Friday, Oct. 18, 1996
Thirty-two years ago, the Philadelphia Phillies blew a 6-1/2 game lead with 12 games remaining, and lost the National League pennant to the hated St. Louis Cardinals by a single game in the last game of the season. This was the pivotal event in my life. Nothing good that has ever happened to me since then can make up for the disappointment of that ruined season, and nothing bad that has happened since then can even vaguely compare with the emotional devastation wrought by that monstrous collapse. Millions and millions of Philadelphians feel exactly the same way. The collapse of the 1964 Phillies ruined our lives. There has never been any point in continuing. Like the tormented characters in WaitingforGodot, we merely go on because we have no choice but to go on. But we’re not enjoying any of this. Inside, we are dead.
Last night, the St. Louis Cardinals were clobbered 15-0 by the Atlanta Braves, losing the National League pennant in the process. After taking a commanding 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series, they were outscored 14-0, 3-1, and 15-0–one of the most titanic tank jobs of all time. Although the Cardinals already held the dubious distinction of blowing a 3-1 lead in the 1968 and 1985 World Series, they managed to get out of those confrontations with their dignity intact. But after being outscored 32-1 in the final three games of this series, the Redbirds will surely be remembered as among the biggest chokers of all time. One other thing: The Braves, seemingly dead and buried after Game Four, rose from the grave after the Cardinals angered them with their juvenile taunting and premature celebrating. Thus, the Cardinals have not only entered the pantheon of the game’s greatest chokers, but will now be a fixture of baseball mythology, as this kernel of wisdom is passed down from generation to generation: “No high-fives until the last out is recorded, son; remember what happened to those bush-league Redbirds back in ‘96.”
No, the Cardinals’ glorious 1996 tank job cannot compensate for the Phillies’ collapse in 1964. I still go to bed every night feeling bitter about that season. But blowing a 3-1 lead and losing Game Seven by a score of 15-0 is a very good start. A very good start indeed.
This morning, I wrote the worst sentence of 1996:
“The maverick, product of a hardscrabble youth, succumbed to hubris and became a sort of poster child for everyone who’s a little bit edgy.”
Of course, people reading this are going to protest: “You didn’t write that line. I’m sure I read it in Newsweek last night.” Well, of course. Journalism is so excruciating in this country that no magazine or newspaper article, no matter what the subject, can be published until at least four of these five vastly overused expressions are included.
“Make sure you run this through Cliché Checker,” editors everywhere tell their charges, referring to the popular auto-hackneying computer program.
In fact, it seems that one of the Darwinian functions of journalism is for “strong” horrible words and phrases to gradually overpower “weak” or “old” horrible words and phrases. Just as mastodons and dinosaurs once appeared invincible, there was a time when phrases like “style and substance,” “state of the art,” and “synergy” were widely viewed as clichés that could never be displaced.
But gradually, they were rendered extinct by far more powerful new banalities. First came “maverick,” used to describe everyone from Mother Teresa (the NewYorkTimes) to agronomists at the United States Department of Agriculture (the Atlantic). Then came “hubris,” a Greek word that had dropped out of common usage for about two millennia, but then was single-handedly revived by the WallStreetJournal editorial page. Today, it is used to describe everyone from Bill Clinton to Michael Jackson to the St. Louis Cardinals.
Shortly after that came “poster child,” “hardscrabble,” and “edgy.” “Hardscrabble” is an all-purpose inanity which, when applied to people like Bill Clinton, means “grew up in a poky little town in the South,” and when applied to urban blacks, means “grew up in the projects, where people kill each other with automatic weapons, but we don’t want to use the word ‘ghetto,’ so we’ll stick with ‘hardscrabble.’ ” It is a term of almost supernatural meaninglessness, and thus quite appropriate for the Age of Clinton.
But for my money, “edgy” is by far the most potent, the most ubiquitous, and the most infuriating of the new banalities. One reason it’s so lethal is because no one knows what it means. As far as I can tell from reading the press recently, NYPDBlue and The X-Files are edgy shows, Pearl Jam is an edgy band, the rebels who just took over Kabul are edgy guys, and I am an edgy journalist. In other words, “edgy” is an adjective used to take up physical space between a limiting article and a noun, which itself has no meaning, or, if it does, is completely inappropriate. The X-Files is not an edgy show: It is a scary show. Pearl Jam is not an edgy band: It is a miserable band. The rebels who just took over Kabul are not edgy guys: They are nasty guys. And I am not an edgy person: I am a prick. Finally, the bums who lost the National League pennant last night after choking away a 3-1 lead are not edgy. The correct term is “sucky.”