This Seth Mandel post on baseball got me thinking of the relative decline of Major League Baseball in our culture. What follows is a totally impressionistic account of sports and memory in Eastern Massachusetts:
I’m am too young to remember the 1960s and 1970s, but you catch glimpses of what sticks with people when sports comes up. Growing up, it seemed that, for most Boston area sports fans, the two Stanley Cups won by the Big Bad Bruins were a bigger deal than all thirteen NBA championships won by the pre-Larry Bird Celtics.
The two World Series defeats by the Red Sox seemed like at least as big a deal as the two Bruins Cups. Fisk’s Game 6 home run (famously described by Robin Williams) in an ultimately losing effort was at least the equal of Bobby Orr’s triumphant dive.
I think that gives a good sense of the hierarchy of the time. All else being equal, the Sox were first in local affections (and resentments). The Bruins were second. The Celtics were a distant third, and the recently founded Patriots were a very distant last place.
This Sox hegemony lasted at least through the 1980s. The Larry Bird-era Celtics not only won championships, they also acquired a much bigger local and national profile than the more successful (in terms of championships) Celtics teams of the 1960s and pretty good Celtics teams of the 1970s.
But even though the Celtics teams of the 1980s were winning three championships and made two other NBA Finals (While the Sox of the 1980s only had the one losing World Series run), Red sox ace Roger Clemens wasn’t that far behind Bird in popularity.
Today, the Patriots and the Sox (in that order) are the most popular teams in the region. While the recent performances of the local teams has something to do with the results (the Celtics are terrible and even mediocrity is nowhere in sight), the Boston sports area has caught up to most of the rest of the country in that the NFL team is more broadly popular than the MLB team. But for all that, David Ortiz is about as big a star around here as Tom Brady. I don’t think that is true nationally – even though Ortiz has won (and been key to winning) championships more recently than Brady.