America’s Pastime

Page 1 of “America’s Pastime” from the 9-11: Volume 2 collection.

We open on a bar on the night of October 27, 2001.  A Red Sox bar, specifically, based on the Boston pennant on the wall above what I believe is a framed Pedro Martinez jersey (although the jersey is #47 and Martinez wore #45, but anyway …), and the big guy in a Red Sox jacket nursing a beer and watching Game 1 of the World Series.  A moment later, his friend walks in and the big guy, Tommy, notices that his friend, Jimmy, is wearing a Yankees hat (more specifically, he asks, “Who crapped on yer head?”).  Jimmy explains that after all New York has been through, it seemed that rooting for the Yankees was the right thing to do, for both New York and for America.  Tommy reminds him that they’re from Boston and that despite what happened, they do not, under any circumstances, root for the Yankees.  He runs down the list of what their team from Boston–“The Birthplace of America” as he calls it–have been through: Buckner, Mo Vaughn leaving, Clemens pitching for New York, Yankees’ fans cockiness, Derek Jeter, and tells Jimmy, “What happened on 9/11–you can’t let if affect you that way, Jimmy, ’cause that’s what they want.  I’m tellin’ you–if you root for the #@$!! Yankees … the terrorists win.”

Jimmy thinks for a moment, puts his hat down on the bar and says “Go D-Backs.”

That’s the gist of a two-page story entitled “America’s Pastime” written by Brian Azarello and drawn by Eduardo Risso that was published in 9-11 Volume 2, a DC Comics-released collection of short pieces that were done as a reflection on the events of September 11, 2001.  Along with the first volume, which was produced and published by several “indie” comics companies, the profits of the sales of this book went to the 9/11 victims funds, and featured many pieces that were done by both minor and major comics creators and for the most part used ordinary heroes in their stories (although there were a few super-hero-related stories in the DC one).

I briefly mentioned this particular piece last year when I wrote about “This Too Shall Pass,” the Marv Wolfman-penned story that starred Raven of the New Titans, and did say that it is one of my favorite pieces in the book because Azzarello’s script gives us a little bit of levity in a volume that can often get heavy-handed.  But looking at it a little more closely this year as I reread this and other pieces, I wanted to write about it because it made me think of one of the very first posts on my very first blog (which was called “Inane Crap”).  Dated October 24, 2001, it was called “I Guess I Hate New York” and is more or less a rant that is similar to the one in Azzarello and Risso’s story, as I expressed my frustration with the idea that suddenly the Yankees were America’s team and that rooting for them to win the World Series was somehow the “right” thing to do:

I’ve been reading a lot with regard to the trivial nature of sports in the wake of the September 11 attacks, most of which wonders why we feel the need to focus on something as inconsequential as the World Series when thousands died in Washington DC, New York, and Pennsylvania. However, there’s also been a call for a return to normalcy and considering it is the end of October, we should be paying attention to the World Series. Moreover, we should be rooting for the team that best exemplifies the enduring spirit of America and New York City, the New York Yankees. If the American League Champion New York Yankees win their 27th World Championship (this time against the not-the-American League Champion Arizona Diamondbacks), it will be good for both New York City and America.

I’m sorry, but I don’t buy it.

The 2001 World Series will bring with it more fair weather fans that usual, mostly for that reason, because the Yankees are indicative of a never-say-die American spirit. After all, didn’t they reach the World Series this year after a long struggle in the playoffs against Oakland and Seattle, both of whom had better records? Don’t this and their long-standing tradition dictate that they should win the series? In all honesty, I have no idea, because I’m pulling for the Diamondbacks here. I mean, I’m a Mets fan, how could I possibly root for the Yankees?


Page 2 of “America’s Pastime” from the 9-11: Volume 2 collection.

What I wound up ranting about 11 years ago was more of me pissing and moaning as a Mets fan than it was any commentary on the society of the time, but at the same time I remember that if you peeled away the Mets-ness of my attitude, I was frustrated with the overall tenor of American culture after the September 11 attacks happened.  Flags appeared on everyone’s lawn/car bumper/office cubicle almost immediately, which at first was a poignant show of solidarity on the part of my fellow countrymen.  But I remember also talking to a co-worker about how we both had a feeling that the patriotism being expressed was going to become completely over the top very quickly (in the typical “I’m in my early twenties and I know everything” sort of tone that the two of us often employed in such conversations), and then seeing such happen as the weeks wore on.  Simply flying the flag led to “bandwagon” patriotism, which led, in some cases, to a fair amount of chest-thumping wherein some writers or performers were lambasted publicly for having a thought that was anything contrary to a “USA! USA!” with regard to 9/11 and “the terrorists.”

The fact that the Yankees wound up in the World Series for the fourth straight year (and the fifth time in six years) added to this.  The Netflix listing to an HBO-produced documentary about the 2001 World Series describes the Yankees’ quest for a 27th title as: “Coming on the heels of the horrific terrorist attack in New York on Sept. 11, the Yankees’ march to the World Series metamorphosed from a sporting event into a salve on a gaping, painful wound felt around the globe.”  So it seems like yes, everyone pulled together and the Yankees healed a wounded nation or something, but in all honesty, that’s what it’s supposed to seem like when you want to apply a “story” to real-life events that are extremely more complicated than we can fully comprehend all at once.  In fact, our culture has always had a hard time comprehending events such as September 11, 2001 because of that complexity.

It’s cynical to say this, but we are a very childish society.  I don’t have the academic chops nor the space to fully break it down, but it seems that our culture of instant gratification where we constantly search for attention or fame, we “lose our innocence” with every tragic event because we wind up having the attention span of a child.  We don’t forget that these things happened, but we “forget” what it was like to be there and the impact the events had; moreover, we allow those events to be distilled into a couple of hours on a cable channel, and we eschew rational, thorough discussion in favor of tacky country songs or commemorative plates/books/coins created by those looking to profit off of tragedy.

Now that I’ve soapboxed, what does that have to do with a comic book and baseball?

The beauty of literature, as I often tell my students (or try to, even though the point doesn’t always get across) is that it does not happen in a vacuum and often affects or is the effect of the world around it.  Sometimes the effect is one of explanation.  Yes, that two-hour movie that is way too simple of a story is not doing any real service, but a work that attempts to address how complex 9/11 is, gets more than one voice, more than one perspective, or more than one opinion across is valuable because it can start a conversation.  Which is how you avoid having that other conversation–the one that begins, “People are starting to forget”–especially since nobody ever forgot, but if we don’t attempt to properly educate about it, they just might.

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