Jewish World Review Oct. 26, 2004 / 11 Mar-Cheshvan 5765
The world turned upside down
http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | I'm still dizzy. Something has gone terribly right. The natural order has been inverted, like the seasons south of the equator. Everything has been reversed, as in a mirror image. The Boston Red Sox have not only won the American League pennant, a rare but not unprecedented event, but they've defeated their pinstriped nemesis - the once invincible, always hated Damn Yankees. How will revivals of the delicious musical by that name retain their flavor now that the Yankees have - it's almost inconceivable to type out the next word - lost? Oh, publish it not in the Bronx, tell it not in Manhattan, but the world has been turned upside down.
To watch the Red Sox year after year has been like attending an annual memorial service. Sad but cleansing, healing, consoling. You watch the final games the way you do a Shakespearean tragedy - not hoping for a different ending, but to see how well the cast will recite the familiar, elevating lines, trippingly off the tongue. Now suddenly "Macbeth" is a musical comedy, "Hamlet" a bedroom farce. The annual catharsis has been replaced by unnatural comedy.
It's as if Don Giovanni had lightly pushed the statue aside at the end of Mozart's epic, revealing it to be only cardboard, and joined the chorus line in a tap dance. While the statue, poor dejected thing, hunches its shoulders and goes off to sulk with Derek Jeter in the nearest dugout. Doesn't anybody follow the libretto anymore?
Where, oh, where was this year's version of Aaron Boone, last year's designated executioner? Where was the obscure nobody who would come out of nowhere and deliver the annual coup de grace on behalf of the Yankees and fate? Where was the inexplicable Bucky F. Dent (in Boston he has acquired an obscene middle name) to put the kibosh on the proceedings the way he did in '78? What has the world come to when the Red Sox come from behind instead of blowing a sure thing?
And what will sportswriters do without the formerly hapless Red Sox to kick around? Some of the best prose in the business has been written in mourning for the Sox. Here is Tom Verducci in Sports Illustrated on last year's playoffs, which now seem a whole different geological age:
Well, maybe the Chicago Cubs. But while other fans endlessly recount their victories, dour New Englanders revel in their defeats, the more heartbreaking the bittersweeter. After all, who would remember Thermopylae if the Spartans had won? Wouldn't the Alamo be just another abandoned mission if the Texans had turned back Santa Anna in a minor skirmish?
Yes, there was something grand and glorious in the annual, predestined loss at the last possible moment that cheered Calvinist hearts from the Back Bay to Bangor. What will all those fans do now? Oh, the horror!
There's no comparing the pedestrian opening of this year's morning-after AP dispatch ("Boston blew away decades of defeat with four sweet swings....") to the eulogies of old, those epic tributes written with the care that stonecarvers once lavished on Victorian gravestones. The Red Socks' victory is American literature's defeat.
Let us take comfort in this: At least the Bosox won this playoff as improbably as they once regularly lost. With the same zany gracelessness, the same matchless amateurishness. The Idiots, they call themselves. And who can doubt their sheer, Neanderthal zest after gazing on Johnny Damon's long locks, rugged jaw and moist chewing gum?
On the mound, take your choice of the gallant, bloodied Schilling hobbling to greatness or the cool, almost Yankee performance of the impeccable Derek Lowe. It takes all kinds to play this game and meditation, this unfailing engagement of the American mind - and soul. Look on David Ortiz, who bestrides the narrow diamond like a colossus, like a sable Ruth not only returned but back in Red Sox uniform. Is this 2004 or 1918 again?
The very current of time has been reversed. And not all the Yankee fans' psychological warfare worked. They waved around pictures of the Babe in vain; the Curse of the Bambino had been lifted.
Only three outs away from defeat and disgrace a few nights before, the Sox became the first team down three games in a seven-game playoff even to make it to Game 7, let alone win it. It wasn't just a victory against all odds, but against all history. What next - free elections in Afghanistan? (Come to think, didn't that just happen?) Democracy in Iraq? (It's scheduled for January of '05.) Maybe an American presidential election that's settled out of court? Nothing is impossible any longer.
Ah, sweet victory. 'Twas a great night in the taverns leading to Yawkey Way, AND on cell phones all around The Hub, and even unto the fartherest reaches of the Bostonian diaspora. The talk was of Revenge At Last, and of winning one for Yaz, and of Carlton Fisk's body language (Please-G-d-Keep-It-Fair) in '75.
There was scarcely any mention of Poor Bill Buckner, who let Mookie Wilson's weak grounder dribble between his legs in fateful Game 6 of 1986. Maybe the guy can at last emerge from the federal witness protection program. Come home! All is forgiven. Well, forgotten.
Yes, 'twas a great night for the Sox, but what will Boston's laureates do without baseball to mourn? Bartlett Giamatti's splendid elegy for baseball suddenly seems dated: "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 . . . ." Instead, it is garish spring in the middle of October. Yes, unnatural.
But take heart, there's still hope for literature. The Sox can still blow the World Series. Keep the faith.
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