Maybe I am one of Giamatti’s “truly tough among us,” “born with the wisdom to know that nothing lasts.” But if baseball has been enough to keep autumn at bay, it certainly hasn’t provided a check on a certain coldness of spirit in the American character that knows no season. For a few hours Sunday night, though, the final game of the World Series felt like America as it could be.
Baseball itself lacks the power it once possessed to unite audiences: In 2018, leaguewide attendance dropped 4 percent and fell below 70 million for the first time since 2003, and television ratings for the World Series were down from 2017 as well. And if Walt Whitman once told his friend Horace Traubel that “America’s game: has the snap, go, fling, of the American atmosphere — belongs as much to our institutions, fits into them as significantly, as our constitutions, laws,” that “snap . . . of the American atmosphere” has acquired a nastier edge. No game, however so sweet, however so capable of suspending time, can blunt the forces stalking outside the stadium.
But for the Boston Red Sox, everything didn’t merely go right; it felt right. Red Sox manager Alex Cora, whose contract included a planeful of relief supplies for his home town of Caguas in Puerto Rico, said when he accepted the Commissioner’s Trophy that “The next thing I’m going to ask ownership is if we can take this trophy to my island.” Mookie Betts, who made headlines after Game 2 by taking a postgame detour to deliver meals to homeless people camped out near the Boston Public Library, broke out of his slump to hit a solo home run. Pitcher David Price, who had struggled in the offseason, was crisp and tough over seven crucial innings after starting Game 2 and working in relief in Game 3. Steve Pearce, a journeyman left fielder and first baseman who joined the team halfway through the season, hit two homers and won the World Series MVP award.
And if the nice guys finished first, a minor villain got his fitting comeuppance. Manny Machado, who as a member of the Orioles spiked Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia in 2017, and who stepped on Pearce’s heel during Game 4, went 0 for 4. He ended the series with a mighty and misguided hack, the momentum from his swing landing him on his right knee in the dirt.
At a moment when displays of sincerity often get those who express them labeled as suckers, and when the president of the United States regularly does the political equivalent of sliding into the bag with his cleats up in full knowledge he won’t suffer any consequences for it, the Red Sox victory was a relief as well as a joy. When our most basic rules are regularly trampled, even a tiny, temporary restoration of the moral order provides some warmth against the encroaching cold.
The celebration is temporary. One plane of supplies, no matter how valuable, can’t restore what Hurricane Maria destroyed in Puerto Rico. A hot meal, no matter how welcome, isn’t the same thing as shelter from the Boston winter, which returns with merciless regularity. And no matter how much the very structure of baseball offers the promise that the game can go on forever, not even the mightiest among us can “succeed utterly,” as Roger Angell put it. The game will end, and autumn will arrive.
But if we have to put aside baseball until Feb. 13, the first date when pitchers and catchers have been scheduled to report for spring training duty, we don’t have to let go of the lovelier, larger lessons of this baseball season. Basic kindness, dedication to teamwork and a determination to make change know no offseason.