Wednesday night the Boston Red Sox did what was thought to be impossible. They came back from being down 3-0 in a best-of-seven series to beat the New York Yankees for the ALCS title. My hat is off to them. They have a great team and they played with spirit and heart.
Even when the Sox were at the low ebb of the series, I told a number of Boston fans in my college that I thought the series would still go to six or seven games. The Red Sox were simply too good a team to go down that easily.
Many people at Yale, especially in Branford College, know that I am a huge Yankees fan. I take the college to two games a year. I regard Yankee Stadium not merely as a ballpark, but as a national monument much like the Grand Canyon or the Golden Gate Bridge. I wear the hat and the jacket. I even have a gold NY chain around my neck. Why is this? What do the Yankees represent?
In the first place, to be a Yankees fan is to be constitutionally opposed to the Red Sox. It is the Montagues and the Capulets, the Jets and the Sharks, Athens and Sparta. The Red Sox represent the existential enemy opposed to everything the Yankees fan stands for.
These differences have their roots in history and culture. The Red Sox, to state the obvious, are Boston. They express the gloomy Puritanism of that city’s origins. I have been told that being a Red Sox fan is much better preparation for life than rooting for the Yankees. After all, much of life is learning how to cope with failure, loss and frustration, and the Red Sox have certainly had their share of this.
There is a kind of grim New England moralism underlying this view, a belief that there is superior virtue in failure. I am told that Red Sox fans are better people because they are the scrappy underdogs battling wealth and privilege, Boston’s Rocky to New York’s Apollo Creed.
To be honest, I have never found any of these rationalizations to be remotely credible. Failure does not make us better people. It is more likely to leave us bitter and resentful.
The Yankees represent to me all that is optimistic and confident in American life. They are New York. They have a can-do spirit that expresses inner strength and self-reliance (backed up with a good check book). Perhaps this is too cocky; I accept that. We feel that excellence is not something to be ashamed of or hide from, but to celebrate.
I will never forget the unbelievable experience of being at Yankee Stadium during the 2001 World Series against the Arizona Diamondbacks. September 11 was less than two months in the past. The smoke and debris from the World Trade Center were still in the air. And yet the Yankees and their fans demonstrated a sense of pride and patriotism that to me is all that’s best in America.
Now, however, the ALCS has been decided and the Red Sox are going to the Series for the first time since 1986. We do not know yet what will happen. What if they win? What if they finally break the curse, and for the first time since 1918 Boston brings home the gold?
This raises a paradox. How can a team who has made a virtue out of losing and has cast itself as the perennial underdog handle victory? What will this do to the collective psyche of what I hear has been called the “Red Sox Nation”?
At the very least it will require Red Sox fans to rewrite their entire narrative of life, to see that they are no longer the little guys battling insurmountable odds, but the king of the hill. Not only will the curse be broken, but their entire way-of-life story will have to be reconsidered. I would only remind Red Sox fans of an old saying: be careful what you wish for.
Steven B. Smith is the Master of Branford College.