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Primeval Empire
2004-10-19 17:50
by Mike Carminati

So in your discussions…I urge you to beware the temptation of pride—the temptation blithely to declare yourselves above it all and label both sides equally at fault, to ignore the facts of history and the aggressive impulses of an evil empire, to simply call the…race a giant misunderstanding and thereby remove yourself from the struggle between right and wrong, good and evil.

—Ronald "Don't Can Me Phil" Reagan, March 8, 1983

It is a period of civil war. Rebel spaceships, striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire. During the battle, Rebel spies managed to steal secret plans to the Empire's ultimate weapon, the DEATH STAR, an armored space station with enough power to destroy an entire planet. Pursued by the Empire's sinister agents, Princess Leia races home aboard her starship, custodian of the stolen plans that can save her people and restore freedom to the galaxy...

—"Star Wars" title crawl

An evil doctor shouldn't speak aloud about his feelings, my hurt and my pain don't make me too appealing. I'd hoped Scott would look up to me, run the business of the family, head an evil empire just like his dear old dad, give him my love and the things I never had. Scott would think I was a cool guy, return the love I have, make me want to cry, be evil, but have my feelings too, change my life with Oprah and Maya Angelou. But Scott rejected me, c'est la vie, life is cruel, treats you unfairly, even so, a God there must be, Mini Me, you complete me.

—Dr. "Gooden" Evil in the second "Austin Powers" movie.

"No comment…No, I'll make a comment. The evil empire extends its tentacles even into Latin America."

—Red Sox team president Larry Lucchino to The New York Times after losing free-agent refugee Jose "Don't Call Me the Cuban Irabu" Contreras to the Yankees

This series, the American League Championship Series, comes down to good and evil, doesn't it? That's what Fox told us with the intro to the series opener that was laden with Star Wars clips and references to the "Evil Empire". Everyone wants to take the Yankees down, right? All they do is spend. Last offseason they had the highest payroll in baseball and then took on the most expensive player in the game, Alex "A-Wad" Rodriguez, someone even the Red Sox could not manage to afford with his current contract. There was a joke headline in The Onion before last season that the Yankees had guaranteed a championship by signing every player. But to quote Homer Simpson, "It's funny 'cause it's true."

Besides they represent New York, which got a hiatus from derision briefly with 9/11 but is again the cynosure of the collective hatred throughout America. Most people agree with the comments from pitcher John Rocker from a few years back even though they would never voice them in public. It's the breeding ground for PC, liberal, "anything goes" mentality from which we are trying to rid ourselves, right?

Meanwhile, the long-suffering Boston Red Sox have been America's darlings since at least last season when the Rally Monkey was replaced by their charming "Cowboy Up" approach. This season, they call themselves just a bunch of idiots—hah, that's great. This good ol' boy mentality is so appealing it can get someone elected president after all. It sure sells in Peoria.

As everyone knows the Sox haven't won a World Series since 1918 after selling the greatest player the sport has ever seen to the Yankees. They were cursed but it wasn't fair: they were duped by the "Evil Empire". Harry Frazee's deal for Ruth is equivalent to Anakin Skywalker's turning away from the force and turning towards evil, but in the Red Sox case it was thrust upon them, and it's about time it was rectified.

What would be considered delusional self-absorption in the New York is hokey fun out in the boonies of Boston. The Carlton Fisk homer even though it did not bring a ring to Boston is probably the most fondly remembered World Series moment of all time. It was even panegyrically praised by Robin Williams in "Good Will Hunting". And the cottage industry that Dan Shaughnessy spawned by coming to grips with the "Curse of the Bambino" included an HBO documentary narrated by Ben Affleck to accompany his book. Affleck himself appears at just about every important Red Sox game, Jack Nicholson-ing (Spike Lee-ing?) it up for the cameras. Steven King, avid Red Sox fan he, even decided to write one of his biweekly books on his Fenway experience, this time with Stewart O'Nan, and it is to be called Faithful evidently for the fan's devotion to the new "Dem Bums". A quick search at Amazon for "Curse of the Bambino" resulted in a plaque, a collage, a T-Shirt, and 711 other products from five of their online sub-stores.

Besides the Sox play in the oldest stadium in the majors, Fenway Park. Built when stadiums had to conform to urban landscapes, Fenway has a short left field porch guarded by the Green Monster. It's a structure that is now often imitated by the new state-of-the-art stadiums even though they steamroll under whatever landscapes came before them to put a parking lot (ooh la la la). Then there's the hand-operated scoreboard, the Citgo sign, the contours of the outfield wall, and all the rest. Fenway is so stored that SABR decided to publish a book about the many experiences of watching a game there, The Fenway Project.

The Sox are accessible to the masses. They look like regular guys at your corporate softball game. Johnny "Captain Caveman" Damon, Kevin "Billy Goat Gruff" Millar, and Bronson "Corn Row-ed" Arroyo looked more like members of the Red Hot Chili Peppers than professional baseball players.

The high drama of the series hits the movie-of-the-week throttle tonight as Curt Schilling attempts to channel Jimmy Stewart's portrayal of Monty Stratton in the end of "The Stratton Story". Meanwhile, the Red Sox will attempt to be the first team to send a series to seventh game after starting three games down. They are the ultimate underdogs and everyone everywhere is pulling for them.

Well, I'm not.

I'm not, and there are a myriad of reasons why, starting with their recent history. You see, I lived in Boston about 12 years ago, frequented Fenway, and rooted for the local nine regularly. However, back then this "Curse" mania that currently grips all Boston fans was not at such a high pitch. Sure, Sox fans would crumble at the mention of Bucky Dent or—dare I say it?—Bill Buckner. It was a great way to win arguments, let me tell you. They had a disappointing past. However, it had not yet been covered in the conspiratorial veneer that now has refracted and replaced the team's history. It also caused the Cubs to come up with their own ancient curse, that of the Billy Goat, to be in the paranoia club.

The ludicrously facile "Curse" aside, The Red Sox have had an, at best, shady and, at worst, incestuous relationship with commissioner Bud Selig (and I'm the one making fun of conspiracy theories?). Bud Selig awarded John Henry the team even though there was at least one higher bid on the table, the reason being that baseball was trying to regroup and re-gather its forces to either force a contraction of two clubs or to bring down real pressure on the players union with the end of the collective bargaining agreement nearing an end (or both). Henry was shifted from Florida to Boston, Montreal owner Jeffrey Loria was ring-round-the rosy-ed to Florida, and the soon defunct franchise in Montreal along with Minnesota Twins, whose owner Carl Pohlad wanted out of, were to be contracted or at least that was the threat to the players and the metropolitan areas involved. Anyway, John Henry married up to the Red Sox when he really should not have been able to do so, and we were supposed to swallow that he was an avid fan from his youth and even Strat-O-Matic player or so the encomiums led us to believe.

For the favor, Selig seems to want to help Henry break the Yankees stranglehold on the division by bending the rules whenever possible (it also could help reign in the maverick Yanks owner George Steinbrenner, who is willing to pay big in order to win, a strategy frowned upon by the powers that be). Two seasons ago, Selig apparently helped launder Cliff Floyd via the MLB-owned Expos under the guise that they could take on more salary for a playoff run, a strategy that changed 19 days latter when the Red Sox in dire need of a lefty bat were at the receiving end of Montreal's largesse. Last season, Selig intervened to get the Sox a much needed spare bat in Kevin Millar, who had already signed a contract with the Chunichi Dragons to play in Japan. This past offseason, he extended the negotiation timetable so that the Red Sox caught snare ace Curt Schilling and wave rules so that the Sox could underpay to get Alex Rodriguez, that is intil the players union wisely intervened.

Then there's GM Theo Epstein, whose sabermetric chops are such that he knew enough to hire Bill James as a special adviser. And yet he delivered a team of eight DHs and a shortstop this season. After the embarrassment of the David Ortiz immaculate glove incident, he went out and got Doug Mientkiewicz and Orlando Cabrera to shore up the infield to the analysts' delight (they had demanded the change after all) even though the change was pure window dressing.

The Sox also sent former fan favorite Nomar Garciaparra packing and then when the deal at first appeared to go sour leaked negative press about Nomah's contract negotiations, about his showing up to camp already injured, and about his cheating at cards in the clubhouse. Well, I made up the last one, but it was getting that petty and ridiculous. This came after the Red Sox made their intentions to get A-Rod known, including the inclusion of two of their biggest stars, Nomah and Manny Ramirez, in the deal. I don't blame him for being less than enthusiastic during the negotiations.

OK, but that's the past. To quote Tony Montana, "I here now, he not." What's no to like about how the Sox have come back in this series. Well, the first thing to tick me off was game three. I noticed that when the Sox fell behind in the third 5-4, the fans got as quiet as church mice. When the Sox came back to tie it, sure, the got behind the locals. But when the Yankees quickly surged ahead for good, Fenway emptied out. Even in the lower sections late in the game, there were more people disguised as empty seats than, well, actual people. Some (including me) have poked fun at the fans at the end ofthat drubbing cheering and doffing rally caps, but at least they were the real die-hard fans. I respect them, but they were few and far between. The fans have gotten behind their Sox with the improbable comeback in the last two games, but they were not there when they should have been there most. Nor should they be allowed to share in the rapturous joy should the Sox come back to win it all. The reneged on it.

As for the team itself, game five perfectly illustrated when the Red Sox are the most detestable group of players this side of Ty Cobb. Exhibit A: In the sixth Pedro Martinez served up a three-run double to Jeter to fall behind 4-2. The next batter to the plate is A-Rod, who gets plunked on his elbow. This recalls the game last year in which Martinez sent both Jeter and Alfonso Soriano to the hospital with pitches in on the hands. If it were any other pitcher, he would get the benefit of the doubt, but Martinez has a history of hitting batters, and not on the rump but in places that could end a season.

Martinez is clearly a strange bird. He feels that the "Whose Your Daddy?" chants represent respect. He threw ancient Don Zimmer aside in an altercation in last year's playoff. And let's not even go into his little friend that he carries around with him.

Exhibit B: David Ortiz is called out in the twelfth in an improbable stolen base attempt. The play is very close but Ortiz is irate. This followed a strikeout in the tenth where the third base ump said he went to far around on a check swing. I agree with Ortiz that it wasn't a swing, but a) they do call that today and b) he acts as if it's a conspiracy against him whenever he's called out (By the way, I think the ump was making up for the miscall on the previous batter, Manny Ramirez, who did his best Tarantella with two strikes and the first base ump said he sis not go around). For a player who should thank his lucky stars that when the Twins foolishly cut him to reduce payroll, he was able to fall into so favorable a position. He also seems an analyst's darling even though he cannot play any defensive position well, usually the kiss of death for them.

If the Red Sox can come back to win this series, I’m sure that I’ll be able to appreciate it as a baseball fan, but I don’t think I’ll enjoy. That’s fine, but drop all the good and bad, underdog and evil empire crap. Keep in mind that the Red Sox were essentially the favorites to win the division at the beginning of the season—they were picked by a vast majority of the analysts out there. The assumption of most was that they would surpass the Yankees when they went on a tear late in the season. They were picked by most expects to represent the AL in the World Series at the start of the playoffs. And they were almost guaranteed victory at the start of the ALCS because of the edge in starting pitching. The only thing that makes them an underdog is that they lost the first three games and game three in epic fashion. The only pleasure that I’ll get out of a Red Sox victory parade down the Central Artery will be that I’ll never have to hear about the damnable “Curse” again.

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