Baseball: Night of the living dead as beardos relieve 95-year itch

Sport on TV

Given the luxuriant growth of beards being sported by the Boston Red Sox, the casual observer might be forgiven for thinking that it wasn’t the result of a pre-season bonding session so much as throwing fistfuls of steroids down their necks (though of course they didn’t) – in Major League Baseball that’s known as “Barry Bonding”. If everyone “wants a piece of you” after you win the World Series, the drug-testers might well have been in the mêlée on the mound after the Red Sox won the World Series (ESPN, Thursday), trying to grab as many hair samples as they could.

It surely shows how important baseball’s showpiece is that the decisive Game Six at Fenway Park was held on Hallowe’en and yet there was barely a skeleton suit or a Satanic pitchfork in sight. Yet with their devilish goatees and other more bushy growths (see above) the Red Sox could easily have passed off as some kind of nightmarish rural community stuck in the past – except for their chainsaws.

It did look as though they were a throwback to the early years of the 20th century, like those old team photos where everyone has thick sideburns, beards and handlebar moustaches. This is entirely appropriate given baseball’s fascination with its history, which combines a dreamlike mythology and an obsession with statistics in much the same way that its sister sport cricket does over here.

Game Six was no exception: the Red Sox may have already broken their famous hoodoo of not having won the World Series since the days of Babe Ruth – “I would say the curse of the bambino is long gone,” said summariser Rick Sutcliffe, inadvertently invoking at least one suitably ghoulish reference for the occasion – but Boston had still not won at their Fenway Pak home since’s Ruth’s 1918 side.

As is the way of these things, they had dug up – almost literally – someone who “remembered” the class of ’18, 99-year-old Ginny Tardiff. Commentator Gary Thorne was relishing the historical anomalies: the average ticket price this year was $2,000 – and Game Six had produced the highest price for any baseball match in history – whereas 95 years ago it was $1.62. A game used to last one hour 50 minutes (now it’s three and a half hours) and the whole series was completed in September because of the First World War.

It was ironic that the spirit of Babe Ruth should be conjured up since the great slugger (who was actually a  pitcher in 1918) possessed the cherubic features of a toddler, though that was not why he acquired his nickname. Not for him the scraggly bumfluff with chewing tobacco juice dribbling down it.

But it was only right that the Bradman of baseball should arise again because Boston’s victory was achieved almost entirely because of another display of batting genius by David Ortiz, aka “Big Papi”. He may never achieve the status of Ruth but he has certainly carved his name on the hickory stick of baseball history. “Offensively not one team has done anything,” said Sutcliffe. “It’s been one guy.”

And yet for all this excitement, the crowd still looked as if they were watching a horror movie at the cinema; they uttered the occasional gasp or shriek but were generally more concerned with filling their faces on the endless supply of snacks on offer.

And there was John W Henry, owner of Boston and Liverpool, flitting across the diamond after victory had been achieved, pale as a ghost and about as animated as a corpse. Apparently there was a crowd invasion but you would see worse at an Under-12s football match on Hackney Marshes. Fenway Park was a like a big, empty house that could have done with a few more ghosts to stir everyone up a bit.

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