1901 – Present
Red Sox fans like to moan about how their team always lets them down, but in fact, it is one of the more successful franchises in the American League.
Originally called the Puritans, the franchise was quite successful in the first two decades of the American League. Their first pennant came in 1903 when Cy Young led the AL in wins and Buck Freeman led in HR and RBI, and they won the first World Series. They repeated in 1904, but Giants manager John McGraw refused to let his team play the WS. The Puritans were rebuilt over the rest of the decade, and when they won the AL flag in 1912, they featured Tris Speaker, who led AL outfielders with 35 assists and tied for the lead in HR, and Smoky Joe Wood, who had a spectacular 34-5 record that included a string of 16 straight victories. Boston won the Series from the Giants in Game Seven on errors by Snodgrass and Merkle. The Red Sox then won back-to-back World Championships in 1915 and 1916, with Babe Ruth winning the ERA title in 1916. That year, he won a 14-inning 2-1 contest in Game Two. The Red Sox’s fifth World Championship in as many chances came in 1918, and Ruth set a scoreless streak record of 29.2 innings dating back to 1916.
But owners Hugh Ward (largely an absentee owner) and Harry Frazee (unfortunately quite present) suffered losses on the New York stage and made up the difference by selling off the Red Sox’s most talented players. Babe Ruth had been moved to the outfield in 1919 and proceeded to set a ML record with 29 HR. That winter he was sold to the Yankees in a complicated deal that included $100,000 cash and a $300,000 mortgage on Fenway Park. He was only the first to go, and the Red Sox soon took up residence in the lower levels of the standings, finishing the last nine times before Tom Yawkey bought the franchise in 1933 and brought in a new era.
Yawkey bought up established stars such as Lefty Grove, Joe Cronin, and Jimmie Foxx, who gave him an MVP season in 1938. Later in the decade, GM Eddie Collins found Ted Williams and Bobby Doerr in the Pacific Coast League. These efforts produced an AL pennant in 1946 (when Ted Williams won the first of his two MVP awards) and a storied loss to the Cardinals in the World Series that began the legend of the Red Sox being fated to lose the big games. In the bottom of the eighth inning of Game Seven, Enos Slaughter scored the winning run from first on a single, while Red Sox shortstop Johnny Pesky supposedly held the ball. Actually, Pesky had his back to the play, which was fumbled by Leon Culberson; Pesky hesitated only slightly before relaying the ball to the plate, but it was too late.
The Red Sox contended for the next few seasons, losing a one-game playoff to the Indians in 1948, but by the mid-1950s slumped to mediocrity, and sometimes less than that. A continual cry for more pitching was unassuaged, and Boston fans had little to do but watch Williams, perhaps the greatest hitter of all time until his retirement in 1960 took even that solace from them. But the rise of a younger set of stars in the 1960s, especially Carl Yastrzemski, brought the “Impossible Dream” pennant of 1967 after two straight ninth-place finishes. Yaz won the MVP award on the strength of a Triple Crown performance, the last in the majors. Once again it was the Cardinals who denied Yawkey’s dreamed-of World Championship, as the Red Sox lost again in seven games.
The Red Sox once again entered a period of mediocrity, although they didn’t suffer any losing seasons and contended occasionally. Once again it was the arrival of young blood that brought a pennant. Fred Lynn and Jim Rice had great rookie seasons in 1975, with Lynn capturing both MVP and Rookie of the Year honors, the only man ever to win the MVP in his first season. Rice succeeded Yastrzemski and Williams in the line of great Boston left fielders, and like them became the focus of the fans’ love for and dissatisfaction with their team. Once again the Red Sox took the Series to seven games, getting there with a thrilling victory in Game Six (THE Game Six, in Boston; years later it was still referred to as such, with no confusion ever resulting from intervening sixth games of other Series). Bernie Carbo‘s game-tying pinch-homer in the 8th inning and Carlton Fisk‘s dramatic, body-English-directed shot in the 12th inning were the main ingredients. But of course, the Reds won Game Seven, and the fatalism of Boston rooters became legend. Tom Yawkey, who had often been accused of pampering and overpaying his favorite stars, died the following year without ever having achieved the World Championship he desired so ardently.
Another lost playoff game in 1978 varied the motif, harking back to the loss to the Indians 30 years earlier. Lost in the disappointment was a great Red Sox comeback at the end of the season after they had been overtaken by the Yankees. After that, the triumvirate ownership of Mrs. Tom Yawkey, Haywood Sullivan, and Buddy LeRoux began feuding, and the team entered another fallow period. The arrival of Wade Boggs in 1982 and Roger Clemens in 1984 brought a pennant in 1986, with a dramatic Game Five HR by instant hero Dave Henderson turning the team around. But, one strike away from a World Championship in Game Six against the Mets, reliever Bob Stanley threw a wild pitch, and then Mookie Wilson hit a roller through Bill Buckner’s legs at first base. Manager John MacNamara was criticized for not replacing Buckner with a defensive substitute for sentimental reasons. The speedy Wilson would have been safe anyway, but the error allowed the winning run to score, and the Red Sox once again lost in Game Seven. The inertial MacNamara was replaced in mid-1988 by Joe Morgan, nine and a half games back in fourth place at the All-Star break. Morgan led them on a hot streak that carried them to the division title. They won 19 of his first 20 games and won an AL-record 24 straight games at home (the first five under MacNamara). They were swept by the overwhelming A’s in the LCS.