In the final analysis, Red Sox really don't think too much of themselves

October 25, 2004|By PETER SCHMUCK

BOSTON - It's amazing. My bookshelf is bulging with literary paeans to the subtle poetry of baseball by some of the greatest minds that have ever pondered the mystery of a hanging curveball, and it took Johnny Damon about 10 seconds to turn them all into so much pretentious drivel.

"We try to eliminate the thinking," Damon said yesterday. "When we use our brains, we're only hurting the team."

Of course, that won't stop the legion of New England intellectuals who are poised to turn a Sox victory in the 100th World Series into some mythic journey of self-discovery for all of Red Sox Nation, but Damon was letting it be known that trying to overanalyze this ragtag band of apparent misfits might be a fool's errand.

This is, after all, a group of guys who reverently refer to themselves as "a bunch of idiots."

Who's to argue? Certainly no one who watched Manny Ramirez play left field in Game 1. The guy can make a routine fly ball look like the motorcycle scene from The Great Escape.

The Red Sox are a semi-lovable assembly of goofs with a strange sense of personal hygiene who play so loose that they can make four errors in each of the first two games and still end up smiling all the way to St. Louis. That's why manager Terry Francona decided early on not to sweat the little stuff.

"If this was Cub Scout Troop 14, I'd ask them to cut their hair," Francona said, "but we're just trying to play the best baseball we can."

Francona might be as goofy as his players. Somebody told him yesterday that Cardinals manager Tony La Russa claimed to have tried to acquire him when Francona was a player.

"Well, my initial thoughts are, if he tried to acquire me, he's not nearly as good a manager as I thought he was," Francona said.

The multi-team deal that sent Nomar Garciaparra to the Cubs and bolstered the Red Sox's infield defense and bullpen is widely regarded as a major turning point in the club's fortunes, but Francona turned on his diplomatic charm to explain the trade and its impact when the subject came up at his pre-game news conference.

"When we traded Nomar, it was basically Nomar for four players: It was Mike Myers, [Orlando] Cabrera, [Doug] Mientkiewicz and Dave Roberts. I know he wasn't traded for all four, but that's what we got back. ... And actually, the other part of it, we just started playing better, too."

Loose translation: "Does anyone around here remember anybody named Nomar Garciaparra?"

Cardinals reliever Julian Tavarez didn't get a lot of parental support when he called his father after breaking his left hand during a tantrum in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series.

Tavarez called home to tell his dad what happened, and his father angrily told him that it served him right. Frank Tavarez and his son did not talk again until after Julian's next outing.

The volatile reliever got the same message in the Cardinals clubhouse.

"My teammates tell me I've got to keep control of my emotions or I'm going to be out of baseball," Tavarez said yesterday. "I pray to God to control my emotions, because I'm out of control."

In other words, he would fit right in with the Red Sox.

Still trying to forget Steven Tyler's rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner" before Game 1 - which he punctuated with a heavy metal screech. Baseball apparently is trying to widen its audience to include guys who still wear their shirts open to the bellybutton when they're 59 years old.

Soft rock legend James Taylor delivered a kinder, simpler anthem before last night's game.

Final thought: It's never easy getting a good hotel room for the World Series, but I got lucky and ended up in the University Park Hotel @MIT. The rooms are nice, and my bellman got a 1560 on the SAT.

I particularly liked the big picture of Albert Einstein and Brian Billick in the lobby.

Contact Peter Schmuck at peter.schmuck@baltsun.com.

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