October 28, 2004

The Ballad of Derek Lowe Part 2, or, Introducing the Curse of Cicotte!

Today's Musical Selection: "Tessie" by the Royal Rooters

Hi, everyone. I know, I know, I'm taking the week off. But you didn't think I could go without writing about this, did you? An 86-year chapter of history comes to a close, and you expect me to sit idly by? No way. This is rarer than Halley's Comet. (Actually, I remember going to a Halley's Comet viewing party. It was supposed to be a big deal and all that, but it was kind of a bust because it was overcast and we couldn't see a damned thing. The year? 1986.)

Obligatory mentions that will, I'm sure, be repeated in every column by every half-wit who fancies himself clever:

1. Yes, the night that the Red Sox broke the Curse happened to feature a lunar eclipse. Everyone will mention this. What some people might not mention is that, during the eclipse, the moon had a distinct reddish cast. It was about the same color as the blood-stained portion of Curt Schilling's sock. I know because I actually dashed out during the sixth inning to check.

2. Yes, all the old people in New England who have been using the dream of an elusive Red Sox title to prop themselves up can die now. Lots of people will mention this. I'll bet, however, that few people were gauche enough to have the conversation I had with Papa Shaft this evening. The transcript follows:

MF: Three outs away from a mass New England suicide.
PS: That sounds suspiciously like a joke, which, of course, it isn't. I fully expect to see Red Sox fans leaping into the Atlantic like lemmings within the hour.
MF: Absolutely. It'll be like Heaven's Gate.... masses of old people will be voiding themselves atop mountains and buildings all over the region.
PS: I honestly wonder how many senior citizens in New England, after this is over, will breathe a sigh of relief and say, "Thank God. Now I can die."
MF: Probably a great many.

I am the same person who suggested that, if the Series made it back to Boston, upon a Red Sox victory thousands of elderly people would fling themselves from the upper deck of Fenway Park, in the manner of the buffalo jumps of the Old West. Yes, I am a horrible person and I am going to Hell.

Now, some things you won't hear endlessly repeated, or might not anyway.

While watching the Red Sox dance and celebrate and pour champagne on each other and pass the World Series trophy around, I mentioned to Papa Shaft that I could not imagine a group of 25 people whom I would trust less with a delicate trophy than this bunch of self-proclaimed idiots. Papa agreed and added, "Strangely, that makes this all the more fun. This is almost exactly what the scene would have been like had the Major League Indians ever won the World Series." And he's right.

This Red Sox club has to bear the closest real-life resemblance to the Indians team in "Major League" of any outfit in history. They look like a bunch of misfits and castoffs, and in a way they are. Curt Schilling played the gimped-up captain role of Jake Taylor. Manny and Ortiz both share the vaguely-menacing power-hitting air of Pedro Cerrano. Pedro has definite Rick Vaughn tendencies. Derek Lowe's season strongly resembles that of Eddie Harris. Johnny Damon looks more like Haywood than Willie Mays Hayes, but he has that air about him. No Roger Dorns on this team, although Nomar did a pretty good job playing that role before they traded him. Terry Francona is no Lou Brown, but who is? (Phil Garner's probably the closest facsimile in today's game.)

More to the point, watching these guys raise hell and go crazy and bring a vague sense of impending disaster to their celebration, it's exactly the way you'd have expected the Indians to celebrate the World Series. And I think that's part of what made this team so appealing: the fact that they look like the scraggliest, ugliest bunch of reprobates ever to make off with the Commissioner's Trophy. They're the most appealing champions of my lifetime, for sure, and definitely the greatest championship story, displacing the '97 Marlins. (Everyone likes to mock the '97 Marlins and call them undeserving champions, but as far as I'm concerned, that was the most stirring chamnpionship I'd ever seen until this one.)

Some random notes from the celebration:

- Your World Series Most Valuable Player: Manny Ramirez. After being handed the trophy by a disapproving Bud Selig, Manny proceeded to make the following statements on national TV:

"Thank Gods I me, man"
"I don't believe in curse. I believe you make your own destination."

Your World Series Most Valuable Player. On the edge of the screen, Commissioner Selig glowered and vowed to himself that next time, he would rig the MVP voting if necessary to make sure that no one the likes of Ramirez would be given national face time again.

- While John Henry was being interviewed by Jeanne Zelasko, Pedro Martinez danced across the screen with a huge grin, holding the World Series trophy high in the air. Then he danced off, and you could see Henry's face for a split second. The look on his face waas priceless. It read: "Pedro... be careful now... don't drop the trophy... we'll lose our deposit on it... that's a very fragile trophy, son... important piece of history... please God, don't drop it... how did you get so drunk already?"

- Moments later, Theo Esptein ran up behind Henry and doused him with champagne. Zelasko uttered this gem: "Theo Epstein has waited 86 years for this." Pretty remarkable, given that Epstein's only 30.

- Kevin Kennedy interviewed Tony LaRussa in front of the Cards' locker room. He looked pissed to a magnitude I've rarely seen on television. He kept repeating "We didn't come all this way to lose," all the while wearing a "My players let me down" grimace. Tough times for the genius. He looked like he was going to go back in the locker room and start knocking some heads together. I'm surprised he didn't end the interview with, "We may lose again next year, but not with the same guys. Because I'm going to kill them all."

- Curt Schilling looked like he'd had about 700 cups of coffee before his interview. He talked a mile a minute rocking back and forth with his hands jammed in his armpits. Papa Shaft theorized that he was on heavy painkillers. Either way, it was clear he was floating on a sea of mood-altering substances.

- Who invited Jimmy Fallon onto the field for the Red Sox celebration? What a sorry desperate hack. The minute he ran onto the field, he should have been maced and beaten. The fact that he wasn't tells me that MLB has sold out completely (as if the little AOL man flashing us over to the replays didn't already tell me that). This is the most disturbing celebrity sighting I've had since my sister pointed out Will Smith standing next to Lance Armstrong when he won the Tour de France.

So what happens now? The Red Sox have had a glorious run, and the celebration in Boston will be long-lasting, and deservedly so. But now they're just another team. What will superstitious baseball fans do for a curse fix? We have the Cubs, of course, but that whole billy-goat thing doesn't really convince anyone, and besides, we're starting to get the sneaking suspicion that the Cubs and their fans prefer losing. So we need a new tragic curse.

May I present: the Chicago White Sox. (This one's for you, Vincent.) The Pale Hose have not captured a World Title since 1917 (longer than the Red Sox, by the way, not that anyone cared). They haven't been in the Series since 1959. I humbly submit that the ChiSox are a fine outlet for our mythic voodoo, now that we've lost one of the oldest and most reliable purveyors of same.

One curse to a city, you say? I say pish-tosh. Besides, any Chicagoan will tell you that, though the Cubs and White Sox technically inhabit the same city, they occupy entirely separate universes.

They lack tragic-heroic figures, you say? I disagree. There are plenty of colorful characters in White Sox history just waiting to be mythologized. We just need to find them. I'll give you a few for starters: Moe Berg, Zeke Bonura, Nellie Fox, Luis Aparicio, Al Lopez, Minnie Minoso, Wilbur Wood, Dick Allen, Richie Zisk, Carlton Fisk (in terms of games played, his Sox are more White than Red), Ron Kittle, Greg Luzinski, Steve Lyons, Frank Thomas. The exploding scoreboard. Disco Demolition Night. Playing in shorts. And of course, the incomparable Bill Veeck (responsible for those last three events.) And these are all just off the top of my head.

Now, all we need is a focal point for the Curse. And that's easy: the Black Sox and the fixed Series of 1919. This chapter in baseball history is well familiar to even casual fans. Books have been written about it. And the easy and tempting route is to call it the "Curse of Shoeless Joe." But that would be wrong. Jackson's participation in the fix is still hotly disputed, and you can't base a curse around someone who wasn't necessarily in on the central event. (And anyway, if we wanted to base the curse on a martyr, we should pick Buck Weaver, who was guilty only of refusing to rat out his teammates.) Besides, Shoeless Joe is overmythologized already. Our curse can never compete with that Kevin Costner movie. You know the one I'm talking about.

No, I believe our central tragic figure must be Eddie Cicotte. Eddie was the team's ace pitcher, and it was Eddie who was the ringleader of the fix. Cicotte lost two games in service of the cause, and in a particularly diabolical twist, he won one game, presumably to prove he could. (Teammate Lefty Williams tanked three games, but to me that's somehow less diabolical than what Cicotte did. Winning the one -- which incidentally would have been the Series-losing game if he'd blown it -- seems especially wicked.) It was Cicotte who led his teammates down the path of wrongdoing, and he on whom the curse should be pinned. Besides, "The Curse of Cicotte" has a nice ring to it.

(To be fair and give Cicotte equal time, he felt he was driven to cheat by miserly owner Charlie Comiskey and his penny-pinching ways. "The Curse of Comiskey" also has a nice ring, and it raises some interesting issues surrounding the park, but who wants a curse named after an owner? Feh. They didn't call it "The Curse of Harry Frazee," did they?)

Now, there is one other small issue. Some people might not enjoy mythologizing a curse based around the tanking of a World Series. There's a sense that the White Sox deserved what they got. (That may be one reason why the White Sox have never gained currency as a tragically cursed franchise among the national audience.) But hell, if selling off a star player to pay the bills is enough for a curse (or barring some drunk idiot and his damn billy goat from the park), surely this qualifies. And even if the White Sox deserved the curse then, haven't they suffered enough?

Besides, joining the curse industry could be just what the White Sox need to revive their franchise. For decades, despite playing in the third-largest city in America and being one of the AL's charter franchises, the White Sox have gotten little to no local or national love. Truth be told, they've been on life support much of the time. They've tried every gimmick in the book to attract national attention. They're had more uniform changes than Diana Ross in concert. And there's not a city or town in North America that the White Sox have not, at some point, threatened to move to.

And yet, despite all that, despite the Curse of Cicotte, they haven't given up and they haven't given in. They've persevered despite everything. And we love that in America, don't we? We love the scrappy survivors, the prodigal sons, the comeback kids. We wait patiently for them and greet them with open arms when they come bounding back out of the ravine. We elected Bill Clinton twice, didn't we?

So I ask you, America, can't you make room in your heart for one more prodigal franchise? Three curses at once, I think we can all agree, is too many; it makes the head hurt just trying to keep up with all the tragic figures and curse-related rituals and fateful flops. But now that the Red Sox have been so kind as to spring themselves from Bambino Hell, can't we take that now-unused space in our brains and hearts and fill it with the Curse of Cicotte? I believe we can. Who's with me?

And on that note, I'll sign off. Enjoy the party, Boston, but stay safe, okay? Everyone else, I'll see you tomorrow.

Posted by Fred at October 28, 2004 01:28 AM

I believe that Jimmy Fallon's cameo on the field is part of a movie he's shooting. Some wacky, madcap affair where the Red Sox win the World Series.

Posted by: frinklin at October 28, 2004 02:02 AM

Good idea to play up the White Sox as a cursed club. But the name just doesn't work. For one thing, it's both derivative and, um, whatever the word is for "different in a way that doesn't quite work, like stripes and plaid together." Boston had "The Curse of the Bambino." That second "the" is important. It's the difference between "The magic of the Amazing Randy" and "the magic of Randy." And who the heck knows how to pronounce Cicotte? I lived in Chicago not too long ago and I haven't a clue.

We need a little bit of different thinking here to get the White Sox curse going in the national media. Something like "The Shoeless Jinx" or "Weaver's Hex" or "The Landis Whammy." (It would be good to bring back the word "whammy" to mean "curse" anyway. I like old words.) "The Curse of the Black Sox" if all else fails.

Posted by: BallWonk at October 28, 2004 10:51 AM
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