“My stars shine darkly over me. The malignancy of my fate might perhaps distemper yours. Therefore I shall crave of you your leave that I may bear my evils alone.” — Twelfth Night
The evils were on full display, if you were so inclined to see it that way. A dark and malignant cloud hung over not just the visiting dugout in Atlanta Wednesday, but everywhere. You know it as the Curse of Cincinnati Sports.
Wallow in it if you must. Lament the woeful Cincinnati Bengals even as their fate is solely the result of bad ownership in a league that hands out parity like penny candy. Wail aloud Brian Kelly’s traitorous villainy, as if UC is anything other than a stepping stone for carpetbagging college coaches.
Kenyon Martin. Stanley Wilson. Vontaze Burfict. Carson Palmer’s knee. Mat Latos. If you didn’t know better, you’d think there’s a granite Wall of Sorrow on the Banks etched with names forever immortalized in Cincinnati infamy.
We shouldn’t be myopic. Or provincial. Every city has its sport-sob story. Boston and Chicago once upon a time. Football in Detroit. Talk to me about Buffalo and the Super Bowl. If you want something more immediate, the Minnesota Twins have just lost 18 straight playoff games.
Yeah, the Reds lost a tough one on Tuesday. Even the Braves can understand. They secured their first Game 1 win in nearly 20 years. They currently own the dubious record of 10 consecutive playoff rounds lost harkening back to 2001.
Sports are not fair. The greatest team in Cincinnati history succumbed to the Orioles in 1970, suffering, among other ignominies, Bernie Carbo being called out at home in Game 1 when catcher Elrod Hendricks tagged him with his catcher’s mitt, while the ball was in his other hand.
Two years later, the favored Big Red Machine would suffer further ignominies. First, there was Johnny Bench getting hoodwinked on an intentional walk turned strikeout orchestrated by a manager with the name Dick Williams, the series culminating in A’s owner Charlie Finley dancing on the Riverfront dugout roof at the end of Game 7.
In 1973, a barely .500 Mets team would sneak into the playoffs and sneak away with the Reds’ rematch with the A’s.
By the time 1975 came along, Cincinnati’s greatest team was in danger of giving birth to the Curse of Cincinnati. Remember: in the 1970s, the path to the World Series was not the gauntlet it is now, wildcard, division series, followed by league championship series. You had to win a mere 3 games to advance to the World Series. Until that fateful night in Fenway, the Reds had mastered the best of 5-game series, but little else.
The lesson? Baseball is hard.
Our small town won three baseball championships in 16 seasons. Despite their dysfunction, the Bengals made two appearances in the Super Bowl in the 1980s.
Yes, it’s been a long drought since. Yes, the young among us don’t care about a history they didn’t taste, didn’t feel deep in their souls, down to the soles of their feet.
Whatever happens in Atlanta, don’t buy into the negativity. Enjoy this season for what it is: a nice diversion from the horror of the Year 2020. Don’t dissect every plate appearance, every pitching change, every umpire interpretation of the strike zone and attribute it to the “Curse of Cincinnati Sports.”
These games were never supposed to happen. In fact, this season is not a real season. It’s a 60-game exhibition designed to get baseball’s owners to the postseason where the TV money is. I remain surprised the pandemic didn’t shut the entire enterprise down. In truth, this funhouse season was likely on the brink of being canceled when the Miami Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals suffered COVID outbreaks. Had one more team joined them, MLB would likely have scuttled this entire enterprise.
Yet somehow, beyond all logic, the games survived.
I’ll remember this experiment for Trevor Bauer’s strut, Joey Votto punching back at Father Time, and the surprising Tejay Antone.
What I won’t do is draw any sweeping conclusions from this pretend baseball season. I won’t proclaim the Akiyama signing a success or failure. I won’t pass judgment on Wade Miley or give up on Bob Castellini opening his wallet for another year of Trevor Bauer. Starter or future closer, Michael Lorenzen remains an enigma. That’s okay for now.
I certainly won’t second-guess pitching to Freddie Freeman when the guy on-deck had an MVP-like slash line of .338/.431/.636, even if the voice of the people assumes issuing a the intentional walk was a ticket to an inning-ending double play.
I’m watching baseball in October. That’s enough for me during this misanthropic year.