On the surface, the end of “The Curse” still doesn’t make any sense to me. I’m going to try to avoid getting too judgmental again, but championship baseball teams are usually not built like this.
For example, you might want your ace pitcher to be a three-time Cy Young Award winner and the best hurler of his generation. However, blowing off the media, taking All-Star break vacations that cut into the second half of the season, threatening to leave the team via free agency and referring to your team’s biggest rival as “Daddy” are not championship prerequisites. A 30-inch celebratory mascot also has to be considered optional.
Also, when I build my own baseball dynasty, I’m not going to pick a manager for the purpose of recruiting a player, even if that player is Curt Schilling. The teams that win tend to have strong managers, with the recent exception of the 2001 Diamondbacks under Bob Brenly. Still, the Red Sox seem to have hired Terry Francona mostly because Schilling wanted to play for him.
Somehow this move didn’t backfire in the playoffs. I don’t know a single Sox fan — and it seems like I know a lot of them these days — who had faith in Francona. Really, he didn’t do anything to inspire any confidence. My theory now is that he exhausted all of his possible dumb decisions before the playoffs started, maybe in the second to last week of the regular season.
In a late September matchup against the Yankees, Francona let Pedro Martinez pitch into the eighth inning with a 4-3 lead. Even after Hideki Matsui led off the inning with a game-tying homer, Pedro was left in the game until he had given up two more hits and surrendered the lead run on his 117th pitch of the night. The Red Sox lost, all but ending their run at the division title. Pure Grady Little.
Of course, after the game, Francona faced questions. Namely, why leave Pedro in after he had given up the lead? All Francona could say was that if he had made a pitching change immediately after Matsui’s homer, it would have looked like he had made a bad decision by leaving Pedro in to start the inning.
Yup, when you’ve made a mistake, it’s usually better to let the situation get worse instead of acknowledging a problem. Where have I heard something like this before? Oh, yeah. If Francona hadn’t landed the Boston job, he probably would have been a good fit for the Bush White House. Then again, if any Red Sox player is looking for a job there, it looks like it’s Schilling, who stumped for Bush in swing states as he continued his obvious effort to become my mortal enemy.
Anyway, the Francona meltdown everyone expected never materialized. I could discuss any number of additional facets to this Boston team that confuse me, but I think I’ll stop with the most baffling: Manny Ramirez.
A year ago, he’s on irrevocable waivers. Now, he’s World Series MVP. A lot of people think Manny’s savant persona is just an act. I don’t. For me, the best way to explain Manny comes from Hansel in Zoolander: “Do I know what product I’m selling? No. Do I know what I’m doing today? No. But I’m here, and I’m gonna give it my best shot.” Isn’t that the essence of Manny?
Do I know my team wanted to unload me last year? Do I know who we’re playing or the importance of this game? Do I know that I just embarrassed myself in the field or on the bases? No, but I’m going to come up to the plate and absolutely kill the ball.
Really, it’s a great way to live life. Imagine being able to completely block out anything negative that has just happened to you and just turn the page. Maybe this mentality is exactly why the Red Sox won the World Series. How can an 86-year-old curse affect you, when the gaffe you just made in left field doesn’t bother you?
In the final analysis, everyone may decide that the general goofiness, the haircuts and the “idiots” mentality were the perfect antidotes to combat a losing history and the negativity cultivated by the media.
Then again, if Tony Clark’s fly ball had bounced an inch lower, the 2004 Red Sox would have been forever labeled “undisciplined,” and all the players would need haircuts by next April. Maybe these contingencies are what make baseball so great, even as they further erode my stomach lining.
So “The Curse” might be over. But did it ever really exist? Wasn’t “The Curse” just a series of bad decisions? Maybe it was Grady leaving Pedro in too long or McNamara not substituting for Buckner. Perhaps the Red Sox suffered from being the last team in baseball to sign black players, even though they had the first chances at Jackie Robinson and Willie Mays. Of course, selling the greatest player in history was also a bad idea.
The point is that Boston won’t make these kinds of mistakes anymore. The Jeff Bagwells of the future are not going to be traded, and the money that used to go to the likes of Jose Offerman will now end up in David Ortiz’s pocket. This aspect of “The Curse” was already over before last week.
In some ways, the fact that Boston won this World Series is partially a relief for me. Even after Aaron Boone, it was clear that the Red Sox weren’t going away. Boston’s ownership is now committed to competing with the Yankees, and Yankees fans can expect them to come back every year. Now, in addition to playing for the most demanding fans and the most loco owner, the Yankees won’t have to deal with the pressure of being the guardians of “The Curse.” Forget the baggage; this is just a really good rivalry now.
Then again, there might be more to “The Curse.” In ways that go beyond losing, “The Curse” is also just Boston’s obsession with the Yankees. As long as people in Boston are chanting “Yankees Suck!” — while watching the Patriots — the Yankees might still be in the Red Sox’s collective head. Like Pedro said, on any given day, we can be someone’s daddy — again.