Fenway Park. It is no coincidence that Fenway should have opened in April of 1912, the same month as the RMS Titanic went down.
Indeed, there are no coincidences at all, some of us believe, for some things are preordained. It may have been Aristotle who said coincidence was but the point at which the lines of probability meet. Most years they don't just meet but run right over the Boston Red Sox.
Why is that? The writers of books like "Moneyball" have yet to explain it, despite all their knowledge of statistics, probabilities and other numerical arcana. Maybe because it's not easy to assign a numerical value to fate. How enter it into the computer's memory?
There is a kind of art to the Red Sox's re-enactment of the Theban Trilogy year after year. The last month of this year's season amounted to a Perfect Storm for the Red Sox, if not a Noahide flood. The morning after all was lost, a slow drizzle began to descend all over New England. It was the last, perfect touch.
Bart Giamatti -- Ivy League university president and commissioner of major-league baseball, but above all a fan and tragedian -- understood the nature of the game, and of life, all too well. He left us entirely too soon, dying after only five months as Commissioner of Baseball. But he understood that what counted was how you played the game, the character you display as you move through it, and the sense of nobility the best leave behind.
On his death, another fan (George Will) said of A. Bartlett Giamatti, Ph.D. (comparative literature), that he "was to the Commissioner's office what Sandy Koufax was to the pitcher's mound: Giamatti's career had the highest ratio of excellence to longevity."
Before he left us, Bart Giamatti made one more contribution, a prose-poem about baseball ("A Great and Glorious Game," 1977) that begins with these words:
"It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone. ... Today, October 2, a Sunday of rain and broken branches and leaf-clogged drains and slick streets, it stopped, and summer was gone...."
Once again it was time to close down the great and glorious game for another year. And shut the gates with those saddest and most hopeful of words known to every baseball fan: Wait'll next year!
Paul Greenberg Archives
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