By Dick Flavin
Boston Red Sox Poet Laureate
and New York Times Best Selling Author
ONCE-IN-A-LIFETIME EXPERIENCES ARE NOT FOR ME
2018 was, for the Red Sox, a franchise record-setting season, totaling 108 regular season
victories and a post-season record of 11 wins aganst only 3 defeats on their way to a
World Series championship. It was a season for the ages, a triumphant march into the
history books, and a glorious experience. But was it a once-in-a-lifetime achievement?
God, I hope not.
“Once-in-a-lifetime” means just what it says, that you’ve never experienced that thing
before and that there is no hope of ever experiencing it again. We all began the 2019
season expecting to relive the sublime glory of 2018, even though, in the team’s 118 year
history, it had never reached those heights before. It was another case of optimism
winning out over experience. So what else is new?
Back in 2013 no one thought the Sox would win – except the guys on the team. They
rolled to the American League East title with a 97-65 record, then proceeded to march
relentlessly on to the World Series championship. We, of course, expected no less than
the same in 2014, when the team laid an egg approximately the size of Connecticut. It
finished dead last with a record of 71-91. What changed? The most significant change
wound uphaving no significance at all. Centerfielder Jacoby Ellsbury was lost to the
much loathed Yankees in free agency when he signed a seven year deal with them paying
him $153 million. He hit only .271 with New York that first year (he’d hit .297 in his
seven with the Red Sox), and never again batted close to that. In addition, he’s been
plagued with injuries and has not played even a single inning in more than two years.
And the Yankees are still paying him on that big contract. But that did not change the
reality that the Red Sox stunk in 2014 and were just as lousy the next year.
In 2008 the defending champions won the American League wild card, but lost in the
ALCS to the Rays, four games to three. In 2005, coming off the curse-breaking
championship of the previous year, the Sox finished in a flat-foot tie with New York, at
95-67, but because the Yankees had won the season’s series with the Red Sox, 10-9 they
were declared the American League East winners. Not that it made much difference; once
the post-season began the Sox went into a swoon and got quickly swept out of the way by
the eventual champion Chicago White Sox, 3 games to 0.
Still we hope, as always. The 108 regular season victories of last year might be beyond
reach, but the real prize, the World Series trophy, is very much alive in our dreams,
provided, of course, that we make it to the post season, which is by no means a slam-
Back-to-back championships wouldn’t even be a once-in-a-lifetime accomplishment for
the Red Sox; they’ve done it before. You have to go back more than a century, to the
1915-16 seasons, but they won it all in both of those years. In 1917 the team suffered a
hiccup and finished second in the league to the White Sox, and in those pre-playoff days
if you didn’t finish first in the league, you were out. The White Sox won the pennant and
proceeded down the road to infamy when some of their players got involved in a scheme
to throw the World Series.
In 1918, though, the Sox made it three out of four, finishing at 75-51 in a season
shortened by World War I, then trouncing the Cubs in the World Series.
Little did Red Sox fans know that unimaginable disaster was just around the corner. It
turned out that World War I had two big losers: Kaiser Wilhelm and the Red Sox. When
the last month of the season was cancelled because of the war, it was a devastating loss to
owner Harry Frazee, who always operated on the edge of financial collapse. Back in the
days when gate receipts represented almost all of a team’s revenue, the loss of a month’s
games was enough to put him over the edge. In addition he was also involved in a power
struggle with American League president Ban Johnson, and that was costing him money.
Only the lawyers win in those kind of struggles. So when the Red Sox had bad year both
in the standings and at the gate in 1919, Frazee sold his soul to the devil, otherwise
known as Jake Ruppert, owner of the New York Yankees. Over the next three years he
sold to Ruppert and the Yanks not only Babe Ruth, but also the heart of the pitching staff
(including Hall of Famers Waite Hoyt and Herb Pennock) and half the starting lineup. It
took the Red Sox eighty-six years to recover.
That all happened years before I was born, but I’m still mad about it.
Anyhow, back to once-in-a-lifetime experiences. I’m against them because you can’t
count them until your lifetime experiences are all used up, and I’m of an age when you
get a little sensitive about such things. I don’t want the 2018 season to be once in a
lifetimefor me. I want to experience it again. And again after that.
I suppose that if I were to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel that might count as a once-in-
a-lifetime experience because the next thing that would happen would be when they
pulled my lifeless body from the water below. There would be no do-overs. I’m afraid
that I might meet up in the hereafter with Harry Frazee, and that we’d be in a location
where neither one of us would be complaining about the cold.