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WSI News - WSI Spotlight

Red Sox Fan Mail!
by Hal Vickery

After last week’s tirade against the Red Sox and their fans, I guess it’s time to eat a little crow.  When the column was written, the Red Sox were down three games to none, and it looked as if the Yankees had their heels on the Red Sox’ throats.  Just seven days later the Yankees are still looking for someone to administer them the Heimlich maneuver. 

This year’s edition of the Yankees was not a better team than the Red Sox.  The Yankees broke the fundamental rule for survival in the post season.  They tried to go all the way with pitching that was, at best, suspect.  The Red Sox had the better pitching staff, and they won the ALCS.  As this is being written, they now hold a 1-0 lead over the Cardinals in the World Series. 

Despite last week’s column, I can’t really say that I’m terribly disappointed that the Red Sox beat the Yankees.  Anyone around my age (which some would say is older than dirt) who doesn’t despise the Yankees has to be a Yankees fan.  During my youth the Yankees failed to win the American League pennant once in my first ten years as a fan.  The one time they failed to win the pennant was 1959.   

Balancing that off, there is the “O, woe is us!” attitude of the fans of the Red Sox.  The only other fans who seem to wallow anywhere near as much in their misery are fans of a certain club on the North Side of Chicago.  However, I really don’t have all that much against the Red Sox as a team, so I kind of enjoyed them helping the Yankees along to what has been described as the greatest choke in the history of the game. 

But enough about the World Series!  It’s time to do a post mortem on last week’s column.  It seems as if some Red Sox fans have read the column and dispute my assertions about their attitude towards the so-called “Curse of the Bambino.” 

One Red Sox fan who emailed me said that if I mentioned the “curse” to most Red Sox fans, my reward would probably be a punch in the nose.  I’d like to think he’s right, especially since the fans who do believe in it don’t really seem to know if the curse keeps them from beating the Yankees or from winning the World Series. 

Another Red Sox fan sent me a long email regarding the column.  Apparently a White Sox fan sent him a copy of last week’s column, and he took umbrage with my characterizations of Red Sox fans.  I’ll quote a few excerpts so you can get the gist. 

First, you are both missing the point in all the curse talk.  No one except a few kooks (and Boston can boast more than its share of those) seriously believes that the Red Sox' series woes have anything to do with any metaphysical force, curse or otherwise.  And even fewer people think that bringing up a piano or bringing down a cabin will have any impact on Curt Shilling's velocity tonight.  We members of Red Sox Nation are grounded in reality, however harsh that reality has proven to be. 

The thing that bothers me here is that the writer attributes the entire curse business to “a few kooks” but continues to say that Boston apparently is riddled with kooks.  He goes on: 

The curse gets airtime because of the increasingly bizarre and unfathomable circumstances by which the Red Sox lose.  Unlike many other clubs (including the South Side team), the Boston Red Sox have had on several occasions the talent to win a World Series.  Since the early days of Tom Yawkey, Red Sox owners have opened their checkbooks to purchase the best players, often outbidding the Yankees in the process. 

Unfortunately for Mr. Yawkey, he often paid those salaries to players who were less talented than those being paid by the Yankees.  They couldn’t purchase the best players because the Yankees had better ones.  Look at when the Red Sox have one pennants since 1920.  It has been when the Yankees were either retooling or in a state of collapse during their rare periods of poor management.

It's what happened when they had that talent that brings us such consternation.  Without belaboring the details, the Red Sox were the best team in the AL in '46, '48 and arguably in '49, but only went to the Series once and couldn't bring home a championship.  In '67 they overachieved and played admirably despite being outgunned by Bob Gibson.  They had the talent in '75, '77, '78 and '79 but have only one pennant, one heartbreaking home run from Bucky Dent, and two more years of disappointment.  They had the talent under John McNamara in '86 and were only one strike away in game 6.  And they have been at least competetive over the last several years. 

Branch Rickey had built up the Cardinals farm system in the 1940s before moving on to Brooklyn to do the same thing there.  The Cardinals had depth going all the way down to Class D.  They had something like two dozen clubs developing their talent.   

The 1948 Indians had an incredible season from player-manager Lou Boudreau, and tremendous pitching.  The Red Sox couldn’t overcome that.  As for 1949, that was the start of a five-year run by the Yankees under the leadership of Casey Stengel.  In other words it was the start of the longest dynasty in the history of the game, lasting until 1964.  No, the Red Sox did not have the better team. 

It’s also amazing how Red Sox fans blame 1977 on Bucky Dent, completely ignoring the utter collapse that made that playoff game possible.  That was the year of the South Side Hit Men.  White Sox fans don’t blame anyone for their collapse except a pitching staff that no starting pitchers with an ERA below 4.10.  Now exactly who is grounded in reality?   

The less said about Bill Buckner the better.  The day after that game in the 1986 series a fellow teacher said to me, “Did you hear about Bill Buckner?  He tried to commit suicide!”

 I bit.  “What happened,” I asked. 

“He stepped out in front of a bus, but it went between his legs.” 

The Red Sox had a chance in game seven, but they choked.  And if Red Sox fans can accuse the Yankees of choking this year, they need to admit it when their team does it. 

The problem with the Yankees is that their ascension and Boston's decline coincided with Ruth's sale to the Yankees (and note that Ruth was sold, not traded; the only compensation Boston wanted was cash.) The Yankee's sustained dominance together with the Red Sox' repeated failures simply underscores the totality of this role reversal.  So while the curse is nonsense, the fact remains that the Yankees gained much of their talent when Frazee sold them Ruth and a subsequent string of talented players, thereby swinging the balance of power to New York and creating the legendary Bronx Bombers and their massive following in the tri-state area.  And so far, despite grossly outspending the Yankees in proportion to their respective revenue bases, no Red Sox owner has been able to mount a successful World Series bid since that fateful sale. 

The turning point actually came when Ed Barrow moved to New York from Boston and proceeded to buy away all of Frazee’s talent.  Barrow knew the players under contract to the Red Sox who could help the Yankees, and he got them from Frazee. 

The point is, my father lived 74 years waiting in futility for the Sox to win a series. I've spent 42 years waiting, so far with the same result.  And in the course of those years we have gathered what amount to books worth of tales that only Rod Serling or Alfred Hitchcock could appreciate. And I'm sure both Serling and Hitchcock would have enjoyed attributing these events to the curse of a drunk, overweight baseball player from Baltimore. 

And this is supposed to be unique?  Give me a break!  We’ve devoted more than one column to the futility of the Chicago White Sox, who have gone a year longer than the Red Sox since they won a World Series.  We’ve noted the strange things that have happened to the Sox whenever they seem to have success in their grasp.  I’m sure if there is anyone on the North Side who pays any attention to anything besides beer and scantily clad females in the bleachers, they could detail weird things that have happened to the Cubs.  1969 comes to mind. 

Secondly, and I hesitate to venture into this prickly topic, but I take exception to Mr. Vickery's closing comment regarding credit for White Sox fans.  In fact, I have a hard time crediting White Sox fans for anything except filling the complaint box.  Since I've moved to Chicago, neither the White Sox ownership nor their fans have demonstrated anything approaching the commitment and passion of those in Boston.  If you don't believe me, just look at (a) the comparative attendance…for the last 20 years.  You will find that except for the years 1991 - 1993, Fenway significantly out-draws Comisky despite being in a much smaller metropolitan area.  And when you consider where each team finished in the standings, it's hard to avoid the conclusion that the South Siders are fair-weather fans at best. 

How are Red Sox fans like Cubs fans?  When they don’t have a leg to stand on, they bring up attendance.  I did my own checking of attendance, and it seems that until the Red Sox re-emerged in the late 1960s, White Sox attendance was comparable to theirs starting with the Go-Go era.  He neglects to note that The Chairman was regarded by Sox fans as the person who single-handedly stole a World Series from them by leading the Hawks preceding the 1994-95 strike.  The owners of the Red Sox during that time period have not had so high a negative profile.  The Red Sox have also been contenders for much of that time.   

He also neglects the presence of the Cute and Cuddly phenomenon that has plagued Chicago during the past decade.  Maybe that’s because Boston has been a one-team town since the Braves left over fifty years ago. 

While I hear Mr. Vickery's argument that an inferior product won't attract a crowd, I persist in holding the countervailing notion that inferior crowds dissuade investment in the product.  If I owned the White Sox, why should I spend more (when I'm already just breaking even) if no new faces will attend the games?  The one thing that Boston can count on is a full capacity crowd at Fenway and decent TV ratings.  That pays some of the bills, and the Red Sox owners are shelling out over $125 million in salaries to make that crowd happy (even though they are losing about $11 million this year). 

It’s a good thing Tom Yawkey didn’t buy that argument when he bought the club in the 1930s.  Had he done so, he never would have opened his wallet to purchase those players that made the Red Sox nearly instant contenders while Grace Comiskey was content to make a small profit on the club that she owned.  Yawkey spent money to make money and did so as long as he owned the club.  Boston was always one of the highest salaried clubs even before free agency. 

Instead, Mr. Vickery might consider giving some credit to Red Sox Nation.  We Boston fans are legendary complainers.  We complain on talk shows and in newspapers and in chat rooms.  We complain about managerial moves and faltering pitchers and weak-kneed batters.  And when the circumstances of our defeats can't be dissected into such factual explanations, we even speculate on the supernatural. We are loud and incessant and obnoxious, or so I am told.  The difference is, we earn the right to complain by filling the narrow Fenway seats night after night, year after year, no matter who leads in the standings.   Even when it's not easy, we believe.  And a part of us all would die if the Red Sox were to leave town. 

Ah, yes, the Red Sox Nation…rooting for the team from the Hub.  The elitism of the entire Boston crowd comes through the entire email but congeals like the fat in cold broth in this one paragraph.  Yes, Boston fans complain.  In fact, you might just say they whine, and they justify their whining by complaining about how they still lose despite filling the seats night after night.  Maybe White Sox fans aren’t professional masochists. 

So while you are congratulating yourselves for not believing in curses, you might mention that you also don't believe in much else, least of all your ball club. 

In the words of Slappy Squirrel, “Now that’s comedy!”  Like Cubs fans, this Red Sox fan is saying that you can’t complain unless you buy a ticket.  Perhaps the reason White Sox fans don’t buy so many tickets anymore is because they are tired of their complaints not being answered and of hearing the owners blame the club’s troubles on them.  There is a reason Sox fans don’t believe in their ball club.  It’s because they no longer believe in the ownership. 

I would also like to add that I generally attend about twenty Sox games every year.  If I could afford to, I’d probably have season tickets.  Does that give me a right to complain, sir? 


Editor's Note: Hal Vickery has been a White Sox fan since 1955 when he was five years old. For much of that time he also had a secondary rooting interest in the Cubs, which he has shown the good sense to abandon. When not cheering for or writing about the Sox, Hal teachers chemistry and physics at North Boone High School, in Poplar Grove, IL. Hal commutes there daily from Joliet, where he lives with his wife Lee, and their dog, Buster T. Beagle. Hal's opinions are not necessarily those of North Boone High School, his wife, or Buster T. Beagle. You can write Hal at hvickery@svs.com.

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