Cursing the Red Sox and the Cubbies

I will step on a sidewalk crack and risk my mother's back. I will slouch under a ladder while counting to thirteen. I will smash mirrors while feeding meow mix to every stray black cat in DC. It's not that I have issues with mirrors, or a pressing need for psychotherapy. It's that I don't believe in superstition, fate or bad luck. And other than my constant problems with locusts, frogs, and boils, 'bad karma' has never been a problem (just kidding about the locusts.)
But even though I laugh in the face of superstition, when it comes to the curses that afflict the Boston Red Sox and the Chicago Cubs, I believe. No World Series titles for either club since 'bling-bling' was mustache wax and a Model T. Generations going from cradle to the grave without a World Series parade.
This is because of the curse. These teams are cursed more than John Ashcroft sitting front-row at Def Comedy Jam.
In case you have been living in a hermetically sealed, baseball-free zone, let me recap what occurred. The Boston Red Sox and the Chicago Cubs were in frighteningly identical scenarios. They were both up in their Championship Series by three runs, with one out in the eighth inning of clinching games. They both had their best pitchers on the mound. The celebrations had already begun. The champagne was brought into their locker rooms. The curses would be lifted. In Boston, they even painted on the World Series Logo in Fenway Park.
And in both cases they blew it.
The Marlins scored eight runs in the eighth inning off of ace Cub Mark Prior and a cattle call of relievers. In New York, Red Sox folk-hero Pedro Martinez was bled slowly by bitter Yankee hit after hit. Boston manager Grady Little achieved eternal New England Infamy by keeping Pedro in the game when everyone and their mama knew he was gassed. In both cases, you could feel, with each passing moment, the weight of the curse.
I may not believe in curses, but I do believe in the power of mass psychology and how it affects baseball players. The Red Sox and Cubs, from the second they put on the uniform, are repeatedly and endlessly probed for comments about a curse. Imagine this in any other sphere of life. Picture President Bush being asked if Mary Todd Lincoln is responsible for the failures in Iraq. Envision Gray Davis questioned on Fatty Arbuckle's role in the California Recall. It just wouldn't happen. I was in Boston the day after they lost and it was like the city was more heart-broken than Kathie Lee Gifford on Labor Day.
It is the players and coaches that have to carry that weight onto the field. In baseball, this can be crippling. Baseball, much more than any other sport, is a game of searing tension and suspense. The best games are like watching Hitchcock on steroids. We wait for the pitch. We wait for the swing. We wait for the fly ball to be caught, or the slow ground ball to be fielded cleanly. The game is based less on muscle memory and reflex than harnessing your reflexes, caging them until they can be unleashed. Football players can beat each other up in the locker room, rumble out and smash some heads. If baseball players tried the same, you would have three angry swings and an easy strike out.
I remember this well from my playing days at first base for the mighty Friends Seminary Quakers in New York City. Whenever we had runners on base with two outs, and a ground ball was hit to short stop or third base, and that ball would be thrown at me from across the field, my stomach would knot up like Dick Cheney's arteries. If I make a simple catch, we win, if I drop it, disaster.
That small-time story multiplied by infinity is what hangs on every player who wears the Cubs or Red Sox uniforms. It is why you could see the Cubs and Red Sox physically crumple and collapse under the heat of the moment. It is why when I played baseball, I would walk gingerly to the field, careful not to step on a single crack.

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