Book Notes #8: Now I Can Die In Peace

It’s one of those idiotic and vapid claims you see on television commercials, radio ads, and at the top of print ads for the latest Ephronian garbage: "It made me laugh and cry". Normally, that phrase would (and should) make someone run screaming in fear that the next two hours of their life will be wasted on something out of the Hallmark Hall of Fame, a biopic about the handsomest blind deaf mute high school junior (played by an anachronistic 45–year-old Harry Hamlin) who somehow overcame narcolepsy to kick the winning field goal in the state championships.  In the case of the new collection of Bill Simmons’ (ESPN’s "Sports Guy", and a personal fave) columns from 1998-2005, Now I Can Die In Peace, however, the biopic is a highly entertaining feature about someone all Boston fans can relate to: a Larry-Bird-worshipping-Real World-watching-baseball-loving/hating-son of his father, a devoted follower of all things Soxian, all things Bostonian.  And, in fact, it did bring tears (circa the columns of 2003-2005) as well as draw questions from Mrs. SF about why I was laughing out loud at a book about sports.

welSimmons’ columns track the Red Sox and, to a lesser degree, the Patriots, Celtics, and Bruins, from the peak of Nomar’s skills through this year’s ring ceremony at Fenway Park in front of the hated Yankees.  Annotated with new footnotes that append, revise, and question his original assertions in humorous fashion, the book reads smoothly as an insightful take on recent Sox history, tinged with an underlying and sincere sense of their long history and their emotional position in our regional psyche. And Simmons does this all while nailing the insufferable pathologies of Yankees fans (and it’s not their  "aristocratic detachment"), why Carl Everett was so fun (but scary) to watch, and why David from the Real World will never be his baby tonight.  A few samples, some that even Yankees fans might be able to appreciate:

Simmons, circa 2000 on Red Sox/Saved By The Bell parallels:

"Nomar (Zack) – Figures in every plot, gets all the cute women and routinely comes through in the clutch.  Let’s just hope that Nomar’s career doesn’t turn out like the career of the guy who played Zack.

Pedro (Slater): The coolest guy on the team, singelhandedly carries epsiodes, even travels with his own posse.  Plus he has a secret rivalry with Nomar that never gets discussed but you know it’s there–just wait until they battle over a groupie and start pouring fruit punch on each other at the next team party.

El Guapo (Screech): Just because of the inherent comedy involved every time either guy enters a room or the ballpark.  The mere sight of them makes you giddy.  Plus, both of them will be MIA in 5 years"

Simmons on team allegiances:

"If your city has fielded a professional team since your formative years, you have to support that team.  None of this "The Bengals weren’t very good when I was growing up in Cincy, so I became a Niners fan" crap.  Local teams are like family–you have to stick with them through thick and thin.  Even if they’re living on welfare and making occasional appearances on Jerry Springer"

Simmons, circa 2001, on Derek Lowe’s closing troubles:

"and then…BOOM, he makes the face.  My buddy J-Bug calls it the ‘Derek Lowe Face’, a distant cousin to the ‘Troy Aikman Face’.  Remember when Aikman would suffer a concussion, and TV cameras would catch him on the sidelines (glassy-eyed, totally shellshocked) as the Dallas trainers would shove 10 pounds of smelling salts in front of his nose?  And Aikman would continue to stare on the field, undaunted, like he was looking at Milton Berle naked?  That was the Aikman Face.  Lowe’s face freezes like Aikman’s did, only with considerably more anguish.  Imagine someone taking a dump and suddenly realizing there’s no toilet paper left in the bathroom.  Exactly."

Simmons, October 27th, 2004:

"For Yankees fans, it’s Day Seven of Operation Spin Control.  My favorite excuses so far include:

  • ‘You still need to win the World Series or it means nothing’.
  • ‘This wasn’t that big of a deal – I was much more upset when we lost to the Diamondbacks’
  • ‘Don’t tell me we choked. Three of those games came down to the last at-bat’
  • And, ‘I was 10 times more upset when the wispy mustache fell out of style’.

(alright, I made that last one up, but I if the Sox end up winning the title, I’m looking forward to hearing ‘Congratulations, now you only have to win 19 before you catch us’)"

Simmons, Game 4 Diary, Sox vs. Cards:

  • "8:31: One hopper back to Foulke, underhand scoop to first….HEE-YAAAAHHHHHHHHH!!!!!
  • 8:41: Holy $#$$$@##
  • 8:42: All right…forget about ending the curse and having 86 years of baggage lifted in one fell swoop.  If you don’t get emotional watching a group of guys celebrating and hugging when you feel like you know them, when you suffered all the highs and lows, when you spent the last seven months with them…I mean, why follow sports at all? (Translation: it’s getting a little dusty in here.)
  • 8:43: Best glass of champagne in my life
  • 8:44 Just called Dad.  Been waiting to make that call my whole life. "It happened in my lifetime!" he keeps saying.  Plus, the apocalypse didn’t happen.

In the end, the book suffers only from it’s format and the resulting compression of the work: the span over which the selected columns were written lasted 7 years, and therefore some of the pop culture references become repetitious when read in sequence.  In some instances, it seems like Simmons is forcing us to know how hip to the WB he is, how much he is tuned in to the lessons of "The Shawshank Redemption".  But taken independently, the columns never fail to entertain or enlighten. In momentary cases, they are simply moving.  Recommended by this fan who can also die in peace.

6 comments… add one

  • personally, i am not dying in peace just yet. that title reads like so much hyperbole at this point.
    also, why would i spend $24.95 hardcover when i can just read the simmons archive online?

    beth November 18, 2005, 12:30 pm
  • Beth, the title is a reference to countless Red Sox fans who never thought they’d see a world championship. Those of us youngsters (and at 37 I still consider myself reasonably young) may not have quite reached the “I will die never having seen a title” mentality, but I know that my mom felt that way, my dad may have (but been too proud to admit it), and many friends and relatives thought the same thing, at least intermittently. “Now I can die in peace” was a constant claim of what could transpire if the Sox ever did win one; to me the title is perfectly appropriate, even if it doesn’t mean the same thing to everyone.
    Regarding your question, the book is heavily footnoted, the footnotes are voluminous, entertaining, enlightening, often hysterical re-assessments of some of Simmons’ own claims about the Red Sox and baseball, and they are unavailable anywhere but in the book. The footnotes alone are worth at least 1/2 the price of the book.

    SF November 18, 2005, 1:14 pm
  • I admire Simmons and his writing a great deal, but I’m less than enthusiastic about this book. I found the footnote gimmick tiresome, a perpetual elbow in the ribs. I’d rather have a through-written book on a single subject. Despite its immense success (and more power to him), this is a parochial book of old material, and it seems like he’s capable of a lot more. I look forward to seeing just what that might be.

    YF November 18, 2005, 2:50 pm
  • I hear Red Smith’s Heaven Is Right Here On Earth In The Bronx is about to be reprinted.

    john yf November 19, 2005, 12:49 pm
  • Simmons is a great writer, too bad he’s a Sox fan otherwise I’d buy the book. But I’ll be damned if I’m gonna shell out good money to hear a Sox fan bash the Yankees, I don’t care how funny he is.

    Bozo November 21, 2005, 9:53 am
  • Well that’s darned open-minded of you. One of the prized possessions of my library to this day, and a book I read countless times as a kid, is “The Bronx Zoo” by Sparky Lyle. I never thought that I should get rid of it, and never thought to refuse to read it, just because it was by a Yankee and about the Yankees. Entertainment is entertainment.

    SF November 21, 2005, 12:06 pm

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