Watch for the ‘Blame Game’ – everyone’s favorite – to soar into high dudgeon in the coming off-season. The natives are vengeful. The hot stove will be no place for the faint of heart. If it is bitterness, anger, bloodlust, and outright mayhem that you fancy you can skip right past the atavistic tong wars of the National Football League in search of a fix and go right to the off-season of the relatively pastoral game of baseball where the settling of some nasty scores can be expected. We may not even need the National Hockey League.
Which is a good thing because this season we may not get any hockey to appease our primordial winter angst. Ah, the indignities; they mount. An interesting autumn appears to be evolving, mates.
With the abject surrender of the Red Sox, the Patriots are being pronounced our team of choice with football the game of choice, thus terminating the grand olde game of baseball’s century and a half reign as the undisputed darling of our quirky region’s spoiled sporting masses. While not being quite ready to go that far – especially in the heat of the moment – one can understand the disgust the Red Sox have roused, their play lately having been avowedly disgusting.
The collaring of scapegoats and demand for accountings will get messy and pointless. You can bank on that. It’s the way we are. An easier way would be to accept the fundamental reality that this team is simply as bad as it looks and if we are too stupid to recognize this, then the resulting anguish will only become the mere beating of the proverbial dead horse, a familiar sound and fury signifying the usual.
Since their epic meltdown began the first of August, this team’s record through Sept. 9 is 10-27. Such a lapse cannot be explained by a lack of moral character or willful indifference, only by a deep and desperate deficiency of basic wherewithal. They don’t have the horses, chum.
Maybe it would amuse some among us to run the manager out of the province, tarred and feathered and riding a rail. But it would be entirely unjust. Bobby Valentine had every right to be enraged by the suggestion that he had packed it in, quit on the job. He may have many flaws, but the least of them is a lack of spine and such a suggestion to a man of his obvious pride was what they used to call “fighting words.” It’s a good thing that interview was on the telephone. Had he been face to face with the bombastic talk-show maestro who posed the question Valentine might have done what he said he’d like to do. Which would, of course, only have magnified the on-going fiasco, amusing only those who get their kicks from taunting people who are flat on their back.
Have you too wondered why ownership keeps Valentine on while propping him up with hollow votes of confidence soon to prove vacuous? Is it for savage amusement? Are they trying to punish him for having failed to perform the miracle of resurrecting their moribund franchise overnight? Or are they hoping that he will blow his cork and quit, thus forfeiting the $2.5 million they may otherwise be required to pay him for not managing their team next year. If so, it’s a game they can’t win. Valentine is no sucker. And they know it. Mainly, he remains on the job because in the short term he takes the heat off the owners. But this short term ends in three weeks.
Whereupon a Hot Stove Season of utterly glorious promise ensues with boundless recriminations and scapegoating that will be off the charts. And if the meltdown now proceeding apace down in the Bronx plays out fully, the fun will be doubled because nowhere does misery crave company more zealously than in Red Sox Nation. Should the Yankees flop, the satisfaction that would bring to the Red Sox and their whacked-out legions might almost redeem this lost season. It’s a notion I find faintly sick, actually. Talk about your schadenfreude. But we are what we are.
And the odds on that spectacular happenstance grow for as another week passes the Yankees’ problems deepen. They escaped Baltimore with a split that maintained their more-fragile-than-it-looks one-game hold on first place. But this modest achievement had a deeply pyrrhic quality as Mark Teixeira crashed and C.C. Sabathia faded, all in the course of a single gut-wrenching defeat. The consequences are huge. Take Teixeira out of that lineup and deny Sabathia his dominance on the mound and there is no way this Yankee team wins anything.
All of which – if it plays out – would raise the question: Where will the Blame Game be mightiest, meanest, and loudest? In Boston? Or in New York? What a delicious prospect the divining of all that will be.
Meanwhile, we do have football to distract us, although we may have to wait until January for any meaningful drama to edify us. With a cool, near effortless romp in their opener down in Tennessee, the Patriots quickly verified the widespread consensus that all they have to do in the regular season is avoid getting too banged up, which admittedly is not entirely a casual matter in the profoundly vicious game within the game of NFL triage. But Boss Belichick is equal to that, if anyone is.
The opener must have delighted Belichick more than the taciturn fellow would ever want us to know. “Flawless,” proclaimed one headline, a word rarely employed to describe this game of mistakes. There were strong marks in every category. The defense was sharp and enterprising, producing a touchdown. The rookies were impressive, even mature. The tight ends, key to the offense, were terrific. They unveiled the best looking running game displayed in years. In Stevan Ridley might a star have been born? And as good as ever was the senior statesman at quarterback, another year older and deeper in skills. En route, Tom Brady even picked up a nifty badge of courage. If his newly broken nose displeases the Lady Gisele, his comrades in the trenches may now regard him as more of a football player and less of a matinee idol.
Of course, the Jets also won near as convincingly, trouncing Buffalo and thereby dispelling pre-season notions that they are mess and the Bills are improved. The Jets may manage to hang around to offer comic relief but essentially the division title and with it a passport to the playoffs is already in the bag for the Patriots. With a weak schedule in a weakened division their biggest challenge may be staving off boredom.
The seasons converge. Our sporting cup runneth over. Normally, we would have the Bruins, who, I would remind you, are the latest of our champs, reporting to camp this week and adding hockey to the table talk, always a pleasure. But the greedy apparatchiks who own the franchises of the National Hockey League are intent on burning down their little village in order to save it. That’s their manic scenario. This league cannot afford another such travesty but there is no longer any doubt that these fools will gladly blow up another season if that’s what it takes to bust the players union.
This week’s deadline is but a formality. With no movement on the essentials in three months of mainly uncivil and sometimes preposterous exchanges, and with the intransigence of the owners bordering on contempt, the die doesn’t need to be cast. As the Bard has noted, this way madness lies.
All of which reduces me to words I’ve long believed I’d never utter. When does basketball season begin?