Welcome to a multi-series of articles looking at the fortunes of The Boston Red Sox under the ownership of New England Sports Ventures since their purchase of the baseball side in 2001.
NESV are, of course, the new owners of Liverpool FC.
Courtesy of Red and White Kop, El Campeador begins by covering sporting results on the diamond in the decade before and after Henry’s group took over. Part II will look at the owners themselves, their management philosophy with the Red Sox, and Fenway Park. Part III will cover financial matters – television revenue, ticket prices, and what you all need to understand about how drastically different baseball finances are from Premiership football.
ONCE, what seems like decades ago, a ridiculous hand of fate placed Liverpool in the city of my birth. One day in May, I boarded a bus to a stadium located in what looked like the middle of the moon, surrounded by craters. Red brigades marched through the desolate landscape to war at the Ataturk.
The fear of Istanbul featuring freakish failure was an ever-present feeling I had to keep bottled up in my stomach. To be sure, the overwhelming feeling was one of expected victory. I fervently wanted Istanbul to echo through eternity for the *right* reasons, and not as a black mark of failure. At halftime, by a laughable three goals, that fear almost – almost – won over the positivity. Almost.
When my Red brethren now inquire after my birthplace, my answer twinkles their eyes, widens their grin, and involuntarily opens their arms. That is how the story was written. Turkish flags adorn banners. “In Istanbul” echoes into the night. That pride, that energy, is my own incredible force that I bring to support Liverpool Football Club. My karakter, djes?
It could have been different of course. That fear could have manifested itself in a devastating explosion of humiliation. I could have carried that burden with me forever. My avatar certainly would have been different, for starters. That ball of fire we lit at 3-1 to strike fear into the hearts of the Romans may never have been etched into stone. I could have ended up being weak for life. Istanbul could have been Athens, I chide my Greek friends.
Now, once again, I find my own stars aligned. Boston and Liverpool? You must be joking, I thought, as the emails, instant messages, phone calls and texts poured in. What do you know? What can you tell us? Is this a good thing? You know you’ll be defined by this, don’t you?
So here goes.
I can’t tell you whether the New England Sports Venture reign at Liverpool Football Club will be a success, much like I couldn’t tell you how Istanbul would end up. What I can do, by telling you my own story, is to extend a Red hand, once again, and bring my energy to battle, first by giving you a window into the Boston Red Sox before, and during, the ownership of Henry, Werner and Lucchino, then delving a bit deeper into management philosophy, player recruitment, stadium affairs, and finances.
Having made Boston my home for the last 20 years, and attended university at Fenway’s foot, the Red Sox are my local team. I’ve been to a lot of Red Sox games since 1991; probably north of 200 if I had to guess, but who’s counting.
First at the University of Massachusetts, I roomed with a lot of local diehards who blooded me, and took me to games. Then during my Northeastern days, we’d walk the 2 blocks from my house to the park after school, and piss about in the cheap seats – $7 for 3 hours in a bleacher seat was good cheap entertainment for college kids living around Fenway. Throughout my first decade in Boston, the Sox stunk for the most part, so tickets were cheap and plentiful. We went to see Roger Clemens – the Rocket as he was known back then – who was the pitching staff’s ace. I actually saw him get a hit at Fenway one night, which is bizarre if you understand baseball. However, even though we won a couple division titles, losing to Cleveland – more than once – in the postseason was about the height of the era.
The GM at the time was a Massachusetts native, who pulled off a couple of good trades around 1997/1998, and threw together a pretty sick team anchored by Pedro Martinez, who had been acquired from the Montreal Expos to replace Clemens. We thought we were good.
I’ve never seen a better pitcher than Martinez. The 1999 team was the sickest thus far I’d seen in my short decade of going to Sox games. The way we finally thumped Cleveland was pure and unbridled entertainment. We won, and we were great. Only a matter of time till we won the whole enchilada. Or so I thought.
That year, the New York Yankees made mincemeat of us after we beat the Indians, jarring me into realization that the team I’d been supporting for 9 short years carried a monkey on its back. The Yankees had star draw. They had money. They had had a bad time of it recently, and were finally waking up again. They had the anti-Nomar, Derek Jeter. The press loved them. The neutrals loved them. And they thumped the best team that Duquette had put together. Who were the Red Sox anyway? After all, we hadn’t won a ring since 1918.
1918. Go on, ask any Sox fan. What’s 1918? The last time the Red Sox had won the World Series, that’s what. The Sox sold their best player to the Yankees, and didn’t win again. If you think a twenty year League drought is a heavy cross to bear, imagine the following scenario. In 1991, after winning the title, Liverpool sell Ian Rush to Manchester United. Rush goes on to become the most prolific striker in football history, scoring 40 goals a year for the next 10 years, playing longer and better than anyone could possibly have imagined. Liverpool don’t win another title for over EIGHTY YEARS.
That’s the size of the monkey – The Curse, as it’s known around these parts – that Henry, Werner and Lucchino strapped to their backs. From 1918 to 2002, one team won everything while the other won nothing. One team had a bigger stadium and more money, while the other had a cute park and less money. One city was blessed, while the other was cursed, by the Bambino.
So does the Henry group and Boston still carry that monkey? Remarkably, no. See the results for yourself.
In 2000, the Red Sox won 85 games, and came in 2.5 games behind the Yankees.
In 2001, the Red Sox won 82 games, and came in 13.5 games behind the Yankees.
In 2002, the first year of the Henry, Werner and Lucchino reign, the Red Sox won 93 games, but still came in a whopping 10.5 games behind the Yankees, who won an incredible 103 games. The Sox owners installed Theo Epstein, an Ivy League nerd, as GM – aged 28. Think about that for a minute.
In 2003, their second year as owners, the Red Sox won 95 games, and came in 6 games behind the Yankees. The Red Sox qualified for the playoffs via the wild-card, and played the Yankees in the postseason. The best of 7 series went to Game 7, and still no winner emerged until the 11th inning, when the Yankees’ Aaron Boone hit a walk off home run (think Golden Goal in the second half of extra time), to send us home. Watching at a bar in the North End, I was shattered. It was just impossible. There was no beating these rat bastards. The monkey had grabbed himself a pair of dumbbells. Grady Little was fired as team manager, and Terry Francona was hired.
In 2004, their third year as owners, the Red Sox won 98 games, and came in 3 games behind the Yankees. Again, we qualified via the wild card, and faced the Yankees in the playoffs. In the best of 7 series, the Yankees won the first three games, and the monkey started laughing and pissing down our back. Down 3-0? After winning 98 games? That’s just brutal. We faced the worst of all humiliations.
The Yankees took a lead in Game 4 at Fenway Park into the ninth inning, and brought out the best closer in the game to seal the series. Then the unthinkable happened. The Sox got a runner, stole a base, got a hit, and scored. TIE GAME, we screamed. We took it to 12 innings, when David Ortiz hit a game winning homerun, and Fenway park exploded. 3-1 bitch. Cue flare. We are alive. 3-1. Pedro Martinez, Johnny Damon, Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz , Kevin Millar – we have a chance. Cowboy Up. We gonna win this.
The Sox won the next two games to tie up the series at 3-3, and you knew it was over before we went back to New York. It was exactly like Istanbul, 8 months early. It’s why I knew once Alonso had scored that there would only be one winner. You don’t blow 3-0 and expect to win. The monkey had switched backs. In New York, the Yankees were crushed, humiliated – Game 7 was never in doubt from the first inning. It was exactly like the penalty shoot-out in Istanbul. The Sox shot and the Yankees bled. The Red Sox went on to win the World Series in 2004 for the first time since 1918, after flying over Yankee Stadium and taking a dump on the bastards below.
With The Curse vanquished, the Red Sox settled down, and tied the Yankees in 2005 with 95 wins apiece, but lost to the Chicago White Sox in the playoffs.
In 2006, the Red Sox missed the playoffs with 86 wins. The Yankees won 97. In 2007, the Red Sox tacked on another World Series after winning 96 games, 3 games ahead of the Yankees. After nought for 86 years, the Red Sox were 2 for 4.
In 2008, the Red Sox won 95 games, and ended up 8 games ahead of the Yankees, who won 87. That encouraged they Yankees to break the bank, and break the bank they did. The fear got to them. They hadn’t won a ring since 2000, and they threw four hundred million dollars at the problem.
In 2009, the Red Sox won 95 games, but ended up 8 games behind the Yankees, who went on to buy the World Series. In 2010, the Red Sox had a season not unlike the Liverpool season of 2009/1010, with a catastrophic injury list and some really bad luck. We missed the playoffs, winning 89 games while the Yankees won 95.
There you have it. From a performance point of view, judged purely on results and championships, this ownership is the most successful we have ever had. We wanted rings; we got rings. We wanted to topple the New York gorrilla; we certainly knocked him off his perch. We wanted to be perennial contenders; we’re always thereabouts. The results speak for themselves. The Red Sox did not win in my grandfather’s lifetime.
John Henry’s reign has brought unparalleled success to the Red Sox.
Part two will be online tomorrow.