×

Column: When did the Red Sox become the Meh Sox?

  • Contributor Wayne Gersen in West Lebanon, N.H., on April 12, 2019. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Boston Red Sox pitcher David Price (10) reacts after giving up a two-run home run to New York Yankees' Gio Urshela during the third inning of a baseball game Sunday, Aug. 4, 2019, in New York. (AP Photo/Adam Hunger)



For the Valley News
Tuesday, August 06, 2019

I moved to New England in 1977 after living for two decades in the Philadelphia area. The move involved several trade-offs. One of the biggest was leaving the Phillies behind just as they were emerging as bona fide contenders.

I spent many hours as a boy listening to the Phillies on the radio while doing homework and before drifting off to sleep at night. As a young adult, I listened to them in the spring and fall evenings grading papers and then in the summers working on renovation projects or gardening. I lived through their many dreadful years, the crushing collapse at the end of the 1964 season, and the amazing season Steve Carlton put together when he won nearly half of the Phillies games. After all those years of losing, I sensed that the Phillies of Mike Schmidt, Greg Luzinski, Larry Bowa and Carlton were on the verge of getting into — and winning — the World Series.

Upon arriving in Bethel, Maine, though, I was surprised at how quickly I abandoned the Phillies and adopted the Boston Red Sox as “my team.”

That first summer, the Sox fielded a team chock full of future Hall of Fame players — Carlton Fisk, Jim Rice, Freddy Lynn, Carl Yastremski and Ferguson Jenkins — and a number of colorful players, including Boomer Scott, Luis Tiant and Bill “Spaceman” Lee. I also learned that BoSox fans had two things in common with Phillies fans: a deep and abiding loathing for the free-spending Yankees, and a longing for a World Series victory that was decades overdue.

In 1978, my allegiance to the BoSox was sealed when their season ended like the 1964 Phils — with a thud thanks to Bucky Dent. By the time Billy Buckner let Mookie Wilson’s grounder go through his legs in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series, even the Phillies had won a World Series. Even though Buckner broke my heart, he sealed my loyalty for my new home team.

In 2004, 18 years after Buckner’s error, I was leading the Dresden School District. At that time, the Dresden board convened its goal-setting retreat in October. As usual, the Red Sox were very good. They featured Pedro Martinez, David Ortiz, Curt Schilling and a host of colorful characters, including Kevin Millar, Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon. The “idiots,” as they called themselves, captured the imagination of fans throughout New England.

But, as usual, by mid-October, the Sox were finding a way to blow the entire season by losing to the Yankees … until, that is, clutch hitting by David Ortiz got them into a seventh game — scheduled the same night as our annual retreat.

At 8 p.m., Geoffrey Vitt announced that, based on Boston sportswriter Peter Gammons’ assessment that this was the most important game in Red Sox history and, given his confidence in his colleagues on the board to make the right decisions in his absence, he was leaving the meeting to watch this historic event. The rest of us decided to wait until we adjourned and would join the history-in-the-making ballgame in progress. I am certain I was not the only one who was happy to turn on my car radio to find that David Ortiz and Johnny Damon had staked the Sox to a six-run lead that the Yankees never overcame.

I offer this personal history as a baseball fan, and this background on the Sox of yore, to contrast with the Sox of now.

I am following the 2019 team, but I am finding myself less enthusiastic. There are two complicating factors. The first is payroll. As one who disliked the Yankees for decades because they spent more money than any other club in the league, I now find myself rooting for a Sox team with the highest payroll in the majors.

The other factor is that I like to root for teams full of lovable losers, something that came in handy growing up in the Philadelphia area. The current Sox do not fit that category. After all, since 2004, the Red Sox have won two more World Series than the hated Yankees. Worse, this year’s Sox team seems singularly undistinguished, despite the high payroll.

Does this year’s lineup have any future Hall of Famers? Mookie Betts was MVP last year, but he seems to be falling into an unsettling pattern of alternating great years with ordinary years, and he’s still too young to project into the Hall. Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers are having breakout seasons but, like Mookie, it’s far too early to see how their careers will develop. J.D. Martinez? Chris Sale? David Price? I don’t see any evidence that they will be as durable as Yaz. And while the 2019 BoSox seem like a nice group of fellows, I can’t think of a colorful player among the lot. Where is a Manny, a Spaceman, a Tiant, a Damon?

After witnessing the 2004 wild card team that ended the Curse of the Bambino, the Boston Strong team in 2007 that featured hustling Dustin Pedroia’s rookie-of-the-year season and Jon Papelbon’s lights-out relief pitching, the worst-to-first team of 2013, and last year’s team that led from game one through the end of the season, this year’s team is frustratingly pedestrian. They always appear to be on the verge of catching the teams in front of them ... only to lose to the Orioles.

The Red Sox have become the Meh Sox.

Maybe Betts and J.D. Martinez will catch fire. Maybe Sale will become a .500 pitcher. Maybe Nathan Eovaldi will be the relief pitcher they need. But they will more likely remain as they are. And I doubt that any Dresden board member will feel compelled to leave an October meeting ... should the Sox get that far.

Wayne Gersen, of Etna, is the former superintendent of the Dresden School District.