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Happy New Year, Red Sox fans.
You’re free. If you want to be.
Free from the unfounded neurosis that, frankly, the rest of the baseball world is tired of hearing.
2014 will be like your 13th Amendment. Your psychological freedom is signed, sealed, and delivered by all the necessary parties. And demanded by the masses west of the Massachusetts/New York state line.
The final proof, if it was ever needed, was the 2013 World Series victory over a Cardinals team I thought would edge you out. The title was one year after you finished in last place amid the Bobby Valentine Circus, and two years after the clubhouse chicken-and-beer September collapse for the ages. There are no more emotional yearnings left unmet. You have three World Series titles in nine years.
You want your ultimate release to be official. Okay. But, emotionally, emancipation began when your heroes came back from 0-3 against the Yankees in the 2004 ALCS. First time ever, and likely the last time for a long, long while.
That Houdini escape act should have settled all debts, and then some, for every past outrage committed by the Bronx Bombers. Yet a year later, I’m visiting the then-new seats (actually, barstools) atop the Monster, and the anti-Yanks epithets carved into wall and railings were so vile I dare not repeat them here even on this liberal site. The park ops people needed to whitewash the F-bombs after each season, but you’d just start all over again.
Real freedom came a week after the Yankees miracle when the Red Sox swept a powerful Cardinals team out of the World Series. And to prove a point, many of the same players repeated in a rather stress-free Fall Classic against the overmatched Colorado Rockies in 2007.
Not one peep is desired from you, ever again, about how bad you have it, how cursed the Red Sox are. You were loud enough, and sycophants at ESPN at its New England headquarters merely amplified the mass neurosis to aggravate an unsympathetic country.
Curse of the Bambino? The Babe never cursed you. He had success in Boston on the mound and at the plate, and especially in the World Series. “Curse” was merely part of a catchy title of a Dan Shaughnessy book on Red Sox history.
Any curses around the Red Sox are the result of bad management. Slow to integrate the roster until Pumpsie Green was promoted from the minors in 1959? Sure, that was a disgrace laid directly at the desk of owner Tom Yawkey, who could have easily mandated otherwise.
But the bottom line was you had it better than many franchises despite the lack of a World Series title since 1918. Interestingly, that last championship was achieved at the expense of the Chicago Cubs. Hitting you right between the eyes, would you have traded places with Cubs fans?
Even prior to the 2004 heroics, I suggested to Red Sox radio announcer Joe Castiglione that he go on the air to remind his fans of their relative good fortune compared to the historical, rank incompetence that enveloped the Cubs.
Here were the facts in black and white through 2013: Since the Cubs last reached the World Series in 1945 and the Red Sox played in the Fall Classic in 1946, the Red Sox have suffered through 17 seasons under .500. Boston’s “dark ages” lasted only from 1959 to 1966, when they had a losing record every season. The Red Sox have played in six World Series since 1967.
Meanwhile, the Cubs have suffered through an astounding 47 seasons where they finished under .500 since 1947. They went from 1947 to 1966 with just one winning season — 82-80 in 1963 and another at .500. Another stretch between 1973 and 1984 featured a sole season of .500 at 81-81 (1977), in which the team still was 12 games above break-even in mid-September after sporting a gaudy record of 47-22 with an eight-game lead at the end of June.
The few forays into postseason play dwarf any Red Sox October pratfalls. The Cubs collapses – just one game away from a World Series – of 1984 and 2003 provided such exquisite torture that they would have resulted in mass commitments of Red Sox fans had they been duplicated in Beantown.
The Wrigley family and Tribune Co. ownerships were so affluent they could have swallowed Yawkey and his ownership successors as an appetizer and had plenty of room for a multi-course meal. As an example, Phil Wrigley sold a pre-inflationary $100 million in gum in 1962.
Cry about lack of talent? Wrigley himself admitted he was very late to the concept of a farm system, and never caught up with the top organizations when he haltingly added a minor-league operation. The Cubs have not produced a 30-homer, 100-RBI slugger who amassed those numbers in Chicago since Billy Williams in 1960. Even the very concept of a farm-developed position player escaped the Chicago front office for most of the past 75 years.
Shall we name a few home-grown Red Sox? Carl Yastzremski and his 3,419 hits for starters. All but one of the 1975 World Series team lineup was developed by Boston: Yaz, Fred Lynn, Jim Rice, Carlton Fisk (Hall of Famer), Dwight Evans, Rick Burleson, Rico Petrocelli and when he got a chance to start, Cecil Cooper. Later, Ellis Burks. Mo Vaughn. And so many others. If the Cubs had that kind of development record, the more-sanguine Midwest rooters would have absolutely no complexes of their own.
The Red Sox talent record on race improved under GM Dick O’Connell from the mid-1960s on. Astoundingly, the Cubs did not select an African-American No. 1 from the June draft’s inception in 1965 until Joe Carter was taken in 1981. But if they had taken a Rice No. 1, as the Red Sox did in 1971, it would have wiped out some of the stain.
Revisionist history has Theo Epstein turning around a laggard Boston franchise and farm system when he became a boy-wonder GM in 2002. But if you ever bump into Nomar Garciaparra, he’ll tell you the team was ready to win then. Questionable Grady Little strategy in handling Pedro Martinez in the 2003 ALCS against the Yankees probably cost Boston a World Series berth that year. Garciaparra, Martinez and Manny Ramirez were the core of the ’03 Red Sox. About 25 other teams would have killed for those centerpieces.
A book chapter can be written here. But the narrative has got to end along with the last of the Red Sox Nation complaints. In this case, freedom is so very liberating.
Look, ma, top of the world!
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