Enough. Enough talk of curses and destiny. Enough whining about fate. Guess what. The Boston Red Sox and the Chicago Cubs became long-time losing franchises the old-fashioned way. They earned it. And they continued their sorry records with the same unremarkable ability to find a way to lose.
For the next 100 years we’ll be hearing about curses and goats and the Babe. Why? Not because there really are curses, but because it is much easier to underachieve when you have a nice convenient (no not goat as curse but) curse as a scapegoat.
For years both organizations were able to provide little but a shadow of a team and shrug off criticism because the fans were willing to feed the myth of curses and hexes. Boston and Chicago were enchanted kingdoms in which the ball clubs were sleeping in glass boxes waiting for a mythical prince. Finally, both organizations have taken clear-eyed steps to improve on the field and in the front offices, and the results have been entertaining and competitive teams.
But I’m afraid this year’s lost game sevens will leave each team grasping at their curses in order to avoid facing what really went wrong. And believe me, there was no curse at work in either place, just losing on merit.
So tell me, is it true that as long as you have a curse you don’t have to exercise sense as a manager and realize when the arm of your ace has become overcooked spaghetti? Since when has it been good managerial practice to leave those struggling starters with nice leads in the game until the lead is completely gone? Heaven forbid Dusty Baker or Grady Little should notice that a guy who’s started a full season of games and pitched deep into multiple games in a pressure-packed post season just might not be the guy you want out there with men on late in a game.
What happened to Baker’s and Little’s judgment? When an experienced major league manager sees a guy getting tagged and struggling running deep counts, he doesn’t realize it’s time for a little saunter out to the mound, wave of the arm, pat on the bum for a job well done and pass it on to someone who may be able to throw a ball that registers on the gun and finds itself somewhere in the vicinity of the strike zone without being that lovely nonbreaking hanger?
So long as there is a curse, you can allow a fan trying to catch a foul ball, an event that causes some level of consternation in a number of ballparks every night of every season, to so discompose you that you can no longer pitch, no longer field, and no longer see the ivy through the overreaction.
The Cubs lost game six because they were unprofessional. Odd that. The more experienced, more seasoned team was the one that lost its cool and never regained it. Mark Prior isn’t the old guy, but surely his reaction to Bartman’s Folly was way out of proportion to the event. And both Prior and Alou becoming completely unraveled put extra pressure on everyone on the field. A bit of professionalism from either of them might have been enough for everyone to keep their cool and prevent the loss of a possible out from mushrooming into the loss of the series.
Wasn’t the post-Bartman moment, with Alou throwing a temper tantrum in left and Pryor clearly out of his head, the perfect time for the old baseball standby, a mound conference? Wouldn’t everyone on that field have benefited by stopping to catch their breath and having good old Dusty come out and say, “It happens every night. Get over it. Calm down. Do what you do.” And barring that, as soon as it became clear Pryor was no longer in the game mentally, wouldn’t it have been smart to remove him physically?
And no, Kenny Lofton, it wasn’t in God’s plan for you to lose the game or the series. It was your responsibility, and that of the other professed Christians on that team, to declare with firm belief that curses have no power, act on that affirmation, and lead the way for your team mates to overcome a little in-game adversity without looking over their shoulders for the next paranormal experience.
Game seven was the natural outgrowth of the loss of poise in game six. But this time, it was the manager who lost his poise, or his mind, and forgot to use the evidence of his eyes to see that Kerry Wood just didn’t have it. Not only did he struggle in the first inning, but even after the Cubs gained the lead, Wood was not his normal overpowering self. This is no crime. That’s why you have a bullpen, and the time to use it was when the Cubs still had a lead. With the way the Marlins play, you can’t have a big enough lead.
The matching bookend was game seven in New York, where Grady Little pulled a Dusty Baker and waited for the game to be tied before pulling a clearly spent Martinez. Pedro did have great stuff to begin with, but it was becoming evident in the sixth that he was tiring. And by the eighth, he should have been on a very short leash. Once Jeter was on, Pedro should have been off. It wasn’t ghosts that woke the Yankees, it was being allowed to jump all over Martinez tired stuff and come back to tie. Once that happened, every Yankee fully expected to win the game and they had a stadium full of fans in full throat spinning more and more energy into the equation.
And that’s the final bit of it. Hard to imagine, but really, the manager is managing not only his team and their emotions, but the fans emotions, as well. Once the fans in Chicago saw the Marlins come back to tie, they fell into the zone of fear that leaves a ballpark uneasy and eerily quiet. Even when the Cubs threatened in extra innings, the cheering had a desperate plaintive quality that doesn’t exactly add fuel to the homeboys’ fire. On the other hand, once the fans in New York saw the rally, the buzz in the old building was electric and palpable positive energy. The entire building expected, and got, the win.
My biggest beef with all of this is that we’ll have to continue to hear about curses, and ghosts, and jinxes. Really, we need to affix the blame where it truly lies, on pure managerial hard headedness. Cussedness foils them again.