The past two baseball seasons in Boston have seemed interminable.
Losses have piled up, big-ticket free agent signings have fallen flat and high hopes have been crushed. Fans have spread the blame, alternately focusing on the players, on manager John Farrell, on general manager Ben Cherington, and even on John Henry and the ownership group.
Several players have indeed underperformed. Farrell has made myriad questionable decisions. Cherington is on the hook for at least three albatross contracts. Before casting any aspersions in Henry’s direction, though, Red Sox fans should turn to three images. The first is Doug Mientkiewicz jumping on Keith Foulke, who is already hoisting Jason Varitek, red catcher’s gear and all. The second is Jonathan Papelbon, arms spread wide in front of the mound, waiting for the same attack from Varitek. The last is David Ortiz stealing Koji Uehara from David Ross’s embrace to toss Koji over his shoulder. Since Henry and his group, New England Sports Ventures, took over the Red Sox in 2002, the Red Sox have enjoyed a level of success- and postseason ecstasy- beyond what Red Sox fans could hardly have imagined.
If those images are conjured as easily for you as they are for me, you’re quite familiar with Boston’s success since 2002. While the Red Sox have won just two division titles (in 2007 and 2013), they’ve made the playoffs seven times, played in five League Championship Series and hoisted the trophy all three times they’ve reached the World Series. Even with two last-place finishes in the last three years, and a third all-but-certain in 2015, the Red Sox have a .550 winning percentage under this group’s ownership.
From 2002 to 2011, the team played .575 ball, averaging over 93 wins per season, never finishing worse than third or winning fewer than 86 games in a season. Henry invested ample resources into the team, allowing them to acquire superstars like Manny Ramirez and Curt Schilling in offseason deals and to trade for players like Josh Beckett and Adrian Gonzalez, all the while developing local heroes like Dustin Pedroia and Xander Bogaerts through the farm system.
Prior to Henry’s acquisition of the team, John Harrington and his JRY Trust occupied the owners’ box from 1992 through 2001, a period in which the team played .521 baseball and made the playoffs three times, all the more impressive given that there was no Wild Card until 1994 and just one per league for the rest of Harrington’s reign. Each of those playoff trips, though, left Red Sox fans waiting for next year.
Jean Yawkey owned the Red Sox from her husband Tom’s death in 1976 through the 1991 season. In those pre-Wild Card days, the Red Sox averaged over 87 wins per season, winning more division titles (three) than Henry’s group has in the same amount of time. After losing a one-game playoff to the Yankees in 1978, Mrs. Yawkey’s Red Sox benefited from a rare dry period in Yankee history, often finishing ahead of New York, but never breaking through, even with a lead in the 10th inning of Game Six of the 1986 World Series.
Prior to Jean Yawkey, Tom Yawkey owned the team from 1933 to ’76, taking the helm through more than 44 seasons of .522 baseball. Unfortunately, the Yankees held a patent on first place through much of that dismal era, so between the Ted Williams era and the Carl Yastrzemski era, the Red Sox only reached the postseason three times, despite nine seasons with 88 or more wins.
Six different owners held title to the Boston nine in its first 32 years of existence. The first four won five World Series titles and may have won a sixth had John McGraw’s Giants agreed to play a championship series in 1904. The sixth, Bob Quinn, presided over the only darker days in Red Sox history than the present: from 1925 through 1932, the Red Sox lost 100 games per season and finished last place seven times in eight years.
Since ’29 and ’30, Boston hasn’t finished last twice in a row, but it looks like that streak is about to end. Blame Cherington, Farrell, the defense, or the pitching if you will, but give Henry and New England Sports Ventures a break. For better or worse, they’ve changed Red Sox fans’ expectations. The next time you’re disturbed by the image of Rick Porcello turning to watch another home run sail over the Green Monster, picture Foulke or Papelbon or Uehara jumping off that mound instead.