Boy, leave it to the Red Sox to spoil a good story line. Crisis averted. Seemingly. For now, anyway.
Early this week, I received word, via my publicist, that the Boston Herald requested that I submit a short (500 words) OpEd, rich with historical overtones, discussing why it always seems like this time of year the Olde Town Team collapses into throat-clutching paroxysms and coughs up a hard-earned lead to the hated Yankees. Naturally, I seized upon this open invitation from a major daily to pimp my book (Amazon.com, $15.95 - buy together with Mike Sowell's The Pitch That Killed for only $32.90) :-), shat out some insights, and submitted.
It took a mere 15 minutes of research to learn one interesting fact about the Sox's annual August swoon: There's no such thing. That discovery was certainly illuminating about the state of the redsox press. Obviously, 2004 didn't change a whole lot. Mindsets are not discarded overnight.
Anyway, since I wrote and submitted the piece on Tuesday -- when the lead had shrunk to 4 games and the line on the graph was headed down -- the Sox have regrouped while the Yanks have scuffled, and the lead has now fluffed back up to 6 1/2 [UPDATE: make it 7 1/2]. The whole "project," grounded in fantasy to begin with, has now been rendered moot, even silly, without a (Tinker-to-Evers-to-) Chance of being published. So ... what better use of a "personal weblog" than to clean out my closet and throw my old, useless junk out in the yard as though it were a literary garage sale. Here it is. If it shows up in the Herald ... nevermind.
For The Sox, August, Die She Must
So stated, January 1, 45 B.C.:
Whereas the Emperor Augustus Caesar, in the month of Sextillis . . . thrice entered the city in triumph . . . it is hereby decreed by the Senate that the said month shall be called Augustus.
"Thrice entered the city in triumph?" In August's final road swing, we'd settle for 2-of-3.
When the ancient Romans were devising the Julian calendar, it certainly wasn't a prophecy of baseball in New England. The cruelest month is now winding down, and damn the baseball gods if it didn't happen again - a comfortable lead whittled down, like the fate of our September fingernails, nearly to The Hub's nubs.
But though it may not have been a prophecy, the annual swoon of the ballseason's fifth month may well find its genesis in the supernatural. That's right - I'm speaking of a curse (groan) - and one the redheaded dude from the other paper can't even co-opt and exploit.
It was August 16, 1920, and the heavy, ominous skies above the Polo Grounds that afternoon augured in the macabre. The Yankees' notoriously truculent pitcher, Carl Mays, stared in at the scrappy-tough Indians' shortstop, Ray Chapman, and didn't like what he saw. Seconds later the helmetless hitter sprawled horizontal in the batter's box, and hours after that his last rites were administered, anointing him victim of baseball's most surreal tragedy.
So what does this have to do with our beloved Sox? Enter Mays -- he was a product of the Sox, coming up in 1915, joining with the Babe to lead the team to titles in '15, '16, and '18, before being dealt (the very first star player dealt) to the Yanks in '19. Mays cut and sharpened his teeth, honed his sniper's skill, hardened his black heart, under the tutelage of Sox manager Bill Carrigan, a churlish hellion of such competitive fire, he wore the nickname "Rough." Alas, in a not-too-indirect way, it's Boston that bears the cross of Chapman's demise.
So maybe that's it. Perhaps every August, when the North End streets swelter and the faint aroma of molasses rises to the surface, it brings 1919, all of it, back for a visit. And the ghost of Carl Mays rattles around the Fens, offering us all a small, nerve-wracking reminder to beware the chain of events we callously put in motion.
But look again ... Turns out, my fellow citizens, it's all an optical illusion, a cruel parlor trick inflicted on our paranoid minds still reeling from last season's ignominious 9-and-21. You can look it up: The Sox, in fact, don't typically wilt in August. It only seems that way. Even during 1978's horror flick - "The Mother of All Collapses" -- August was kind (19-10). From '78 to '06, the Sox, collectively, have played .538 ball, but it's been a click better, .541, during this month. So buck up, Nation. As Art Garfunkel crooned, "August, die she must." The lead may be bending, but it ain't gonna break.
Just protect your cuticles in September ...
Howard Camerik is the author of the Red Sox novel, "The Curse of Carl Mays." Groan not - it has a happy ending.