Sure, there were the two historic collapses. It’s cool when something happens which has never happened before. But, what distinguishes that night in September is, even if it had happened before, we wouldn’t have been able to witness it. Less than a decade ago, my baseball options on that fateful Wednesday night would’ve been Rangers at Angels, Dodgers at D-Backs, and whatever game ESPN chose. In 1999, no market in the country would’ve had access to all four games. Serendipitously, the games blended into a single narrative, such that it would be easy, as I age, to find myself remembering it as though Evan Longoria took Jonathan Papelbon deep. More serendipitous, however, is that this blending took place in an era during which it could be properly appreciated.
As fellow IIATMS contributor, Aziz, puts it, “What strikes me about my memory of that date is that the bulk of my perspective is based on modern technology.” Ralph Waldo Emerson (a Red Sox fan, obviously) championed America’s appetite for technology because it “annihilates distance.” He was speaking of the railroad, but the metaphor still works. Sitting at a bar in Long Beach, I could watch three high-definition broadcasts simultaneously from Tampa, Baltimore, and Atlanta. And it wasn’t just access to the broadcasts themselves which annihilated distance. Even in the privacy of their homes, as their children slept, IIATMS contributers shared the moment with baseball fans who were as enthusiastic, perhaps more enthusiastic, than those who were drinking alongside me at Shannon’s. A kind of “virtual sports bar” allowed us to come together in unprecedented fashion. As Brien puts it, “I happened to get on Twitter to see what the reaction was up to that point and it literally felt as though the entire world had stopped to watch exactly what I was watching.” Jason adds, “It’s odd that you can share such a crazy series of events with hundreds (or more) random people you’ve likely never met personally, yet there’s a connection.”
Baseball has frequently been a cutting edge cultural synecdoche. As the NAACP pushed forward the legal strategy that would eventually yield the Brown v. Board decision, Jackie Robinson’s Dodgers won three pennants and three MVPs (one for Robinson, two for Roy Campanella). Curt Flood’s challenge to the reserve clause coincided with a tumultuous period of labor activism, red-baiting, and a sea change in the application of antitrust law. The potency of social networking was represented on the night of September 28th to an extent befitting the fact that it was situated in the midst of the rise of digital activism, represented most notably by Occupy and the Arab Spring.
Aziz: “Those games stand out to me because of my newfound relationship with the Twitterverse. Frankly, I always thought that new social media was hyper-sensitive and reactionary. But that great day in baseball showed me that sometimes, when you cut through some of the hyperbole, you can gain major, immediate perspective and context about historical events unfolding before your eyes.”
Jason: “To me, that night was the ultimate apex of convergence between the newest media technologies available. That our rooting arch nemesis lost was merely a footnote (a big footnote that made us all smile) in an tremendous series of unforgettable events.”
There was a frozen moment at just before midnight when each game was reaching its climax when I looked to my left and the Yankee contingency was rooting for the Rays to beat their beloved Bombers and looked to my right and a guy in a Varitek jersey was intently chanting, almost at a whisper pitch, “C’mon, Jorge. C’mon, Jorge.” Did hell freeze over? “The strangest thing,” says Brien, “Yankee fans were unabashedly rooting for the Rays to plate the winning run against Scott Proctor, and everyone outside Red Sox Nation was rooting for the Orioles to end Boston’s season in the most ignoble fashion imaginable.”
As Brien suggests, perhaps because of the extraordinary unlikelihood of how it all transpired, nearly everybody turned against the BoSox. Perhaps they suffered a Miami Heat type backlash because of their offseason spending spree and excessive preseason optimism (thanks to David for bringing our attention to this source of Soxenfreude). My father, a Pirates fan who has developed somewhat inexplicable distaste for the Red Sox, sent me a series of increasingly excited text messages. The final one, about five minutes after Longoria went deep, read simply, “Top that, Bud.”
Welcome back, baseball. Top that, please.