Musings: My Favorite Red Sox Team Is...

Boston Red Sox Poet Laureate

and New York Times Best Selling Author

MY FAVORITE RED SOX TEAM IS……

What is your favorite Red Sox team? Is it the 2018 edition that met every challenge along

the way, the team that set a record for victories in the regular season then vanquished all

opposition in October? I’ve given it a lot of thought, and I’d be hard-pressed to choose

any other team over this year’s group.

But what about the ’04 team, the team that broke the dreaded Curse of the Bambino and

made the most miraculous comeback in baseball history in the process? How could you

vote for any team over that one?

And how about the 2013 bunch, that motley crew of over-achievers who nobody

expected to do much but who kept on over-achieving until they held the trophy in their

hands? Would I vote any other team over that one? Never.

Let’s not forget the ’07 team, the one that seems to get lost in the shuffle. All that team

did was go out and do its job. It tended to business and it got the job done. You can’t ask

more that that of any team, and to leave it off any list of favorites is to do it an injustice.

You know somethng? I don’t have a favorite Red Sox team. I love ‘em all. And that goes

for the teams that preceded the winners of the twenty-first century. The Red Sox of the

late forties were my first baseball love, and you know what they say about first loves –

you never forget them. That’s how I feel about those great Red Sox teams. Ted Williams

and Dom DiMaggio and Bobby Doerr and Johnny Pesky instilled in me my love for the

game. I’ll aways be indebted to them because baseball has been such great gift for me.

There is also this about first loves – it isn’t the first person to whom you give your heart

that you remember, it’s the first person who breaks it. The Red Sox of those days broke

my heart again and again. There was Enos Slaughter’s mad dash for home in 1946; the

inexplicabe decision to start Denny Galehouse in the ’48 playoff game; the two game

fade against the Yankees at the tail end of ’49. But my heart was never hardened by those

heartbreaks; I loved those Red Sox teams back then and I still love them seventy years

later.

There were, of couse, the barren years of the fifties and well into the sixties when the Red

Sox stunk; worse, they didn’t seem to care that they stunk. Once Ted Williams retired

there was no reason to do go to Fenway Park, and nobody did. The park became an ideal

place to hide out from the cops; nobody would think to look for you there.

Then came the great resurrection of 1967 when Carl Yastzemski and Jim Lonborg led us

back to the promised land. We didn’t quite get all the way there, Bob Gibson and the St.

Louis Cardinals slammed the door shut in the seventh game of the World Series, but we

didn’t even care. Baseball was back in Boston and it has never left. Yaz and Lonborg and

Rico and Tony C and the others restored our faith. We owe them all, big time.

The ’75-’78 Red Sox were perhaps the most talented teams of my lifetime. Rice, Lynn,

and Evans were in the outfield; Pudge Fisk was behind the plate; on the mound, Luis

Tiant; Rick Burleson might not have been quite the shortstop that Nomar was and that

Xander is but he was a heck of a player. And, of course, the Red Sox still had Yaz. I will

never forget the prediction that the late Ray Fitzgerald, the great columnist of the Boston

Globe, made during spring training of 1978; he wrote of the newly acquired second

baseman, “You’re going to love Remy.” We did - and we still do.

The 1975 World Series against Cincinatti’s vaunted Big Red Machine of Pete Rose,

Johnny Bench, Tony Perez, et al , and which featured the famous Fisk home run in the

12 th inning of game 6, was perhaps the greatest ever played. Red Sox fans came away

from it with the feeling that the Sox won it, three games to four.

In August of 1978 the Sox had a fourteen and a half game lead on the Yanks but there

was trouble ahead. Fisk cracked a rib, third Baseman Butch Hobson developed bone

chips in the elbow of his throwing arm, reliever Bill Campbell had a sore arm. Then, on

August 27, Dwight Evans was beaned and began suffering dizzy spells. The best right

fielder in baseball started dropping fly balls. But they all remained in the line-up – and

the Red Sox started to lose. By mid-September their huge lead had turned into a three and

a half game deficit. Then they turned it around. They won twelve of their last fourteen

games and came back to tie New York, setting up the Bucky Dent playoff game – and

more heartbrek for Red Sox fans.

1986 is remembered for more of the same – heartbreak - when the ball rolled through Bill

Buckner’s legs, but let’s not forget that it was the year Roger Clemens came of age and

developed into the best pitcher baseball had seen in years. Wade Boggs had become the

perennial American League batting champion. The Red Sox that year came so near – and

yet, so far.

I loved all of those teams. They didn’t win it all, as the teams of the twenty-first century

have done, but they didn’t cheat us, either. I, as are all Red Sox fans, have been lucky to

be along for the ride.

I started this by asking what Red Sox team is your favorite. It is none of my business

what your answer is because I don’t have one. I have a whole bunch of them.

Musings: Has Anybody Here Seen Hanley?

By Dick Flavin

Boston Red Sox Poet Laureate

and New York Times Best Selling Author

HAS ANYBODY HERE SEEN HANLEY?

Now that the dust has settled, the duckboats have been parked, and the trophy has been

repaired after being wounded by the in-coming barrage of beer cans during the parade,

what would you say was the key moment that allowed the Red Sox win the World Series?

Not the moment that Manny Machado made that final, futile swing that ended with him

on one knee, genuflecting in the direction of the Red Sox dugout (although that was

sweet, wasn’t it?); I’m talking about the moment that made it all possible; the division

title, the pennant, the World Series victory, and the duckboat parade.

I submit that moment came at 11:30 on the morning of Thursday, May 24 th .

That’s when president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski’s phone rang. On the

other end of the line was manager Alex Cora with a bold and even courageous

suggestion. There had been a plan in place to trade little-used catcher and jack-of-all-

positions Blake Swihart the following day in order to make room on the roster for Dustin

Pedroia, who was coming off the disabled list (Pedroia wouldn’t be off the list for long;

his bad knee flared up again after only three games, putting him out of action for the

season.). Cora advocated for keeping Swihart and giving another player his walking

papers.

Does anyone remember Hanley Ramirez? I didn’t think so.

Ramirez was one of the high profile, and high priced, members of the team. He’d been

one half of the twin signings (twin disasters?) that were announced on the same day back

in November of ‘14, the other half being the immortal Pablo Sandoval. The two would

cost the Red Sox a total of 183 million dollars, plus one belt buckle, to replace the one

which the, dare we say, chubby, Sandoval famously popped one day while taking a

mighty swing. In addition, it eventually cost general manager Ben Cherrington his job,

which is why Dave Dombrowski was brought to Boston in the first place. Everything in

baseball is interconnected, isn’t it?

The signing of Ramirez was a cause for celebration in Boston. He had been signed by the

Red Sox originally and was an elite prospect, but he was traded to the Miami Marlins

prior to the 2006 season as the key component in a deal that brought Mike Lowell and

Josh Beckett to Boston. He won National League rookie of the year honors in 2006 and

was the National League batting champion in 2009. But red flags were raised along the

way. In 2010 he was benched for lack of hustle by Marlins’ manager Fredi Gonzalez

when he just jogged after a ball, allowing two runners to score. It led to a war of words

and the ultimate firing of Gonzalez. In subsequent years with the Los Angeles Dodgers

he developed a tendency toward injuries and was often out of action.

Ramirez had a lousy year for the Sox in 2015, a pretty good one in ’16, then another

stinkeroo in ’17 when he batted .242 with 23 home runs and a measly 62 runs batted in.

He’d been off to a good start this April, but that quickly faded, and he was batting only

.163 for the month of May and was hitless in his last twenty-one plate appearances. Still,

it would be a shock to the baseball world, including Ramirez himself, if such a big name

player were to be dumped.

Dombrowski and Cora had a relatively new relationship, the rookie manager was less

than two months into his first season at the helm, but he had already earned the baseball

ops boss’s respect; he had a feel for the clubhouse and for the needs of his team.

Dombrowski took his advice to heart, the trade-Swihart plan was put aside, and at 3:45

the next morning, when the team returned from a road game in Tampa Bay, Ramirez was

given the word that he was history.

It seems now that he is ancient history. He has been seen or heard from since then about

as often as Jimmy Hoffa. And the Red Sox have never looked back. In July they acquired

Steve Pearce, something which could never have happened if Ramirez were still on the

roster. That’s the same Steve Pearce who was named MVP of the World Series. He and

Mitch Moreland have worked in tandem to handle the first base duties ably and

productively.

Ramirez came to town with the reputation of someone who could be a divisive force in

the clubhouse. He had been just that in his tours with the Marlins and the Dodgers, but it

was never an issue with the Red Sox. In fact he was exceedingly funny and accessible,

especially with children. But would he have been a problem if he had been demoted to a

bench-warmer, which would have happened if he stayed with Boston? That’s something

that we’ll never know. Thank goodness.

By saying goodbye to Ramirez the Red Sox ate approximately 15 million dollars, what

was due him for the remainder of 2018, but saved 22 million bucks from a vesting option

for 2019 that Ramirez was on track to reach. They will still be paying Sandoval for 2019.

Sandoval, as a matter of fact, has made a bit of a comeback as a back-up third

baseman/first baseman with his original team, the San Francisco Giants. In fact the

Giants announced at the end of October that they are picking up the option on his

contract, which is for the major league minimum of $550,000. The balance of the $18

million that he’s owed will be paid by John Henry and friends.

And what of Hanley Ramirez? Will he magically reappear in 2019 from the dust bin of

baseball history to make a dramatic comeback with some other team?

To borrow a phrase from that great baseball savant, Rhett Butler, “Frankly, my dear, I

don’t give a damn.”

Musings: Roberts Stole That Base

By Dick Flavin

Boston Red Sox Poet Laureate

and New York Times Best Selling Author

ROBERTS STOLE THAT BASE

The outloook wasn’t brilliant for the Beantown nine that night;

Down three games to none, ninth inning, end in sight.

So to the stricken multitude ignominy beckoned.

Then pinch runner Roberts made a dash for second.

The catcher came up throwing, Jeter raced to take the ball.

Roberts dove, the play was close. “Safe!” was the umpire’s call.

What happened next will be retold for years in baseball lore.

For that theft sparked a comeback unheard of before.

Mueller singled Roberts home and several innings later

Big Papi put the game away with a home run ‘tater.

The Sox went on to win game five, game six, and then game seven.

The Yanks were dead, the Cards got swept, and hello, baseball heaven.

There was singing, there was cheering, and heroes filled the place,

But it never would have happened had not Roberts stole that base.

Dave Roberts was just a spare part for the Boston Red Sox in 2004. He’d been acquired

on the July 31 st deadline from – guess where? – the Los Angeles Dodgers, the team he’d

be managing fourteen years later.

When he first arrived in Boston, he played more than originally anticipated because

starting right fielder Trot Nixon had back problems. As the season wound down, though,

Nixon’s health improved and Roberts found himself relegated to the bench, save for

occasional pinch running duties. He wasn’t used as a pinch hitter very often because he

had little or no power; just 23 home runs, lifetime – 2 of them with the Red Sox – over a

ten year career.

But he didn’t pout; he kept himself ready, both physically and mentally, just in case he

was needed in a big moment. He spent hours in the video room with first base coach

Lynn Jones, watching the tendencies of relief pitchers who might be on the mound if he

were called upon to run late in a game. Chief among those pitchers was the great Mariano

Rivera, the lights-out closer of the New York Yankees. Roberts thought about what

Dodgers’ base running coach Maury Wills, himself the perpetrator on 586 big league

steals, used to tell him, that someday he’d be called upon to steal in a big moment, when

everyone in the park knew that was his intention, and that he had to be ready to do it, no

matter what.

That big moment came in the ninth inning of game four of the ALCS against the

Yankees, and Roberts was ready. When he was put in the game to run for Kevin Millar,

who had walked, the Red Sox were behind, 4 to 3, and on the verge of being swept.

Everyone in the park and watching on television knew he was in there for one reason

only - to steal second base and get himself into scoring position. Sure enough, Hall of

Fame closer Mariano Rivera was on the mound. Rivera threw over to first three times

before delivering a single pitch to the batter, Bill Mueller. When Rivera finally did

deliver a pitch, Roberts took off. The rest is history. Mueller singled him home to tie the

game and Ortiz homered to win it in the twelfth.

It was an iconic moment which has never been forgotten by Red Sox fans. But what has

been forgotten is what happened the very next night, under eerily-similar circumstances.

It was less dramatic but just as important. The Sox were trailing again in an elimination

game, by the same score, 4 to 3, this time in the eighth inning. Roberts was put in the

game, again, to run for Millar. This time Tom Gordon was the Yankee pitcher. He, like

everyone else, was preoccupied by the threat to steal. When Roberts did eventually go,

the batter, Trot Nixon, singled and the speedy Roberts made it easily to third. Jason

Varitek then lofted a sacrifice fly, and Roberts tagged up to score the tying run. The Red

Sox went on to win, this time in the fourteenth inning, on a hit by – you guessed it –

Ortiz. Then it was back to Yankee Stadium and Curt Schilling’s bloody-sock game

followed by the seventh game blow-out. The sweep of the Cardinals in the World Series

was almost an afterthought.

That fifth game of the ALCS marked Dave Roberts’ last appearance in that post-season

and his last appearance in a Red Sox uniform. He’d been with the team less than three

months, didn’t even have an at-bat during the playoffs or World Series, and would be

traded to the Padres a few weeks later, but his place among Red Sox immortals had been

secured.

Roberts knew, of course, that he had done something big in the eyes of all Boston. The

reaction to him by fans during the duckboat parade made that obvious, but he didn’t have

a sense of the lasting impact he’d made until he got aff the plane after flying home to San

Diego in the wake of the great celebration. When he picked up his bag in the luggage

claim area, on it he found a message from a baggage handler back at Logan Airport who

had recognized the name on its ID tag. It said, “You’re going to be a Red Sox legend

forever.”

That baggage handler knew what he was talking about. The next time Roberts was in

Fenway Park was three years later, in 2007, when he was playing for the San Francisco

Giants. He received a prolonged and raucous ovation. Then, at this year’s World Series,

fourteen years after he stole that base, he was given roaring welcome backs every time he

was introduced. When was the last World Series any manager of an opposing team

stopped the show just by showing up? Never, I’d venture to guess.

The same thing would happen twenty years from now - when Roberts will be sixty-five.

In 2054, when the golden anniversary of the magical comeback is celebrated, Dave

Roberts, eighty-one, will be bathed in an ovation.

He is, in fact, a Red Sox legend forever.