I am a die-hard Red Sox fan who grew up in the middle of Yankee territory, Syracuse, N.Y. Until a falling out with George Steinbrenner, the local minor league baseball team Syracuse Chiefs was the Yankees AAA affiliate. I tell people now that even growing up as a white, WASP suburbanite I understand oppression in my bones. I still remember taunts on epic Red Sox/Yankee games from grade school.
What has haunted me, other than the Red Sox collapses of 1967, 1975, 1978, 1986 and 2003, has been the curse. Not the famous Curse of the Bambino. I fear what I refer to as the Curse of Pumpsie Green. As a left-winger politically, I struggle with the knowledge that I live and die for what is arguably the most reactionary sports franchise in America.
Pumpsie Green was the first African-American player for the Red Sox. The Sox signed him in the 1950’s, several years after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947 with the Dodgers. The Red Sox were also the last team in major league baseball to desegregate. The Sox were the Afrikaners, apartheid baseball. A recent HBO documentary entitled “The Curse of The Bambino” pointed out this and several other uncomfortable facts: the Red Sox turned down a chance to sign Robinson. The team continued to sign mostly big, lumbering white players well into the 1960’s. The team’s longtime owner, Tom Yawkey, was a South Carolinian who ran the club like a plantation. Even the few African-American stars signed by Boston, players like Reggie Smith and Jim Rice, felt distinctly uncomfortable during their time with the Sox.
Things may be starting to change. Take a look at this New Yorker article. Compared to the rich, clean-cut Republican Yankees, the Sox are the Democratic, progressive, long-haired populists. Steinbrenner has bankrolled Bush, while Sox owner John Henry contributes to Kerry.
Granted, the article points out that the Yankees and Red Sox are still the rich bastards compared to teams such as the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. But look at the team now. Free spirits like Manny Ramirez, Pedro Martinez, Johnny Damon, Bill Millar rule the roost. In the old days the book on Red Sox team morale was “25 players, 25 cabs after the game.” Now, new-comer Orlando Cabrera comments in Sports Illustrated that the Red Sox clubhouse consists of one big family of 25 crazy guys.
I’ll take what I can get. A Red Sox World Series and a Kerry presidency. COWBOY UP!