They were “Idiots” to the end — lovable, laughable, irascible, and a little incorrigible. They had a taste for liquor before lunch and a knack for turning a victory party into a circus.
Ten years ago this week, the 2004 Red Sox gathered on Yawkey Way for their last goodbye: the largest celebration of a sports achievement in New England history. They had liberated the franchise from 86 years of futility by sweeping the St. Louis Cardinals in the 100th World Series, and the duck boats were waiting.
It was 9:45 a.m. on Oct. 30, 2004, 15 minutes before the amphibious vessels were scheduled to roll out of Fenway Park into the autumn chill. The champions were assembled in their clubhouse, their ranks soon to be depleted by a winter of hot-stove transactions.
In their final moments together, manager Terry Francona’s self-styled Idiots demonstrated why they will long be remembered as one of the zaniest menageries of baseball talent since the fabled Gashouse Gang intoxicated St. Louis in 1934.
Whiskey was involved. After all, the ’04 Sox were baseball’s version of cinema’s “Animal House.’’ High on their clubhouse playlist was Toby Keith’s “Beer for My Horses.’’ While their anxious manager had eased his intestinal rumblings during the playoffs by gulping Metamucil, some of his stars had warmed their souls with tastes of Jack Daniel’s Old No. 7. They believed they had developed a winning formula.
“A lot of prayers and a lot of late-night boozin,’ ’’ Curtis Leskanic, the goofy reliever who had celebrated the World Series victory by back-flopping onto the turf and pretending to make a snow angel, said at the time.
Historians will note that the 2004 Sox changed hearts and souls across New England. Their cathartic triumph freed generations of fans from the darkness of their baseball lives. Hard as it may be for a new generation to grasp since the Sox have won three world titles in the early 21st century, many of the club’s fans had been plagued for decades by the unshakable belief that somehow, some way, their team was doomed, that the joys of spring and wonders of summer would be dashed in autumn.
Now, just before the duck boats were to head out, first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz reached into his locker for a bottle of Seagram’s Crown Royal. Mientkiewicz, who had recorded the final out of the World Series, had played his last game for the Sox. He later would gain some renown for temporarily refusing Sox president Larry Lucchino’s request to hand over the ball he caught from Keith Foulke for the final out.
Mientkiewicz held the whiskey bottle in one hand, a shot cup in the other. The clock was ticking.
More than 3 million baseball pilgrims had flocked to Boston and commandeered sidewalks, bridges, riverbanks, tree limbs, window ledges, rooftops, any piece of the Back Bay, Beacon Hill, Government Center, and Cambridge riverside they could stake out to herald the champions. The sun was hiding and shafts of silvery gray light were dancing in the brisk morning mist. The Sox might need something to warm them.
Mientkiewicz offered the jug and cup to Johnny Damon, the bearded, long-haired center fielder who looked a little like Jesus and partied as if he were born for New Year’s Eve. More than anyone, Damon had restored peace and hope in the Sox clubhouse after the team’s toxic disintegration in 2001. What would Jesus do?
Damon took the bottle and cup. A mere 19 months had passed since he told a national television audience on “Jimmy Kimmel Live’’ that anything ailing the Red Sox is “nothing our friend Jack Daniel’s can’t take care of.’’
A little standoff
Now, Damon headed for the trainer’s room, bottle in hand, while Sox staffers began coaxing players from the clubhouse to the idling duck boats.
Damon brushed past Pedro Martinez’s Mini-Me, Nelson de la Rosa, a doll-sized man who came to consider himself the team’s angel of salvation. At 2 feet 4 inches, de la Rosa ranked among the world’s smallest humans. He fit comfortably in a grown man’s hands.
‘Can you believe they want me on the Mets? I haven’t even enjoyed my parade yet.’
A Dominican actor, de la Rosa had starred on Latino television and had appeared with Marlon Brando in the film, “The Island of Doctor Moreau.’’ Most of all, though, he was Martinez’s friend. And Martinez was a Boston demigod, arguably the city’s greatest pitcher in modern times.
Trouble was, Sox executives had tired of de la Rosa’s act. They had banned him from exploiting his celebrity at the ballpark by hawking snapshots with fans for cash. They also had tried to bar him from the clubhouse, but Martinez would have none of it.
Now, Sox staffers were acting on instructions to keep de la Rosa off the duck boats. But Martinez’s entourage was under strict orders to deliver de la Rosa to the convoy. A standoff ensued.
“We cannot let him go,’’ a panicked team aide said as one of Martinez’s coterie of friends departed the clubhouse, cradling the tiny man in his arms.
When de la Rosa’s escort tried to navigate the stairs toward the Sox dugout, the staffer stood her ground.
“No, he cannot go,’’ she insisted, her voice rising. “We can’t let him on.’’
Neither side budged.
“We’ll get in trouble!’’ the staffer shouted. “He’s too small!’’
But she was no match for de la Rosa. Or, more important, for Martinez. When the boats rolled, the wee one rolled with them.
Manny being Manny
The commotion was lost on Manny Ramirez, the slugger who had helped power the Sox to glory.
When the team sputtered during the season, Ramirez seemed at times as if he alone had the stuff to fix it. Forget about the franchise’s tortured past, he counseled the media after one wrenching loss or another. Long before Barack Obama, then a little-known Illinois state senator, surged to the presidency with the slogan, “Yes, we can,’’ Ramirez embraced his own inspirational mantra.
“Turn the page’’ on history, he often said, adding more than once, “This is the year.’’
Ramirez delivered by hitting a league-best 43 home runs, knocking in 130 runs, and becoming the first Sox player to be named a Most Valuable Player of a World Series (the award originated in 1955).
On the morning of the celebration, Ramirez had arrived in the clubhouse resplendent in a powder-blue, full-length leather coat, smiling broadly. But now trouble seemed to be brewing. A New York tabloid was reporting that the Sox might trade their star slugger to the New York Mets. Only later would Ramirez sully his reputation by assaulting the Sox traveling secretary and failing tests for illegal performance enhancers.
Now, news of his possible trade threatened to pose a bigger problem than de la Rosa trying to reach the duck boats. But Ramirez seemed unfazed.
“What are they trading me for? Two clubhouse kids and a patch of grass?’’ he wondered aloud. “Can you believe they want me on the Mets? I haven’t even enjoyed my parade yet.’’
Another possible snag: Ramirez seemed miffed that Disney officials had snubbed him, the Series MVP, and invited the bloody-sock icon, Curt Schilling, to serve as grand marshal of the Disney World parade the day after the Sox made history.
“They didn’t want a [racial slur for Latino],’’ Ramirez said as if he were half-joking.
Having lost out on a Disney paycheck, he now flirted with the possibility that the Sox brass might skimp on World Series bling for him and his teammates.
“I just hope they don’t give us rings from K-Mart,’’ Ramirez said.
Suddenly appearing in Ramirez’s line of vision was his zaniest teammate, Kevin Millar. Time and again, Millar’s behind-the-scenes antics had provided vital comic relief in the team’s moments of highest anxiety. Millar’s humor had helped make the championship possible.
“Hey, Millar,’’ Ramirez barked across the clubhouse, “I’m paying for the rings.’’
Millar was too busy at the moment to play Ramirez’s straight man. He was trying to track down de la Rosa for a last-minute picture.
“Nelson . . . Nelson,’’ Millar shouted, scanning the clubhouse carpet. “Where in hell are you?’’
At that, Ramirez retreated to his locker to retrieve some hair gel for Martinez.
‘Waiting for David’
Soon it was time to go. Only a small group of reporters were admitted to the clubhouse that morning, and they had created little distraction. Schilling, leaning on crutches, had dismissed questions about his injecting himself into the US presidential race by endorsing the incumbent, George W. Bush, over Massachusetts Senator John F. Kerry, just days before the election.
The mediots, as Schilling dubbed the Sox press corps, had stood back while Millar, Doug Mirabelli, and Trot Nixon slinked about the clubhouse, ambushing teammates with their camcorders. No reporter asked Mientkiewicz or Damon for a drink. And none interfered with David Ortiz, the great Yankee vanquisher of the American League Championship Series, who now was holding up the show while he wolfed down breakfast — a submarine sandwich and a plate of eggs and potatoes. Ortiz wore a designer sweat suit with two words stitched across the chest: “Big Daddy.’’
The clock was ticking, and Ortiz was the only player who had yet to join the team on the Fenway green for the festive departure of the duck boats. Waiting were Governor Mitt Romney and Mayor Thomas M. Menino, each poised to deliver a blast of rhetorical thunder before the caravan rolled through a gate beneath the center-field bleachers and into the streets.
Tiffany Ortiz, the big guy’s wife, was beside herself. She stood alone in the stairwell outside the clubhouse, anxiously wondering when her husband would emerge.
Little had changed since they met in Wisconsin eight years earlier.
“I’m always waiting for David,’’ she said in frustration. “He’s on his own schedule.’’
On the other side of the clubhouse door, Ortiz finally dispatched his meal and dabbed his napkin to his lips. Then he ambled out of the room and fell into step with Tiffany while “Tessie,’’ the team’s punk rock anthem, blared from the public address system.
“Right on time,’’ Ortiz said, smiling, having delayed the rally by 11 minutes. “We’re on our way.’’
The Sox were free at last, the franchise’s bitter history behind them.
“All is forgiven,’’ read a sign Army Lieutenant Colonel Al Bazzinotti and his pal, Todd Darling, raised as the Sox rolled through a grateful city.
Fans stood scores deep in some places, waving American flags, Dominican flags, Red Sox pennants, signs of every celebratory sentiment. Confetti fluttered from office windows on Boylston Street, a canyon of joy, as the Sox saluted the crowd and marveled at the handmade placards. One sign in particular seemed to capture the spirit of the historic morning. It read, “Idiots Rule.’’Bob Hohler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.