This evening, the Boston Red Sox and the Los Angeles Dodgers will square off in the first game of the World Series.
As a longtime Red Sox fan, I am excited that my boys have the chance to win the franchise’s fourth championship since their curse-ending victory in 2004. As a baseball fan in general, however, I am especially excited that these two storied franchises are competing for baseball’s highest honor. Both teams have long histories: the Dodgers played their first game in Brooklyn in 1883, just seven years after the National League was established; the Red Sox were founding members of the American League in 1901.
Despite their shared longevity, each of these teams represents a distinct perspective on the game. Indeed, one could argue that the Dodgers and the Red Sox represent two competing baseball philosophies. Though an older franchise, the Dodgers have long been innovators. When they moved from Ebbets Field to Dodgers Stadium, they became the first team to play on the West Coast. When they put Jackie Robinson at first base in 1947, they became the first Major League team to integrate their roster.
The Red Sox, on the other hand, are among baseball’s most flamboyant traditionalists. They have played at Fenway since the Taft Administration, squeezing uncomfortable seats into every available corner of the ballpark. While Dodgers fans can proudly claim that their team helped break baseball’s color barrier, devotees of the Red Sox must reckon with the shame of knowing that Boston was the very last team to field non-white players, owing to the intransigence of Tom Yawkey, the club’s reactionary and recalcitrant owner.
Lest we think that these differences are purely historical, they seem to play out on the field as well. During the 2018 postseason, the Dodgers have played 2018 baseball: eschewing “small ball” tactics in favor of leveraging high-percentage matchups. Meanwhile, the Red Sox seem to have lost their sabermetrics memo; they spent the league championship series simply putting the ball in play and trying to get guys on base.
This evening, in other words, we will see a fascinating clash between two distinct baseball philosophies, between those who look to the future and those who look to the past. This tension tells us something about ourselves. There is a part of each of us that looks to the horizon with a sense of hope about who we might yet become. There is also a part of each of us that looks wistfully to where we have come from, knowing that we can’t go back, but trusting that we will not forget who we have been. In baseball, there is room for innovation and tradition. In fact, baseball invites us to acknowledge that neither approach is complete: one cannot look forward without also knowing where one has come from; one cannot look back without recognizing that time continually marches on. Tonight we will witness more than two teams playing a game; we will witness a meditation on the ambivalence of knowing that our lives are shaped by who we have been and who we will be.