Wednesday, October 23, 2013

How did the Red Sox become baseball villains?

When the Red Sox clinched their World Series berth last Saturday, there were floods of delirious celebratory tweets, Tumblr posts, and Facebook updates on their respective timelines. Sure, there were the scattered mourning Tigers fans, and the bitter Yankees fans - which is certainly to be expected.

But what I didn't expect to see was a single disdainful tweet, from (of all places) a Chicago Cubs fan. It said something like, "How did we end up with an all-villains World Series? #RedSox #Cards"

Less than a decade ago, Red Sox fans were constantly lumped together with Cubs fans like that one: lovable losers everyone can root for because of the hopelessness of their respective plights.

Red Sox fans and Cubs fans were permanently dejected and cynical. The baseball world would collectively pat us on the back sympathetically, half-jokingly referencing the Curses of the Bambino and the Billy Goat.

Nine years and two World Series wins later, the Red Sox are no longer hard-luck also-rans, and we fans gleefully gave up the "lovable" part to shed the "loser" label for good. Our jubilee at breaking the curse in 2004, and then adding another title in 2007 for good measure, began to grate on fans of less fortunate teams years ago.

None of that is exactly news, but to be termed a "villain," the very term we've so long hurled at our hated Bronx-dwelling division rivals, is hard to swallow.

In a certain way, it's almost delicious to feel the jealousy of other teams' fans, but to call our team "villainous" when it's primarily made up of home-grown talent and journeyman free agents seems unfair. Gone are the days when the Red Sox front office entered a bidding war to sign whatever free agent would cost the most.

Instead, Ben Cherington and co. ignored the Josh Hamilton offseason circus (to the chagrin of some fans who have been mysteriously silent since May) and signed mid-range players like Shane Victorino, Mike Napoli, Koji Uehara, and Stephen Drew.

This team overcame preseason expectations to pull together one heck of a 2013 campaign. This is a team that put the entire city of Boston on its back after an unthinkable tragedy, and with a rallying cry of "Boston Strong," proceeded to own the American League. They wear their team spirit on their faces in the form of lumberjack beards - and how can you villainize a lumberjack?

In the end, I suppose it doesn't much matter whether casual baseball fans can get behind us; there will never be another 2004, and there shouldn't be. The 2004 playoff run was something unique, nerve-wracking, and beautiful.

The 2013 playoffs haven't been nearly as terrifying: the Red Sox haven't faced down elimination all year. But 2013 is shaping up to be just as special, albeit in a different way.

After all, I'd rather be a villain in the World Series than a saint playing golf.

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