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dan shaughnessy

A sinking feeling that the Red Sox could finish in the basement again

The Red Sox and Yankees are battling it out for fourth and fifth place in the AL East.Barry Chin/Globe Staff

“The last-place Red Sox.”

Rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it? Like “the inimitable Bill Lee.” Or “the ubiquitous David Ortiz.”

Maybe NESN can come up with a new series, featuring lowlights of the 2020, 2022, and 2023 last-place Sox seasons. They could make it an homage to Bob Dylan and The Band and call it “The Basement Tapes.”

The last-place Sox are in Texas this week, playing out the string of another throwaway season. Hardly anyone in Boston is watching.

I pay attention. The Sox and once-vaunted New York Yankees are in a steel-cage match to see who will finish last in the American League East. It is Bizarro World. The standings that we used to know have been turned upside-down.


“So the last shall be first and first last” (Matthew 20:16).

Downright Biblical.

The Sox have spent a Dan Duquette-esque “more days in last place” than any other AL East team in 2023, but the Yankees took over last place Aug. 9 and seemed to have a comfortable grip on the bottom rung until they came to the Hub and won three of four last week.

And then, late Friday night (one day after Chaim Bloom was fired) — while New England slept — the Sox silently slumped below New York in the standings once again. They’ve been there ever since. Sole possession. Back home again.

Some say the rest of these September games are meaningless. Not me. Given the way the Sox leadership pivoted — waking up in September of 2019 and realizing “Hey, we have the highest payroll in baseball, and there are teams spending half as much making the playoffs and we are out” — “last-place Red Sox” best describes the franchise.

Since trading Mookie Betts, the Sox have finished last twice in three years. Staying in the cellar in 2023 would make it three times in four seasons, and six times in 12 seasons.


The Red Sox have had to watch the Yankees stroll straight past them in recent weeks.Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff

The Sox can rightfully brag about four championships in this century, which is more than any other team in baseball, but Boston’s big-market franchise also leads the majors in last-place finishes (five, going on six?) since 2011.

You have to go back more than 90 years to find anything comparable in Boston’s long American League history.

The newborn Red Sox of 1901 won five of the first 15 World Series, then sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees in 1920, exactly 100 years before American League MVP Betts was dealt. After the Bambino deal, Boston’s franchise spiraled into an epic malaise. From 1922-32, the Red Sox finished last nine times in 11 seasons. They were rescued by young millionaire Tom Yawkey in 1933 and finished last only once between 1933 and 2012 — the 1992 season under Daddy Butch Hobson.

Think about that, sports fans. Your local baseball team finished last only once in 79 seasons and now stands a chance to finish last for the sixth time in 12 seasons.

It’s a tad deceiving, to be sure. In the 1960s, the Red Sox had ninth-place teams in a 10-team league that were much worse than recent editions. With six divisions instead of two leagues, MLB annually features six last-place teams instead of two.

But last is last. And that is where the Red Sox are living.

The Sox have nine more games against three opponents after Texas. They get the White Sox this weekend at Fenway (Friday is “Barbie Night” at “Kenway Park”) and the ChiSox are way worse than the BoSox, so that could be two or three wins for the locals. The final six games are against the Rays and Orioles, who are battling for the AL East title and will be trying hard to win.


Meanwhile, the Yankees have tough series against contenders from Toronto and Arizona before finishing at Kansas City against the 100-plus-loss Royals.

It figures to be a duel to the death between two traditional top-shelf franchises.

I say … let there be no tie for the AL East cellar. If once-mighty Boston and New York finish with identical records, let’s have a one-game playoff at Fenway Monday, Oct. 2. Just like in 1978.

Mike Torrez can come back to throw out a first pitch to Bucky Dent.

Loser take all.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at Follow him @dan_shaughnessy.