From 1918 to 2004 the Boston Red Sox did not win a single World Series. This was attributed to the Curse of the Bambino. This referred to the sale of Babe Ruth from the Red Sox to the New York Yankees for the sum of $125,000 as well as $300,000 in personal loans for Red Sox owner Harry Frazee. This allowed the Yankees to assume Ruth’s $10,000 annual contract. The rumor is that Frazee (a New Yorker himself) needed the money to finance his Broadway interests, namely the dramatic play My Lady Friends, which eventually became the musical No, No, Nanette.
Before 2004, the Red Sox had only made it to the World Series four times, losing each series in seven games. In both 1946 and 1967, it was the St. Louis Cardinals that beat them. In 1975, it was the Big Red Machine, the Cincinnati Reds. Most famous is the 1986 World Series, where they lost to the Mets. This is where Bill Buckner famously let a ball through his legs at first base in game six, though the Red Sox had already blown the lead by that point. They went from one strike away from the Series win to losing game seven.
In 2004, the Red Sox were having a decent season, but were always behind their division rival Yankees in the standings. Baseball is different in that each league (the American and National Leagues) only puts four of their teams in the postseason (although currently it is five, but only for one game). At the time, the American League had 14 and the National League had 16 teams, meaning that each league left at least 10 teams out of the playoffs. Three of the spots went to the division leaders of the east, central and west divisions, with the wild card spot going to the team with the most wins that wasn’t a division leader.
What’s strange is that at the trade deadline, the Red Sox made two deals. They actually got rid of their iconic shortstop, Nomar Garciaparra. The same one that signed Rachel Dratch’s boobs in Shah-pie on Saturday Night Live. It was a convoluted four-team pretzel trade that resulted in the Red Sox getting shortstop Orlando Cabrera from the Montreal Expos (RIP Expos) and Doug Mientkiewicz from the Minnesota Twins. They had a new manager in Terry Francona who had replaced Grady Little whose contract wasn’t renewed. This was because of his famous gaffe for leaving Pedro Martinez in the game too long in game seven against the Yankees in the 2003, The Yankees tied and won on a walk-off home run by Aaron Boone in the eleventh inning against Tim Wakefield.
The other trade they made was a much smaller trade, acquiring Dave Roberts from the Los Angeles Dodgers. Roberts was acquired as a pinch running specialist, with the idea that he would be available to run if needed in an important game. To that point, Roberts was 33 for 34 in stolen base attempts for a 97% success rate.
The Red Sox ended up making it to the playoffs as the wild card, making them the fourth seed. They should have played the one seed Yankees in the American League Division Series (ALDS) but until 2012 the rules stated that the one seed would play the three seed instead if the four seed was in the same division, which the Red Sox were. The Red Sox swept the Angels in the ALDS and the Yankees beat the Minnesota Twins 3-1 in their series, setting up the American League Championship Series between the Yankees and Red Sox, a repeat of 2003.
Things did not start well for the Red Sox in the ALCS as they ended up behind 3-0 after three games. Before this series, of all the major sports, only the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs had come back from this deficit to win their series, the Stanley Cup Finals against the Detroit Red Wings. It looked like it was all over in game four when the Red Sox were down by one run, and Mariano Rivera was the closer. If you didn’t live through Rivera’s dominance, you can’t understand how good this pitcher was. In the ninth inning, Red Sox batter Kevin Millar walked. Terry Francona then inserted their trade-deadline base stealing specialist, Dave Roberts.
Dave Roberts had been on the Los Angeles Dodgers for the previous two seasons. He was a journeyman outfielder known for his defense and speed. He ended up with a respectable 10-year career as a major league. Roberts recalled the legendary Dodger base stealer Maury Wills giving him advice a spring training in Vero Beach, that one day he would be called upon to steal a very important base when everyone knew that he would try. This was that moment.
Rivera threw three balls over to first, knowing Roberts was keen to swipe second. The second attempt almost picked him off clean, but he made it back just in time. Finally, on the fourth pitch, Roberts took off. The Yankees catcher, Jorge Posada, made one of the best throws of his career, and the legendary Derek Jeter made a great attempt to tag, but Roberts made it in. The fact that he didn’t trip over his own big balls is amazing. It was one of the most clutch moments in sports history.
The Red Sox ended up driving Roberts in to tie the game and then winning the game in extra innings on a David Ortiz walk-off home run. Everyone in the country at this point including a good portion of the New York City area were rooting hard for the hapless Red Sox. I was working in Fairbanks, Alaska at the time and we all made it a point to watch all of the games as the Red Sox won four in a row to complete the comeback and win the ALCS against the Yankees.
The World Series itself was a major letdown in a way, because the Red Sox easily beat the St. Louis Cardinals in a sweep, with the closest game being by two runs.The Red Sox finally broke the Curse of the Bambino after 86 years.
Since then, somehow the Boston sports scene has flipped the script, where I actually root for the Yankees instead of the Red Sox. That’s what 10 professional championships in the 2000’s does (five for the Patriots, three for the Red Sox and one each for the Bruins and Celtics). I never thought this would happen, having grown up a New York Mets fan from my time in Queens. After they won in 1986 I thought life was going to be great, with my team being a perennial powerhouse. Never happened of course. Like Cubs fans, it seems as if the Red Sox fans take the new success for granted and forget all the struggle, which makes them much less lovable to everyone else.
Dave Roberts only played that half season for the Red Sox, but he got a World Series ring out of the deal. Through circumstance, he is now the manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers, who are playing the Red Sox in this years World Series. I contend that it was him that lifted that curse off his team in 2004. By virtue of that, he now has the ability to put the curse back on the Red Sox this year. Only he knows how to do that, but we have seen him pull a rabbit out of a hat before. Both Roberts and Red Sox manager Alex Cora can be unorthodox compared to the managerial masses, so this will depend upon who has the bigger balls and will lay it all out there.