Introibo ad altare Dei*
By selling Babe Ruth to the Yankees in 1919 -- bringing down on the unfortunate Red Sox what the Globe's Dan Shaughnessy has dubbed the "Curse of the Bambino" -- Boston committed its Original Sin. Cast out of Eden (1918 was the last year the Red Sox won the World Series), the Red Sox have since then been a fallen team. (Will trading Nomar Garciaparra, with his elaborate collection of superstitious tics and rituals, reverse the curse or renew it?)
Red Sox fans have a properly Puritan way of rooting for their team; at some level, the experience is joyless. Actually, the combination of eternal hope and resigned acceptance has more than a whiff of Calvinism: Supporting the Sox means embracing suffering as the primary fact of life and accepting the team as not among the elect, predestined to fail and therefore forever denied entrance to Heaven.
In his documentary film "Still, We Believe" -- released this month on DVD -- Paul Doyle Jr. captures this effectively. Doyle's cameras follow six diehard Red Sox fans through the entirety of the 2003 season. One of these fans, Angry Bill, says, "You live, you die, and the Red Sox are part of how you grow up. They're not going to win but you root for them anyway."
A brilliant review of the film appeared, appropriately enough, in the liberal Catholic publication Commonweal. "Red Sox suffering is a cathedral of loss and pain. It is holy," the reviewer, Rand Richards Cooper, observed. "The Red Sox remind us that life is a trial; that it raises hopes only to crush them cruelly; that it ends badly." Yet this, as Cooper astutely points out, "demands not a cessation of faith, but a continuation."
As the years pass, rooting for the Red Sox increasingly embodies faith in a literal way. As 1918 recedes further into the past, there are fewer and fewer people alive who have seen the World Champion Boston Red Sox. For the vast majority of us, believing the Sox can win the World Series requires believing in something that we have never seen -- just as faith in God requires a belief in the unseen.
In the meantime, the suffering of Red Sox fans is purifying, soul-deepening. Shared failure -- repeated failure, epic failure -- bonds us as a region. As the Sox slog through the dog days of summer and into the fall, we (like Angry Bill) know that they will fail -- we expect them to fail -- while at the same time we hope and believe that they will not. And when, one way or another, they do fail, redemption will be deferred yet again. But endlessly deferred redemption provides, paradoxically enough, its own kind of reward. It tests our faith and marks us as spiritually stronger than other fans for whom entrance into heaven is a far cheaper thing.
Bloody brilliant article in today's Globe by Scott Stossel.
* from the Latin Mass, meaning, "I will go to the altar of God".