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Major League baseball team; member of the American League

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Red Sox Turns so Easily Into Dead Sucks

  • May 13, 2011
  • by
As a Yankees fan, you had to know I wasn't planning to come into a review of the Boston Red Sox expecting to write a slew of wonderful things about the team. But as a reviewer, I'm obligated to be as objective as I possibly can. I'm very familiar with the history of what sportswriter Dan Shaughnessy refers to as the Olde Town Team, and I'm afraid that I have very little reason to be endeared to the Boston Red Sox even from the most objective viewpoint.

I must take a moment to commend the Red Sox' marketing department for pulling what may be the greatest mental scam in all of baseball on their fans. When the Sox won the World Series in 2004 - thus ending 86 years of futility - while coming back from an 0-3 hole in a series against the Yankees along the way, it was seen as the ragtag, scrappy underdog rebels knocking down the Evil Empire. But the fans conveniently forget their beloved "Idiots" ranked second in their payroll for most of the last decade, including for the World Series years (2004 and 2007). No, this wasn't the Rebels blowing up the Death Star, it was the 800-pound gorilla in the room getting bested by the 799-pound gorilla. For god's sake, the Red Sox have baseball stat guru Bill James working for them! This is a major point of annoyance among Yankees fans who don't like it when the team gets accused of buying its championships. So the Yankees are first in payroll, and when they win, they get accused of buying titles, yet the Red Sox and their number two payroll are the the great underdogs? I'm sorry, but I'm not buying it. There are 28 teams in baseball who don't have the same resources as Boston, so those still fondling their delusions of the Red Sox as a happy go lucky bunch who won through sheer grit can screw off.

When we discuss the history of the Boston Red Sox, we're mostly inclined to think about that drought. That's why people feel good about rooting for them. But we tend to forget a couple of totals: In the dead ball era, the Red Sox were THE dominant team, winning Pennants 1903, 1904, 1912, 1915, 1916, and 1918. They won the World Series in every one of those years too, with the exception of 1904, when the World Series wasn't played. That means they won five titles, which they'll have forever. They kicked their drought in 2004, after 86 years, and added a seventh title for good measure in 2007. Seven titles. You know how many teams have more titles than that? THREE. The New York Yankees of course lead the pack with their 27 titles. The St. Louis Cardinals are second with a ridiculous (in a good way, of course) 10 titles, and the Oakland Athletics stood atop the hill nine times. Seven titles isn't merely a respectable number of titles; it's pretty hardcore when you consider that. And the 12 Pennants they won on the way to those titles ain't shabby either, not by any measure.

Furthermore, the Red Sox have been champion spenders since the 1930's, when Tom Yawkey bought the team. He had hella lotta dough and he wasn't afraid to use it to bring the Red Sox into contention. Yes, the Red Sox have had their down years, but they haven't actually finished last since before Yawkey. When this gets taken into consideration, the question becomes "so what the hell took them so long?" They had the players and they had the money to keep them happy. They played good baseball for the most part. But of course, the fans like to blame the Yankees for standing in the way - which, to be perfectly fair, was true a lot of the time. As I said, the Sox have fielded some truly outstanding teams in their 86-year drought. But it seems that whenever there was a big moment they had to rise to, they choked. Usually they choked against the Yankees, but even when they were able to get the better of the Pinstriped Stormtroopers of the Evil Empire, they couldn't finish the job in the World series. They won Pennants in 1946, 1967, 1975, and 1986 only to lose the World Series each time. In '46 it was to the St. Louis Cardinals; '67, one of the greatest years in Sox history, had them getting beat by the Cardinals again; in 1975, they lost what many consider the greatest World Series of all time against the Cincinnati Reds; and 1986 is my favorite, in which they held off the 90-game winning Yankees, played a dramatic ALCS against the California Angels, and went to the World Series only to lose to.... The New York Mets! The great pain of this streak for Red Sox fans is that each and every one of those World Series was drawn to a seventh game. So close, so far. You have to respect a fanbase that stands by their team through heartbreakers like that. But you also have to wonder how they could fail so often with the kind of talent they were packing.

Yes, the Sox were packing talent up the wazoo most of the time, and that's another blow to the scrappy underdog image. They have seven retired numbers and have helped put luminaries like Wade Boggs, Jimmie Foxx, Carlton Fisk, Jim Rice, Tris Speaker, Ferguson Jenkins, Carl Yastrzemski, and Ted Williams into the Hall of Fame. Ted Williams, by the way, is rightfully considered the greatest hitter of all time. But they do have a Hall of Famer on their all time roster and an eight retired number that require independent mentions of their own.

Babe Ruth, a legitimate candidate for the greatest ballplayer of all time, played for the Boston Red Sox when he began his career. He pitched them to World Series titles in 1915, 1916, and 1918. After that, team President Harry Frazee sold him to the Yankees. The Yankees until that point were doormats - no Pennants, certainly no titles, doomed to be the dregs of New York City while the New York Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers dominated New York's baseball imaginations. The start of Boston's title drought coincided almost exactly with the Ruth sale, while the Yankees rose to the top of the baseball world. It helps that the Yankees have been extremely lucky much of the time, but Ruth is where it started.

The eighth retired number belongs to Jackie Robinson, who never played for the Red Sox. His number was retired across the league. But what many people forget is that if the team's historical owners weren't such raging racists, Robinson would have donned the scarlet designer B of Boston! The team gave him a tryout in 1945 and told him "don't call us, we'll call you." That story is one-sided, admittedly, and unfair to the Boston Red Sox - rarely is it mentioned that baseball commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis was also a raging racist who personally shut down numerous attempts at integration. But while the blame for not signing Robinson can't fall completely on Tom Yawkey (Landis was dead when baseball was finally integrated), the Red Sox also became the last team to integrate. It took a smidgeon over a decade. In 1959, twelve years after Jackie Robinson first strutted onto a major league diamond (and two years after Robinson retired), the Red Sox signed a spot player named Pumpsie Green, and it was mostly to appease civil rights activists. Poor Green was just the token black.

Another part of my disgust with the team comes from the fact that its formation came about when AL President Ban Johnson backed out of placing the team in my hometown of Buffalo because he decided to compete with the Boston Braves in the NL. Not that this stops people from rooting for the Red Sox here - the Yankees are THE dominant baseball loyalty in Buffalo, but the city isn't starved for Red Sox fans either. (The Mets rank a distant third.) It is perhaps wrong to hold this grudge against them, but then again, Boston is a glamorous city and Buffalo is rotting on the Rust Belt. It might explain the presence of Red Sox fans in Buffalo when you consider that the NBA team fans in Buffalo are mostly loyal to is the Boston Celtics. (Not me, though, I like to stay within my home state and so I'm aligned to the Knicks, and also the Bulls for my years in Illinois.)

Turning off my fuming hatred mode for now. When you read most accounts of the Red Sox, it appears most of the biggest memories are based in failures, and in this respect I totally sympathize. Hey, I'm from Buffalo, I get it. The fans believe there's a certain character-building nobility in constant heartbreak. I'm not sure if that's true, but it's a thought I find solace in as a Sabres and Bills fan. Woulda shoula coulda is a popular song among heartbroken yet faithful fans - and I'll emphasize that a heartbreaking team is different from a just plain bad team. Heartbreakers get close only to blow it, but bad teams just lose a lot. An assortment of the Red Sox greatest hits involves them getting close only to fail in the stretch.

Naturally, most Red Sox fans concentrate a lot on the Yankees because the Yanks have instigated so many of their heartbreaks. Ted Williams hit over .400 in 1941 but was overshadowed by Yankee Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak. In 1978, there was the Boston Massacre, in which the Red Sox surrendered their division lead to the Yankees in the worst possible way. That resulted in a one-game playoff, which the Sox lost on a Bucky (expletive deleted) Dent home run. In 2003, a classic ALCS between the Yankees and Red Sox was decided in a seventh game by Yankee Aaron (expletive deleted) Boone. It wasn't until the next season when the roles reversed, and the Yankees choked to the Sox in the grandest fashion of all - by losing a playoff series to the Red Sox in which they had once been leading three games to none. This drama has resulted in bad blood between the Yankees and Red Sox, and the two teams always bring their best to games against each other. This has, unfortunately, resulted in fan behavior from both factions which is inexcusable.

Boston's devotion to its ballpark doesn't help matters. The thing with baseball shrines in this country is that they exist only through nostalgia, and Fenway is the oldest park in the country. It opened in 1912. Fenway, to its credit, makes games interesting because of its famous 38-foot-high left field wall, the Green Monster. I've also heard more bad things than good ones about Fenway from the fans who have been there. Now, I can respect the fact that the Red Sox want to keep their history alive and not stick a billion-dollar bill on their taxpayers so their team can play in one of those giant pinball machines that are on the New York City landscape. But there are times to say when, and Fenway has the lowest capacity in the major leagues. Seats have been added absolutely everywhere, and thinking about what the waiting list must look like boggles the mind. Among the other complaints I've heard even from the biggest, most nostalgia-lens wearing Red Sox fans are that Fenway is cramped, parking is expensive and difficult, and good luck getting a box office ticket.

The Red Sox aren't performing very well at the moment, but they spent a ton of money on great players in the last offseason, including all stars Carl Crawford - formerly of the Tampa Bay Rays - and Bobby Jenks - formerly of the Chicago White Sox. They'll probably get out of their hole and come around this season in another month or so.

The Boston Red Sox want to be underdogs. I wonder how much of their giant payroll they spend to keep that image. Their a perfect metaphor for a lot of America - support bad guys out of good intentions. Tell people you fight for small businesses, then think Starbucks is an independent chain. Talk about how much air pollution needs to be cut down, then drive everywhere in an SUV. I lament the fact that the Yankees are the very face of American corporate excesses, but I'll give them this: At least they're honest about it.

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The arrival of spring awakens the citizens of Red Sox Nation and the annual quest for a World Series victory by the local nine. They began in 1901 as the Boston Americans of the newly formed American League. They won the first ever World Series in 1903 over the Pittsburgh Pirates. In 1908 they changed their name to the Red Sox. In 1912 they moved into brand new Fenway Park, where they still play today.

In 1918, the Red Sox won their fifth World Series, thanks in part to a star lefty pitcher named Babe Ruth, who could also hit the 'you know what' out of the ball. Following the 1919 season, Sox owner Harry Frazee sold Ruth to the New York Yankees. For the next 86 years despite the enduring loyalty by Red Sox Nation the team suffered a variety of gut wrenching disappointments and no World Series victories.

After the Babe's exile to New York, thirteen futile years followed including nine last place campaigns. A resurgence began in 1933 when millionaire Tom Yawkee purchased the team, remodeled Fenway Park, and spent money for big name players. Through the 1940's and 50's, the team continually competed for the pennant but they were foiled several times, often by the Yankees. In 1946 they won their first pennant since 1918 but were beaten by the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series.

They went through another bleak period from the late fifties until the "Impossible Dream" team of 1967; led by Carl Yastrzemski's incredible Triple Crown season. ...
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