In the Yale Daily News last Friday, Steven Smith, the master of Branford College, published a paean to the New York Yankees. He stated, “The Yankees represent to me all that is optimistic and confident in American life.” With all due respect to Professor Smith, The Line of the Bambino must bisect Chapel Street, because from my vantage point, the Yankees have been exposed as the hollow shell of their former greatness. We need not dwell on the Yankees’ sudden and historic humiliation at the hands of the Boston Red Sox, but surely this outcome was entirely predictable and preordained.
Until the Red Sox routed the St. Louis Cardinals and claimed the World Championship, one of the enduring myths of the game was “The Curse of the Bambino.” According to this canard, Harry Frazee, the owner of the Boston Red Sox, doomed his team to perennial frustration and eternal shame by selling Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees to raise funds to finance a Broadway show. After the hapless Mr. Frazee sold the great slugger to the Yankees in 1920, the Bronx Bombers won 26 World Series Championships and the Red Sox nary a one until Wednesday night. More galling to the Red Sox though was the regular rhythm of the seasons, in which the hope and promise of summer was inevitably replaced by the heartbreak of fall, often at the hands of the hated Gotham rivals. But this superficial analysis misses the essential point. The Yankees, not the Red Sox, are the cursed team. The New Yorkers bought the Babe, but it cost them their soul.
The Yankees struck a Faustian bargain in 1920. If success is measured merely in championships, the Yankees made out all right. But if success is measured in deeper, more spiritual values, the Red Sox reign supreme. The Red Sox have inspired great writing, passionate loyalty and love that spans generations. The Yankees have inspired near universal antipathy. They bristle at the moniker “Evil Empire” because the arrow hits too close to the mark. It is impossible to imagine a musical entitled, Damn Red Sox (unless, of course, it were written by a Red Sox fan).
The Red Sox taught generations of New Englanders to support a team because you love it, not because it wins. Losing happens in Red Sox Nation — and in life — so supporting the Red Sox teaches us to cherish the little victories and to have a realistic view of our place in the universe. Every spring, with a resolve forged by the cold New England winters and the hardscrabble fields that have to be cleared of rocks before the crops can be planted, the disappointment of fall is replaced by the optimism of a new season. And every fall turns into a hard and bitter winter. True to this Puritan heritage, Red Sox fans know the Scarlet Letter is a B on a field of blue and a badge of honor. In stark contrast, the Yankees are used to winning and demand no less. A competitive, brash and win-at-all-costs New York view of life. But the cost is too high. For the Yankees and their fans, reaching the post-season is not a special treat to be savored, the blessing of a few more weeks of baseball as the days get shorter, but an entitlement. Lose the World Series? Something went wrong, the season is a failure. Eliminated in the playoffs? It’s not fair! Didn’t win the Division? OFF WITH THEIR HEADS! The essential difference then, the Curse of the Yankees, is that the Red Sox hope to win, while the Yankees are afraid that they will lose.
Professor Smith claimed that the Red Sox have “made a virtue out of losing.” Au contraire. The Red Sox certainly made a habit of losing but always craved the win. And this year, it finally happened. The Yankees collapsed under the weight of expectations and the Red Sox triumphed and rode the momentum to a World Series sweep and the Championship. But as the Yanks know, winning comes at a cost. The Red Sox may lose a bit of their charm as they start worrying about repeating the feat next year. Red Sox Nation can only hope that the dreams of the Sox will not be replaced by the nightmares of the Yankees.
Daniel DiMaio is a professor of genetics at the Yale School of Medicine.