At the medieval Battle of Agincourt, the English army -- hungry and far from home -- was outnumbered five to one. The French had the home field, more horses, more armor, the high ground and a heck of a party the night before the fight.
Some say the English had the newly invented long bow on their side and a nasty trick of driving wooden stakes in front of their ranks to spear the French horses as their knights charged.
Still, that doesn't quite seem enough to account for the final score. History texts differ slightly on the stats, but all tell the same story. In one day, more than 10,000 of the 60,000 French soldiers were killed. Barely 1,000 of the 12,000 Englishmen died. The English also took 10,000 prisoners.
Confronted with these facts, William Shakespeare speculated that a pep talk by the courageous young English king might have been a factor. So he wrote the all-time pregame speech as the centerpiece of "Henry V."
Perhaps, before the Toronto Blue Jays get to Fenway Park on Friday night, Boston Manager Joe Morgan could do worse than take his Red Sox to the movies to see the new hit version of "Henry V." Watching it is like drinking a cup of adrenaline. By the time Harry finishes giving his men a few final words, you're ready to punch the nearest usher.
These days, the Red Sox are grousing that Roger Clemens may not be able to pitch in this three-game series. They say they're tired and undermanned and depressed after blowing a 6 1/2-game lead this month. To hear the Sox talk, you'd think the season had 100 games to go and that they were 20 games behind; the Red Sox have just five games to play and are tied with Toronto for first.
The Red Sox might well think of the '85 Royals, the '87 Twins, the '88 Dodgers. The better team doesn't always win. There's such a thing as banding together and rising to the occasion.
("If we are mark'd to die, we are enow to do our country loss; and if to live, the fewer men, the greater share of honour. . . . I pray thee wish not one man more. . . . He which hath no stomach to this fight, let him depart; his passport shall be made, and crowns for convoy put into his purse. We would not die in that man's company that fears his fellowship to die with us.")
All month, the Red Sox have been whining about how New Englanders won't let them forget all the team's collapses in other years. Wouldn't a good general remind his troops that the greater the obstacles to be overcome, the more permanent the glory. What the Sox really have at this point is a romantic chance -- a free opportunity to make history. Many Bosox teams have choked before. But what if one then rose from the dead?
("This day is call'd the feast of Crispian. He that outlives this day, and comes safe home, will stand a-tiptoe when this day is name'd," said Henry. "He that shall live this day, and see old age. . . . then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars and say, 'These wounds I had on Crispin's day.'
("Then shall our names, familiar in his mouth as household words. . . . be in their flowing cups freshly remember'd. This story shall the good man teach his son; And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by, from this day to the ending of the world, but we in it shall be remembered; We few, he happy few, we band of brothers.")
Only the underdog gets to use this speech. That's why every manager and every coach in every sport wants the role -- and will bad-mouth his team on the graves of his ancestors if that's what's needed to avoid being the (shudder) "favorite." The Blue Jays don't get to pull out the "band of brothers" stuff this weekend. It just doesn't work when everybody thinks of you as the French, bragging in their tents.
Of course, if the Blue Jays meet the Oakland A's next weekend in the AL playoffs, then it will be Cito Gaston's turn to buy 24 movie tickets.
("For he to-day that sheds his blood with me shall be my brother. Be he ne'er so vile, this day shall gentle his condition; and gentlemen in England now abed shall think themselves accursed they were not here, and hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks that fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day. . . . All things are ready, if our minds be so.")
Whether they know it or not, coaches often use King Henry's common-sense warrior wisdom. Guess what Harry's first order was after the victory at Agincourt? "Be it death. . . . to boast of this, or take that praise from God which is his only."
Isn't that what Joe Gibbs said after the Redskins beat Phoenix, 31-0, on opening day? Hey, you never know when you might have to fight the French, or the Cardinals, again.
Old Joe Morgan, the manager who took so many years to ascend to the Red Sox managerial throne, does not strike many as an eloquent man. Yet he may be headed down the right track, intuitively. This week he said, "We're a streaky club and so are they. Let's see what the final streak will be. We've got Toronto for three games. What more do you want? If worse comes to worse, you look at the big dogs in front of you and beat them, that's all."
The Red Sox have beaten Toronto's big dogs in eight of 10 games this year. And the Blue Jays are infamous for their poor fundamentals, lack of team cohesion and bad pressure performances.
Still, if Clemens's shoulder stays stiff, a Morgan movie matinee might not be a bad idea.