THE BASEBALL season in Boston is traditionally concluded in an atmosphere of recrimination, regret and bitter disputation infused with a certain amount of the occult. Thus the Roger Clemens incident -- in which the ace pitcher of the Boston Red Sox and perhaps all of baseball railed so nastily at an umpire that he was ejected from the team's final game in the first inning -- was practically a historical necessity. Without it, the Red Sox would simply have lost four games to a better team and gone quietly home for the winter, leaving their followers in an unendurable state of calm acceptance until their torments could be resumed next April.
Now there can be angry arguments lasting into spring training over whether umpire Terry Cooney used poor judgment in ejecting Mr. Clemens from Wednesday's fourth and final playoff game with the Oakland Athletics. There will be endless attempts at lip-reading (aided by slow-motion video replay) to determine whether the fiery pitcher disparaged the umpire's ancestry, supposed sexual habits or just his eyesight. Already a sports psychologist has been consulted by the press ("When there's that kind of buildup, that amount of pressure, everything in an athlete's life becomes exaggerated." -- Dr. Harvey Dulberg of Brookline, Mass.), and the basic facts of the incident are being disputed by management ("His position is that he was not directing his anger toward the umpire, and we believe him and we're behind him." -- John Harrington, president of the Red Sox). It has also been taken up on the floor of the House ("Terry 'Looney' Cooney -- read my lips!" -- Rep. Silvio Conte, Republican of Massachusetts).
In "Curse of the Bambino," a book published this past spring, Dan Shaughnessy of the Boston Globe traces the blasted history of the Red Sox from the day when they sold Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees so their owner could use the proceeds to underwrite a Broadway musical. That was more than 70 years ago, and since then the Red Sox have never won a World Series.
Boston fans can thus take a measure of satisfaction in the ambiguous conclusion of their most recent playoffs (without Mr. Clemens, the Red Sox lost Wednesday's game, of course) and in the knowledge that another chapter has been added to the legend. True, the Red Sox were already three games down, Mr. Clemens was pitching, however gamely, with a sore shoulder and not too well, and the Red Sox scored only four runs in four games -- so perhaps this wasn't exactly a turning point. Never mind; for Red Sox fans, even a small curse will do for a winter.