Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Red Sox in September

“No good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit; for each tree is known by its own fruit. Figs are not gathered from thorns, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. The good person out of the good treasure of the heart produces good, and the evil person out of evil treasure produces evil; for it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks."
Luke 6:43-45

Yesterday afternoon, in my car, I was listening to sports talk on the radio. It was all about the collapse of the Red Sox this September.

The question, of course, is how this team, which entered the season with an embarrassment of talent, could possibly play this badly. Going into last night’s game, their September record was something like 1 and 19 in games where they scored less than 12 runs. And their pitching was the worst in all of Major League Baseball. It is epic stuff.

The program hosts repeated endless lists of statistical improbabilities and then narrowed the problem down to two causes: their “ace” pitchers, Jon Lester and Josh Beckett, “have not done the job,” and the team “has no ----- [crude reference to male body parts].” One host made the observation and then each of them repeated it. “That’s their problem! They have no -----!”

Yikes! Have we lost all ability for civil discourse? How have we come to the point where a radio host does not even pretend to maintain a polite tone? At that time of day there must have been some kids listening. Is this what we want to teach them? It’s not just about the language; it’s about respect for human beings.

(And can you imagine one of those guys saying that to Dustin Pedroia?)

To use an over-used phrase, I don’t get it.

Major League ball players are remarkable athletes. They are at the top of their profession. They reach that level because they have great talent and because they are incredibly disciplined.

Last summer, when Jacoby Ellsbury was hurt and couldn’t play, all of the talk show guys (and many ordinary fans) would have been glad to send him packing. The problem, they said, was that he lacked character. This year, he’s not hurt, and he is an American League MVP candidate.

Talk radio only works with negative energy. Sometimes the energy is all negative, from the callers and the hosts. Other times there is some tension. But there is always negative energy.

All of this left me wondering, “Is it possible to be a fan and not be a jerk?”

Is it healthy to believe, as most fans seem to believe, that success is only measured in championships? There is only one winner. Everyone else is a loser. I love sports, but I don’t love that attitude.

On WGBH this morning (I don’t always listen to sports shows) they had a story about the epic collapse of the Red Sox. And the basic explanation for their losing was that they lacked character.

Fans know that athletes have great ability, skill and talent. And fans know that they could never match the athletes at a skill level. But what they (we) want to believe is that if they had the same skill as John Lackey, their character and discipline would make them twenty game winners.

But the truth is that a baseball game is not a morality play. The winners and the losers both play hard. The margin between success and failure is razor thin. Through the month of August, the Red Sox had the best record in the American League. Take away their miserable April and this horrible September, and in the middle they were the best team in baseball.

They could still make the playoffs. And the boys of summer could suddenly reappear.

This September has been painful to watch. But if they do lose and the season ends, “not with a bang, but a whimper,” it won’t be because they lack character. It will be because the other team scored more runs.

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