How have defending World Series-winning Red Sox teams done in the past?
FORT MYERS, Fla. — Repeat.
It is the theme of Red Sox Camp Tranquillity in 2019. David Price, in near LeBron James fashion, says he came to Boston to win “not one, but multiple championships.’’ Chris Sale says, “We’ve got another championship to go for. That’s where my head is at.’’ Alex Cora, never one to shrink from a challenge, says, “We do believe we’re going to do it.’’
Vegas wiseguys rank the Yankees, Red Sox, and Astros (in that order) as the three teams most likely to win the 2019 World Series. On paper it makes sense to pick the Red Sox because they won in dominant fashion last year and have the entire team back except Craig Kimbrel (who slumped in October), Joe Kelly, and Ian Kinsler.
But repeating in Major League Baseball in the 21st century is difficult. This is not the 1960s NBA when the Celtics won eight consecutive championships. The last big league baseball team to win back-to-back World Series was the 1998-2000 three-peat Yankee dynasty.
Stuff happens. Guys get hurt. Egos and contracts get in the way. Complacency sets in. It’s Hardball Hangover Syndrome.
It’s been 100 years since the Sox managed to appear in back-to-back World Series. They won the Series with Babe Ruth on the mound in 1915 and again in ’16. Since then, The Year After has not been a friend to Boston baseball.
The 1918 Red Sox champs stumbled badly in 1919, finishing 66-71-1. It was a disappointing season that resulted in strip-mining Boston owner Harry Frazee selling the mighty Bambino to the Yankees.
That was it for Sox success until 1946, when Ted Williams and friends came back from World War II and the Sox went 104-50-2, making it to the seventh game of the World Series. A year later, it was same-old, same-old, as the Sox finished third, 14 games out of first place.
The 1967 Red Sox lit the town on fire like never before, and we figured the Cardiac Kids would make it back to the Fall Classic year after year in the late ’60s and early ’70s. It did not happen. Cy Young winner Jim Lonborg wrecked his knee in an offseason skiing accident, Tony Conigliaro had to sit out the 1968 season after getting beaned by Jack Hamilton. Yaz went from the Triple Crown to a pedestrian .301, 23, 74. The 1968 Sox finished in fourth place, 17 games behind the Tigers.
The 1975 Sox were fan favorites and had a young core that looked ready to dominate baseball, but they were blown up in 1976 by player agent Jerry Kapstein, who represented Fred Lynn, Rick Burleson, and Carlton Fisk. All three players had contract disputes and it broke Tom Yawkey’s heart. Yawkey died in the summer of ’76 and the Sox finished in third place, 15½ games behind the Yankees.
The Hangover Syndrome infected the 1987 Red Sox as well. The ’86 Sox came closer to winning a World Series (without actually winning) than any team in baseball history, but never recovered from the crushing defeat. Cranky manager John McNamara told them to forget all about 1986 when they arrived at spring training in ’87, but they were forever damaged. American League MVP Roger Clemens stormed out of camp over a contract dispute in the first week of spring training, and the ’87 Sox stumbled to fifth place a full 20 games behind the Tigers.
Terry Francona’s 21st-century Red Sox championship teams came closest to repeating. After winning the 2004 World Series, the ’05 Sox won 95 games and tied for first place. But they were thin at the top of the pitching rotation. Pedro Martinez was gone and in order to clinch a playoff spot, the Sox had to use Curt Schilling on the final Sunday of the regular season. This meant that Francona had to go with an ALDS rotation of Matt Clement, David Wells, and Tim Wakefield against the White Sox. Clement was routed, 14-2, in Game 1 and the Sox were swept in three. Schilling never got into the series.
“We were not lined up to have a good showing in the first round,’’ recalled Francona.
The Sox’ absolute best chance to repeat came in 2008. The defending world champion Red Sox made it to Game 7 of the 2008 ALCS before bowing to the Tampa Bay Rays. The Sox lost the finale, 3-1.
Boston’s last rally came in the eighth inning when the Sox loaded the bases with J.D. Drew at the plate and two outs. Cora was the runner on third base and saw 23-year-old Tampa Bay lefthander David Price strike out the ever-passive Drew on a checked swing.
“I thought that might have been our best team,’’ said Francona, who averaged 93 wins over his eight seasons in Boston.
The 2014 Red Sox never had a chance to repeat. The ’13 title was something of a fluke and manager John Farrell was overwhelmed by everything in 2014. The season turned sour in spring training when management lowballed Series hero Jon Lester. Veteran John Lackey contributed to a poisonous clubhouse. Both were traded at midseason (along with Andrew Miller), and the Sox finished in last place (71-91, 25 games out) one year after winning the World Series.
First to worst. It was the ultimate deadly case of Hardball Hangover Syndrome.
Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts saw the ’14 trainwreck up close and personal.
“It ain’t easy, repeating,’’ said Bogaerts. “In 2014, we had a bad year. Not even a winning record. But this is a better team, a talented team, and hopefully we have something built for the long run . . . I think we’ll be in the playoffs, for sure. Being with the same group makes it so much easier to come back. We don’t have to bond or make chemistry with new guys because everyone here is pretty much the same as last year.’’