Friday, December 01, 2006

This Town

The last time the Subaru's radio was on the AM band, someone, not me, must've been listening to the Notre Dame game, for when I turned it on, the dulcet tones of Glen Ordway wondered if J.D. Drew had the mental wherewithal to handle "playing in this market."

It was the work of a moment to slip in Patsy Cline CD, but I found myself pondering Ordway's question. Not about Drew specifically. If nothing else, J.D's consistent. He can get hurt wherever he plays baseball. Not for the first time, or even the millionth time, I considered the awesome conceit inherent in the "Boston is a special/tough place to play" idea.

For once, I'm not on Ordway's case. He was merely reflecting a long-held regional fallacy. Oh, yeah, it's an incredible bitch to be a Red Sox/Patriot/Bruin/Celtic. Did you know if you slump 0r fail in Boston, fans will boo you? Writers, sports talk radio shows, and TV commentators will point out how you failed in biting terms? Those monsters! And worse, if you get divorced or busted for DUI, it's front-page news!!! Don't those people are cut a poor jock a break?

No, they don't. The mystery is, why does anyone here, athletes, media, or fans, think this makes Boston different from every other town in America or indeed, the world? If there's one truth about professional sports that's true from Shanghai to St. Alban's, Vt. it's this: When you're going good, any town is the greatest place to play there is. When you're going bad, there's no place where it doesn't suck to be you.

Playing center field for the Red Sox is a high-profile job. Compared to playing quarterback for the University of Alabama, it's white-collar invisibility, and the kid taking the snaps from the Crimson Tide isn't paid nearly as much for his troubles. If we move to an apples and apples comparison, being a Red Sox is no more or less psychically difficult than being a member of any of the other 29 big league teams.

Let's take Drew's former place of employment, Los Angeles. Bostonians, New Yorkers, and my native Philadelphians love to sneer at Southern California's laid-back fans. It fosters our deep and deeply unfounded sense of superiority over the millions of Angelenos who've had the good sense to live somewhere without snow.

The image ain't true, none of it. You want rabid fans? A few seasons back a Giants fan was stabbed to death outside Dodger Stadium, an excess no Yankees-Red Sox bleacher brawl has yet produced. Nasty media? Sox fans may hate Dan Shaughnessy, but he's snarky and snide at his worst. Now, T.J. Simers of the LA Times, there's mean in action. The Dodgers are accompanied by a media corps almost as large and every bit as querulous as the one which surrounds the Sox to the point of suffocation. LA also has numerousl sports talk radio hosts who sprout an endless Greek chorus of ill-tempered gibberish. Compared to most of them, Ordway is Edward R. Murrow and Grantland Rice rolled into one.

Derek Lowe's propensity to chase anything in a skirt did not fly the below the radar in LA. He got away with more in Boston, actually. In the celebrity capital of the world, scandal is an industry, and ballplayers are easy pickings.

On the other hand, it's great to be rich, young and a Dodger, if you're winning. It'd be great to be rich, young, and a Pirate if they ever won. Lose, and the world's against you no matter where you're popping up.

The only REAL difference for Boston athletes is the town's shortage of other major public figures. In a burg where state senators are celebrities, a Hall of Fame quarterback like Tom Brady faces unlimited demands on his time and good nature. Brady appears to cope quite well. Nobody HAS to pay the price of fame if they don't wish to. Take Pedro Martinez. He was the biggest star in Boston for several years. Off the field, he was a ghost, a happy, serene ghost. Public attention made Nomar Garciaparra uncomfortable. So did a lot of other things. He was uncomfortable when he got here. Being a Red Sox had nothing to with it.

Fans embrace the "tough market" nonsense to flatter themselves. We're no-nonsense smart guys and gals in this town. You can't fool us and we demand perfection.

Uh-huh. No city in earth affords jocks a more sychophantic embrace when they're winning than the professional cynics' capital of the world-New York. In this as in many things, Boston is just a pale imitation of its despised neighbor.

The media's no different. Being a pain in the ass is taken to mean one's doing a good job. That's true, sometimes, like if you're Helen Thomas. Covering a ballclub, not so much. But the job does requite being pushy, and people who play games for a living are a skittish bunch. The resulting conflict has nothing to do with where the reporters and teams in question play their trades, the trades themselves create it. When the football team goes 3-9, the reporters covering Middle Nowhere State Tech torture everyone just as efficiently as their New York or Boston brethren.

The "we're a special market" nonsense will never go away. Who wants to admit they're just like everyone else? In sports, however, all men and women are brothers and sisters under the skin. We are the world, a world of fickle, front-running no-goodniks.


Post a Comment

<< Home