What happened to the bad old days of the Red Sox?
Where is the Clown Show of my youth?
Where are the dysfunctional Red Sox of 1960-2017? At what point, precisely, did the Sox morph into the model of decorum and team-above-self?
I’m not talking about wins and losses, or World Series trophies. I’m talking about clubhouse culture and how things have changed for the ballclub that plays on Yawkey Way (oops, even that has changed), I mean Jersey Street.
I spent four weeks in Florida this spring digging for the Fool’s Gold that’s traditionally plagued the franchise and teased its fans, but I came up empty. Unable to unearth buffooneries that annually expose the flaws of our hometown team, I succumbed to the 2019 themes of sunshine and lollipops. I went Full Roachie.
The curtain is closing on Sox spring 2019 and our Olde Towne Team is all about humility and harmony — just as it was last October. It must be the Alex Cora effect. Even David Price is getting along with everybody now.
These are not your grandfather’s Red Sox. The churl is gone. So is the chaos.
I came of age as a Sox fan in the bad old days of the early 1960s. Annually finishing in eighth place in a 10-team American League, the Red Sox were a Tom Yawkey Country Club, managed by a chorus line of thirsty Yawkey cronies. They played to a near-empty house every night and our big thrill came when Pete Runnels won a batting title or when Dick “The Monster” Radatz raised his arms triumphantly after striking out Mickey Mantle. One day after a butt-kicking at Yankee Stadium in 1962, things got so bad that Pumpsie Green and Gene Conley hopped off the team bus in Bronx traffic and went AWOL. Conley disappeared on a two-day bender and wound up at Idlewild Airport buying a plane ticket to Israel before he was stopped because he didn’t have a passport.
In those days, Curt Gowdy kept telling us, “Hi, neighbor, have a Gansett,’’ but there weren’t many postgame toasts to the Red Sox.
The Sox went from black-and-white to color in the magical summer of 1967 and have competed in most of the last six decades. Still, they led the league annually in colorful controversy.
The ultra-talented Sox of the late ’70s were poisoned by bad clubhouse karma. They were the “25 players, 25 cabs” Red Sox. After Yawkey died in the summer of ’76, the team was alternately run by Haywood Sullivan and the Yawkey Trust, save for a short period when ex-trainer Buddy LeRoux staged the “LeRoux Coup” on the night the team was supposed to be honoring the fallen Tony Conigliaro.
The silly stuff went on for decades. Fenway was a rogues gallery of Bull Durham-esque characters: Bill Lee, Bernie Carbo, Don Zimmer, Oil Can Boyd, Wade Boggs, and Roger Clemens . . . then modern-day marvels such as Carl Everett, Manny Ramirez, Johnny Damon, Kevin Millar, Curt Schilling, and Bobby Valentine.
The front office was not spared. Remember Theo Epstein resigning, leaving Fenway in a gorilla suit, then John Henry saying, “Maybe I’m not fit to be principal owner of the Boston Red Sox.’’
Championships were won, and still there was controversy. Manny shoved the 65-year-old traveling secretary, then quit on the Red Sox. Chicken and Beer fueled the greatest collapse in baseball history in 2011, then Terry Francona resigned and dropped an autobiographical firebomb on Fenway (disclosure: I contributed to that one). John Farrell came to town and won a championship, but never connected with his players or the fans. He became the first manager in history to be fired after finishing first in two consecutive seasons.
Finally, we had the Price-Dennis Eckersley ambush (while teammates applauded) in the summer of 2017 before those “unlikable” Red Sox flamed out in the playoffs for a second straight season.
That’s all gone now. The Red Sox in 2018 and (thus far) 2019 are a model professional ballclub. They have star players who make huge money, yet remain humble and seem more interested in winning than in promoting their own brands.
You saw it all over the place last October. Especially in Dodger Stadium.
The night/morning of the fateful Game 3 tells you everything you need to know about these new Red Sox. Nathan Eovaldi, who was supposed to start Game 4, came on in relief in the 12th inning and looked like he would be the winning pitcher until Ian Kinsler’s error extended the game by another five innings.
In the old days, we’ve had Boggs and Clemens arguing over a scoring decision because it impacted Bogg’s fielding percentage and Clemens’s ERA. On that night last October, we had the noble Eovaldi consoling Kinsler.
“I told him he had nothing to apologize for,’’ said Eovaldi, who threw 97 pitches in six-plus innings of relief. “We’re a team. I know you got my back and I’ve got his.’’
More teammate empathy: Rick Porcello admitted he wept for Eovaldi after Max Muncy’s homer made Eovaldi the losing pitcher.
The next night, with the Sox trailing, 4-0, in the seventh, it looked like it was going to be a 2-2 World Series when Chris Sale erupted in the Sox dugout John Belushi style. Mitch Moreland responded with a three-run pinch-hit homer and the Sox steamrolled the Dodgers in five tidy games.
This was a true team. Boston’s much-decorated, highly paid front four starters made nine relief appearances in the playoffs.
“It was fun to watch,’’ recalls manager Alex Cora. “It was fun to have all those starting pitchers telling me, ‘I’m ready today.’ It was fun to get text messages — ‘hey give me the ball tomorrow.’ It’s a testament to who they are, how they felt, and what they wanted. We get to October this year, I guarantee it’s going to be the same mode — I’m there for you.”
These are your 2018-19 Boston Red Sox. And I think this manager has a lot to do with it.