Paul Greenberg

April is the cruelest month, mixing memory and desire. Or so T. S. Eliot opined. How did he know, not being a Cubs fan?

Perhaps that poet and expatriate forsook baseball altogether, like optimism and all else American, when he settled in London and became more English than the English. What a pity. With his talent for the elegiac, Thomas Stearns Eliot would have made a fine baseball writer instead of only a pretentious poet.

You have to be a Cubs fan to know tragedy season after unrelenting season. Only a few short years ago, I could have used the Red Sox as the personification of the tragic art. But then the Bosox had to go and win a World Series championship in 2004, their first since 1918.

What a shock. It was like seeing a Shakespearean tragedy redone as a musical comedy in which King Lear, Macbeth, and Hamlet all join in a fantastic, free-wheeling, high-kicking Busby Berkeley finale before rushing off to live happily ever after. It's just not natural.

Before the Red Sox did the unthinkable, and broke their 86-year record of hope denied, T. S. Eliot's dour mix of lamentation and cynicism would have equipped him perfectly for a seat in the press box at Fenway, staring at the insurmountable Green Monster, contemplating the glory that was Carlton Fisk, the grandeur that was Ted Williams.

I can see ol' T. S. there now, peering at that field of dreams through his round spectacles and over-educated sensibilities, and writing about the hollow men, the stuffed men. Namely, the Red Sox infield standing there helplessly as a routine grounder somehow gets past the pitcher, shortstop, second baseman, and out into center field, where it rolls to an unimpeded stop-not with a bang but a whimper.

But if the Red Sox can win a World Series, there is no longer any hope for tragedy, at least outside Wrigley Field. Can anyone imagine the late A. Bartlett Giamatti-scholar, dean, president of the National League, and just plain fan-writing his tragic ode to the game ("The Green Fields of the Mind") after the Red Sox had won their world championship? It would have been like mourning at a wedding.

Happily, his beloved Bosox continued their losing streak during his lifetime; Bart Giamatti did not have to endure joy. His eloquence remained unmarred by anything so vulgar as victory.

Even now the opening words of Professor Giamatti's essay steel the soul against coming disappointment, preparing us in this vibrant spring for the bitterness sure to come in inevitable autumn:


Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.