RED SOX LOVE, 1963-2020

I was going to write this article a year ago, but with the onset of the pandemic any whining about baseball seemed both irrelevant and distasteful. Thankfully (or not), circumstances have kept my inspiration simmering on the stove ever since. I paid no attention to the shortened, fan-less 2020 regular season, and only checked in during the postseason to hear that bat crack sound again. 

And every time I saw Mookie Betts in a Dodger uniform, the bitterness would lodge in my throat.

For 57 years I was in a serious relationship with a baseball team, one that began eight years before I reached puberty. Actually, I was first courted by Fenway Park on May 30, 1963, the second me, my older brother and dad came up the dank, smelly tunnel from under the stands and received the holy glimpse of outfield green that seemed otherworldly in the congested, factory-like structure that until that moment looked and felt nothing like a ballpark. The Yankees of Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris beat the Red Sox of Chuck Schilling and Bill Monboquette in extra innings, but I didn’t care. Yankee-hatred hadn’t become part of my DNA quite yet, and the absurdly close proximity of the field to our box seats made it impossible to not be engaged in the action. (For my more detailed account of the events of that day, here’s a link.) 

The Red Sox of the early 1960s were wretched, and finished miles below the Yankees or Twins or Orioles every year. But after 5/30/63 I began following their games on TV and radio, with Curt Gowdy and Ken Coleman as my guides, collecting Boston baseball cards, and living for the one Fenway game our dad would take us to every summer. 

In 1967, my favorite player ever Carl Yastrzemski made their Impossible Dream pennant a reality with his Triple Crown Season, and I happily became part of the reborn New England addiction. There were years of heartbreak way before the Bucky Dent and Bill Buckner tragedies (losing to the Tigers by a half game in strike-shortened 1972, blowing a big September lead to Baltimore in 1974, Bill Lee throwing his balloon pitch to Tony Perez in Game Seven of the 1975 Series), but there was also a lot of heroism along the way. When Theo Epstein, Terry Francona, and Big Papi Ortiz pulled off the greatest comeback in the game’s history, down 0-3 to the Yanks in the 2004 ALCS, and subsequently swept St. Louis in the World Series, decades of “curses”, mainly due to the 1920 Babe Ruth sale and their front office history of ignoring black players, were swept away.

After never believing Boston would win again in my lifetime, they instead went and took three more titles, culminating in their five-game thumping of the 2018 Dodgers. In my heart and mind, they could do no wrong, and even a hideous year, like their 2012 last-place disaster under Bobby Valentine, earned them a mulligan.

That caring and loyalty is now over. Trading Ruth away a hundred years ago was a grand mistake that countless books have been written about; you’d think Red Sox management would have learned their lesson. You do NOT let a player like the Bambino get away from you, and you do NOT let the next Willie Mays get away from you in the person of Mookie Betts. The Sox had a chance to sign Mays in the ’50s when he was playing in the minor league South, purposely overlooked him due to his color, and now here was a guy as talented and effervescent as Willie, who could do anything on a ball field, you have the highest ticket prices in the game, he helped you win the World Series a year earlier, and you’re not going to pay the man what he wants?

I knew the 2020 Red Sox were a last-place team the moment the Betts deal with the Dodgers was announced, but even worse, they were ripping away the one player the entire fan base loved. (Feast on this Mookie 13-pitch at bat from 2018.) I realize that big name player movement happens more often in these days of free agency, but it seemed like management didn’t once think or care about what the consequences of this deal would be. Now they’ve given up on two more talented young players in Andrew Benitendi and Jackie Bradley Jr., which to me is just more wound-salting. 

So it’s been a nice 57 years, folks. I live in L.A. and will happily root for the rebuilding Padres. The Dodgers, despite last year’s title, are still a stretch for me, especially after their hideous TV deal that deprived two-thirds of Los Angeles the last five years of Vin Scully’s broadcasting career. But I’ve since dumped my cable baseball package, which I only kept to be able to watch Red Sox games, will continue to never check the Boston scores, and will comfort myself on occasion by re-watching the final game of the 2004 ALCS on a cold winter night, like a widower leafing through an old photo album of his wife.

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