This week marks the 10th anniversary of an impossible feat; when the Boston Red Sox pulled victory out of the jaws of defeat with an improbable four game comeback against their sworn enemies, forever rivals, forged in fire, with the immortal fuck-up of The Curse of the Bambino as the kicking-off point, the ever-smug and very victorious New York Yankees.
As befitting the mythology of the Boston Red Sox’s 86-year reign of hilarious, glorious failure, starting since they sold baseball genius Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees, it wasn’t the Sox winning the 2004 series in a four-game sweep over the St. Louis Cardinals that broke the curse, it was the comeback for the American League Championships in 2004 over the Yankees that did it. It was, to its credit, great baseball — the Yankees were an inning away from winning the series in four short games, when a steal and a single tied the game up, with the Red Sox winning in extra innings. It seemed improbable as it was happening, but Boston pulled out the series. The next week’s World Series was nearly an afterthought. People weren’t even that mad about the fact that Jimmy Fallon and Drew Barrymore ran on the field to make out and film scenes from their Red Sox rom-com Fever Pitch.
But it was a very strange thing to observe, as someone who grew up in the Boston area, who understood what the tribal loyalties of town and team meant for whole swaths of people, as Boston teams started winning in the 2000s. The Patriots had started it, with Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, and then the Sox kept that streak going. Even the once-mighty Boston Celtics won their first Championship in years in 2008.
There was something beautiful about growing up in Boston and having whole conversations about the Red Sox and Boston sports teams as a whole when they were lovable losers. To love something that much in the face of certain disappointment, disappointment of the epic, cosmically twisted sort, was a certain kind of reliable faith. It gave you common ground with someone you’d meet in the area. Funny enough, when I was writing for a local paper and doing “meetings” where we’d have to be at an “interesting location,” more often than not, the people would suggest a Red Sox game, in an effort to endear me to writing about them. (I always said, no, I can’t afford tickets, and we only need an hour, guys, not a baseball game.) But as the teams won, where did that faith go? No more was it a beautiful march against time, a love of just being a fan of something, through better or worse, a marriage to a sport. Now it was an occasionally mutually beneficial relationship.
It felt like no coincidence that as Boston sports teams started winning, Boston itself was changing, severely. While it’s been very consistently one of the most expensive cities in the country, as the 2000s marched on, the influx of biotech industries made it very difficult to afford. The once fertile scene of Boston punk that birthed bands like the Pixies became nearly nonexistent. Meanwhile, Boston had become a popular setting in movies set in the Boston underworld that was becoming its own mythical lore (Whitey Bulger, FBI most wanted fugitive, was still on the run), between Martin Scorsese’s Best Picture-winning The Departed and the very beginning of the Ben Affleck oeuvre (Gone Baby Gone, The Town).
Things that made Boston Boston felt like they were disappearing. It wasn’t a bad thing, per se — change is a constant, evolution is fine — but it was a loss of personality and individualism in some ways. We were in some strange world where the sports teams won and townie regionalism was celebrated on screen, even as an oft-filmed locale like South Boston was becoming more upscale. We couldn’t even lionize the 2004 Boston Red Sox team that much: Curt Schilling, the man with the literal Red sock, winning a game with his ankle bleeding, turned out to be a shyster and hypocrite, campaigning for Republicians while bleeding Rhode Island dry with a failed gaming company.
It seemed like a funny thing to celebrate when the culture that brought Boston’s regionalism to the fore was basically becoming obsolete: but winners beget winners, and Boston turned from the frustrated intellectual with a chip on his shoulder, insisting that his city was “the Hub of the universe” since America basically began there (while always losing out to New York, a fight that New York doesn’t even know that it’s in), to, well, the evil jocks. Even Whitey Bulger, the fucked-up Robin Hood of the area, got caught and is currently facing life in prison.
Cities change, of course. (It’s a whole genre of essay writing these days!) But hey, ten years ago some really good baseball happened, Boston maybe reached its apex of being Boston, and now when I want to romanticize a sports team, there’s the Chicago Cubs, I guess. Their curse still marches on. But John Updike never wrote anything that interesting about them.