Thursday, September 22, 2005
The Red Sox have fallen into second place, a half-game behind the Yankees. Sound the alarm! Women and children first! Bail out! Bail out!
This is the general reaction of long-time Sox fans; those who lived through 1978 and other late-season collapses. At least, it would have been the reaction, if it had not been for last year. Remember last year? The year the Red Sox won the World Series? This is the team that came back from a 0 - 3 deficit, something no other team in the history of major league baseball ever did before, and they did it against the Yankees, no less. Don't pull the ripcord on your parachute just yet - we're still inside the plane.
A lot of Red Sox fans didn't get the full exhilarating rush from that playoff victory that I did. This is because a lot of Red Sox fans bailed after game three. Some bailed in the middle of game three, for goodness' sakes. Not me. I watched every inning of the first three games - every painful inning. And that allowed me to savor every excruciatingly tense moment of game four and game five, the relatively easy game six, and then the laugher that was game seven.
I'm not claiming to have said that the Sox would come back and win that series. I don't think anybody outside of the state's mental institutions was predicting that. However, I took the same approach as the Sox - one game at a time. I knew that it was possible for them to win game four. Once they did that, it was possible to win game five, and so on. And it was SWEEEEEEEET!
There were fans who were older than me and who enjoyed it more, possibly. I doubt it, though. Older, yes, but enjoyed it more? As much, maybe - I'm willing to concede that possibility. But not more. I became a fan when the team was running off consecutive 9th place finishes. I then saw them fall one game short of total victory in 1967, 1975 and 1986. I saw them blow a huge lead in 1978 and then lose the one game playoff via Bucky Bleeping Dent and a miracle catch by Lou Piniella. I saw them finish one half-game behind in a year that was strike-shortened. That year, the winning run - represented by Luis Aparicio, one of the greatest baserunners the game has ever known - slipped and fell rounding third.
1986 was the worst, of course. The 1967 and 1975 teams are remembered very fondly by most. The '67 team finished first in an impossibly tight pennant race involving four teams, and they won it on the last day of the season. Just going to the series was enough. The fact that they strung it out to seven games was magnificent. The 1975 team played in what is generally regarded as the best series ever. Losing in seven was no disgrace at all. 1986, though...
In 1986, I had been betting baseball all year. And winning. I mostly bet on the Sox and the Mets. Ten dollars here, twenty dollars there. It added up to a win of a bit more than $1000 by the time the series rolled around. I decided to risk almost all of my winnings on one of the teams that had given me the winnings. Guess which one?
When Dave Henderson hit his home run in the 10th inning, to give the Sox a two run lead, I was a very happy camper. I had bet 1000 to make 1700 on the Sox to win the series. It looked pretty good. Then came Calvin Schiraldi, and Bob Stanley (who was unfairly scored with a wild pitch - Gedman could have had that ball. It was a passed ball.) And then Bill Buckner, who is unfairly reviled the most of all. Sure, it was a crummy error. However, no Bill Buckner, no World Series to begin with, OK? He had one hell of a good season. He always deserved better than to be remembered for that one play.
I taped that last inning, hoping to save it and play it again and again - the day the Sox won the series! Instead, I walked around in a real no-bullshit medical state of shock for the next 24 hours or so. Half the city did. And there was a game seven, but as much as I tried to convince myself that they could still win it, I knew - in my heart of hearts, I knew - that no matter what lead they got that night, it wasn't going to last. I rooted for them and cheered when they got off to the lead, but once it was gone, I knew they weren't coming back. They tried, but it was never going to happen.
I learned something valuable that year. I learned that my passion for the Sox was stronger than my passion for money. When they lost, it wasn't the lost bet I mourned. That was strictly a secondary consideration. As a result, I learned to never again bet on a team I loved that much. And I have never bet on the Red Sox since then.
Anyway, all of that made what happened last year the single sweetest moment I have ever experienced in my 40+ years as a sports fan. It was made that way by the down times. You have to live through the down times to really appreciate the good times.
Which brings us back to this year. The Red Sox have just fallen into second place. If you really, really want to enjoy what's coming - if you really want to taste the sweetness - then savor every little bit of whatever bitterness might be coming. When the Sox pull it out in that final game of the year against the Yankees, you'll be much happier than those who are jumping off the bandwagon now.