I want to begin by acknowledging that I am writing a review of a book whose appeal starts out extremely limited to a specific region and demographic, and only becomes more so due to the incredible untimeliness of when I finally got around to reading it. Yes, in the waning days of that black hole we called 2020, I finally got around to reading Now I Can Die in Peace, a collection of sports (specifically, New England Sports, and more specifically, Red Sox baseball) essays, published in the grand old days of 2005 (seriously, I hadn’t met my husband yet), fresh off Boston’s vaguely improbably World Series win in 2004, breaking an 86 year drought (or curse, depending on your vernacular).
Fuller disclosure, for those who don’t follow the sports ball, or for those who do but perhaps are part of a more civilized and less proudly moronic fanbase, the Red Sox did indeed go on to win three additional World Series titles, in 2007, 2013, and 2018. That’s right, one of my kids has seen them win twice and even the baby has one under his belt (diaper?). If there is anything in the world that could make my 20s and early 30s feel more pointless, I haven’t met it. I could have spent a day of each week on a bender and accomplished no less.
But if there is one person who must feel like a bigger shmuck over the hours devoted to Red Sox despair, it’s Bill Simmons, and so, I give you: Now I Can Die in Peace.
First off, I guess Bill gets a bit more credit than I; he at least was able to monetize his fanboy nonsense. For the rest of us, it was a lot of time invested with little more to show for it than ticket stubs and the occasional happy memory (surrounded by pain). I had a drama teacher once who used to reminisce about his younger days and say, “My god, we CARED so!” and that’s pretty much the line that runs in my head when I think about my friends and me, sitting (often standing) around a bar in Boston watching baseball, whilst our law school and promise of successful careers sat idly next door (shout out, Beantown Pub!). One of my friends even somehow became a season ticketholder – I mean that had to cost many thousands of rent dollars. I think she sold plasma to pay for it. I think she would have sold more.
Anyway, if you’re still here, you probably care at least a bit about the subject matter, so you will understand that if you’re going to do a book about the 2004 World Series, you have to start at least in 2003, with That Season, That Series, and ultimately, That Night that Grady Little Screwed Us All Over. However, NICDIP opens long before 2004, back in the late 90s. Reader, I skimmed these essays. Simmons is, after all, the Sports Guy; his analysis detailed and specific and my memory less so. Beyond that, his early essays are from his self-published Sports Guy website, before he got hired by ESPN (and also by Kimmel for a brief period). He was… not a great writer back then. You can tell this because his intro to these sections openly talks about how not great he was. Why, pray tell, would anyone include them in a collection? Who knows. I’m going with page quotas, and I’m betting that had he known he’d have a second WS title to talk about just a couple of years after this came out, Simmons would have held off. Alas, NICDIP contains almost a full third of super dry, dated, sports analysis and frat boy humor. I gave myself a pass, checked in on the 1999 season (when I first moved to Boston) and then jumped to 2003.
I should mention, why not now, that I actually received this book back in ’06 and couldn’t bring myself to read it until now. One of the reasons was definitely the sense that I maybe did not actually need to relive the highs and lows of 2003 and 2004. But from the pits of hell of 2020, it all looks so rosy and sweet.* And what a time it was! I read many of these articles at the time so some were quite familiar, many were still amusing, but all shocked me at just how very juvenile Simmons is. He’s not the first or worst dude to make endless sexual sports metaphors but OH MY GOD he’s got to be the most cringeworthy. I read this, as I do all my reading, at bedtime next to my husband. Initially I would just casually remark things like “wow, did not realize how many boob references were in his stuff.” By the time I got to the 2004 playoffs, I was actively reading him sections because I was unable to fully describe how misogynistic and at times Gen-X “I don’t see color” racist it all was without giving examples. It’s page after page of YIKES, did we think this was funny?
The aughts were a crazy ride, man.
Anyhoo, throughout the 90s and early 00s, Simmons often wishes for a victory simply so that Red Sox Nation (sadly, I’m not making that up) can be just like any other sports fans; that we could perhaps be relieved of this thing he refuses to call a “curse.” I can’t possibly reach the part of my brain that found it necessary to stand in the same spot behind a pool table at a crummy bar for nine straight innings, refusing to move, even to pee. Which, I guess is the point. After 2004, we really did become just ordinary sports fans, annoying to all non-fans but otherwise able to move about our daily lives. Now that I’ve relived the experience along with Bill, I guess we can both die in peace.
*I have a distinct memory of a very stressed out Boston lady just losing her mind at me and some friends in a Starbucks over how everyone cared more about the World Series than the upcoming Bush/Kerry election. To which I say, believing the Red Sox could win was crazy. Believing John Kerry would win should have been grounds for committal. But FYI lady, I was a law student with time on my hands and definitely spent at least some of the time the Red Sox weren’t playing doing campaign stuff. So there.