I man the phones at the Red Sox Hot Line again this fall. I figure it's my civic duty. I live in Boston. I figure I should help my fellow citizens survive this time of peril, pestilence and all-around misfortune. I am old enough to have been through a few of these pennant races. I can help people deal with their pain.
"Take it easy, Jack," I tell the men. "This is only a game. Baseball."
"Be calm, Jill," I tell the women. "You have two healthy kids, a husband who works, a charge card at Filene's. All of this baseball stuff will be finished by the end of October. Then you can move ahead with your life."
I drop my voice to the level of the deejays' on WCRB, the FM classical music station. I preach calmness and common sense. Against a hard and constant rain of negativism, I am an umbrella. On some days I even mention—if the standings bear me out—that the Red Sox are still in first place with the end of the season in sight.
"Stop crying, please," I tell everyone. "Think how you'd feel if you lived in a place like, say, Cleveland."
The dozen red lights on my phone are always lit. I talk for hours. I talk with old-timers who mutter about Johnny Pesky holding the ball in 1946 while the St. Louis Cardinals' Enos Slaughter ran home, and about Denny Galehouse—Denny Galehouse?—being named to start the 1948 playoff game against the Cleveland Indians, and about the final events at Yankee Stadium in 1949. I talk with schoolchildren who say their lives haven't been the same since their mothers allowed them to stay up late on that fateful night in 1986 when the Red Sox were going to win it all at Shea Stadium against the New York Mets. The schoolchildren say they have a tendency to stare out the window and repeatedly mutter the words " Bill Buckner."
The sense of doom transcends all age differences and all ethnic, racial and economic barriers. A woman called this morning and said her cat had refused to eat "since Rajah hurt his shouldah." The television sports-casters report each loss with a gravity unequaled on any other segment of the news. The newspapers look daily for signs of team dissent or imminent demise. The English lit lions from academia write windy treatises about the legacy of despair handed from father to son to son to son, the trail of tears that rolls over an entire, shell-shocked region as the days become short and the nights become cold, as the leaves begin to change and another hard winter approaches this hardscrabble countryside. Or something like that.
There is always mention of a bottle of champagne that never will be opened, though fingers were wrapped around the cork in 1986. The Bucky Dent home run in the '78 playoff is mentioned. ("Where were you?" "I was lying on my living room floor with major chest pains.") The curious pitching change of rookie Jim Burton for veteran Jim Willoughby in the seventh game—the seventh game!—of the '75 Series is mentioned. The past is a tin can forever tied to the present—with a hand grenade inside.
"And what do you think is going to happen with the Red Sox this year?" I heard a local talk-show guy ask one of his callers last week.
"Eddie," the caller said. "Go to bed. Pull the covahs ovah your head."