To know the truth of history is to realize its ultimate myth and its inevitable ambiguity. --Roy P. Basler
Lately I have been reading Glenn Stout's supplement to his Red Sox Century book, a volume called Impossible Dreams: A Boston Red Sox Collection. Far from being a literary collection, the book is a series of often difficult primary-source material dealing with Boston's home nine and their often sordid history, from antiquated newspaper accounts (you can just feel crumbling, yellowed paper in your hands as you read them) of the Sox' early World Series triumphs to hilarious early accounts of the Boston Americans' (also known as the Puritans and the Pilgrims)outrageous new costumes in 1907: bright red stockings, which were to be tried on an experimental basis in the home park only.
"Then, if they do not cause any riots, they are to be tried on the road," the account states, with a straight face, as unintentionally funny a statement as I've ever read.
There have been times that reading this book has felt like drudge; others where it has given me goose bumps, as there are things about the Red Sox, and about being a Red Sox fan, that have not changed one iota in one hundred years. For example, several newspaper accounts talk of the Red Sox as a station-to-station team (although most were in the dead-ball era) without very good defense and inconsistent pitching, but with bats that lit up the night. Sound familiar? It seems from some of these accounts that the Red Sox were playing the precise same style of baseball in 1903 as in 2003.
In fact, the history of the Red Sox ties in with a much deeper history, that of the land itself that the Huntington Avenue Grounds was first built on. Rootsweb has an interesting article (yielded by my Google search for "Red stockings pilgrims") on the clothing of the original Boston Pilgrims:
Each fall at Thanksgiving time we are reminded of the misconceptions the general public has concerning the appearance of the Pilgrims, who are generally represented as somber, straight-laced Puritans in black or gray with exceedingly large white collars and cuffs. The major problem has arisen from the fact that very few historic examples of Pilgrim dress are available from art works of the period. Ever so slowly a change in this impression is beginning to be noticed.
The article goes on to point out that, for the Puritan migrants from the British Isles in the 17th century (which we refer to in our American myopia as "The Pilgrims", but they were, of course, far from the only pilgrims in history), "everyday dress was greatly influenced by the colorful clothing of the Dutch of that period, employing colors such as red, brown, blue, green, yellow and purple." Moreover,
Many of the colors may have been muted in intensity because most of the colors used in that day were those which could be obtained through the use of vegetable dyes from various plants, leaves, berries, barks and nutshells, or occasionally from the roots of certain plants...When the historic records speak of such colors as "sad red," they indicate a deep, dull red.
It's a loose connection to the Calvinist mores that form the bedrock of New England society even today, but it is there--down to our long-suffering pilgrims on the diamond, journeying to their utopia, clothed in "sad red".
Some of my own history has also come to light recently, in the form of a small white box my parents dug out of the attic on a cleaning binge a week or so ago--inside it are every last one of my baseball cards from the mid-to-late 80's, and all of them are in absolutely mint condition--the sides and corners of most of them are bitingly sharp; we're talking "right out of the package" mint condition. Call me a sap if you want, but seeing them again brought tears to my eyes. Especially when I noticed that my heroes, Roger Clemens and Wade Boggs--several cards' worth for each, I would never trade either of them with anybody--were right at the top of the pile.
Most of the cards are of the Sox--at least three complete team sets from different makers--but I have a few packs in there of other players, mostly All-Star packs: Bo Jackson. Nolan Ryan. Gary Sheffield as a Milwaukee Brewer. All of them are stuffed underneath the brightly colored miniatures of Joe Morgan, Dwight Evans, Bob Stanley, Ellis Burks, Carlos Quintana, Tony Pena, and, of course, Wade and Roger. There is no doubt as to where all other player stand compared to the Red Sox.
It's strange to me that the only real holdover from the custom of carrying portrait miniatures, so popular in medieval times, seems to be baseball cards (and maybe wallet photographs, but even those are declining in popularity from what I've seen). More than in any other sport, fans seek to collect and catalog the faces of their players, in a way that is ancient, resonating with cataloguing the saints or mapping royal bloodlines.
According to the Encyclopedia Britannica,
Miniature paintings (also called 16th or 17th century Limning) are small, finely wrought portrait executed on vellum, prepared card, copper, or ivory. The name is derived from the minium, or red lead, used by the medieval illuminators.
There's that "sad red" again.
Even in our secular age, baseball--and the Red Sox--hold a mystique, a sense of deep and abiding tradition, and a religiously ordered outlook on the universe that is as comforting as it is confining. I mention all this because there is an overtone of dread as we find our way to the end of the season, from sarcastic rejoicing (if there is such a thing) that Patriots training camp has begun, to protest over suspensions handed down for Saturday's brawl. But it helps if you step back and see Saturday's brawl as just another brawl, Sunday's win as just another win, Wednesday's loss as just another loss, the upcoming series with the Twins just another rock in our shoe on our storied, well-travelled pilgrim's road.