At the end of June the Mets acquired Trot Nixon. (Not primarily because, as Michael Kay would have you believe, they needed Nixon’s “tough” and “gritty” presence in the locker room, but because Moises Alou is as old as God and much more easily injured). I noted this transaction with a “huh, makes sense” – the signing cost them nothing, couldn’t hurt – and then I was immediately surprised by my own calm. Because, man… did I ever used to hate Trot Nixon.
I mean I hated him. Back when he was on the Red Sox, just about every time he came to the plate I’d feel compelled to point out to a roommate or friend just how much I disliked the man. He was one of a whole bunch of similarly squat, goateed white guys on the Sox back then – Varitek, Mueller, Millar – and I loathed all of them.
The thing is, watching Trot Nixon’s first game with the Mets, I couldn’t for the life of me remember why, specifically, I’d reserved such vitriol for the guy. What the hell did Trot Nixon ever do to piss me off so much? I know I used to have reasons -- I would happily expound on them at the drop of a hat -- but now I can’t remember even a single one. Probably he said something catty about A-Rod once.
In fact, other than Varitek – because I do still think it’s pretty tacky to start a fight while wearing a catcher’s mask – I can’t come up with a solid reason to dislike any of those guys. Millar seems endearingly goofythese days more than anything else. As for Mueller, damned if I can come up with a single salient fact about him offhand, other than his aforementioned squatness, whiteness, and goateed-ness.
Which brings me to my larger point: I don’t dislike the Red Sox nearly as intently as I used to. I mean, they’re still the Red Sox, and it goes without saying that I’ll always root against them, no matter who they’re playing. But there’s no venom to it. Whereas for a while there – starting in the late 90s for me, and really peaking in 2003 and 2004, natch – it really felt a little personal. Pedro Martinez, Curt Schilling, Manny Ramirez: those were perfect controversial figures, great at stirring things up.
(Ramirez, obviously, is not exactly endearing these days and he is no longer a Red Sox, but disliking a player for shoving an old man – or, say, allegedly beating his wife* -- isn’t really what I’m talking about here. It’s one thing to dislike a player because they in fact behave like scumbags; it’s another to convince yourself you hate a player for manufactured reasons.)
Now I’m sure a lot of you are going to disagree with me here, which is, of course, fine --I’m not trying to tell anyone how much they should or shouldn’t dislike the Red Sox. Hating them is a long time-honored tradition and if I were a Boston player, and the New York crowd DIDN’T scream obscenities at me, I think my feelings would be a little hurt.
Very clearly many Yankees fans have no trouble loathing Pedroia, Papelbon, Youklis, et al; I've got no problem with that. I just can’t get into it, not like I used to. I’m wondering if this is just me, or if other people feel the same way.
To my mind, there are a few factors at work here. The first and most obvious for me personally is that I started writing about baseball professionally, and that makes you at least somewhat detached whether you’re trying to be objective or not. (I never really was – I’ve always written in the first person and acknowledged my New York fandom up front – but it sort of happened anyway). I’m sure that’s a big part of this, but I do think there are general issues, beyond that ,which would’ve brought about a change in my perspective anyway.
For one thing, the Sox have earned some grudging respect: They hired Bill James. They’ve spent money while also building up their farm system. And none of them have made bitchy Spring Training remarks about Alex Rodriguez or his workout regimen in years. Credit where credit is due.
But I think the real issue is something else. I read about a study a while back (which unfortunately I can’t seem to find at the moment) which found that people tend to have an exaggerated idea of just how badly negative events are going to affect them; basically, we’re not good at estimating our own emotional reactions. That stuck with me. We might dread a breakup, for example, or getting fired -- imagine it as a life-shatteringly terrible event; but when it actually happens, well, it's awful, but after a little while we pick up the pieces and we move on, for the most part. When bad things happen, it turns out, humans are rarely as upset as they imagined they would be, and not for as long.
And so yes, I think something similar happened with the Sox: five years ago, losing to them in the playoffs had become this unthinkable disaster in my mind. (…I use “disaster” here in purely a sports context, obviously). I mean, no one even really gave a damn that the Yankees lost to the Marlins in the 2003 Series; mainly people were just thrilled to have beaten the Sox. When the worst actually happened, when Johnny Damon’s home run soared into the upper deck in right field… well, it sucked. But we all adjusted and moved on, and life returned to normal. I don’t think disliking the Sox has had the same urgency for me since then; the cat’s already out of the bag.
In closing, I’d like to wish Trot Nixon, Kevin Millar, and those other random ex-Sox the best of luck in their future endeavors. I’m sorry I hated you guys for so long and for no rational reason.