Doug Mirabelli had the best timing of any backup catcher in the history of major league baseball. He joined the Sox in the middle of the 2001 season, as the team hurtled towards its 83rd straight year of unfulfilled hopes, then celebrated a joyfully apocalyptic championship in 2004 and another for good measure in 2007. Upon his release yesterday, he left the Red Sox as one of only eight players who played on both championship clubs.
I’m a sentimental baseball fan, so I was truly saddened to hear the Sox had let Mirabelli go. But I trust Theo and Terry and I’m sure it was the right thing for the team.
What never ceases to surprise me, however, is how easily fans and media let someone like Doug Mirabelli just slide out of sight. He’ll get a short article in the Herald and Globe that will be primarily about how important Varitek is to the team, and the callers to our sports talk show radio stations today will say, “Doug was overweight and slow, and he couldn’t hit a lick, good riddance!” We obsess over these players and cheer for them like crazy, then when their usefulness is spent, we discard them like old cell phones.
I realize that every professional baseball player’s career must come to an end, and that they always come to an end while the player is relatively young (Doug is 37, and in the whole scheme of things, that is young). I realize that turnover in baseball is inevitable – and, ultimately, desirable. I realize that Mirabelli’s batting average dipped to .202 last season and would probably have dipped below the Mendoza Line this season. I’m not saying that releasing him was not a smart move.
But let’s give the guy his due. He was the only player capable of catching Wakefield’s wicked knuckleballs. He hit some dramatic, key home runs as a member of the Red Sox. He accepted his backup role with grace and appeared to be a good teammate, too. And most importantly, he was our backup catcher during the greatest era in Boston Red Sox history since the early 20th Century.
The former baseball commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti once wrote, “The game breaks my heart because it was meant to, because it was meant to foster in me again the illusion that there was something abiding, some pattern and some impulse that could come together to make a reality that would resist the corrosion…”
“Of course, there are those who were born with the wisdom to know that nothing lasts. These are the truly tough among us, the ones who can live without illusion, or without even the hope of illusion. I am not that grown-up or up-to-date. I am a simpler creature, tied to more primitive patterns and cycles. I need to think something lasts forever.”
I’m like Bart. There’s a part of me that wants to believe the illusion that that 2004 team can last forever; that the Wake and Dougie battery will be there every fifth day for eternity. And that part of me died a small death yesterday with the news of Mirabelli’s release. Of course, for Doug Mirabelli himself, the news has to be its own unique form of dying. It’s the end of the most magical period of his life. “Not a lot of fun for anybody,” said Terry Francona about breaking the news to Mirabelli prior to yesterday’s game.
Fireworks aren’t necessary, nor is the cover of Sports Illustrated. I get it. He’s not Brett Favre. But how about a heartfelt “standing O” for our #28? Those members of Red Sox Nation who have the good fortune of attending the Red Sox’ home opener, on April 8, will get their chance to applaud Mirabelli’s contributions to this franchise as he is introduced to receive his 2007 World Series ring (unless he’s playing for another team by then). Maybe we’ll get to hear Tim McGraw’s “Live Like You Were Dying” one last time (the poignant song about making the most of every moment that Mirabelli chose to blare from Fenway’s loudspeakers every time he came to the plate). If you’re there that day, I hope you’ll cheer long and loud. Not just for Doug Mirabelli, but for all members of that great 2004 team who have slipped away silently from baseball; who, in the end, could not “resist the corrosion.”