William Rivers Pitt: Believe

Published: Fri 29 Oct 2004 03:18 PM
By William Rivers Pitt
t r u t h o u t | Perspective
Friday 29 October 2004
"It's the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine."
- R.E.M.
Four score and six years ago, a relatively new Boston baseball team called the Red Sox won the World Series for the fifth time. Not long after, a man named George Herman Ruth, Jr. exchanged Sox red for Yankee blue in a trade that had more to do with Broadway than baseball. The Yankees, who had not yet won a single championship, spent the rest of the 20th century winning 26 of them. The Red Sox, conversely, spent the remainder of the century wallowing in futility and despair. In a bit of eerie serendipity, one of hundreds that have cropped up in the last two weeks, that last Red Sox victory in 1918 came on September 11th.
On Wednesday night, October 27 2004, under the mystical light of a full moon made blood-red by an eclipse, in the 100th World Series, on the 18th anniversary of their shattering defeat in Game 7 of the 1986 World Series, the Boston Red Sox shrugged off 86 years of frustration and defeat by absolutely obliterating the mighty St. Louis Cardinals to capture the title. The Sox earned the right to summit this peak by handing their eternal rivals, the Yankees, the single worst defeat in the modern history of sport during the American League pennant series. In another of those eerie bits of serendipity, the Sox delivered this defeat to the Yankees on Mickey Mantle's birthday.
I think St. John the Divine made mention of something like this. Revelation 6:12 reads, "And I saw when he opened the sixth seal, and there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth, and the whole moon became as blood." A small part of me is waiting for a meteor to come down and obliterate humanity, waiting for that beast with the name of blasphemy on his head to show up, and you can be sure I'll have one eye on the ocean beyond Boston Harbor to see if it changes color. One cannot be too careful in these strange, strange days.
Every member of the now-jubilant Red Sox Nation has been transmogrified into absolute rock-ribbed believers in superstition, magic and voodoo. Consider: I spent the entire division series, the entire American League championship series, and the entire World Series sitting in the same bar (Bukowski's Tavern) on the same stool (fourth from the right) drinking the same beer (Pabst Blue Ribbon) with the same dinner (beef stew) watching the tiny television nailed to the wall above the Beer Wheel of Fortune. Each night, for every game, the people in the stools to my left and right performed the same kinds of ritualistic acts.
We paid for our dedication, to be sure. My back is a ruined knot from so many nights on that stool. My voice is a ravaged shadow of what it was before this berserk rollercoaster got rolling. I am so sleep-deprived that a number of my brain functions - the ones that control breathing, heartbeat and coherent speech - have shut down almost completely.
Whatever. It all worked. The bar, the beer, the stool, the beef stew, the excellent company I kept, and even the maddening gibberish offered by Fox sports commentator Tim McCarver, are now woven into a tapestry of giddy incredulity. Revelation 6:12 spoke of an earthquake, and as anyone who was out in the streets of Boston on Wednesday night can attest, the granite soil of New England did indeed rock and roll. Thus fell Lord Perth, and the earth did shake with that thunder.
Noam Chomsky once described modern professional sports as a profound distraction, a sideshow that keeps the American people from focusing on the political and social events that directly affect their lives. If the millions of average American sports fans had as firm a grasp on policy issues as they do on obscure athletic statistics - tune in to any sports talk radio show, and you can hear people regurgitate data points like who played third base for the Pirates in 1963 with savant-like accuracy - the country would be in far better shape.
There is great merit to this argument. Most of the time, professional sports in America is nothing more or less than a showcase for overpaid boymen, a corporate platform for the sale of beer and automobiles, a sad and constant reminder that our priorities as a nation are far too often completely out of whack. Alex Rodriguez got a contract to play a game for the Rangers, and then the Yankees, that was worth a quarter of a billion dollars. How much do teachers make again?
Sometimes, however, a sporting event can leap past the crass and the crude and the corporate to show us something about hope, about dreams fulfilled, about what triumph can look and feel like once it has been firmly grasped. Sometimes a sporting event can make you believe in hope, in strength, in the simple power of perseverance.
An Olympic hockey team filled with nobodies conquered an unstoppable Soviet squad, giving Americans something to cheer after years of gas lines and hostages and the lingering sting of helicopters fleeing a roof in Vietnam.
A man struck with cancer overcame the disease and rode his bicycle to victory across the hardest race course and against the sternest competition on the planet not once, not twice, but six times.
A woman running a tough 3,000 meter Olympic race was tripped by a fellow runner and fell hard, cut deeply by the other runner's spikes. In obvious agony, she tried to finish the race, setting the gold standard for determination under duress.
A man watched his father die when his racecar slammed into a wall in the final lap of a race, and then we watched as that son paid tribute to that father by sliding in behind the wheel in his place.
In the end, the moral of this Red Sox victory in the World Series is about perseverance in the face of what appeared in every way to be impossible odds. In my business, and over the last several years, perseverance has not merely been a helpful character trait, but an absolute requirement for mental and emotional stability. In May of 2003, when this victory was still only a longed-for fantasy, I wrote an essay titled At the Turning of the Tide. In it, I said:
One of my earliest memories of childhood is of sitting in front of the television watching a baseball game with my mother in our apartment outside Boston. The year was 1975, and the Cincinnati Reds were playing the Red Sox in what has gone down in history as one of the most remarkable World Series matchups ever. The Reds were winning the game I was watching that day, and I turned to my mother and told her I was rooting for them. I wanted to be on the winning side, and even at that tender age I could sense the aura of inevitable doom that cloaked our hometown team. You can't do that, she said. The Red Sox are your team. It is wrong to bail out on them because they are losing. You stand with your team no matter what. Besides, she finished, some day they will actually win this thing, and you'll miss out on the celebration if you discard them before that happens. I've been a die-hard Red Sox fan ever since.
In George W. Bush's America, being even moderately liberal these days is like being a Red Sox fan. You know what needs to happen, you know what is right, and yet some cosmic force akin to the lingering shade of Babe Ruth always manages to ascend from purgatory and batter you into dust right at the moment when something good and great is within your grasp. If you do manage to get your lineup together - home run issues, grand slam arguments, All Star players - you will get completely outspent by the damned Yankees who are sitting in your division with more money than God and the will to use it. Baseball, like politics, has no spending limits.
Baseball is, of course, only a game. There is an annual celebration of shock, heartbreak, rage and woe in Boston at the conclusion of every season. The lights go off at Fenway, the bags are packed and the bats put in storage. Life goes on. No one is dead or broken or sick. No true damage is done. This is not the case in George W. Bush's America. The season never ends here, and the dead bodies are piling up in grisly snowdrifts. The lies are constant, and the ranks of the broken and the abused swell inexorably towards some awful critical mass.
What does any of this have to do with baseball? This is serious stuff, as serious as anything this nation has faced in its history. With all of this happening, and with no apparent way to reverse or blunt this course, wouldn't it just be easier to give up? Where do I get off making trite sports analogies in such a situation? I do it because it is instructive when considering the next step. The issue here is a simple matter of volume, and of hope. People of good conscience cannot surrender the struggle against this rising tide with all that is at stake.
You have to capture the mentality of the Red Sox fan, as I have. You start every season and every game almost completely sure that you will be beaten soundly. You lick your wounds and dust yourself off and maybe cry a little into your pillow. But you always, always think to yourself, 'This could be it. This could be the year.' You do it because you want to be there at the turning of the tide. When that day does dawn, when some October night in a time to come absorbs the victory roar of people who have watched great-grandfathers and grandfathers and fathers live entire lives and die unfulfilled, when the Boston Red Sox finally win that championship, it will have been worth every moment of pain and disappointment.
For the Boston Red Sox, and for those who followed them and never gave up on them through sixteen Presidents, Prohibition, Women's Suffrage, the Civil Rights Act, the introduction of the Big Bang theory, Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini, the Depression, World War II, the Holocaust, the obliteration of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the long slog of the Cold War, Korea, the fall of Saigon, the fall of Baghdad, the attacks of September 11, the assassinations of Gandhi, Evers, King, Kennedy, Kennedy and X, the long, strange trip that has been the stewardship of George W. Bush, and everything else that has marched across the pages of history for the last 86 years, there is a lesson in here somewhere.
Believe that perseverance works.
Believe that hope will always germinate, believe that you will reap what grows from it.
William Rivers Pitt is the senior editor and lead writer for truthout. He is a New York Times and international bestselling author of two books - 'War on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn't Want You to Know' and 'The Greatest Sedition is Silence.'

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