American philosopher Jerry Seinfeld famously exposed how irrational we American baseball fans must be: "Team loyalty is a kind of hard thing to justify, in the end. ... Every year, it's different guys. ... You're rooting for clothes, when you get right down to it. ... I want my team's clothes to beat the clothes from the other city. It's laundry. We're screaming about laundry here."
To be a Boston Red Sox fan is to have grown up with disappointment and defeat. After his team won the World Series three times during World War I — led by baseball's best left-handed pitcher, who also was baseball's greatest home run hitter, Babe Ruth — the cash-strapped owner of the team, Harry Frazee, sold the Babe to the New York Yankees, who were immediately transformed into the sport's kings, winning 26 World Series over the next 84 years while the Red Sox won none. There were only two times, 1948 and 1978, in American League history when the top two teams finished the season with identical records, and a one-game playoff was held to determine the league champion. The Red Sox were in both and won neither, losing the second to who else but the Yankees.
When the Red Sox lost the final game of the 1967 World Series to the dominant Bob Gibson and the St. Louis Cardinals, I was there in Fenway Park. In 1975, a full three years before I came to personally understand that God had made whiskey so that the Irish would not run the world, I went to every one of the seven games of the Cincinnati Reds-Red Sox World Series. In 1986, I was in the ballpark again for the Red Sox's loss to the New York Mets.
So perhaps, gentle reader, you may be able to appreciate my side of the following story. On Oct. 20, 2004, 13 days before the presidential election between Sen. John Kerry and President George W. Bush, as I, with childish excitement, was heading to New York to attend Game 7 of the American League Championships Series between the Red Sox and the Yankees, my brilliant and nearly perfect wife, who is the most committed of Democrats on the planet, asked me, "What would your choice be if you had to pick between John Kerry on Nov. 2 defeating George Bush or the Red Sox beating the Yankees tonight?" My answer — "That is a very good question for you to ask, my love, but not a good one for me to answer" — was not acceptable. For the record, the Red Sox did beat the Yankees, and Bush did beat Kerry.
In Yankee Stadium, David, the undersized shepherd boy, had finally vanquished big rich Goliath, the Philistine powerhouse; the plain girl next door was named homecoming queen; Gary Cooper, the solitary sheriff in "High Noon," forsaken by his fearful neighbors, single-handedly vanquished a gang of outlaws.
The realist points out that today the Red Sox have the highest payroll, at $223 million, of all of baseball's 30 teams, while the Milwaukee Brewers, one of the other three teams left standing this year, began the season spending $133 million less. Not surprisingly, Boston's ticket prices are among the highest. Not exactly the orphaned underdog.
Still, baseball's hold is permanent and unbreakable. Millions of Americans will stay up too late and cheer at a TV screen. It may be irrational, but being a baseball fan is really about caring — caring deeply. And you will probably agree that in our country lately, we haven't had any national surplus of caring.
To find out more about Mark Shields and read his past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.