In the final breaths of October in 2004, Boston broke down. Offices closed early and started late and TV sets hummed deep into the night. On the Prudential Center, 20 floors collaborated to leave their lights on at night to write ‘Go Sox’ on the side of the building.
Our professors understood — in a way they never had when the excuses were lies to cover hangovers or still-drunk mornings — not showing up to class. Some even canceled them, revealing a rare glimpse of realism and context within academia. And for so many reasons beyond the shutting-down of a major US city for a sports team, it was so easy to be a Sox fan back then.
It seems like a long time since the Sox represented what they did in 2004: workingmen, the down-and-out, the accursed, those without access to the higher circles. In short, losers. And losers tend to be lovable. Especially when they make strides to cease to be considered losers. And in 2004, nobody was making strides like the Sox, who shattered an 86-year-old curse that seemed to not only color the character of the fans, but of the city as a whole — an underdog mentality that composed a significant part of the Boston identity.
Now, another World Series title later, just three years after the last one, the contradictions in Bostonian identity abound. Back in 2004, we became ephemeral Sox fans because it was so cool to join them and their city in their assault on history and those who had oppressed them for the majority of a century. It was like slumming it. It’s only American to root for the downtrodden. But now, the 2007 World Series champions have lost the hunter title. They’ve become what the Yankees were when everybody either loved or hated them: the ones expected to win. A dynasty.
And instead of being the eccentric, weird, not-at-all-self-conscious yet endearing little guys, Sox fans are now becoming the eccentric, weird, not-at-all-self-conscious big guys. Sox fans, who lead MLB fans in their fervor and knowledge, also take the cake in quirks and, as my ex-roomie Anthony would say, corniness. Fever Pitch was more right than it was wrong.
Thus, it’s time to re-evaluate what it means to be part of Red Sox Nation, a state of hyper-reality that’s more along a tribal level (they even held elections this year to instate the president of RSN).
“The Red Sox tradition has been clouded by the taste of victory,” said my buddy Anthony Piscionere, a Yanks fan. “They’re now an evil empire!”
This Red Sox dynasty, as it now certainly is, was founded on being the anti-Yankees. If you hated the Yanks, the Sox were the next option because they were, it appeared, the only other choice. They were the US to the Yanks’ USSR, and we were the rest of the world during the Cold War, afraid to forge the Third Way.
And the dynamics of this baseball duality appear to be taking the same shape that the superpower duality did.
It was easy to love the Sox (and the US) for all they stood for — goofing around, liberalism, scumbaggery, general happiness, youth — in the face of what the Yanks (and Soviets) seemed to represent — scowls, drudgery, diligence, straight-lacedmanship. No fun.
Steinbrenner forced Yankee players to shave their beards and cut their hair. The Sox took shots of Jack before ALCS games. The Yankees were pros. The Sox were Idiots, with slogans like Cowboy Up and Manny Being Manny.
So we tolerated things like Red Sox Nation. I watched my freshman year buddy Joe get brownout drunk during Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS — the Aaron Boone game — then berate an elderly lady wearing a Yanks hat outside of BU’s West Campus. We tolerated the self-congratulatory culture, the fact that the fans found themselves to be just as important as the team on the field. We tolerated the exclusivity that gave way to come-one-come-all when Red Sox Nation took shape. We joined in when the “Yankees Suck” chant arose pretty much anywhere, from Fenway to Faneiul Hall to churches. And most of all, we understood the smug closed-mindedness that turns virtually every conversation about the Sox into an argument.
Hell, it beat rooting for the Yankees.
But the Berlin Wall came down and so, it seems, have the Yankees. So what we’re left with is an honest appraisal of Red Sox Nation the same way that the world began to look at America after the Soviets went capitalist. And we can see RSN the same way many see America: bloated, strident and smug.
With two Series titles in four years, this is absolutely a matter of sour grapes. But resentment takes many forms, and only gets sharper and more widespread as the object achieves greater and more sustained success. And Red Sox Nation, so proud of itself, has the outside attractiveness of flag-wavers or Wall Streeters.
Deep down, I love the Sox. But every year, I’m feeling more and more guilty for doing so.