What if there were two Cinderellas? Two sweet girls abused by wicked stepmothers and stepsisters. Both left at home while the brats pranced off to the ball. Then two fairy godmothers show up and do their work. A pair of surprise guests arrive at the ballroom in glass slippers. They dance their way through the night like little angels. Suddenly they scurry off into their waiting coaches as midnight fast approaches. The clop of hooves, a cloud of dust, and they are swallowed by the night. But wait... each one, departing frantically, left a lonely glass slipper in her wake.
Only one dramatic solution is acceptable. We need two princes. Give each one a slipper and send him house to house to find his mate. A tad redundant, perhaps, but it's still a happy ending times two. You can't have enough of a good thing, no matter what the dietician says.
What if -- oy vey! -- there is a shortage of princes in Central Casting? Downey, Jr. is in rehab, Cruise is picketing the Psychiatrists' Convention, Ford is too old, Osmont is too young, Kutcher thinks Cinderella is too young and Nicholson thinks she is too old. That leaves only Caviezel who, after doing the Passion, will take any role that does not involve getting whipped. But two Cinderellas and only one prince is a mess. The prince is confused and one of the girls will have to get hurt. At the wedding, there's only space in the center for one bride.
Houston, we have a problem.
WELL, HOUSTON is happy to have the problem and they're willing to take their chances. Their Astros are one of the two Cinderella teams to make it to the World Series of baseball this year. They have been playing as a team since 1962, reaching postseason competition eight times, but they were always eliminated short of winning the National League championship. No title, no Series. They always field a strong team, but all that utility has always sputtered into futility.
That is, until the very special night of October 19, 2005. A tough kid from Mississippi named Roy Oswalt threw seven innings of three-hit, one-walk baseball, while a 36-year-old Jewish journeyman catcher from Dartmouth, Brad Ausmus, served as his battery mate and committed three hits worth of battery himself. Old Craig Biggio, a future Hall-of-Fame second baseman, had two hits and an RBI, on the way to his first World Series just shy of age 40. Biggio had played 2,600 major league baseball games without getting a ticket to the ball.
Cinderella, indeed. A beautiful story. A natural. Lardner would have larded it into epic proportions; Runyon would have run on and on. Now all that's missing is for the palookas from the other league to lie down and let these guys fulfill their manifest destiny. Except that their opponent turns out to be... Cindy's twin sister, the Chicago White Sox.
The Sox are not a fledgling squad born in '62. Their history includes all of the Twentieth Century but is marred by the Black Sox scandal of 1919, where some players accepted money from gangsters to throw the Series. Shoeless Joe Jackson, the star of that team, was banned from baseball for life just for meeting with the thugs, although he took no money and played well. Their last Series victory was in 1917 and their last appearance was in 1959, three years before the Astros joined the game.
This year, under the youthful leadership of Ozzie Guillen (whom I met when our sons were on the same Little League team), they have finally gotten those sox to fit just right -- so Shoeless Joe can wear that glass slipper in comfort. Solid starting pitching and a strong bullpen combined with a no-big-name pesky hitting attack have led to a consistent winning pattern throughout the season. They made the first two rounds of playoffs look easy, winning seven of eight games against the Red Sox and Angels on their way to the American League championship.
Too bad they can't both win the Series. I have to pick one, but how? Well, I used to live in Chicago (1979-81) and root for the Sox, back when Ozzie was a player, Tony LaRussa (whose Cardinals lost to the Astros this time) was the manager, the eccentric Bill Veeck was the owner and madcap Harry Caray was the announcer. So I suppose that I will pledge my allegiance to them.
But just for today I think we can all be politically correct and say that there are no losers. The Astros will shuttle off to Chicago and the White Sox will pad down to Houston, each secure in the knowledge that they have won league championships after nearly a half-century of falling short. And the biggest winner of all is the baseball fan, who gets to see a couple of real scrappy squads who look for all the World like they deserve to be there.