It was a great run while it lasted. To be a Boston Red Sox fan meant your team - especially when matched against the too rich, too arrogant and altogether too successful New York Yankees - was predictably cast as the gutsy outsider David against baseball's overbearing Goliath.
Ever since the Revolutionary War, when a rag-tag collection of farmers and firebrands defeated the 18th century's superpower, the British Empire, Americans have rooted for the gutsy underdog.
Underdogs, it turns out, are underdogs for a good reason: They usually lose. Between 1921 and 2003, the Yankees won the American League championship 39 times and won the World Series 26 times (17 more times than any other team in baseball history), while in that same 83-year span, the Red Sox were league champions only four times and never won a World Series. That all changed at 12:01 a.m. on Oct. 21, 2004, in Yankee Stadium (where I was fortunate to be), when Boston's long-shot also-rans became the first team in baseball history to rally from a 3-0 playoff game deficit and win four consecutive games.
That memory - and the repeat World Series victory in 2007 - is today no longer magic, devalued by subsequent disclosures that the two principal Red Sox stars of that miracle comeback, Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz, have tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs. When Yankees Jason Giambi, Alex Rodriguez, Andy Pettite and (ex-Red Soxer) Roger Clemens were all tagged for illegally using steroids, we Red Sox fans had felt, let's be honest, morally superior. That was misconduct to be expected from the Yankees, the AIG of baseball, not from anyone wearing the uniform of our virtuous Red Sox nation.
But it turns out our Boston guys - even the lovable Big Papi - were "juicing," too.
Yes, the soulless, corporate Yankees do have the highest payroll in baseball. But it's impossible to portray the Red Sox as some 98-pound weakling having beach sand kicked in his face by the muscle-bound bully when a check of the American League's records reveals that the team with the second-highest payroll - as well as the second-highest ticket prices - is in fact the Red Sox.
The New York-Boston competition begins to look more like Goldman Sachs versus Citigroup or Microsoft against Google. Or maybe ExxonMobil against Chevron.
Facts like these all combine to sabotage the treasured narrative of the lifelong Red Sox fan - of our outgunned Little Guys against the haughty millionaires of the Evil Empire. Sorry, but that dog won't hunt anymore. None of this makes the Yankees more appealing. I still endorse the profound wisdom of Bill Mead when he wrote in his "Official New York Yankees-Hater's Handbook": "Most all good Americans hate the Yankees. It is a value we cherish and pass on to our children like decency and democracy and the importance of a good breakfast."
Why do so many people share that enmity? "Because," according to Bill Mead, "they're spoiled rotten. They think they're such hot stuff. Their owner is obnoxious. Their fans are gross and crude."
I have no doubt that the typical Red Sox fan is still more likely to take the time to escort an unsure grandmother across the busy city intersection. And, yes, cheering for the Yankees is still a lot like pulling for OPEC.
But now, after Boston's championships have been both sullied and compromised by the steroid reports and when Red Sox company pockets are shown to be deeper than any other organization's in the playoffs (except the Yankees), it is impossible for this Red Sox fan to pretend any longer that we enjoy some moral superiority over our New York counterparts. Because, truth be told, we don't.
To find out more about Mark Shields and read his past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.