[This column first appeared in Boston Baseball, July 2011]
You want to believe. I mean you really, really, really want to believe.
He’s your favorite, and your kids’ favorite. And the favorite of about half the 617. John Henry likes him, too.
On a team with little personality, he has most of it.
He’s the kind of story you root for. A childhood of poverty. A long struggle just to reach obscurity, and then he was released. Came here as insurance. Started out as an afterthought, the fourth option. Then fought his way – hit his way – into the lineup, then worked his way up: seventh, sixth, fifth, and finally fourth, cleanup. From obscurity to stardom, the scrap heap to the All-Star, a real life Matt Christopher story.
Then it got worse, which in a funny way, could make it even better now. The swing got slow. The fastballs got swung through. Then there was that report from 2003 . . . then the press conference, the denial, the excuse – they always have an excuse - and the slide. The Yankee fans jeered, made fun of him just like Sox fans made fun of A-Rod and Clemens. He stumbled and fell. Hard. Even the Sox started greasing the skids, sending out the word: “He’s finished. Done.” Rumor was they were preparing the papers for his release. And then . . .
Boom! Pow! Kr –unch! Back like a comic book character, a super-hero. Just when it seemed impossible, came the resurrection, like he turned back the clock.
A few years ago you wouldn’t have thought twice. You would have believed, totally. Absolutely.
But now . . . part of you just can’t. I mean it’s easy to forget and you stand and cheer each hard swing and home run and bat flip, and the way he brings the hugs out in the dugout still makes you feel warm and fuzzy inside, and makes your kid smile, and you can’t wait to hear him talk because he’s funny even when he doesn’t try to be. After all these years, he’s still your favorite, still the one, the one who stood and delivered when they needed it most, the biggest reason no one chants “1918” anymore.
Yet every once in a while, maybe late at night when you’re sitting at the computer, you start to scan the stats, and that little question in the back of your mind, the one you keep pushing away and ignoring, well, it starts to whisper and then it starts to yell, and that pimple on your tongue starts to swell and you just can’t ignore it any longer.
How do you explain it? At his age, how can you explain it? How can he be having a season that by some measures might just be not one of his best, but the very best of his career? How does that happen? Who else did that at his age? What can explain it? There is the answer on the tip of your tongue you are afraid of, and then there are the other ones.
You tell yourself he’s healthy, that he was hurt and didn’t tell anyone and that now he’s healthy, so of course he’s back.
And the weight. Of course – that’s it! All that weight. He loves life and got too heavy and that slowed his bat, but now he’s in shape again. Just like the Babe - too many hot dogs.
That contract didn’t help either. Worries over the option probably gnawed at him all the time, kept him up, distracted him, but once he got the contract he could relax again. That makes sense.
Or else it was Manny’s fault, and that now that Manny is gone, everything is right again, that maybe they didn’t get along or he had a hard time adjusting to the way he was being pitched when Manny was on his way out the door. Yeah, that’s it. It was that bastard Manny.
Or else it’s A-Gone. He’s the Cure-All who fixes everything, floats all boats. Makes total sense. Because A-Gone is here, the big guy is back. He gets those pitches again. He’s got a buddy again, an amigo, a guy he can talk hitting with, another lefty, and some protection in the lineup.
That’s what it is. There’s not just one reason, but a lot of reasons. Add them all up and it makes perfect sense. The logic is irrefutable. And now you can turn off the computer and go to sleep.
But you can’t go to sleep. You stare at the ceiling, still awake, wondering.
You better be. You gotta be. You better be.
You better be clean.
Glenn Stout’s next book, Fenway 1912: The Birth of a Ballpark, a Championship Season, and Fenway’s Remarkable First Season, will be published in October. To order now, visit www.glennstout.net.