A daily accumulation of history and present as I follow the 2011 year through the baseball season and reflect on the glories and disappointments of the greatest game on Earth.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Babe Ruth

At the risk of being the weirdest baseball fan of all time, let it be known that I NEVER liked Babe Ruth. Not that I'm much faster than Jeremy Giambi in the 40 yard dash, but let's just say, I would have slid - however clumsily - rather than be faced with the dubious distinction of having an out of position Derek Jeter throwing me out at home. Never, never, never.
And the A's would have gone on to the World Series INSTEAD OF PULLING DEFEAT FROM THE JAWS OF VICTORY AGAIN. Why couldn't they have just listened to Jason Giambi when he screamed at Miguel Tejada for being a slacker bum? The future was theirs, but the ghosts... the ghosts do it every time.
And the ghosts are Babe Ruth.
If you're a Red Sox fan, you know.
Here was a man who won 94 games and had a 2.28 ERA. He didn't have a lot of strikeouts, but he did pitch exceptionally from 1914 to 1919. Four other years, he pitched at least once, and he wasn't bad. He wasn't great, but hell, he did what he had to do.
Other than the 20 home runs that he hit before 1919 and the 6 in his last season, he went on to hit 688 home runs over 16 seasons. This includes 1925's dismal campaign that saw the mighty Babe for the self serving hedonistic slug that he had become. However, he came back bigger and better than ever. His next years' totals were 47, 60, 54, 46, 49, and 46. That's positively sick and does a lot to make up for the fact that the last 3 home runs that he ever hit for the Boston Braves in 1935 made him look like a Molina brother on way too much Burger King food.
But the Boston Braves are not the Boston Red Sox, and when Boston gave up their great pitcher / slugger to bankroll No, No, Nanette, by Harry Frazee (originally known as My Lady Friends). Dan Shaughnessey of The Boston Globe then took this to put the nail in the coffin of the city's baseball team since apparently, something had to be stopping the team from winning a pennant since 1918 (other than lack of quality pitching).
But that's not why I don't like Babe Ruth.
If you wanted the truth, the asterisk given to Roger Maris for daring to overcome Babe Ruth's treasured record of home runs in a single season has more to do with it than anything, but there is something in being the Michael Jordan of his field before Michael even was a candy bar in his dad's back pocket that sums it up. It's not hating greatness. It's just wondering what all the hype and hooplah means to the grand scale of the player.
Sure, Ruth was great, but that doesn't mean I'm wearing his jersey.
Lou Gehrig lived in his shadow for years and years of being true class and workmanship excellence, and he was the luckiest man to ever live. I agree with that if you take me out of the question since being married to my wife leaves me really lucky as well.
But Babe Ruth and his crown and his curses. It's all to much like Metroman for me.
Call me Will Ferrell in Megamind, but perhaps the existential reality of not being able to measure up to all of that greatness (what greatness is that? Brad Pitt?!!) has left me in a quandry. In that, Megamind is the story of all Red Sox fans who ever lived (without getting to hook up with a cartoon Tina Fey in ultra tight top at the end).
For years, we waited for a home run in extra innings or a pitcher left in too long by a manager who just doesn't get the city's need for victory. We watch home runs just stay fair, and we still lose. We get crushed by dominant pitchers hitting home runs in games that matter. We lose our young players to injuries or defecting to the Yankees after asking out of the clutch game early. We watch an old hobbled player left in the game so that a ground out can be a game winning hit that dashes the next night's hopes, too.
We win it all, coming back from the biggest deficit ever. We beat our nemesises in 7 and sweep the World Series. But still we wait for the sky to fall. We're not supposed to win. This was a fluke. But then, we come back 3 years later, and we win again, and it's like Will Ferrell and Tina Fey talking to the statue of Brad Pitt, wondering all the while, what do we do now. You're gone. What is our place in this world. Without the curse, we're nothing... well, we're all too many hats and shirts and fair weather fans. Hell, we're not even real hats. We're pink hats and hip colors.
That's not baseball.
What is the meaning of life if we're not the lovable losers? And if we're not the lovable losers, then who is? The Chicago Cubs? Sadly, with the team they're playing with, they'd simply be the Jonah Hill character (Tighten): an over-exaggerated burst of nothing much played into believing that it's better than it should be.
But that said, are the Red Sox with the cast of free agents who are playing for them now anything more than the Evil Empire North that they railed so harshly against when bloody socks, idiots, and "Cowboy Up-ing" was the answer to life?
What is the existential meaning of all of this?
Why is the word existential in a baseball column - much less a kid's movie?
I blame Babe Ruth - or at least Dan Shaughnessey.

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