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Faithful: Two Diehard Boston Red Sox Fans Chronicle the Historic 2004 Season Books

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1 review about Faithful: Two Diehard Boston Red Sox Fans...

Red and Not So Dead

  • Jul 20, 2005
Pros: Stephen King's insights

Cons: O'Nan rambles a lot. IT'S ABOUT THE BOSTON RED SOX!

The Bottom Line: The Empire will strike back soon!

What’s worse than a self-loathing Boston Red Sox fan with a sense of entitlement? Why, two self-loathing Boston Red Sox fans with a sense of entitlement writing a book about their obsession!

Despite its flaws, Faithful by Stewart O’Nan and Stephen King is really quite something. At one point during my read-through, I actually began to question my loyalty to my own favorite baseball team, the New York Yankees. It was getting difficult for me to support them when I picked Faithful up. Our fearless money-spender George Steinbrenner had sent the payroll higher than a Barry Bonds home run because he’s gunning for names instead of results, Randy Johnson has proven to be a big disappointment as a pitcher after throwing a perfect game last season, and Alex Rodriguez had tried to slap his way into a free hit during the ALCS last year. When O’Nan and King reminded me of one of one of the most rotten, stupidest, and just plain low things Brian Cashman attempted to pull last season (asking Bud Selig for a free win because the hurricane-beat Tampa Bay Devil Rays were late for a game), I almost swore out my loyalty to my pinstriped stormtroopers for a more likable team, like the Toronto Blue Jays (who I like because they are closest to my home), the Cleveland Indians (who I like for being a great, generous parent club to my Triple-A Buffalo Bisons), the New York Mets (state big-league loyalties), or yes, even my hated Boston Dead Sucks (if you can’t beat them, join them).

But only a Red Sox fan could, less than 50 pages later, say something so unfounded, uncalled for, and outrageously stupid that I finish this book more proud than ever to be a fan of the Evil Empire. Yes, the Yanks have flaws. But that’s no reason to make steroid accusations at players without evidence (Namely, Hideki Matsui) and accuse another player of staging his parents’ deaths and funeral in the name of “drama,” whatever the hell that means.

Why talk about the Boston Red Sox at all, even? You’re only supposed to be writing a book about them! But of course, being a Red Sox fan means you must spend your days musing about the progress of the New York Yankees, and burning with rage over it. And so O’Nan and King do to a point where their anti-Yankee venom almost begins to take precedence over their obsession with their beloved Red Sox. Red Sox Nation has accused the Evil Empire of all sorts of things that would be bad if the Red Sox weren’t so guilty of those crimes themselves. The two authors of Faithful prove they’re not above their brethren when it comes to heaping the blame on the conveniently scapegoat-able Yankees for their 86 years of futility.

However, I don’t hate on Faithful for being so vehemently anti-Yankees. It’s the attitude of Red Sox Nation toward their blood rivals that makes being a Yankees fan so much fun! There were points in Faithful where I couldn’t help but laugh at the frustration of King and O’Nan, both of whom cover Yankee games as if Boston’s main goal in any given baseball season is not to win the World Series, but merely to beat the Yankees 19 times. But I digress - I must now take off my pro-Yankee smugness and don that familiar scarlet Boston B so I may spend the remainder of this review being fair and balanced.

First of all, I really have to admire the passion of these two authors for having the audacity to tackle a project this ambitious. I have no idea who this Stewart O’Nan character is, but the back flap of Faithful says he was rated one of the best authors in the country, so there are undoubtedly a few people who find his fictional scribery worth reading. He’s just not a household name. Now Stephen King is the very opposite of “not a household name.” He’s written about 40 books, mostly of the horror fiction type, and he’s often degraded by the holier-than-thou-art literature crowd because he writes such books. I, however, think a lot of his work is creative and well-written - in fact, King authored the first adult novels I ever read. Anyway, his work sells better than that of every other writer on the planet, so if you don’t know who he is, it’s time for you to cast off the shackles and glance at the fire for the first time. (In a quick note of irony, one of King’s best-loved novels is called The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon. I can say very little on the plot since I’ve never read it, but as is my understanding, it revolves around a girl who gets lost in the woods and imagines her hero, Red Sox pitcher Tom Gordon, is there to comfort her. When King wrote Faithful, Gordon was a Yankee. O’Nan didn’t lose this either: At one point, he makes a note to ask King if that girl still loves him.)

When Faithful starts, you’ll swear the book’s authorship was a typo. The first couple of chapters are almost strictly Stewart O’Nan, with Stephen King only throwing in a couple of cents on a few pages. It’s very difficult to read through because while O’Nan seems to know more about baseball than top sportswriters like Dan Shaughnessy or Mitch Albom and certainly knows how to turn a phrase, it’s not like he’s offering a thousand-word quick shot about every game like Shaughnessy and Albom do for the Boston Globe and Detroit Free Press. Many of O’Nan’s sections are just outright boring. What O’Nan mostly offers is bland coverage which could be easily turned into radio scripture. He’s only interesting when he gets personal, such as in the scene where he lugs a net to Fenway and uses it to catch errant baseballs. To be fair, there’s a lot of personality shown in some of O’Nan’s writing, but it’s outnumbered by veritable play-by-play written game coverage, which is so bland it’s unbearable. If O’Nan added baseball sounds and had Vin Scully read his sections of the audio version of Faithful, you’d swear you were listening to a live ballgame.

I will say this for O’Nan, however: He comes off as the more fervent of the two authors by far. He knows everything that goes on, who belongs to what farm teams, and most of the other small things that only a really die-hard baseball fan would know. And I have to say, it was also a lot of fun to read up a fan’s observations of games that I recognized from watching them on TV.

If you manage to struggle through the first hundred pages or so of O’Nan’s inane announcer chatter, Stephen King finally steps out of the guest author shadow and becomes - mercifully - much more regular in his musings. If you’re familiar with King’s style of writing, you can at least half-guess what to expect here. King also has his boring play-by-play problems, but they’re fewer and further between. King’s observations tend to revolve more around the psyche of the average Red Sox fan, and he is also more cynical. There are times when you’ll laugh at King’s self-depreciation, and his thoughts on the Curse of the Bambino are flat-out funny. King repeatedly states that he believes in the Curse with all his heart, while at the same time believing there’s no such thing as curses. He knows it too, and is the first one to make fun of himself for it. His anti-Yankees rant is one of the book’s highlights, and he also makes light of a game in which he threw out the ceremonial first pitch, another laugher because it forces him to decide between his superstition and his want to be a part of the season. King is even moving at times, such as when he says he’s only thinking of his heartbroken grandson after Nomar Garciaparra is traded to the Chicago Cubs.

The main difference between the two authors’ styles is that while O’Nan acts as the observer, King gives you the insight of a Red Sox fan. King is the true fan of the duo. O’Nan, as just a pure, red-blooded fan, is sometimes tough to take seriously because he appears to just want to impress us with how much he knows, and how much baseball means to him. O’Nan would listen to radio broadcasts of just about any minor-league game available while on the way out of Boston, and give the occasional update. The Red Sox Triple-A team, the Pawtucket Red Sox, plays a prominent role in the first couple of chapters. (He fails to mention that the Bisons won the Governor’s Cup in 2004, though. Maybe he was upset that the PawSox didn’t win it. Oh well. Go Bisons!)

Obviously, the most fun any baseball fan can have with Faithful is reading it and pointing out his favorite moments from the nationally televised games. Some great points included the thoughts on the unusual Fox broadcasting of a weekday regular-season game between the Yanks and BoSox, the Nomar Garciaparra trade, the brawls, and the elated feeling of being in the middle of the celebration when the Red Sox rose from the dead to launch their unlikely ALCS comeback to sweep the World Series, winning a record eight postseason games in a row.

I have to offer my belated congratulations to the Boston Red Sox for that achievement, and their fans for sticking it out with their team. But I just can’t tell them they have to own this book. It’s for the die-hard Red Sox fan only. While the 2004 edition of the Red Sox possibly the most colorful group of guys in baseball uniforms I’ve ever heard of (at least since the 86 Mets), Faithful has only two colors - black and white. But since people - especially Red Sox fans - all bleed red, black and white is no good.

Go Yankees!


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Faithful: Two Diehard Boston Red Sox Fans Chronicle the Historic 2004 Season Books
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