Baseball Was Meant to Be Taken Seriously

By Sydney H. Schanberg

New York Newsday, October 21, 1986

A disheartened Mets fan walked by the open door of my office yesterday and said: “Don’t crow yet.”

It was unnecessary advice. He should have known, being a knowledgeable student of baseball, that Red Sox fans have learned — through decades of angst and disappointment and 11th-hour crashing of hopes — not to crow.

there is no need to list here the “almost” years, those bitter seasons when the Red Sox came so close to pennants and Series victories only to see dreams deferred. The hollow pain is seared into memory and only a masochist would inflict upon himself a recounting of the tragedies.

A true Red Sox acolyte is one who has acquired grace under pressure (not to mention such skills as how to muffle curses, gnash teeth silently and live with an acid stomach), for he has had no other choice. Character, the oracles tell us, is built in this fashion.

I have had 40 years to work on mine, for it was 1946 when my addiction to the Red Sox and psychic pain began, at the age of 12 in Clinton, Mass., in front of a radio that delivered terrible sounds from the seventh game of the Series. By now, the hurt resides like a permanent tenant in the bones.

So it is a pleasant Monday afternoon as I type this confession, but not a cocky or even confident day — certainly not a time for crowing. For we are ahead in the Series, two games to none, over the speedy and young and brash and trendy and magical Mets — but victory is still two games away, and we know how far a distance that might be.

All I had hoped for, going into this contest against a team that was judged superior by virtually every sports pundit in the land, was that my Red Sox would not embarrass the family. And they have not. They have won the first two games in their adversary’s arena, with hostile lions growling for blood from the stands. If they win more, it will be an epiphany. And if they do not, we will know how to handle it.

The pundits assured us at the season’s beginning that the hapless Red Sox would finish no higher than fifth in the American League’s Eastern Division. Then, when the team moved into first place in May and kept clinging there as the weeks passed, these soothsayers, who write for the ages, chortled and said that once again the star-crossed Red Sox would choke and fold and metamorphose into their true persona as “The Boston Stranglers.” But they won their division, so the omniscient freeloaders of the sporting press scoffed anew and assured us that the team would perform its collapse in the league playoffs.

But now somehow, predictions confounded, it’s the Red Sox doing battle with the Mets in the World Series. Ah, those sporting life with the typewriters! I am still waiting for them to admit error — or at least terminal indigestion. I will not hold my breath.

I wish no ill fortune for the Mets; I cheered for them during the season and the playoffs. But I cannot but wish better fortune for the team that so long ago invaded my blood stream, for better or worse.

I do have some pet peeves, however, and, at the risk of veering from noble sentiments and character-building, I air them here.

I am tired of so-called sophisticates telling me that baseball is trivial, silly, lacking in significance, an opiate for the masses. Baseball is serious, at least as serious as other performing arts. The people who wrinkle their noses at baseball fans are the same people who sneer at mystery novels. They have never read Josephine Tey. And if they have been to a major league baseball game, then they have not truly allowed their eyes and minds to see it.

Some of these same sniffers take over the ground-level boxes at World Series games. It’s known as the celebrity maneuver, being seen at major events along with mayors and other feeders at the public trough whose knowledge of baseball is so thin that they think a double steal is two payoffs for the same illicit favor.

There, I’ve got the bile off my chest and we can go back to the meaning of the Red Sox, to whom I was introduced by my Uncle  Charlie. He was a stockbroker, but he knew that the market was a game and baseball was the serious thing.

My Uncle Dave was, for some exotic reason (maybe it was the grace of Joe DiMaggio) a Yankees fan. But he took us to Fenway with a picnic lunch of corned beef sandwiches bought at Weintraub’s delicatessen in Worcester, because baseball is serious and Yankee Stadium was not accessible. 

And then there was my father, Louis, who became addicted after I did and who would sit in front of the television set and swear at the failures of his Red Sox and the disappointment this churned in his stomach. And he would say to me, time and again, ignoring his own discontent: “What are you getting upset about? It’s not going to change your life.” He said these things because he knew baseball was serious.

He knew what all true fans know — that baseball is a crucible of character, a measure of class.

May both teams have it, but may the Red Sox have more of it.

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