That last epithet may sound mean-spirited, and one really can't gainsay that charge very well. And yet my use of it speaks to another reason I have the television off this evening, as most evenings lately. I'll tell you the one program I do watch in a moment. You may have guessed by the time we reach the moment of revelation, but perhaps not. How else to create suspense?
The World Series for me involves memory, a rather profound cluster of memories. I have, for some reason, a very clear memory of the Pirates and the Yankees, Yogi Berra and Bill Mazerowski. I had the tv to myself and found it very exciting, this in the days before I had learned to hate the Yankees. Even this does not explain my not having the World Series on tonight.
The cluster of memories involves the summer 0f 1967 (by which time I did hate the Yankees). Some of those memories, most of them, in fact, took place far from Fenway Park; I don't even remember the game I saw there that summer (or was it the next?) Some of the fondest involve not a tv but any of a number of radios. One of my most important took place on a beach where we went on Cape Cod every summer. My father brought a transistor down to the beach to listen while the Red Sox played an afternoon game at Fenway, an hour-and-a-half away by car. The Sox were in a wild four-way pennant race, and had shown signs of fading. Lately, though, they had, as my father would say, "started playing some baseball."
I don't remember what they did that day, but I remember a tremendous sense of sharing with my parents, sitting on the sand gathered around the radio, my father fiddling with reception every now and again, losing it altogether once and getting it back a few minutes later. I remember my sister getting interested as the season wore on, she realized Jim Lonborg, their ace, was really cute, and that they had a legitimate but fragile shot at the pennant. I do know Tony Conigliaro's career effectively ended with a fastball too far up and way too inside while we were at the beach. Mr. Mooney, a high school principal I thought of virtually as a grandfather and who rented a cottage a couple of blocks from ours, attended that game with his real grandson. He told us of the sickening sound. Conigliaro's demise had a great deal to do with the imposition of the batting helmet.
I remember squeezing in a trip to get cider with my sister and then watching the "impossible dream," as the announcer Ken coleman dubbed it, play out the last day of the season. They had to win the last two games against Harmon Killebrew and the front-running Twins, and then wait for the White Sox, I think, and the Tigers to lose. Lonborg was brilliant, one domino fell, then the Angels of all teams--still a new and not very good franchise--beat the Tigers in Detroit as early evening set in on the East Coast. The Red Sox had made it to the World Series.
Then came the awful realization that they would play the St. Louis Cardinals. Not awful because of the Cardinals' prodigious talent. The Red Sox took them to seven games, and had the home field. Awful because my favorite team had to face my favorite National League team. My favorite group of players had to play my single favorite player in baseball, the tenacious right-hander Bob Gibson. That same Bob Gibson whose inspirational autobiography I'd read. He who took possession of the record number of strikeouts in a World Series game against my Red Sox, as my seventh-grade music class, pre-empted for once, watched in deepening horror. Gibson allowed two runs in game seven, on a quirky inside-the-park only-in-Fenway home run by George Scott, a beloved, porcine first baseman who would never make it in this steroid world.
I had no idea adults considered Gibson all-but-too aggressive as a pitcher. I heard the accolades; the criticisms remained too subtle to overcome hero-worship. We considered Ken Harrelson "colorful" then; I wonder what writers would do to him now. Which brings us back to A-Drug. No doubt kids in New York, New Jersey, northeastern Pennsylvania--where there are very few Phillies fans--and southwestern Connecticut find his talent mesmerizing, his accomplishments galvanizing, and his timing breathtaking at times. Let them have that; let them have Jeter's brilliance and neither know nor care about the off-field stuff. They deserve those memories, high-fiving their mom after a particularly timely home run. They'll have those moments for as long as they have a memory.
None of that can have the same charge for me anymore. Sure, Curt Schilling's bleeding tendon impressed me, but I know too much about his politics. Besides, once they ceased to rely entirely on their farm system they ceased to be the old Red Sox, Tom Yawkey's Red Sox, and became Theo Epstein's Red Sox, a not altogether different thing than George Steinbrenner's Yankees. Pardon my Anglo-Saxon, but yuck.
Memory may deceive, but its value lies in its very purity, even if the things remembered lack such purity. I didn't see the viciousness in Bob Gibson, just the speed, the grace, the efficiency, the intensity. It didn't matter that George Scott weighed too much, he was a gentle soul from Alabama who knew how to reach the Green Monster, the famed left-field wall. Memory certainly has access to pain, and a great deal of it, but athletics offer those of us brought up on them a refuge for sharing. The griefs take on a particular pain over time, or they blur willfully; the joys take on a particular shine, exaggerated or no does not matter.
My favorite tv show? A combination of grittiness, violence, humanity, even eccentricity, brilliance, and passion organized around a complicated but decent man dedicated to the simple but difficult principle of the Marines, "Semper Fi." If you need me to tell you the name of the show--N.C.I.S. (Naval Criminal Investigation Service)--you watch less tv than I do.