Maybe it was her loyalty we admired, or her devotion. Maybe it
was her single-mindedness, a long lifetime's worth of affection
for one simple thing in a world too full of too many things. Or
maybe she was just a sweet old kook, a gentle,
pre-electronic-age crackpot with nothing better to do, an
eccentric in whom we saw a sort of comic and dismissable
obsession. In any case Lib Dooley got a hell of a send-off.
When Elizabeth Dooley died last week at 87, she had earned the
kind of obituary, boxed and bordered, with a head and subhead and
a four-inch-by-four-inch picture, usually reserved in East Coast
newspapers for Nobel laureates, New York war heroes and French
movie stars. Lib was a Boston gym teacher who, between 1944 and
1998, sat through more than 4,000 consecutive Red Sox home games.
She was inarguably the most ardent fan of a team legendary for
its ardent fans.
A Red Sox fan all my life, I know that loving them for more than
an inning or two in a row requires an awkward combination of
dewy-eyed optimism, flinty Puritan realism and an appetite for
the kind of self-inflicted, third-act tragedy not much played out
in public since the early works of Sophocles. Lib Dooley must
have had a taste, as do Sox rooters everywhere, for disaster.
I talked to another hard-boiled fan of the catastrophic the day
after Lib died, a man in California named Dave Meltzer. Dave is
the 40-year-old writer, editor and publisher of the Wrestling
Observer Newsletter, a weekly gazette devoted to the serialized
Armageddon that is professional wrestling. Out of his home in San
Jose he circulates analysis, commentary and criticism of
America's most violent vaudeville to some 8,000 subscribers.
For $117 you get 52 issues of something you'd never expect from a
wrestling journal: a thoughtful, reasonably well-written update
on the state of sports entertainment from someone who knows and
cares about it. A few weeks ago Meltzer spent four double-column,
single-spaced pages on the possibility that New York will get new
legislation requiring drug testing of pro wrestlers (not very
likely). You get interviews, too, and, best of all, starred
reviews of the week's big matches. Like a good movie critic he
grades hard, so if Buff Bagwell doesn't sell the Atomic Drop, he
hears about it.
Meltzer's been sending out the Observer for 18 years. He has an
on-line radio show and a Web site (wrestlingobserver.com). When
he's not watching wrestling, he's writing about it. He loves it;
what he can't tell you, any more than Dooley could have explained
her love of the Sox, is why.
Why would these two reasonable people invest themselves so
deeply, so devotedly, in the outcome of something so perfectly
and profoundly unimportant? Sure, baseball has tradition going
for it, but is there any difference, really, between what we
derive as individuals from watching nine guys on steroids in
their pajamas whack a rock with a stick, and watching two guys on
steroids in swimsuits use a stick to whack each other? Not enough
of a difference to count for much.
What counts for sports fans of every denomination and at every
level of commitment--and what runs through all the years and all
the miles between Elizabeth Dooley and Dave Meltzer--is the act of
loving itself. Love remains the Great Inexplicable. Behind the
hype and the fallen heroes, the high prices and the politics of
corporate disloyalty, lies an important struggle to find our
better selves and to love something, unconditionally.
Try to remember that the next time the moron behind you at the
game spills beer down your collar.
COLOR ILLUSTRATION: DAN PICASSO