Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The Curse of Tom Gordon and Stephen King (A Work of Fiction)

In the aftermath of the third World Series triumph in less than a decade by the now bearded boys of Boston, Brian Cashman, general manager of the New York Yankees, was faced with the harshest of realities: a universe that had been controlled in large measure by the Red Sox from 2004 when the curse of the Great Bambino was lifted.

And he wondered whether a demonic plague had now been firmly planted in the Bronx.

Sure, 2009 was wonderful.  But in retrospect, it felt nothing has been the same since that gut wrenching playoff defeat from the jaws of victory nine years past. What evil entered then into the bowels of the Yankee kingdom and has not been excised? What happened? Or more precisely, who?

Baseball is, at its very heart, superstitious. Ballplayers have rituals they follow, from the clothes they wear during a winning streak, to the habits they exhibit on the field, like hopping over the foul line when walking onto the field or raising a hand to the sky in homage to God, as if there was some divine intervention acting as a tenth man on the field. And Cashman believed in forces that the eye could not see.

In 2008, the new Yankee Stadium was being constructed. Among the construction workers was one whose heart belonged to Boston. David Ortiz wore jersey number 34 for the Red Sox and was perhaps the player most feared in the rivalry between the two teams. When word leaked that, in an attempt to place a hex, the worker had buried an Ortiz jersey in the concrete below the soon to be new home for the Yankees, it caused a panic in the organization.  With a jackhammer and much fanfare, the offending article was removed.  It was later reported that the jersey had been donated to the Jimmy Fund, a cancer charity that the Sox supported, and fetched over $175,000 at auction.

Oh yes, Cashman believed.

In his office shortly after the 2013 World Series had ended, he searched for clues. He combed the rosters of both teams from the year of the turning of the tide. What was he missing? And then, in a "Flash", it came to him. Tom Gordon.

From 1996 to 1999, Flash Gordon was a pitcher for the Red Sox. In the early 90's he had been a starter and flamethrower with Kansas City, before injury changed his career path. Boston resurrected him, converting him into a closer and making him, for a time, an icon. Enter Stephen King.

In 1999, during the final season of his tenure in a Sox uniform, Gordon saved not only games but the life of the central character in King's story, "The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon". Trisha McFarland, on a hike with her family, gets separated and finds herself hopelessly lost. She turns for solace to her Walkman (ironic in a baseball kind of way) and listens to broadcasts of her beloved Red Sox, and of its savior, Mr. Gordon. Ultimately, he becomes not only the team's protector but hers. Her rescue is a direct result of a seemingly other worldy  intervention of the closer.  No longer merely a cult figure, now a super hero.

While Mr. King's infatuation with Mr. Gordon may have been momentary, his commitment to the team from Boston has been long and deep. "Faithful", his diary of the 2004 season chronicled the team's highs and lows. Glory arrived, and when it did, where one might ask was Mr. Gordon?

That year was the first in which Gordon put on a uniform with pinstripes and the interlocking NY.

The hex on the Sox commenced when the worlds of entertainment and sport collided. Blind to the greater realities, the Beantowners not only lost the services of Babe Ruth but were compelled to perform 86 years of penance. And  Cashman now wondered if Mr. Gordon, when crossing to the New York side of the diamond, had stepped on the foul line. Had he brought with him much more than the Yankees had paid for? Had the ghost of Tricia MacFarland taken a seat next to him on the bench?

Cashman was taking no chances.

Stephen King was a prolific writer, having authored more than 50 books and sold hundreds of millions of copies of his works. His stories were often dark and full of strange and seemingly unexplainable happenings. From his first novel, Carrie to The Shining and well beyond, King's was a world in which powers beyond our understanding were in control. And if there was one person who had both the desire to see the Yankees doomed and the relationship with the devil to make it happen, King was that person.

When the caller on the line stated that his name was Brian Cashman, King let out a small chuckle. What idiot, he thought, could believe I would fall for something so ridiculous. But when Cashman insisted on his identity, and gave King verifiable proof by way of access to certain information hidden within the Yankee hierarchy, King was intrigued. He was ready to listen.

Cashman's job as general manager was to make things happen that were hard to accomplish. Sure it helped that he had, for many years, by far the largest payroll in baseball, but there was a great deal more than that to Cashman (he always thought his name was ironic given his position)  He was a relentless pursuer, an artful negotiator, at times calm and pleasant, at others fierce and intense if the situation so demanded. Sometimes, his efforts failed, but most often he had been successful. On occasion, his seeming victories brought something other than bargained for. Like, he now believed, when he acquired Tom Gordon in 2004.

Cashman knew he had to try to structure a deal as if he were dealing with a free agent. What, he thought would it take for King to lift the curse of Flash Gordon? He realized that money alone was not the answer. After decades of wild success in the literary world, King was not susceptible to bribes. At least not one that involved dollars and cents. And if Cashman was now trying to control expenses within the  organization, as control was defined by the Yankees, spending tens of millions of dollars to rid the team of some other worldly negativity was not a line item in the budget.

But, Cashman reasoned, every man had his price. He just had to find out what King's was. He asked King whether he could fly up to his home to meet with him in person, on some project that he was doing in conjunction with Bud Selig and major league baseball. He was as vague and imprecise as possible. King decided he would allow Cashman an audience with him.

Before embarking on the journey, Cashman met with Hank Steinbrenner. Hank's father, George, was a legendary, incendiary, larger than life figure. He would, it seemed, spit in the devil's face if needed. He offended friend and foe alike, famously hiring and firing Billy Martin five times, and paying a shadowy figure to investigate and sabotage Dave Winfield, a Yankee star and sworn enemy of the Boss.

But Hank was different, more pragmatic, less confrontational. When Cashman laid out his wild theory involving Flash Gordon and Stephen King, Steinbrenner listened. And he, like Cashman, believed in the grand old tradition of unfettered  baseball superstition and a higher power not necessarily his father. And so, when Cashman went two days later to meet with King, he had the blessing of the head of the organization and a plan for just how far he was permitted to go.

Last Thursday morning, the Yankee general manager pulled up to Stephen King's house at 11 AM. King greeted him warmly at the door, amused that the last person in the world he ever thought would be at his doorstep was there. After several minutes of aimless chatter, talk turned to the purpose of Cashman's visit.

The details of the next four hours are unknown. However, when the story broke in the paper on Sunday morning, the first paragraph told it all:

"In the history of this franchise, there has never been a more bizarre announcement. The Yankees meet their most hated rival, the Red Sox, on April 22, 2014. It will be their first encounter of the season, and will be marked by an event unlike any this Stadium, or any that came before it, has seen. Before the first pitch is thrown, Derek Jeter will stand at home plate, wearing a Boston Red Sox hat, and sing Sweet Caroline. After completing the song, Jeter will remove the cap from his head and hand it to none other than Stephen King, long time fanatical Red Sox fan, and author over the past  40 years of many of the most wild creations to enter our universe. Even Mr. King could not easily conjure up this scenario."

Stephen King read the paragraph and smiled.

Derek Jeter, he of the loosening and tightening batting gloves before every pitch, of the half raised right hand to the umpire as he steps back into the box, of the never touched first base line in almost 20 years of heading to his shortstop position, of the four leaf clover that has been carried in its plastic cover through each and every battle, he could only read the words before him and curse the fates.

Tom Gordon, like everyone else not involved in the events that were prelude to this decision, had no idea what on earth had happened.


The details of the next four hours are unknown. However, when the story broke in the paper on Sunday morning, the first paragraph told it all:

"In the history of this most storied franchise, there has rarely been a more bizarre press conference.  Brian Cashman stood next to a  broadly smiling Stephen King, yes that Stephen King, and announced a partnership of sorts. King, known almost as much for his devotion to the Boston Red Sox as his macabre tales, was to be given unfettered access for the upcoming season to the inner sanctum of the Yankees.  From strategy meetings, to private conversations from batboy to ownership, nothing was to be outside the realm of King's reach. Where this leads was not revealed. Cashman only reported that, if matters went as anticipated, the project between the team and the writer, whatever that entailed, would be completed just before the start of the 2014 World Series.  And strangest of all, throughout the conference King proudly wore on the top of his head, a hat emblazoned with the letter "B".

Reading this paragraph, Tom Gordon, like everyone else not involved in the events that were prelude to this decision,  had no idea what on earth had happened.

1 comment:

El Ganso said...

This is one story that has left me chuckling and smiling. It will never happen!!