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Friday, September 19, 2003
Updated: May 31, 2:19 PM ET
A true Hollywood story

By Bill Simmons
Page 2 columnist

When HBO's documentary about the Red Sox launched this week, some of my readers wondered why I wasn't involved. Apparently I was missed: The media's latest effort to perpetuate a ghost story, misrepresent Red Sox fans and portray them as doom-and-gloom lunatics just wasn't the same without me.

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Well, I didn't want to be involved, not after I heard about the title of the show. I tackled this subject back in September of 2001 and vowed never to mention it again in this space. It's that ridiculous. Here's how I summed things up at the time:

"Deep down, we worry that our lives will pass us by without ever seeing the Red Sox win a World Series ... which is what this whole thing is really about in the first place. That's why Red Sox fans are so insanely passionate about our team. We're haunted by the possibility of living an entire lifetime -- 80-90 years, followed by death -- without celebrating a World Series title. That's not a curse; it's an imaginary guillotine that hangs over us every season. We're just waiting for it to go away, that's all."

That's pretty simple, isn't it? Well, it's true. I have made thousands of arguments in this column -- some of them good, some of them bad, some of them insane -- and feel more strongly about the above paragraph than anything else. Blaming Babe Ruth's ghost for 85 years of failure makes for a cute story, and as WEEI's Gerry Callahan likes to joke, the premise put Dan Shaughnessy's kids through college. But it's not true. It's a myth kept alive by writers, columnists, talk show hosts and producers of slanted documentaries for HBO. The only "curse" is that the media keeps bringing it up.

Babe Ruth
Babe Ruth could have remained a Boston idol if the Yankees had moved to Fenway Park.
Which brings me to the HBO guys. Last winter, one of the producers approached me about appearing on their show. I told him that I wasn't interested in participating in something that glorified the failures of my favorite team. Just thinking about it logically, why would HBO greenlight a documentary about the Red Sox without an angle? Didn't it make perfect sense for them to gear their show around the inane curse?

In January, one of the producers sent a thoughful e-mail asking me to reconsider, maintaining that the show would celebrate the dedication and spirit of Sox fans. I e-mailed back with one question: If the show was about the "dedication" of Red Sox fans, then why was it named after Shaughnessy's book? In his response, one of the producers claimed that HBO insisted on that title, or they simply wouldn't run the show. This person was adamant about the fact that the show wouldn't be geared around the curse.

Fair enough. As it turned out, I was strapped for time that month, and I felt increasingly uneasy about the show -- like when you're sitting at a blackjack table and the wrong dealer is suddenly standing in front of you. Why wouldn't they rehash the same sob stories that every Sox fan has grown to despise? How could they possibly play it any other way? It would have been like filming a documentary on the Amityville Horror house and not including any ghost stories. Why should I even take the chance of being involved?

So I cancelled.

Nine months later, the show premiered on HBO, and guess what? It's all about the moronic curse. They spend so much time talking about Babe Ruth, we even get force-fed three minutes about his missing piano. They spend about one-fourth of the show on two devastating Sox collapses -- '78 and '86 -- even showing Buckner's famous error from about 75 different angles. They use creepy music and ghost-like footage of a Ruth-like player to accentuate the points. They try to prove that, for many years, the Sox were a racist franchise to boot. They make most Sox fans seem like tortured maniacs, like we actually enjoy being miserable. And the overriding theme of the show was -- you guessed it -- the same phrase that serves as the title of the show.

Some of Boston's good memories.
Here's my point: If they wanted to create a documentary with a distorted premise, then that's fine. It's a free country. Maybe for their next project, they can tackle the Bermuda Triangle. But if they intended to center their show around the curse, they certainly didn't make those motives clear to me (and others). Maybe things changed when they finished filming and they were in the editing room. Maybe not. I was fortunate enough to see the writing on the wall; others weren't as fortunate.

Have there been some painful times for Red Sox fans? Absolutely. We lost seventh games in 1946, 1967, 1975 and 1986. We also lost the most dramatic game of all time -- the playoff game in '78 against the Yanks, which deserves its own column some time. All things considered, Game Six of the '86 World Series was one of the most painful, agonizing defeats in the history of sports, maybe even the worst. And as I mentioned before, we're terrified that we may never see this team win a World Series, at least in our lifetime.

But plenty of sports fans battle similar demons, don't they? What about Cubs fans closing in on the 100-year mark? What about Bills fans losing those four straight Super Bowls, including the horror of the Norwood Game? What about Browns fans losing their team, for God's sake? Who's more tortured than Maple Leaf fans? You think Astros fans have had tons of fun over the past four decades? You think the Bengals and Cavs have been laughing it up?

For the most part, Sox fans have been pretty fortunate. Including me. Over the past three decades, I watched an inordinate amount of winning teams (more than any other franchise in baseball), as well as stars like Lynn, Fisk, Tiant, Rice, Yaz, Eckersley, Evans, Mo, Nomar and Manny. I was blessed with the chance to see Clemens and Pedro in their primes -- two of the best pitchers of the past 50 years. Dave Henderson's homer against the Angels remains one of the great sports moments of my life. Same with Pedro coming out of the bullpen and blanking Cleveland in the '99 playoffs (conspicuously missing from the documentary, of course). And for all its faults, Fenway (in the right seats) is still the best place in the country to watch baseball.

Pedro Martinez
When Pedro had it truly going it was a thing of beauty.
And then there's this: From 1999 to 2001, I could scalp tickets and watch the best pitcher of my lifetime, in the best setting on the planet, for less than $75 a pop. Maybe that doesn't make up for the championship drought. Few things would. But on those nights when Pedro had it going -- when he truly had it going -- there wasn't anywhere else on the planet you wanted to be. I will never see someone pitch like that again. Ever. Not in my lifetime.

Of course, that didn't show up in HBO's documentary. Nothing from the past two paragraphs made the cut, with the exception of Hendu's homer, which didn't come close to getting the Kubrick-like treatment of Bucky Dent's pop-up drifting over the wall. I guess that's Hollywood for you. When they make a documentary about your favorite team, J-Lo's fiance' ends up narrating it, and people like Michael Chiklis and Dennis Leary represent the true fans, and the guy who wrote "The Curse of the Bambino" serves as the paid consultant.

Here's what kills me: In the tons of footage they shot, I'm sure there were some heartfelt stories buried in there, positive memories that could have balanced out the negative anecdotes. Sadly, we never got to see them. Those recollections would have ruined the premise, you see -- even if that premise is a complete lark, something that demeans every reason I ever liked sports in the first place.

Anyway, I think I made the right choice.

Bill Simmons is a columnist for Page 2 and ESPN The Magazine, and he's a writer for Jimmy Kimmel Live.