As a baseball fan, the only thing you can really ask for is that the front office puts in a good faith effort at competing, and your team plays meaningful games in September. Demand anything more than that and you enter the territory of the hopelessly entitled, populated by the likes of Duke, Manchester United, and Laker fans (and, according to just about everybody who calls it a traffic circle instead of a rotary, us).
Generally speaking, we’ve been blessed in this regard, getting to watch meaningful games not only in September, but in October and beyond. And it’s a blessing, too, that we get to play so many of these games against the Yankees. I wouldn’t have said that during the first two decades of my life, when years of jealously, overflowing frustration, and a sincerely-held belief that cosmic forces we’re conspiring against my favorite baseball team led me to wish for nothing more than to see New York’s American League baseball club finish the season 0-162, go bankrupt, and then be forced to dissolve as a corporate entity after a federal investigation revealed that the entire operation was a front for an illegal weapons smuggling scheme. But, praise be to Mark Bellhorn, that stage of my life has passed. Now I understand how lucky we are as fans to have this rivalry. When Red Sox-Yankees matters, there’s nothing more fun in American sports.
Last night, in September, with the leaves just starting to turn and the night air finally cold enough to wonder whether it was time to put the heat on again, the Red Sox played a game that mattered. It was broadcast on network television. It trended on Twitter. Visiting in-laws who didn’t much care about either team, or about baseball in general, kept checking in as I watched because they knew it mattered.
It did not matter in the way that most of us would have hoped. The Yankees already know they’ll be in the postseason in a couple of weeks; the Red Sox already know where they’ll be going on vacation in a couple of weeks. But it mattered on the field, in a way that’s arguably more fundamental to what the entire idea of sports and human beings trying to excel at them is all about in the first place. One very good baseball player was trying to do the single hardest and most important thing that anyone can do on a baseball field. Nine players arrayed on the field around him were trying to stop him from doing that. For one night, they did.
It was fun, is what I’m saying. Two veteran pitchers steadily worked through two dangerous line-ups. Two opposing stars locked in a batting title race tried to one-up each other in the batter’s box. One precocious rookie just figuring out how to navigate the big leagues laced a key homer at one of the game’s most important moments. It was fun to watch. And when we spend so much time in the weeds arguing about roster construction, and payroll, and financial flexibility, we can forget just how fun it can be.
If you believe, as I do, that the Red Sox front office has not put in a good effort to compete since 2019, but rather, has put in a somewhat cynical effort to compete only as much as they are able to do so while preserving a certain level of profit generation – and that they’re doing so more or less in a system of soft collusion with 29 other owners who have all decided that none of them should really be expected to eat into their profits at all – then this should not be read as excusing them. In fact, for as much fun as last night’s game was, it was also tinged with a certain melancholy in light of the fact that the game didn’t matter in the standings, too.
But I love baseball. And I think it’s important to not let the actions of baseball owners taint that love. A part of me thinks that, in continuing to enjoy the game on a fundamental level, I’m rebelling against a cynical financial system by showing the ownership class that the game remains far bigger than they are. It’s possible that this makes absolutely no sense. After all, it’s our emotional addiction to the game that allows them to so cynically profit in the first place. But whatever. It’s a meaningful Red Sox-Yankees game in September. If I’m so far gone that I can’t enjoy that, then there’s nothing about baseball I’ll ever enjoy again.