When I visited my mother in her apartment on Saturday, I was surprised that she wasn't watching the Red Sox. She can generally be counted on to watch the Red Sox.
"I don't like to watch them lose," she said.
"What kind of fan are you?" I asked.
She shrugged. "The kind who doesn't like to watch them lose," she said.
My mother is not alone. Lots of fans stop watching their teams when they are losing. Unless you have money riding on the result, following a team is something you are supposed to do for fun, and for a lot of fans, the fun kind of goes out of it when their favorite highly compensated and scientifically assembled clubhouse full of exceptional athletes unaccountably begins behaving like a random group of discouraged clowns.
Not so long ago, what's been happening to the Red Sox in September would not have been cause for anything but wry smiles among their fans. This is a team that won the World Series when Woodrow Wilson was President and apparently didn't like it, because they didn't do it again until George W. Bush was halfway through his reign. Until 2004, Red Sox fans who stopped watching when their team was losing stopped watching a lot.
But they won in 2004, and again in 2007, and as the payroll climbed, they became a good bet to make the playoffs on a basis more regular than almost any other team; they have taught today's Red Sox fans to embrace a different set of expectations. There is no room in those expectations for losing three out of four to the Rangers and three straight to Tampa Bay.
"I didn't watch last night, either," my mother was saying. "I went to the movies."
"See anything good?" I asked.
"Not very," she said. "So I left in the middle and came back here and turned on the Red Sox. I should have stayed at the movie."
Some years ago, a writer who had been following the Red Sox for a long time said of them that they were the only team ever to be mathematically eliminated while they were in first place. They are not in first place now, and they may not be again this season, but my guess is that they will limp into the playoffs via the wildcard, which will encourage my mother to begin watching again.
Whether or not this would be a good thing, I cannot say.
This program aired on September 14, 2011. The audio for this program is not available.