Long-suffering Red Sox fans have role model: mythical Sisyphus

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

Sisyphus must have been a Red Sox fan. You remember Sisyphus. He's that fellow in ancient mythology consigned eternally to rolling a boulder almost to the top of a hill, only to have it roll back down.

That's what it's like to be a Red Sox fan, for half a century yet.

Fifty years of rolling annually optimistic hopes up toward baseball's summit - a World Series championship. And 50 years of being flattened when they inevitably roll back down over you. Baseball's world championship has capriciously eluded Boston and its fans for 70 years now.

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In Sisyphus' case it was his own fault. If he hadn't been such a cruel monarch, eternity presumably would have been kinder to him.

What explains similar punishment to Red Sox fans is less clear.

Some blame it on Harry Frazee, which is like blaming America's current economic problems on Herbert Hoover, only more so. Mr. Frazee stands accused because he sold Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees, not long after Boston's pre-Sisyphean World Series championship of 1918.

In theory, of course, today's Boston Nine could parlay their current series with Oakland's Athletics into a World Series conquest. Maybe they will. The current Sox can hit, field, and pitch with anybody. Sometimes they play like worldbeaters. Winning it all will take talent, and then some.

Over the years, though, talent hasn't prevented futility. If it had, Sisyphus would have raised his arms in triumph many a time.

Teams of the late '40s were loaded with talent. Williams. Doerr. The littlest DiMaggio. Defense. Even pitching. They had everything. Everything except victory when it counted most.

In '46 they lost the World Series when a Bosoxer held the ball too long and no one sweetly recommended that he dispatch it to home plate.

In '48 they were only one win away from the World Series at season end. But Cleveland's Lou Boudreau transmogrified into Joe Hardy and carried the Midwesterners to victory.

The story next year was similar. To Yankee Stadium at season's end, one game ahead of the despised Yannigans with two to go and the World Series in smelling distance. But enemy right fielder Tommy Heinrich audaciously insisted that the Sox wouldn't win even one. Was he right? Take a guess.

Nor was that disappointment the last. The almost-years of '67 and '75. Bucky-the-Blaster's home run. The consummate Sisyphean frustration, the '86 World Series: It ended, you know how, with a wild pitch and a ground ball that dribbled through....

But enough. Hope springs eternal, even in a Red Sox fan. This year there's Hurst and Clemens. Dewey and Wade. And Greenwell, only the fourth left fielder in 49 years.

While they're perspiring down there on the field we're sweating up here in fandom, apprehensively rolling that boulder further uphill. Will this be the year we all make it to the top?

Or is Sisyphus still a Sox fan?

Bob Hey played hooky with his grandfather to watch Ted Williams and other Fenway heroes.

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