If the Chicago Cubs look to become more like the Boston Red Sox, there are a few things that would be good to keep in mind. The “epic collapse,” of the 2011 Red Sox, as it’s now being referred to, is likely the best thing that has happened to Red Sox Nation since the 2004 World Series. Seriously, it’s difficult to imagine a single event that could have reminded Red Sox fans of their roots. For a fan base that seems unable to embrace their past, or somehow has become suffocated by it, this was desperately needed. Yes, losing a 9-game lead in the wild card race is painful, but only because of inflated expectations, and willful amnesia of their past.
I’m a die-hard Cubs fan, but I’ve been surrounded by a myriad of Red Sox fans for years. There are some similarities and, of course, two major differences between the two teams (specifically. championships in 2004 & 2007). The relationship between the two teams takes on greater significance with the possibility of front office executives, coaches, and/ or players migrating from one storied franchise to the other. While the allure of bringing the experience of winning to a team mired in failure might be too much for the Cubs to pass up, it would be foolish not to recognize that some aspects should not be imported.
Not long ago, Red Sox fans were enduring 86 years of championship drought, but one would hardly know this by talking with the average Red Sox fan today. In all sincerity, as a Cub fan, there’s nothing more I want than for long-suffering fans of other teams to experience the joy of seeing their team win, as long as the Cubs themselves were already eliminated (which applies to every year I’ve been alive).
I rooted for Boston to beat the Yankees in 2003, even though it was just a day or two after I was crushed by one of the more dramatic Cub failures at the hands of the Florida Marlins (and perhaps fate, if you believe in such a thing). And while I would like to think they would have, I’m now unsure if Red Sox fans would have been able to do the same for Cub fans, had the situation been reversed.
A year later, after another spectacularly painful end to the Cubs’ 2004 season, when they saw a 1.5 game lead in the final week of the season transform into a 3 game deficit, I found it impossible to do anything but cheer for the Red Sox. If you believe in something called aggregate happiness, the total joy experienced by the most amount of fans possible, then rooting for a team with a large fan base that hadn’t won for decades, would produce a massive amount of revelry.
I felt like it was time for one curse, or at least one long-standing drought, to come to a close. I was happy for Red Sox Nation, also hoping in some way, that the Red Sox might provide a road map, a model for victory, that the Cubs could use in a future year.
But a curious thing happened to Red Sox fans after that victory - they thirsted for more, demanding more rings. 2005 and 2006 saw Championships by the White Sox and Cardinals, two rivals of the Cubs, but it was 2007 and its aftermath that brought me, and perhaps a lot of non-dynastic fans the most consternation regarding the Red Sox.
The Red Sox were playing the Colorado Rockies in the World Series. I was beside myself with disappointment, and found myself rooting for the Rockies, a team that had never reached the World Series in its history, hoping that they might also earn a place at the table. To my dismay, the Red Sox won again, and it seemed the beast of Bean-town was fed an intoxicating brew. I began to hear anecdotal stories of Red Sox fans mocking Cubs fans at games. Fans taunted by chants of “Nineteen-Eighteen” somehow thought it acceptable to toss barbs of “Billy Goats,” “1908” and the like, forgetting how linked the two fan bases had been for decades. Inebriated by the festivities, they began to epitomize sports greed.
Having achieved such a pinnacle, they had, in my estimation, become what they had despised more than anything else in the game– “The Evil Empire.” For years, the Red Sox had carefully co-opted and cultivated the story of David and Goliath, assuming the identity of small and crafty David. They never stopped to realize at a certain point, arrogance would make them assume their rival’s attributes.
I suppose it was inevitable that after years of having defined themselves in relation to the New York Yankees, even their own success could not help them in transcending this duality - but it made it no less pathetic. Bloated expectations served only to distance themselves from their history and their identity. It was as if the Yankees and Red Sox had become one team, two opposite sides of the same coin. There was the Northern split-squad, the Boston Yankees, and the Southern split-squad, the New York Red Sox.
Perhaps in 2010, when Martha Coakley declared, during her failed US Senate campaign, that Curt Shilling was a Yankees' fan, she was alluding to something far more profound than she realized. She was correct, even if it had nothing to do with the point about Shilling’s political affiliation that she was trying to highlight.
Indeed, for decades, the Red Sox’ focus has been to one-up the Yankees. The Red Sox raison d’etre had become trying to overcome their rival, from the Bambino trade 90 years ago, to Bucky Dent and Aaron Boone. It seems as though one victory from Brian Roberts and the Idiots weren’t enough; two weren’t enough. Somehow I doubt three or ten would serve to make any difference either.
The desire for a victory that ends a long-standing drought is something that can be appreciated almost universally; it’s endearing. The quest for a third victory (and immediate demand for a fourth) is simply repulsive to those not vested in the team. One more ring won’t bring what is sought. The missing ring won’t rule all others that have been given out. This incessant, rapacious demand for more rings would have even overwhelmed Frodo Baggins.
So for all this, the end of the 2011 Red Sox could not have been more poetic, with the ball popping out of Carl Crawford’s glove allowing the Orioles (!) to beat them in a must-win game. Crawford was, of course, the big heist from their divisional foes, the Tampa Bay Rays, who couldn’t afford the $100 million plus price tag that Crawford commanded. Stats over chemistry was the new Red Sox mantra, though this was not the formula for their 2004 success.
Greed is a mindset that doesn’t know when to stop, nor when to step back and appreciate the achievement of success. It’s a process of never ending accumulation. Frustration over the current situation washed over any gratitude one might have expected from achieving the ultimate experience in fandom. Isn’t that why one roots for a team?
No doubt, the Yankees are expected to be greedy. The rest of the teams in the league have a love/hate relationship with the Yankees, and there’s a fair amount of jealousy muddled throughout. In the end, most non-Red Sox fans can forgive the Yankees for their shallowness; they are who they are, after all. But to witness the Red Sox try and out-do the Yankees in this way is absurd. Many of the issues mentioned above, of course, apply to the Yankees as well. The Red Sox might want to consider letting the Yankees be the Yankees. The Red Sox have a far more interesting identity than to trade it for becoming “Yankees-lite.”
I’m a fan of all Chicago sports, mostly the Bears and Bulls, aside from the Cubs. Thankfully, I know what victory feels like as well. Having seen both the Bulls and Bears win their respective championships, I never get too upset when either team loses. If I’ve seen them win once, that’s once more than a lot of fans have for their respective teams. This is something that seems to be lost upon most Red Sox fans.
Cub fans are different, and I hope, even after a far-away World Series triumph, we will still be different than Red Sox fans. Perhaps we won’t forget who we are, and what we would have to be grateful for. After 103 years of futility and counting, the Cubs are baseball’s equivalent to the fat awkward kid at the school dance, waiting alone in the corner hoping to be noticed. One day, when that kid gets the deserved attention, one would hope he or she doesn’t forget the past; that it’s part of his or her identity.
This epic collapse of the Red Sox allows their fans the opportunity to reconnect with their painful past, and hopefully derive the right lesson from the experience. Past defeats don’t necessitate the accumulation of massive amounts of victories, but a team’s identity encompasses both tragic failures and glorious accomplishments. There’s the opportunity for gratitude over greed. No matter the future defeats, no one can ever take 2004 and 2007 away from the Red Sox. There’s no reason to try and forget the heartbreaks of the past; it’s just part of Red Sox history.
Perhaps Cubs fans can learn from the experience the Red Sox have endured. Maybe there’s a chance for Cub fans to experience future victory with the graciousness and appreciation that seemed to elude our former brethren. We have them as our role models.
(cross-posted at Bleed Cubbie Blue)