Meta-Commentary

Eighty-Six

Posted in sports by Adrian Arroyo on June 19, 2012

The Celtics are out. The Bruins are done. The Patriots lost to the Giants–again!–and the Red Sox languish in last place.

Boston fans may not enjoy this heartbreak, but they do seem comfortable with it. From column to barstool to webpage the arrogance of victory has given way to a kind of learned helplessness: “as bad as it is, it ain’t ’86.” In truth, that arrogance was always an uncomfortable fit for a city accustomed to near misses. The pink hats and popped collars hanging on Boylston Street after a Red Sox win were strangers to a fanbase that had spent decades waiting for everything these newcomers considered their due. And the Yastrzemskis-in-Abercrombie aped the underdog pose along with everything else, to the annoyance of salty oldtimers and Yankees fans alike.

Underdog status is imitated, manufactured and coveted because it’s the closest thing professional sports has to moral appeal. 2008 and 2012 were for Giants fans what 2004 and 2007 were for Sox fans. Against the “Evil Empire” or the mechanical perfection of Brady and Belichick, the score became a symbol. The victors could indulge the belief that there was some justice expressed by the outcome, reflecting┬áthe triumph of can-do spirit over imbalances in either talent or money. That prepackaged narrative–peddled to those ignorant of the scouting, preparation, merchandising and marketing that created it–allowed the stepsisters their own Cinderella story.

But in the absence of such mass-market mythmaking, fans in both cities turn to artisanal production. In New York, we debate whether someone is a “True Yankee,” whether Eli is Elite, whether the Mets will ever get it together. In Boston, they watch and rewatch Welker’s missed grab, bemoan the bullpen, and thank God that Lackey’s out for the season. Win or lose, right or wrong, we still find our way back to the familiar and the comfortable. In the Bronx, the Yankees reel off 9 straight and fans say “it could be better.” At Fenway the Sox hover around .500 and they say, “at least it ain’t ’86.”