RScapNo, I’m not talking politics this week. (Is that a collective sigh of relief, I hear?) I’m talking October baseball. And how my marriage deals with it when we both have teams playing against each other.

For me the notion of a “home team” is not as clear cut as Sue’s. I grew up as a Brooklyn Dodger fan until they deserted us for the Golden State and then, with some loving prodding from my Aunt Jeanette, rooted for my old nemesis, the Yankees.DT2

Once off to school at the University of Wisconsin, other than rooting for a few different ballplayers (Bob Gibson jumps to mind), I exchanged sports for sit-ins, protests, and occasional classes.

Politics and social service were too hard to resist.

I eventually quit school before they tossed me out and enrolled in a national program called Volunteers In Service To America (VISTA). Instead of sending me to California as they’d promised, I was assigned to a storefront YWCA in Chicago. The Y was located in Uptown, one neighborhood away from Wrigley Field. While I was never able to wrap my head around the Cubs, I was drawn back into baseball and rode the train again and again to the Southside for my newly adopted White Sox.

After several years, a marriage, and a son, it was time to move on. My wife Peggy was amenable to the idea and Matthew was too young to vote. I got lucky and was hired by a social service workers collective called Project Place. More importantly, at least for this post, I became a Red Sox fan. It wasn’t hard. This is a diehard sports town, and I like to have things to believe in. It was also a team with a curse, which, given my family history and my increasingly likely divorce, I could believe in as well. It might have been these reasons or the fact that I moved to an apartment a couple blocks away from Fenway, but I started to love the Sox. It also didn’t hurt that in those days you could actually get a ticket on game day and they didn’t cost you a house.

A lot of my friends are askance when I tell them I actually root for three teams. I personally see this as a virtue; I’m someone who holds on to old friends. But I’m basically a serial monogamist. I think it’s love the one you’re with; the Red Sox are my current Number One. And having lived in Boston since the very early 70s, if I were to move again, I’m pretty sure the Sox would remain my number one.

Sue’s allegiance to her team is much more straightforward. She’s always been a Detroit Tigers’ fan and always will be. Probably has something to do with living in one place for all of your childhood and staying in state (University of Michigan) during her college years. And, as Detroit’s fortunes have, well, declined is the nicest word you could use for it, she has become even more rabid. “The city needs some good fortune,” she says. But she too has been in Boston for a real long time and has slowly warmed to the Red Sox.

Unless they play Detroit. Which is about to happen this coming Saturday night as the two teams begin their struggle for the American League Pennant.

So far Sue and I haven’t talked about the upcoming best of seven. In part because she doesn’t know her players as well as she did back in 1968. (Sue can still name that year’s entire starting line-up and pitching staff.) But this season that lack of knowledge won’t make a damn bit of difference when the teams take the field. I’m gonna hear her chant and watch her dance around the living room cheering, “Go Tigers, go Tigers,” for as long as the series lasts.

Me, well, I’m a little more hard core. I’ve followed this team’s configuration since last winter when they reworked their roster much to the derision of most baseball pundits. “Victorino for three years at 13 million? He has nothing left.”  “Jonny Gomes? Ben Cherington (the  General Manager) must be crazy.” Given his age, there was even disbelief that the Sox re-upped David Ortiz (Big Papi) for two more years. And who the hell is Mike Carp? Jeez, the Red Sox even had to make a trade for a manager to replace the nut-job who held the position last year. Truth is, most prognosticators had the Sox finishing last in their division just as they had last season when they imploded with a set of different players.

Well, the prognosticators were wrong. We finished first in our division and slashed our way through the opening round of this year’s play-offs—despite losing both our closers during the season and resurrecting a 38-year-old to fill the gap. Go figger.

Historically, sabermetricians, statistic junkies who have created new paradigms for understanding the game and a player’s worth, usually don’t rate a team’s “chemistry” very high on their list of variables. Well, I learned something this season. “Chemistry” does make a difference. These guys enjoy playing with each other and it shows. This is a team of dirt-dogs who play hard and count on each other to play hard until the last out of every game.

They’re real easy for me to like.

So tomorrow night (I’m writing this on Friday) the games begin and by the time you read this you’ll know the outcomes of the first two. And I’ll have “go tigers, go tigers,” ringing in my ear.

“People ask me what I do in winter when there’s no baseball. I’ll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring.” Rogers Hornsby


This is the time of year where every major sports league has something exciting either taking place or about to. A kaleidoscope of starting times, match-ups, rival networks, and television stations bursting into sports bloom.

For me, it just doesn’t get any better.

We’re hours away from discovering who will be this year’s men’s and women’s college basketball champions. It’s exciting even though I have no dog in the games. Actually, I might be the dog myself, salivating at the excitement of a final contest. Like my cousin Hank says, we’d watch any final of any championship including sports we know nothing about. Badminton, anyone?

Football’s free agency has slowed to a crawl, but when it was hot there was a great deal of player movement, something that fans love. Trades in any sport often remind me of slavery—only these slaves usually end up with millions in their pockets after the musical chair game is finished. The team owners always end up with more, but hey, that’s capitalism for you.

And here come the N.B.A. playoffs where I do have a dog. A real underdog. The Boston Celtics are limping (literally our two stars, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett on ankle injuries) into the final regular season games hoping to cling to the seventh spot so they don’t see the Miami Heat in the first round. Although the Celts have been amazingly resilient throughout the course of this injury-plagued season, losing eight out of your last eleven games with nine to go doesn’t bode well for playoff momentum. (But the games won’t be decided before there are the jump balls so the Celts still have a chance for another banner. Just don’t bet the rent. I sure ain’t.

I’m not much of a hockey fan until their playoffs, which, in this strike-shortened season, is almost upon us. I follow the Bruins enough to know a couple of trades brought the eventual Hall of Famer who is on the downside of his career, Jaomir Jager, to the team. Since I really don’t know too much about the sport I’ll have to watch some games just to see what he looks like. Of course, those games will be in the Championship Series.

Now, the absolute best! Baseball season has begun. Yeah, April is the cruelest month and playing ball with knit facemasks leaves a lot to be desired. But opening day (this year ESPN jumped the gun and turned it into opening night) is always the harbinger of spring and the hope that comes with it.

I know, I know, the Red Sox aren’t supposed to be very good this season. After a huge salary dump to the Los Angeles Dodgers at the end of last year, the Sox bought themselves a few second tier dirt-dog players in the hope of a better clubhouse attitude and a bridge to potential star minor league players. Not exactly a catbird seat situation. But virtually all 162 games have yet to be played so forgive me for not quitting on my team. I like our starting pitching despite potentially losing one to an injury during the first game he pitched (John Lackey). Love our bullpen big time, and one of our budding stars, (would be two except the Sox spent 9.5 million for a one year shortstop so Jose Iglesias will be sent down as soon as nine and a half is ready to play), Jackie Bradley Jr., a twenty year old outfielder, has started every game and held his own—especially in the field. I don’t know if they’ll keep him in the majors all season or send him down for more seasoning, but he sure looks like the real deal.

I’m certain that in every major league city, fans are doing what I do—thinking, hoping to find rationales for why their team will be in the race. You know what? That’s what spring is for—no matter the temperature. The thought makes me smile.

But it’s not just the rooting that grabs my chops when baseball season begins. It is, as I’ve written in other posts, the game itself. Which is why, when people rightfully complain about ticket prices, ballpark signage, refreshment costs, parking, and steroids, I frankly don’t give a shit. Truth is, I’ve been priced out of Fenway for a decade. Which is why for a buck twenty I buy MLB.com, which allows me to watch every team outside my home area for the entire season.

What I care about is how the catcher calls the game, how the pitcher is spotting the ball, the small adjustments the defense makes batter to batter. The game as a whole and the games within the game. I just love it.

So that’s it from this spring’s sports desk. I understand that what I’ve written isn’t for everyone—hell, Sue’s out there in the yard looking for a hint of green and searching for buds. But if Detroit plays in the World Series (her home town), she’ll be watching.

Heywood Broun: “The tragedy of life is not that man loses but that he almost wins.”


…and I’m still alive to write about it.  Of course it’s off now that they’ve been eliminated from the playoffs. Still, it’s risky business to live in Boston and root for any baseball team other than the Red Sox.

Don’t get me wrong–you’re allowed to hate our home team with unmitigated passion as most of Red Sox Nation did this past season.  But root for another one?  A New York team?  That’s flat out blasphemy.

So be it.  Had the Sox been in the playoffs, I would have rooted for them.  They are my hometown team and I’ve spent my entire life loving the one I’m with.  Problem is, I’ve lived in a number of cities long enough to have genuine affection for teams in those ports.

Before moving to Boston I lived in Chicago and rooted for the White Sox even though I lived near Wrigley.  The White Sox had Ritchie Allen and a manager, Chuck Tanner, I respected.  When given shit by the Chicago press about Allen’s habit of not taking batting practice, he shrugged it off and told reporters to watch the guy hit in games.  Allen eventually went on to win the American League’s Most Valuable Player.  Tanner knew what he was talking about and I had my new hometown team.

But the New York thing is an enduring love that has to do with my roots.  I grew up in Carteret, New Jersey (Exit 12 off the Turnpike) where, as I’ve previously written, it was possible to see the New York skyline on non-factory induced smog days.  New York had three teams–the Dodgers, Giants, and Yankees.  My childhood babysitter, while my parents worked the tavern, (it was a working peoples’ town so the bar was open from early morning until, well, early morning) was a huge Dodger fan so my first infatuation was with Brooklyn.  And my first gut-punching betrayal–when the Dodgers moved to California.

But by then I was allowed to hang at my dad’s bar where my mother’s sister, Aunt Jeanette, was working.  She was a die-hard Yankee fan and I became one too (though I spent many an hour under my covers with a transistor radio listening to Les Keiter recreate Giants games with recordings of crowd noise and sticks he knocked together when the ticker tape said “hit or “foul.”)

The complaints–even back in the days–that the Yankees just bought championships (often using the Kanas City team as an extension of their minor league franchises) didn’t bother me.  I’d already become enamored with my new favorite players: Yogi, Gil McDougald, and especially Moose Skowron since I played first base in Little League.

I traded baseball for politics when I entered The University of Wisconsin.  I hadn’t gone underground; I still knew the stars although I no longer followed any particular team.  It wasn’t until I landed in Chicago that my love for the game reignited and I renewed my vows–forever.

Yes, I’m a Red Sox fan.  But I still have affection and appreciation for all my past teams–other than the Dodgers.  So wearing the New York cap was simply a reflection of that fondness.

But now that they’ve been bounced from the playoffs I have another cap to wear–one that has a fancy D on it. Sue is from Detroit and has a fierce loyalty to her hometown.  Doesn’t care that much about baseball, but can still recite the Tiger line-up in the 1968 World Series.  In 2006 her mom was diagnosed with stage 4 ovarian cancer.  Tsiv decided against extreme measures preferring a limited but better quality of life with home hospice.  Sue, Jeff (Sue’s brother who also lives in Boston) Donna, his wife, and I took shifts flying out to be with her during the final six months.  Sometimes each of us went there alone, sometimes together.  The Tigers were in the playoffs that season and I got Tsiv into baseball.  We watched the games in her bedroom and rooted them on.  The night they advanced to the World Series, Sue and I were both there.  She and I danced around Tsiv’s bed as she chanted along with us. “Go Tigers, go Tigers!”  It was a wonderful moment in a sea of sadness.

So I’m happy to don my Tigers’ cap now as they enter the 2012 World Series.  And it comes at a great time since Sue and I, after thirty four years of living together, are getting married next Sunday.

This year I’m looking forward to rooting for Detroit in the midst of celebration rather than sadness.

Rehctaw from Rawrah http://rawrahs.blogspot.com/,  has graciously offered to pinch hit for me next Monday.  I believe you’ll enjoy his writing and I’ll visit with you all again on November 5th.


I’ve never stepped on a major league pitching mound.  My name is not Curt Schilling, but my Sox are bleeding anyway.

I’ve written a number of times about my love of baseball.  The beauty I see between the white lines, the sweat and prep and luck it takes to reach the majors, the joy of watching people play.

I also appreciate baseball.  During the 1980s I discovered Bill James, a writer/statistician who significantly changed the traditional paradigms of evaluating an individual player’s talent, and team statistics.  He analyzed baseball from a perspective so different it opened my eyes to an entirely new way of seeing the game.  And you know he had to be one hell of a writer for me to understand what he was saying since I still count on my fingers.

But there is another side to the love of the game: being a fan and rooting for a particular team.  Truth is, I have many team allegiances, but I’ve lived in Boston longer than anywhere else so I’m first and foremost a Red Sox fan.

Hell, at one point I lived close enough to Fenway Park to hear the voice of announcer Sherm Feller, through my open windows.  Or to walk over before an afternoon game and score a ticket.  In those days, tickets were available and affordable.

Neither are true today–though you can still get tix through re-sellers.  If you don’t mind turning your pockets inside out.

Just one of many downsides when you finally field a championship team.

Before the Sox were winners, they had a different karma–heart breakers.  I remember a World Series game that was one out away from winning the whole enchilada.  It was the middle of the night so I ran around the house waking up Sue, Matt, and even Jake who didn’t know a baseball from a Big Wheel.  I wanted them to see history.  They did; they saw a ground ball dribble through our first baseman’s legs instead of the championship out.

But that was then.  New century, new ownership, new general manager, new attitude.  Theo Epstein, the youthful GM, even hired Bill James as a consultant.  Still, it took a while for the karma to change.  There was one last hammer to the head season when, during the definitive play-off game that would send us to the Series (and a game we were winning), our manager sent pitching great Pedro Martinez back to the mound in the eighth.  Everyone in the stands, watching on television, listening on the radio, knew Pedro was gassed.  Done.  Nothing left.  Need I say more?  We’re talking another heartbreaking season.

2004 changed Red Sox fever.  We felt the decades of heartache and hatred–even the Curse–were in the past.  We could actually hope.  And succeed.  After 86 years and a record-breaking three game comeback during the play-offs against our arch rival Yankees, we actually won the World Series.  How sweet it was.  How sweet it was.

There was a new attitude.  Big-time spending on players by the new owners (Baseball economics creates a huge differential in terms of wealthy and less wealthy teams.  For years the Yankee’s were vilified about “buying pennants” but, though true, a number of teams are now in that club including the Red Sox).  Management hired a fresh manager, Terry Francona, who bought into the relatively new statistical analyses that James and Epstein believed in.  (Read Money Ball by Michael Lewis for a lucid explanation of these new tools.)

Our bright view was rewarded.  Another World Series ‘W’ in 2007.  Fan life was good.  Fan life was good.  Very, very good.

But now it’s 2012 and something is rotten in Red Sox Nation.

After last season’s historic September collapse, Francona was sacked, Theo Epstein left to try to replicate his magic or luck with the hapless Chicago Cubs, our new GM crapped on by ownership when they rejected his managerial choice.

And ownership’s choice for manager is looking like a pitcher who lost his fastball.  For a team that still relies upon statistical analysis, when the manager doesn’t know whether the opponent’s pitcher is left or right handed, you gotta raise your brows.

(To be “fair” around $70,000,000 of talent is injured so you could argue the teams’ dismal end to last season and beginning of this is out of their control.  You could, but it sure doesn’t feel that way.)

Drought has dug in and suddenly the old break your heart fear (come close but no cigar) is sliding into the 60’s mindset of “they stink,” with a litany of reasons and numbers.

But there are other indications that don’t fit into baseball’s stat game.  Snakebites.  And while I’m not a superstitious person, when the fan has hold, then hold the damn phone.  Everything is a sign.

Which all point to the cellar.  Which makes me hope I’m very wrong.  (I’ve said “the season is still young” a ton of times.  True, but not really reflective of my gut.)

Sue, whose best sports moment is Hoosiers, watched and suffered through the Pedro pitching fiasco.  As is our custom, she fell asleep while I worked the clicker.  About an hour later, she burst out of a very deep sleep, lifted up onto her elbow, turned toward me, eyes closed, and said; “If this is what it means to be a sports fan, then I say fuck it.”

I say, good for her, ’cause I can’t.  I’m gonna bleed until my Sox are in the washer.  Or not.

“Being defeated is often a temporary condition. Giving up is what makes it permanent.” Marilyn vos Savant

Not About Baseball

In 1968, Robert Coover wrote a novel called The Universal Baseball Association about a character named Henry Waugh, who created his own board game with imaginary teams and seasons that ran in concert with the real deal.  Although the book was published long before sabermetrics, Henry brought a statistical analysis to his game that mirrored real professional baseball.

Year after year he played throughout the regular season, his dice-rolling stats generally falling within his, and baseball’s, norm.  Then, one season the entire system began to crumple, dice roll by dice roll.  Henry couldn’t understand the statistical insanity that was occurring and the rest of his life fell apart in his desperate attempt to “get it.”  Something he was never able to do and for which he paid a dear price.

Well, I’m happy to report that despite Boston’s horrific Wednesday night collapse and Tampa Bay’s incredible extra inning victory, my life isn’t headed toward Henry Waugh’s mental dumpster.

I’ve been a baseball fan for as long as I can remember.  Sitting on a stool at my grandfather’s (then father’s) tavern, waiting for the arguments about which game to show on novelty of all novelties—the bar’s television.  I was a Dodgers’ fan, but when they and the Giants deserted New York for sunnier pastures, I became my Aunt Jeanette’s (who bartended at the tavern) Yankee disciple.  She took the time to introduce me to the game’s subtleties and the different nuances of each Yankee player.  She also had the uncanny ability to foresee when a Yankee batter was “due.”  “He’s due,” she’d announce to customers and the bets would begin to fly.  She won a hell of a lot more of them than she lost.

Jeanette was so entranced with the Yankees, I never had the guts to tell her about my infidelities.  At night, under the covers, I’d huddle up to my transistor radio to listen to the San Francisco Giants games—or, at least, New York-based Les Keiter’s version of it.  Using a ticker tape, a recording of crowd noise, two sticks, and his fluid patter, he made you think you were listening to the real thing rather than his reenactment.

But then baseball at the bar and under the covers came to an abrupt end.  It slid to the back burner as I attended yeshivas where emotional survival became my game, and University of Wisconsin, where we ran the bases of politics and protests.

I quit school, joined Volunteers in Service To America (VISTA) and was assigned to Chicago where the two team city reignited my love for the game.  Although I lived and worked on the North Side, I became a White Sox fan since they had one of my favorite players, Richie Allen.  And, like other two team cities, you either rooted for one or the other.  In Chicago, to this day, The White Sox were and are “the other.”  Despite their historically low status on the rungs of winning, the Cubs are, and always have been, Chicago’s “darlings.”

Now I’ve lived in Boston for close to forty years.  Which means I’ve lived for close to forty more years.  I now have more room in my psyche—I can do “and,” not just “either/or.”  My heart belongs to Sue and I still have affection for past loves.  And my heart belongs to the Red Sox with affection left over for the teams I rooted for in past.  Maybe that’s maturity, or maybe it’s because I just love the damn game.

Hell, sometimes I think it has mystical powers. Sue, her brother Jeff, sister-in-law Donna, and I took shifts caring for Sue’s dying mother, Tsiv, who lived outside of Detroit and was hospicing at home.  Sue and I were there together during the 2006 World Series and danced around Tsiv’s bed, singing, “Go Tigers, go Tigers.”  As sick and weak as she was, Tsiv invariably waved her arms and sang along with gusto.  Gusto which ‘til my dying day I will always believe added to her life and was fueled by baseball.

It’s the game that holds me captive.  I enjoy rooting of course, but it’s baseball itself I find beautiful and fulfilling.  The grass, (even the new turf), the grace of a second baseman leaping, twisting, and throwing the ball to first for a double play, the subtle but real strategies, the individual competitions within the larger struggle, the timelessness both in the game’s history and within any specific contest.  The late George Carlin has a bit where he compares and contrasts football and baseball’s vocabulary and the degree to which the words reflect each game’s values.  I’m not willing to say that any game is a metaphor for life or reflects our cultural ideals, but even cynical me would like to think that the game played between the white lines and within the diamond reflects the best of the American us.  The individuality, the collectivity, the energy, and perhaps most importantly, the hope.

Even this last Bad Day In Mudville when three minutes after the Red Sox blew their lead and Tampa Bay (a team I viscerally dislike) overcame a seven-run deficit to win the last spot in the playoffs, there was a rightness, a justice to it. My team had spent the month sliding down a cliff, Tampa Bay spent that same month climbing a mountain.

Sure I was disappointed.  But my cousin and I, who had been texting throughout night closed shop by writing almost simultaneously, “baseball is sure one amazing game.”

Ex-Commissioner and sadly departed “Bart” Giamatti On Baseball: “It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone.”