The Plight of the Boston Red Sox Fan Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

The Plight of the Boston Red Sox Fan

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The Agony Of Being A Chicago Cubs Fan is well known to denizens of h2g2. There are, however, two professional baseball leagues in the USA1, and no history of America's national pastime would be complete without consideration of the 'junior'2 circuit's saddest act, the Boston Red Sox. For this is a tale of woe of equal, and at times greater, magnitude.

Ancient History

The Red Sox3 formed in 1901 as founder members of the American League. On 26 April of that year, they faced the Baltimore Orioles in their first competitive game. Those Orioles would move to New York two years later and eventually take on the name, 'Yankees'...

Guided by legendary pitcher Denton True 'Cy' Young, the Red Sox won the first running of the World Series over the National League's Pittsburgh Pirates in 1903. Boston was a consistent powerhouse in those early days, securing further world titles in 1912, 1915, 1916 and 1918.

The Curse of the Bambino

One of the keys to the success of the WWI-era Sox was the acquisition in 1914 of a young minor-league pitcher by the name of George Herman Ruth. In Boston, 'Babe'4 Ruth would become one of baseball's most dominant left-handed pitchers and one of its leading hitters, winning countless games with both bat and ball. But while Ruth's star grew ever brighter, the size of his contract did not follow suit. After an acrimonious dispute in 1919, the Sox sold their star pitcher to the New York Yankees.

Ruth, of course, went on to become probably the greatest star the game of baseball has ever known. The Yankees, perennial also-rans before the sale, have won 26 World Series titles (a record in all North American sports). The Red Sox record in post-Bambino World Series, however, is four appearances, no wins. No wonder they call it 'The Curse'.

1946 - 'Pesky Held the Ball'

After 27 painful years spent firmly at the bottom of the American League, the Red Sox finally returned to the Fall Classic5 in 1946. Led by the incomparable Ted Williams, the Sox won 104 games to secure the American League pennant6 and set up a clash with the National League champions St Louis Cardinals. Boston took the lead three times in the seven-game series, but the Cards fought back each time to force a deciding seventh game.

Late in game seven, with the scores tied, Red Sox shortstop Johnny Pesky hesitated on a misfielded ball from centre fielder Leon Culberson. The pause allowed Enos Slaughter of the Cardinals to complete a suicidal dash from first base to score what would prove to be the winning run.

1967 - Lonborg vs. Gibson

21 years later, the Sox defeated the Minnesota Twins in the last two games of the season to steal the American League pennant. In the World Series, they would once again face the St Louis Cardinals. In Bob Gibson, the Cardinals had a pitcher who had just had the best season in major-league history, conceding an average of just 1.12 runs per game. The Red Sox, however, boasted the AL equivalent to Gibson, 'Cy' Young award-winner7 Jim Lonborg.

The pair were purposely kept from pitching against each other early in the series, so that Gibson's Cards won games 1 and 4, Lonborg's Sox games 2 and 5. Having fought back from a 3-1 series deficit to force another seventh game, Boston put Lonborg up against Gibson in the decider. Gibson had had an extra day's rest, however, and this showed as the Cards took the series with a 7-2 victory.

1975 - A False Dawn

With legendary slugger Carl Yastrzemski still leading the team, the Sox dominated the American League in 1975 to set up a classic confrontation with the Cincinnati Reds. The Reds boasted one of the strongest line-ups in baseball history, with Pete Rose, Joe Morgan, Dave Concepcion and Ken Griffey the powerhouses behind the 'Big Red Machine'.

In game three, in one of the most controversial umpiring decisions in Red Sox history, Cincinnati's Ed Armbrister stayed at home plate after a bunt, causing Sox catcher Carlton Fisk to run into him. Although replays showed that Armbrister had interfered with Fisk (a play that should have ended the inning), umpire Larry Barnett refused Boston's appeals. The Reds would go on to win that game, and jump into a 3-2 series lead.

After three days of rain delays8, the teams ran out for a sixth game that the Sox had to win. Despite jumping into an early 3-0 lead, the Sox found themselves 6-3 down after seven innings. With two outs gone in the eighth inning, Bernie Carbo was sent in as a substitute (or 'pinch') hitter. He smashed a massive home run over the deepest point in the ballpark to tie the game at 6-6. In the third extra inning, Carlton Fisk hit another home run, this time off the left field foul pole, to secure a 7-6 win and one last chance for the Sox.

Unfortunately, after one of the greatest games in major league baseball history, the Red Sox could not turn it on in game seven, blowing a 3-0 lead in the last inning. Yastrzemski himself was the last man out.

1978 - Bucky's Tie breaker

For Chicago 1969, read Boston 1978. Having been 14 games ahead of the Yankees at one point, the Red Sox collapsed in the last two months of the season, including the legendary 'Boston Massacre' (a four-game series in Boston in which the Yankees beat the Sox by an average 11-2). At the end of the year, the two were tied at the top of the AL East, and so a tie breaker game was played at Fenway Park.

Boston took a 2-0 lead in that game, but were beaten on a feeble three-run homer by Yankee shortstop Bucky Dent that would have been caught at any ballpark except Fenway, whose ferocious 33' left field wall, the 'Green Monster', lies a comparatively short 318' from home plate. The Sox lost 5-4 and were eliminated.

1986 - The Buckner Boot

If there is a single moment that defines the curse, however, it is the final play in game six of the 1986 World Series. It had taken an amazing comeback for Boston to get there at all, winning the American League Championship Series from a three games to one deficit. The Sox also won the first two games of the World Series against the Mets in New York, but then blew two in Boston as the Mets tied. Nevertheless, the teams returned to New York with Boston leading 3-2.

Boston's ace pitcher, Roger 'Rocket' Clemens took to the mound in game six, but left the game in the seventh inning with the Sox up 3-2. The Mets tied in the eighth and the game went to extra innings. In that 10th inning, a Dave Henderson homer and a run by Wade Boggs gave Boston a 5-3 lead. The first two Met hitters were caught, and the Sox were just one out away from the title. The scoreboard at Shea Stadium flashed up 'Congratulations Boston Red Sox, 1986 World Champions'; as far as the world was concerned, the series was over.

Pitcher Calvin Schiraldi then allowed two hits, before getting to within one strike of dispatching Ray Knight. Knight drove Gary Carter home on the next pitch, making the score 5-4 with Kevin Mitchell (the tying run) on third base and Knight (the winning run) on first. Bob Stanley came out to pitch to Mookie Wilson, who also gave up two strikes before fouling two pitches off to stay in the innings. On the next pitch, Stanley threw a wild pitch past Red Sox catcher Rich Gedman, allowing Mitchell to score and tie the game. The next pitch was a strike, but Wilson made just enough contact to send the ball slowly down the first base line towards Bill Buckner.

It remains the most unexplainable moment in the history of baseball. Buckner was perfectly positioned and had his glove on the ball... but somehow it dribbled through and away into right field. Knight danced down the line to win the game for the Mets, 6-5. Boston had thrown four pitches in that tenth inning where just one strike would have won the Series and ended the curse, but it was not to be.

Boston took a 3-0 lead in game seven, but the Mets powered past to take the decider 8-5. For the fourth time, Boston had gone to a seventh game in a World Series, and for the fourth time they had lost. Seventeen years on, there has not been a fifth time...

2003 – Boone's Blast

The introduction of the Wildcard in the 1990's has been a boon to the Red Sox, giving them an extra chance to get one over on the Yanks. The teams have now met twice in the postseason. In 1999, the Yankees roundly dismissed Boston 4-1, on the way to a World Series sweep of the Atlanta Braves.

The events of 2003 would, however, prove much more strenuous. The American League Championship Series opened with an unremarkable pair of games in New York, after which the teams decamped to Fenway tied. Roger Clemens, now with the Yankees, would make his last appearance in the old ground against Boston's new star, Pedro Martinez.

In the fourth inning, New York took a 4-2 lead on a close play, after which the Yankee baserunner, Karim Garcia and Sox second baseman Todd Walker had an altercation. Amidst the fracas, Martinez turned to Yankee catcher Jorge Posada and pointed at his head. In the next inning, Clemens through a high fastball over home plate to Manny Ramirez of the Sox. As Ramirez dove to avoid it, both dugouts cleared and the players went at it. Off to the side of the brawl, however, Martinez was being charged by the Yankees 73-year-old bench coach, Don Zimmer. Martinez threw Zimmer to the ground, prompting much media frenzy9.

That game would not, however, be the key to the series. In fact, it went all the way to game seven, where seven stellar innings by Martinez put the Sox just five outs away from the World Series. With Martinez looking tired after a lengthy night, even the New York Post editorial was announcing that Martinez would be coming out of the game to be replaced by a Boston bullpen that had been in tremendous form.

Boston's manager, Grady Little, had other ideas. He left Martinez out to dry, watching as his weakened star gave up three runs in the eighth, allowing New York to tie the game, while failing to record another out. Boston would hold on to the tie for another three innings, before the slumping Yankee third baseman, Aaron Boone, hit a towering home run off Boston's postseason hero, Tim Wakefield, to secure a 6-5 win for the Yanks. Once again, a man whose name began with B had cursed the team who wear that letter so proudly on their caps...

The Future

The Boston Red Sox and Chicago Cubs share many characteristics; long traditions of failure, pokey old stadiums, teams chock-full of expensive veterans and fanatical fans (like those at Sox Suck). And despite everyone's best efforts, none of that really looks like changing. The only way either team looks likely to get to the Fall Classic would be if both were to do it; even then, don't be surprised if the Almighty finds some way to produce a tie.

1The National League (NL), founded in 1876, and the American League (AL), founded in 1901.2 Nickname used by National League fans to deride their younger rival.3The club originally took the name Americans, and dallied with the moniker Pilgrims, before establishing the Red Sox name in 1908.4Ruth's famous nickname comes from his association with agent Jack Dunn - when Dunn adopted Ruth from his Baltimore orphanage, he became known as 'Jack's Babe'. In New York, where Yankee fans were predominantly Italian-American, Babe became Bambino.5The World Series' nickname, reflecting its October time frame.6Common term for the respective league championships.7Annual award to the best pitcher in each league.8Baseball is not played in the rain because of the dirt surface used.9Zimmer was taken to hospital as a precaution, but was unharmed and quickly returned to the Yankee bench

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