PITTSBURGH — How we love the rituals of summer. The sweet peaches and juicy melons. The long, cool light of evening. The guilty-pleasure novels we wouldn’t touch in winter. The rainbow following an afternoon shower. The pennant run of a ball club picked to go nowhere, determined to go where no expert thought it might.
We’re having a wonderful summer here in Pittsburgh, a honeydew-and-rainbow kind of summer, a dreamy season of high spirits and high hopes. Our local ball team, for two decades a patchwork of has-beens (superannuated refugees from somewhere else) and will-bes (angular young men poised for greatness, always somewhere else), is on one of those July highs that make for summer reveries, and sometimes for autumn obloquies and occasionally for midsummer meditations like this one, on the vanity of human wishes and the futility of men left on base.
I’ve written this column before, or one embarrassingly like it, maybe last year, maybe the year before. Our Pittsburgh Pirates, our Bucs — that’s short for buccaneers, a word whose derivation, from French, has something to do with smoked meat, which is how the team finished the season the last two years — were for a time last week the very best team in baseball.
That’s a bit like saying that for a time (January 1883, when he signed the Pendleton Act for civil service reform) Chester A. Arthur was the very best president of the post-bellum years. What really matters is the identity of the very best team in baseball at the end of the World Series, and the 1951 Brooklyn Dodgers and the 1964 Philadelphia Phillies stand as examples of really good teams that collapsed on the path to glory. They are the baseball equivalents of President Samuel J. Tilden. (Look him up. He’s not on your presidential ruler.)