Boston went a little baseball crazy last week and the MIT community went right along with it as New England rooted the Red Sox on to the team's first World Series victory in 86 years. Late-night games took a toll on people's energy, but enthusiasm never waned for baseball's long-suffering fans.
Many students watched the series together as the Sox swept four games to beat the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series Oct. 23-27. Groups gathered in front of a large-screen TV in Lobdell Dining Hall eating pizza provided by the Student Life Programs. David Rogers, assistant dean and director of Fraternities, Sororites and Living Groups (FSILGs), provided $200 to each FSILG for pizza and snacks to encourage those students to watch the games together from home rather than joining the crowds in Kenmore Square.
And of course, faculty and staff pursued their own means of baseball madness, some even in the national or international limelight. Nobel laureate Susumu Tonegawa was quoted by reporter Jim Giles in his web log on Nature.com as having discussed baseball during the Society of Neuroscience Conference in San Diego Oct. 24. Dean Richard Schmalensee of the Sloan School published an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal Nov. 2 outlining the management decisions that led the Sox to victory (see story on page 4).
"At the end of the first full day, we've been exposed to plenty of top-notch science and quite a few arguments about baseball," Giles wrote in his blog about the neuroscience conference. "The Boston Red Sox have made it to the World Series and, since Boston is arguably the science capital of the United States, many speakers here in San Diego took time out to give the city a nod.
"Susumu Tonegawa, an eminent immunologist-turned-neuroscientist from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston, has more right to do so than most. He was invited to pitch the first ball of a game for the Red Sox this May. He clearly enjoyed taunting fellow speaker Eric Kandel; Boston beat New York, Kandel's team, to reach the World Series. It's nice to see two Nobel laureates bring the world's biggest scientific meeting to a halt to argue about baseball."
Though he is not taking full credit for the Red Sox championship, Tonegawa, who is the Whitehead Professor of Biology and Neuroscience and director of the Picower Center for Learning and Memory, hopes the ceremonial first pitch he threw May 7 at Fenway had some effect.
"It crossed my mind that I may have contributed," said Tonegawa last week with a laugh. He threw the ceremonial first pitch as part of the Sox' tribute to Boston-area scientific and medical communities. Last spring, Tonegawa told the MIT News Office (not very seriously) that he sometimes believed the Red Sox won "because I sent energizing waves to them in front of the TV set."
Tonegawa said on the way home from San Diego on Tuesday, Oct. 26, some of his students refused to get on the airplane until they knew the outcome of the game, which was Game 3 of the World Series. "Everybody refused," he said with a laugh. On his own flight, the pilot updated the passengers every 10 to 15 minutes with the score.
Growing up in Japan, another country where baseball holds enormous popularity, Tonegawa learned to loved the sport. But it was not until he came to Boston in the early 1980s that he started rooting for the Red Sox. "I always like the underdog," he said. "It is not fun to root for the strongest. This is my nature."
But after the Sox sweep of the Cardinals last week, "underdog" no longer applies to the hometown team. And Tonegawa, along with the rest of the city of Boston, was still cheering last weekend when the Red Sox celebration parade--or "rolling rally"--attracted about two million people to Boston and Memorial Drive in Cambridge. The players huddled in amphibious "duck boats" on that happy but gray and drizzly day as they were motored down the Charles River past MIT and the hack that transformed the dome into a baseball sporting the Red Sox logo.
The hack appeared Friday morning after the victory. An e-mail circulated later that day with a "mathematical proof" from the so-called Department of Legends and Hexes of why the Sox had achieved victory in 2004.
"No one could believe it," said Tonegawa, who watched the last game of the World Series at home on television. He found the win after 86 dry years inspirational. "It makes you think. Don't ever give up under any circumstances."
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on November 3, 2004 (download PDF).