Well, they’re back. It’s been a while since we’ve seen them, and in a strange sort of way I’ve almost missed them. They remind me of my childhood and young adulthood, and the memories they prompt involve some of the most remarkable times and greatest disappointments of my life.
Yes, the pre-2004 Boston Red Sox are back. You remember them – the ones who would play like world-beaters from June through August, and then swoon like a smitten schoolgirl in September? The team that was often good, but not when it counted? The franchise that would tease you, titillate you, and eventually torture you and break your spirit?
We’ve been spoiled when it comes to sports over the last decade. New England has seen seven championships in the last 10 years, and two of them have come from the Red Sox. They won for the first time in 86 years in 2004, and then won the World Series again in 2007. And in the years they did not win, it was because they simply were not the best team rather than because they did not live up to their ability.
But this year we are witnessing a collapse of colossal proportions. The Sox are losing in September at an incredible rate, and playing some of the worst baseball seen here since the turn of the century. They are finding ways to lose, and as this is written they are dangerously close to not making the playoffs despite being the arguably the best team in baseball for most of the summer.
And they are doing it in “old-style” Red Sox fashion. They are making mistakes normally seen in sandlot games. Their starting pitchers have become batting practice targets. They run the bases like they have never been there before. No lead of theirs is safe in the late innings, and it seems no player is immune from assuming the role of “goat” from game to game.
In 1978 the Red Sox were the best team in baseball for most of the season. Then they blew a 14-game lead over the Yankees and lost the pennant in a painful one-game playoff at Fenway Park (the Bucky “Bleeping” Dent game). In 1986 they were definitely better than the Mets in the World Series and were one pitch away from the title. Then came the slow roller up the first base line that went between Bill Buckner’s legs, and Red Sox Nation had a collective coronary while another New York team claimed the prize.
In 2003 the Sox had the dreaded Yankees on the ropes when manager Grady Little left an out-of-gas Pedro Martinez in too long. Aaron “Bleeping” Boone ended that season with a homer in extra innings, and the legacy of losing and disappointment continued.
We thought that was all behind us – and maybe it still is. There are a few games to go, and the Sox are clinging to the wildcard spot. But this team has shown all the signs of returning us to the thrilling days of yesteryear, when they would lift you up slowly and then send you crashing back to earth with a thud. It was all we knew, and we were resigned to our fate.
Perhaps misery becomes us. Maybe we just like to whine and complain. Perhaps it is time for the new generation of Red Sox fans to learn what baseball in Boston has really been about for most of our lives. Gosh, I hope not.
Do we fans still care as much, now that we have two titles under our belts? Can we more or less passively accept a Red Sox collapse while the Yankees move on? Should we just be happy we have had an entertaining summer?
No bleeping way. This is New England, and we expect the best. If we wanted to go back to the old days, we’d become Cub fans. Let’s go Red Sox – it’s time to step up.
Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and a lifelong Red Sox fan. You can commiserate with him (or celebrate if the Sox play well again) at firstname.lastname@example.org.