It ended just like that.
The attendance announcement in the Fenway Park press box would go something like this: “This is the XXXth consecutive sellout dating back to May 15, 2003.”
But the streak is no more, folks. Whether you thought the run of sold-out games was bogus or not, you never have to wonder again.
A new streak may start depending upon the success of the Red Sox this season, but on a cool, rainy Wednesday night in April, in a game the Red Sox ended up losing to the Orioles, 8-5, the Nation spoke, and what it said was last season’s 69-win season is not acceptable.
The streak was over at 794 regular-season games, 820 including postseason.
“We know part of the reason it’s over is that we failed last year,” general manager Ben Cherington said. “So we take responsibility for that. Hopefully the focus of this was that it was a remarkable run for the team and for our fans. I remember a lot of miserable, cold rainy nights when people sat there, and for it to last as long as it did is amazing. It’s on us now to start a new one at some point.”
The streak started in ’03, which wound up being a frustrating year because of the Grady Little/Pedro Martinez fiasco in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series against the Yankees. But that was a very good team and it got better in 2004, the team that won it all. There was another championship during the streak, in 2007, and it also survived a historic September collapse in 2011.
But it endures no more.
And so we wondered on a night we were ridding ourselves of the past, would ‘Sweet Caroline,’ which started being played in 2002, also go the way of the streak? There has been chatter that it’s time for a new song. Yet the song remains popular at the ballpark.
“The fans will be the judge of that,” said special adviser Dr. Charles Steinberg. “We started playing it all the time [at the beginning of 2002] instead of when we were ahead or in festive situations. We sense the song had a transformative ability to take a melancholy crowd and lift its spirits. That proved to be true. That’s what made it the ritual in that fans sang it every day.”
Steinberg had heard of the dissatisfaction in some circles about the song, so he put it to the test. In one of Boston’s worst losses he went out to the stands, and when the eighth inning rolled around, ‘Sweet Caroline’ started playing.
“People were still singing,” Steinberg said. “For those who come every day there are two categories. For some it’s a ritual, and some would rather not hear it when the team is not doing well. For those who consider this a pilgrimage to their Mecca, it’s part of the experience they’re looking forward to. You have several populations that constitute the crowd and you try to listen to as many as you can. The fans tell you by virtue of whether they’re singing.
“If you can hear that they’ve lost connection, that’s one thing, but if you hear they’re singing it in numbers and enthusiasm then who are you satisfying by not playing it?”
During the downturn of the past two seasons, the Sox have discarded players, coaches, and two managers. They discarded a medical staff and trainers. Now the streak is gone, too.
They far surpassed the major league record for sellouts set by the Indians from 1995-2001, 455 regular-season games.
The Sox surpassed the previous major league sports record set by the Portland Trailblazers, who sold out 814 consecutive games including the postseason from 1977-1995.
Two-hundred and fifty seven players appeared in home games for the Sox in that time.
The team averaged 36,605 tickets sold per game (Fenway’s seating capacity was only 34,807 in 2003).
“The streak is a reflection of a phenomenal period of baseball in Boston and of America’s greatest ballpark,” said principal owner John W. Henry in a statement. “But more than that, it is a testament to the baseball passion of New England fans. As we close the book on this incredible era, we look forward to another with a renewed certainty that the next couple of generations of Red Sox fans will also be enjoying baseball at the ever magical Fenway Park.”
Team chairman Tom Werner said, “We have all experienced a wonderful combination of compelling baseball, a revitalized ballpark, and an atmosphere of warmth and hospitality. I’d like to thank publicly our players, coaches, managers, our architects, our designers and construction workers, and our front office and day of game ballpark staff. Their work, together, connected with Red Sox Nation — passionate fans who helped take this team and this park to these heights.”
Chief operating officer Sam Kennedy said he expects more non-sellouts this month, but said, “I think we’ll do over 30,000 on those days.” He also said the team will not change the formula for determining sellouts, which is tickets sold plus standing room only minus empty seats. Kennedy said, “That’s something we inherited from the early 1990s and which many others sports franchises use to determine their sellouts.”
Attendance Wednesday night was 30,862, the smallest crowd at Fenway since a game April 29, 2003, against the Royals that drew 30,438.
Only David Ortiz was around the day the streak began on May 15, 2003.
And Ortiz, who will begin a rehab assignment in Pawtucket Thursday, was not at the ballpark to see it end. Pedro Martinez pitched six scoreless innings in a 12-3 victory over the Texas Rangers that night.
You can call it bogus, but it was something for a sports organization to be proud of.
Now it’s time for everyone to move on.
Nick Cafardo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.