BOSTON — There are people who think the current battles to determine the American League and National League champs - the prize being they get to compete in the World Series - are about baseball. Poor dears.
Of course it's not about baseball. It's about attitudes which, above all else, will determine the victors, since each club has plenty of talent to win. What's delicious about the four teams still playing is that each brings a decidedly different attitude to the fray. An attitude check of the participants:
The Boston Red Sox vs. the New York Yankees
*Boston is us. The Red Sox try like the dickens, but things always seem to go wrong. All of us understand. We look in the mirror and we see the Sox. That's why we love them.
In fairness, Boston once had an excellent World Series run, winning all five times it participated. Unfortunately, that was between 1903 and 1918. Since then, the Sox are 0-4-Ever. Since 1946, they have lost twice to St. Louis, once (1975) to Cincinnati, and once (1986) to the Mets.
The attitude problem for the BoSox is they are wary and tentative. Any team would be that was winning World Series until it traded its star to the Yankees for $100,000 cash. His name was Babe Ruth.
The legions who love Boston try to pretend the past doesn't matter and it certainly isn't prologue. They're wrong, but it's kind of cute they think that.
There's lots more infamy in Boston.
In 1978, Boston blew a 14-game lead over the Yankees, then battled back to force a one-game playoff for the American League title. That was when Bucky Dent, armed with a pop-gun swing, blooped a homer and the Yankees won. Bucky Dent. Then, in 1986, the Sox were on the cusp of beating the Mets for the Series crown. That was when first baseman Bill Buckner let an easy ground roll between his legs. The Mets won the series. In an interview last year with the Las Vegas Sun, Buckner shrugged: "Baseball's not a predictable sport."
The Sox are left to hope furiously that they can escape some debacle. They fear it's lurking but they know neither the form it will take nor direction of its approach.
*The Yankees have retired the trophy on supercilious smugness. Why not? They have been in the World Series 34 times; 24 times they have won. Their last win was last year. It's never bragging if you back it up. It's never arrogance if you can point to achievement. The Yankees correctly brag and point.
And it seems a good guess that New York's star could be pitcher Roger Clemens, who labored grandly for the Red Sox for 13 years. It's the perfect setup to leave Boston fans pounding their fists against the ground and screaming, "Why us?" Anyway, the Yankees consider Boston a mere speed bump, knowing full well they will win because they are New York and Boston will lose because Boston is Boston.
The New York Mets vs. the Atlanta Braves
*The Mets have all the classic bully-boy swagger. They are from New York, which therefore makes them best - facts notwithstanding. It's that maddening trait that so aggravates the rest of the populace.
Nevermind they don't have much chance. They act like they do. Bobby Valentine, the prickly manager, has trotted out one of sports' oldest motivators, saying of the Braves, "They've shown us very little respect." That raises the question: Why should they? New York lost to Atlanta nine of 12 tries this year in the regular season; New York was second in the NL East, Atlanta first. Case closed.
*Atlanta has by far the most dignity. Its attitude is one of calmness and competence. It has been the best team in baseball during the '90s, making it to the NL Championship Series eight straight times, four times to the World Series, once (in 1995) to the title. Those who unfairly knock Atlanta would love for their team to have this kind of decade-long failure.
The Braves know who they are, they know they have the best pitching staff in baseball, they know they have slugger Chipper Jones, and they know - just as the Yankees do - that their confident attitude is based on fact. That's very comforting.
Yet, sports being what they are, it's certainly possible the Red Sox might beat the Yankees, the Mets might beat the Braves - and the sky might fall in.
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