By Peter Wolfe
Were George V. Higgins to come back to us from the grave, he’d stumble immediately into his obsession—his love-hate relationship with the Boston Red Sox. Then he’d hear the news that his Sox, bereft of a championship for some 80 years, swept the St. Louis Cardinals in 2004 and the Colorado Rockies in 2007 to win two World Series in 4 years.
He’d have good reason to doubt his ears. His 1989 book, The Progress of the Seasons: Forty Years of Baseball in Our Town, consists of one long lament about his home-towners’ failure both on the field and in the front office. His history with those home-towners has deep roots. Like his father and grandfather, who took him to his first Red Sox game in 1946, at age 6, he spent a lifetime suffering from the curse boiling up from the Bosox’s 1919 sale of Babe Ruth to the Yankees, the home run by Yankee shortstop Bucky Dent that ended the Sox’s season in 1978, and the error by first baseman Bill Buckner that cost the Sox the 1986 World Series.
Even Higgins’s fictional characters, looking for an emblem of futility, will invoke the Red Sox. A judge, during a long criminal trial in Sandra Nichols Found Dead (1996), tries to comfort the sequestered jury members who have lost time with their friends, family, and co-workers by reminding them that living in the same town as “those blasted Red Sox” has already schooled them in hardship. Few of the jury members would protest. Higgins recalls in Progress of the Seasons a friend groaning that the failures of the Red Sox have exceeded his ability to withstand pain.
So if you spot Higgins either near Fenway Park or the Locke Ober Café, his favorite Boston restaurant, be advised to change the subject when he starts talking baseball. Learning of his favorites’ recent success might shock him back to his grave, screaming that no novelist would violate probability with so outrageous a tale.
Peter Wolfe is the Curators' Professor of English at the University of Missouri-St. Louis and author of Havoc in the Hub: A Reading of George V. Higgins forthcoming from Lexington Books.