Gene Collier: These aren't the keys to success

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Red Sox and Redbirds in this Hunt fro Red October, and I'm really glad it's finally underway, if mostly because I'm really weary of reading about THE KEYS to the World Series.

Some outlets have listed FIVE KEYS, some THREE KEYS, some, TEN KEYS.

Ten keys?

I don't think it's that complicated.

With more keys jangling around this simple best-of-seven event than might dangle from the belt of a security guard at the Empire State Building, it's perhaps easier to speculate on the general course of the 2013 World Series by looking at it from the other direction.

Plenty of potential factors and causations have been discussed, and at admirable lengths, but some are, in this view, not going to be keys at all.

In fact, here are the NOT KEYS to the World Series.

For this presentation, there are three, unless I think of a fourth in the late innings of this column.

First: Beards.

Beards vs. Birds has been offered as a working title for the championship series that began Wednesday night, originating from Boston's epidemic of unkempt facial hair, which this year is not limited to New England's vast halls of exalted academia.

The Red Sox have thick, dark, mug shrubbery up and down their lineup, the apparent response to a challenge by outfielder Jonny Gomes to his teammates that they emulate the substantial growth he had brought to spring training. This in itself is odd, as growing facial hair for post-pubescent males is not exactly "a challenge," even at an advanced age.

I've been watching the World Series pretty intently for more than 50 years, for example, and my whiskers are poppin' up better than anything I've got. S'all I'm sayin'.

But just so that I'm not completely dismissive of the beard factor, it's fair to point out that beards were once thought to have tremendous social and historical impact, so much so that in a talk at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee the same year Maz homered to beat the New York Yankees, historian Ari Hoogenboom theorized that beards had caused the American Civil War.

"War is caused by the aggressive spirit of men and nations," Ari posited, "and beards provided the aggressiveness that brought the Civil War."

Uh-huh.

Ari went on to point out that before 1850 or so, America had been a nation so invested in beardlessness that even displaying facial hair in public led to chaos. Poor Joe Palmer, he said, who lived right there in Fitchburg, Mass., not 50 miles from where the World Series is underway, was stoned and taunted just for looking like Red Sox first baseman Mike Napoli, until the authorities did him the favor of throwing him in the Worcester County Jail for a year. His crime was fighting back when someone tried to knife him.

But again, and thankfully, this type of dynamic isn't in play for this series. NOT A KEY.

Second: Fingernails.

A California public relations firm announced Wednesday that Red Sox catchers Jarrod Saltalamacchia and David Ross will be wearing Game Signs neon yellow fingernail stickers in the series.

"Game Signs specifically designed stickers are used to ensure that pitchers can accurately see the signs from the catchers," that release stated.

What Game Signs didn't say, though, was what hitters should do when facing a pitcher they suspect can't tell how many fingers a catcher is putting down without the aid of neon nail polish. From 60 feet away. That's pretty frightening. I mean it's not really the fingernails that signal the identification of the pitch. It's the number of fingers.

I certainly hope Saltalamacchia doesn't end up having to explain how he failed to throw out the potential winning run at second because his fingernail sticker became dislodged and wound up interfering with his grip on the baseball.

OK, NOT A KEY.

Third: Fenway.

That's right. I said it.

Fenway Park (see, I'm genuflecting) certainly has its odd angles and dimensions, always celebrated as endearing idiosyncratic components of the great cathedral, unless you view it all as a certain, uh, craziness.

"It's pretty crazy," Cardinals rookie Michael Wacha said at first glance this week. "Crazy dimensions, that's for sure."

If you look at Fenway from the press box, the only view I've ever had, you see a baseball field with way too much dirt. The warning tracks are too wide, like a motocross course without the topography. The infield dirt swoops out into foul territory for no apparent reason. It looks like a bit like a painting that has begun to warp into something else.

As a result, some strange things can happen, but rarely to an extent that merits unending discussion of the strange things that might happen. And, if it does happen, that really strange thing, it probably shouldn't have happened. When a ballpark is this different from all others, I'm not certain it's necessarily a good thing?

But don't worry. Fenway's NOT A KEY.

All that said, the Red Sox are a slight favorite and deserve to be, if just by the hair of their chinny chin chins.


Gene Collier: gcollier@post-gazette.com.

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