Sunday, October 28, 2007
Outside the Aviary: "Transmit Failure"
We're staring at another World Series Championship. It's a fantastic sentence, to say the least, for a a fan of baseball. I'll spare you the lines of camaraderie and list of heroes. I'll spare you the "tumultuous season" speeches and self-aggrandizing "I'm a Sox fan in New York" horseshit. Instead, I have a question-- or at least one is coming.
When I played middle school basketball, my father coached the team. His entire life was basketball-- I played probably four to five hours a day-- alone or in groups-- with his watchful eye popping in and out of my view. I was cultivated for my growth spurt, like any coach's son-- by being strictly fundamentals and no flash. When 7th grade came around, I was a hobbledehoy with discernible skills, yet I was ridiculed for making the team due to my father being the coach. I was harassed in hallways, booed in pep rallies and even maligned by other teachers before leaving for away games. I was a bench player. I scored maybe-- maybe-- 12 points all season.
Still, as my team prepared to take the conference championship, I felt like I earned the celebration. I was front and center in the locker room with my teammates (who mostly hated me, by the way). I talked as loud and proud in the school as anyone else after the loudspeaker confirmed what I already knew: we were champions. I knew I earned it.
There was one kid that joined on about two-thirds through the season. He was less skilled than me, a little taller but with no ball-handling ability, a set of skimpy legs that could not perform the necessary footwork. In short, he was put on the team out of pity after he had transferred from out of town. He never played much-- even in garbage time-- and when he did, he was essentially horrendous. We'd feed him the ball in times he couldn't fail, but he found a way.
So, then, what of the Red Sox championship? If they close out, amidst the champagne sprays and leaping crowds of athletes, there will be one awkward jump and yell: that of Eric Gagne. When a team wins a championship despite its distractions and in spite of a player unable to perform, where does that player fit into the lavish party that is the post World Series lovefest? I mean, as a bench player (like myself or an Alex Cora) I can see the involvement. But as a man that singlehandedly blew so many games in tenable situations, earned his boos from the crowd, became the bane of Sox fans worldwide and never derailed his own failures, where does Eric Gagne fit in? Will the players acknowledge him-- a newcomer who stepped in and failed when it mattered in the regular season, the postseason (other than garbage time) and even when trying to explain his failures?
Even worse, if the Sox close out with another blowout, does he hold the ball in the ninth inning? Does he close out the second World Series title in 89 years? Is that the face I want to see in highlights on ESPN, DVD sets of the season, interviews with players years down the line? Gagne, awaiting the captain, Jason Varitek, his glove tossed asunder, with a shit-eating grin on his face as though he earned his keep on a team built to win a World Series? Eric fucking Gagne? I know Francona would do it. He's got a soft-spot in his wonderful heart for headcases (Coco, Manny) and embattled players (Pedroia in May, Drew all season long) and in each instance these guys have paid him back in spades. Eric Gagne has done nothing of the sort.
If he's holding the ball for the last pitch, if he is the first face I see as the Red Sox celebrate a World championship, so help me, the season will be a little less sweet.
I remember the locker room, the kids laughing and throwing things at one another in joyous celebration. Then I remember this one kid smiling and talking to me saying, "We did it, man. We did it." I remember me saying, "yeah we did," but not meaning it. What I meant was, "We did it-- not you." If the Red Sox season ends with a Gagne pitch, so be it, but you know at least some of the players will look him right in the eye and mean none of what they say.