Growing up in Boston, I learned at an early age the iron laws of Massachusetts baseball and politics. The Red Sox never win the World Series, and Massachusetts politicians are always thwarted when they run for president.
The baseball lesson, the harsher of the two, came first. With the Red Sox cruising through the playoffs in 1986, a family friend decided to teach my parents (Greek immigrants who knew almost nothing about baseball) and me how the game is played. Motivated by the excitement that was sweeping through Boston as the Red Sox stood on the cusp of their first championship in 68 years, we proved quick studies. Alas, our newfound appreciation for baseball quickly turned into misery when Mookie Wilson’s soft grounder squirted through Bill Buckner’s legs. I was only six, but I had already learned what it meant to be a Red Sox fan.
In the years that followed, this understanding was reinforced time and time again. There were the endless second-place finishes (now seven in a row) to the Yankees in the regular season. There were the Red Sox’s painful playoff losses to Oakland in 1990, and to Cleveland in 1995 and 1998. And, worst of all, there were the bitter postseason defeats against the Yankees — the five-game rout in 1999, and last year’s apocalyptic Game 7, in which Grady Little inexplicably left a tiring Pedro Martinez in against the heart of the Yankees’ order. I give little credence to talk of curses, but I still found it difficult to ignore the accumulating evidence.
Massachusetts politicians have not had as many opportunities as the Red Sox to break our hearts, but they have made the most of their chances. Ted Kennedy decided that the most propitious moment for seeking the presidency was 1980, a year in which an incumbent Democratic president was pursuing re-election. Kennedy, not surprisingly, failed to win his party’s nomination. Michael Dukakis, a competent, centrist Massachusetts governor, did manage to win the nomination in 1988, but was quickly portrayed by his opponent as a wimpy, out-of-touch liberal. He lost the election in a landslide. In 1992, Paul Tsongas attracted attention in the Democratic primaries for his tough talk on deficits and the economy. But 1992 was the year that Bill Clinton’s star was born, and Tsongas was no match in the end for the Man From Hope. The fate of Massachusetts politicians since JFK has therefore mirrored the Red Sox’s destiny since they traded Babe Ruth: always close to the pinnacle, but never victorious.
With the Red Sox in the World Series and Sen. John Kerry simultaneously seeking the presidency, 2004 has every indication of being a banner year for Massachusetts’s twin curses. The Red Sox’s opponent, the St. Louis Cardinals, was the best team in baseball during the regular season, while Kerry’s adversary, President Bush, leads in the polls and has raised more money than any other candidate in the history of politics. Superstition, then, would suggest that both the Cardinals and Bush are headed for victory this fall, and that Red Sox fans and Massachusetts Democrats are in line for another agonizing defeat.
But something is wrong with this gloomy forecast. A critical element of the Red Sox’s curse, after all, is not only that they never win the World Series, but also that they never beat the Yankees in a deciding game. But last Wednesday, the Red Sox did exactly that, culminating the greatest comeback in baseball history with an emphatic Game 7 win over the Yankees. As for Sen. Kerry, he managed to capture the Democratic nomination — something that eluded Ted Kennedy and Tsongas — and is polling far better than Dukakis ever did in October 1988. The Massachusetts curses are clearly being strained this year.
And in a few days, I believe they both will be broken, not only because I favor the Red Sox and Kerry over their respective opponents, but also because the symbolism of a Massachusetts triumph this fall would be so perfect. The Red Sox have already prevailed over their eternal adversaries, and now confront in the World Series the team that has ruined the second-largest number of New England Octobers, thanks to the Cardinals’ 1946 and 1967 wins over the Red Sox. And Kerry is now enmeshed in a campaign that in many ways resembles 1988, and faces the son of the man (Bush the elder) who beat the man (Dukakis) who was Kerry’s boss when Kerry was Massachusetts’ lieutenant governor. Curses are fickle things, arising with little justification, and ending just as enigmatically. But if there is any logic to the supernatural, this should be the year when Massachusetts’ twin curses finally expire.
Nicholas Stephanopoulos is a second-year student at the Law School. His column appears on alternate Mondays.