The Big 50: Boston Red Sox is an amazing, full-color look at the 50 men and moments that made the Sox the Sox. Experienced sportswriter Evan Drellich recounts the living history of the Red Sox, counting down from No. 50 to No. 1. Learn about and revisit the team's remarkable stories, from Ted Williams to David Ortiz, to the roller coaster that was the 2004 playoffs, to the team’s subsequent World Series championships and current stars like Mookie Betts.
About the Author
Evan Drellich covers the Red Sox for NBC Sports Boston, and has also reported on the team for the Boston Herald, MassLive.com and MLB.com. You can catch him on WEEI and MLB Network as well.Kevin Youkilis played for the Red Sox from 2004 to 2012, earning two World Series rings.
Read an Excerpt
Every night Fenway Park is filled with children too young to recall the exorcism. Kids who weren't around when New England danced for the very first time on the corpse of Yankee mystique. Some teens today may be old enough to carry scant memories of the greatest comeback in postseason history, when the Sox — still the only team to scale a 3–0 deficit — trailed the New York Yankees in the 2004 American League Championship Series before winning the pennant. Those teens may even remember first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz squeezing the final out in the World Series for a sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals.
But with each passing year, '04 becomes a memory to fewer and a tale to more. Theo and Tito's discovery of baseball's Excalibur is known to some only through dinner table talk, books, and YouTube. How do you explain the pessimism that once grew like mold across New England, when success has been so abundant this century across all Boston sports? How do you reconstruct the despondence of Red Sox Nation that grew with every loss to the Yankees and every World Series catastrophe? "The thing that sticks in my mind the most is the last out, knowing that we got rid of the burden on every player that passed through the organization," Pedro Martinez said eight years later. "It was a moment of relief for everyone that played the game in Boston. That's probably the biggest one — just getting that last out. I kept thinking about getting that last out, and when [closer Keith Foulke] finally flipped that ball and they called him out, that was it.
"I remember someone telling me, 'My dad passed away last year, and I could die today,' As we were getting off the bus, that person came up to me and said, 'I could die today and I'm at peace. This is all I wanted in my life. I don't want any money. I don't want anything else. All I wanted in my life was to see this trophy coming over.'"
That's extreme and unsurprising but also very indicative of the fanbase's line of thinking. Even in '04 in the immediate aftermath of the bacchanal, there was a sense that nothing else the Red Sox did afterward would matter as much. When nearly a century of unhappiness is attached to one season and one team, how do you cope with the understanding you can never reach that joy again? No, the question isn't new, but about a decade and a half has passed since it first arose in Boston. "Oh my God," Curt Schilling said in 2017. "When you win something like , you always wonder: is the next one gonna take away from this one? We won in '07, [and it] wasn't nearly like '04. We were nine years removed in '13. And I realized after the team won in '13, that there'll never be another 2004."
The bloody sock doesn't lie. Schilling's addition to the group prior to the season was a huge pick-up for Theo Epstein and the Sox as they outmaneuvered the Yankees in an arms race, one that dwarfed the rest of baseball's efforts to stockpile talent. Schilling counted as just another confidence-slinging nut job in a gaggle of them. The '04 Idiots were as talented as they were brash and colorful. With blood seeping into the sock of his injured right ankle, Schilling's performance in Game 6 of the ALCS against the Yankees is one of the most identifiable moments along the craziest ride in Sox history.
A bunch of boring, quiet hitting machines breaking The Curse would have stirred Red Sox Nation. But the eccentricities were almost as outsized as the achievement — and for the better.
It wound up being Martinez's last year with the team before the Hall of Fame ace left via free agency. He was an elder statesman, one who had been on the club since 1998. Martinez pondered ... if the team hadn't won the Sox's first title since 1918. "I would have been so disappointed that I came in here with a purpose, and that was the purpose," Martinez said in 2012. "I was called in to build the team around me as the ace of the team. It took me until the last year to actually finally get it, but I could easily say, 'Mission accomplished.' I've actually been to the Green Monster many times ... Everybody normally has the history of signing the Green Monster. I refused to until I won it for Boston."
Martinez brought a good luck charm around that was a little out of the ordinary. Nelson De La Rosa, a diminutive actor from the Dominican Republic who has since passed away, was small enough for Martinez to pick up and hoist during champagne celebrations. "It was pretty close to being a perfect match," Kevin Millar said in 2012. "It's hard to do with all the different salaries and egos and stats and everything we create in the world now, fantasy baseball. It was a good match, man. And like I said, we weren't the best players. Believe me, you're not drafting Millar, Mueller, Cabrera, and Bellhorn for your starting infield. It's just the way it was. Keith Foulke throwing 74 mph, dominating the game."
They would throw back shots before games. They would huddle in the same Jacuzzi. Martinez told a story of Millar, Manny Ramirez, and Johnny Damon all taking a dip together. "Can you imagine Jeter, Posada, and Bernie with Mariano jumping in?" Millar asked rhetorically of the Yankees stars of the day.
Epstein, who was in just his second year running the team, found the finishing touches with a young, hungry front office. (Most of those executives, like Theo himself, have moved on. But some core members still remain in Boston like Brian O'Halloran, Raquel Ferreira and Zack Scott. Others, like Jed Hoyer and Amiel Sawdaye, are in top positions elsewhere.) "Whether it was a defense mechanism for survival or just sheer immaturity, we surrounded ourselves. We created this group of like half a dozen, eight of us who were similarly situated in life," Epstein said. "We worked together at the Red Sox for nine months going into it and we just leaned on each other. We worked 80-100 hour weeks, we went out, ate all our meals together, we lived together in spring training, and all we talked about was how to make the Red Sox better."
A member of the Red Sox organization noted before the Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians played the World Series in 2016 that they hoped the Cubs — run by Epstein and working on a 108-year title drought — would lose. They didn't wish ill on Epstein. They simply wanted the story to keep going, the drama to simmer for the betterment of the game.
The Cubs won, and the arc reached its apex. The 2016 Cubs, like the 2004 Red Sox, are Jim and Pam's first kiss in Season 2 of The Office. You can have a show and romantic intrigue afterward, but nothing will be as gripping. The Sox won again in 2007 and 2013. For the Red Sox, though, lifetimes came and went prior to '04. Generations passed after the 1918 World Series title. The only way to replicate a climate like 2004's would be time. Mix in the sale of Babe Ruth and just how successful Ruth and the Yankees were as the Sox floundered, and it's hard to imagine a parallel ever existing for this franchise — even a few centuries from now. "I got a call right after the series from Bill Bradley," former Red Sox president Larry Lucchino said. "And he said, 'Larry, I have only one suggestion for you.'"
Bradley, who went to Princeton with Lucchino, played in the NBA and went on to become a U.S. senator. "I said, 'What's that, Bill?'" Lucchino said. "He said, 'Retire. Right now. Retire.' I said, 'No, I'm not going to retire right now.' He said, 'It'll never get this good again.' And so I did not take his advice, thankfully, but I think he meant it quite sincerely.
"There was a woman who said to me after 2004, 'I want to thank you,'" Lucchino said. "'Because of you I have experienced every possible human emotion.' And so I think sort of every possible human emotion came to us in either '03 or '04. And from '02 to '04, we went through every possible human emotion. So the sense of release, relief, and satisfaction was enormous at the end of '04, even though many of us were too sleep deprived to fully appreciate the moment."CHAPTER 2
Had David Ortiz hit 483 of his 541 home runs — plus another 17 in the postseason — as a quiet and shy member of the Red Sox, he would still be beloved. Just not in this way. We wouldn't have bridges and roads in his name. In his final year, gifts would not have lined every road city, and the entire American League All-Star team may not have gathered for his words. He told that group of All-Stars in 2016 that he had come to value passing on lessons in the game more than hitting home runs, even walk-offs. Those game-ending moments are what Ortiz is remembered for more than anything else — that and his stand-alone status as a Sox player who won three rings this century.
Many believe Big Papi will wind up in Cooperstown. He could well get in on the first ballot, too. Ortiz's career .455 average, .576 on-base percentage, and .795 slugging percentage are the best marks in World Series history for anyone with at least 50 plate appearances. But would his candidacy seem so obvious if practically everyone — from media, to the fans, and down to Ortiz's teammates — did not always gravitate to him so?
Even in the world of star athletes, Ortiz became larger than life. When the guy retired, the Sox couldn't give him just the usual alumnus contract. They signed him to a lifetime deal.
Charisma, like many of Ortiz's skills, cannot be taught. Almost always in public, Ortiz appears to be smiling. Faking that kind of consistent happiness wouldn't be easy, particularly in Boston, where the winters are cold, and the talk radio hosts are scathing.
But there were lessons early in Ortiz's life that had helped him in a foreign land, skills beyond the personality with which he was born. Ortiz, a left-handed slugger from the Dominican Republic, signed with the Seattle Mariners for a $10,000 signing bonus in 1992. Whether it was just learning English or something otherwise, most baseball teams did not provide education in the minor leagues at the time Ortiz was coming up in the early-to-mid 1990s. But Ortiz had a head start on some of his teammates. "My parents, I don't know if they knew I was going to be who I am," Ortiz said in 2011. "But they always wanted me to learn."
Back when he was drafted, Ortiz played translator, too. In Papi: My Story, Ortiz told of a relationship one of his minor league friends had with a beautiful woman. The only issue is they couldn't speak to one another, so the bilingual Ortiz became a most necessary third wheel.
Ortiz grew up in a Dominican Republic town where the drug trade was particularly rampant, but his parents, Angela Rosa Arias and Americo Enrique Ortiz (or Leo), kept him disciplined. Basketball was his first love, but his father focused on his son's excellent hand-eye coordination and believed he would become a big league ballplayer.
Ortiz's mother, Angela, died in a car crash in 2002. Every time he crossed home plate and pointed to the sky, he was pointing to her. She was always on his mind. "When you are going through celebrations, when you are going through good moments, and I've got all of my family on the field, my dad and my wife and my kids and my sisters, I felt like something was missing," Ortiz said after his last regular-season game when the Red Sox feted him. "I was very close with my mom ... Emotion comes through when you start thinking about a member of the family that's no longer around. Every time I talk about my mom, it happens. I think it's pretty normal for all of us. But I got it off my chest, and the celebration continued. I really appreciate how everything went down and how everything has been since Day One."
Day One in Boston happens to tie back to the year Ortiz lost his mother in 2002. That was his final season with the Minnesota Twins, the only other big league team he played for. Minnesota picked him up as a minor leaguer from the Mariners back in a 1996 trade for big league third baseman Dave Hollins. Ortiz, who became known for swings with huge recoil and slow trots around the bases, showed plenty of promise in Minnesota. But the Twins didn't see his full potential. It didn't help that Ortiz clashed with his first big league manager, Tom Kelly.
Minnesota simply let Ortiz walk after the '02 season, releasing him rather than paying him the roughly $2 million he likely would have received in salary arbitration. To that point Ortiz was a career .266 hitter. But he carried an .809 on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS) and had just finished a career-high 20-homer season in '02, a sign of what was to come.
Letting Ortiz become a free agent was a huge blunder. "There's no hiding that one," former Twins general manager Terry Ryan told MLB.com's Rhett Bollinger. "You can put that one in there and lock it down. I'm not running from it. I'm proud of what he's done. Obviously, it was a mistake. The guy has been a great representation of the Boston Red Sox and Major League Baseball for a long time. And it's Boston's gain and Minnesota's loss. And I take full responsibility."
In his first offseason running the Red Sox, Theo Epstein snatched up Ortiz, who also had Pedro Martinez lobbying for him. (Some, though, have said it's been exaggerated over time how much Martinez influenced the decision.) Ortiz didn't receive full playing time immediately, but his greatness started to shine through in 2003 with his first 30-homer season.
Ortiz was the only player to finish in the top five in American League MVP voting every year from 2003 to 2007. But as is the case for many things Red Sox, 2004 is when it all really came together. After Dave Roberts' steal helped tie it in the ninth inning, Ortiz's walk-off homer in the 12 inning of Game 4 of the 2004 American League Championship Series against the New York Yankees put the Sox in position to come back from down three games to none in the series. The next night, Ortiz had a walk-off single in Game 5. He was named the ALCS MVP and then homered in his first at-bat in the World Series sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals.
In the 2007 American League Division Series against the Angels, Ortiz walked six times and homered twice in a three-game sweep. In 2013 he was the World Series MVP after going 11-for-16 with two home runs and eight walks; four of them were intentional. The Sox probably wouldn't have even made the '13 World Series had Ortiz not slugged a game-tying grand slam against the Detroit Tigers in Game 2 of the ALCS. With the Sox down 5–1, Ortiz parked a splitter from Joaquin Benoit in the home bullpen at Fenway Park, as Tigers outfielder Torii Hunter went tumbling over the wall in vain.
Ortiz's health caught up to him. Bad heels and feet kept him in pain at the end of his career, but he went out with an incredible final season, leading the majors in doubles with 48 and in OPS at 1.021 in 2016. "I'm super proud of what I have done," Ortiz said. "I was a big-time underdog. I wasn't somebody who came to the big leagues with this really ridiculous talent. It wasn't that bright at the beginning. But I figured one thing out: if you keep working, don't listen to people because people are always going to have things to say. People are always going to judge you. People are always going to put you down — not everybody, but some people. The reality is that you are the owner of your own future. It's all about how hungry you are. It's all about how good you want to be. It's all about how successful you want to be. That has been my career, and I'm happy and proud of the things that I have done, but that's all I can control."
Ortiz could never fully escape the specter of his inclusion on a positive drug test list from 2003, a list that was supposed to remain private because the tests were administered with the stated intent to only see how many people tested positive. The league and the union were trying to determine whether to institute full-time testing. It was never clear what exactly Ortiz tested positive for, and Rob Manfred, the commissioner when Ortiz retired, seemed to go out of his way in 2016 to cast doubt on whether Ortiz did anything wrong. It will probably never be known what the drug test detected — or if it was a false positive. That lack of clarity is the largest blemish on a legacy that nonetheless stands as perhaps the most important career in Red Sox history.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Big 50: Boston Red Sox"
Copyright © 2018 Evan Drellich.
Excerpted by permission of Triumph Books LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Foreword Kevin Youkilis 9
1 2004 14
2 David Ortiz 20
3 Ted Williams 25
4 Pedro Martinez 31
5 1967 36
6 This Is Our F'ing City 42
7 2013 48
8 The Curse of The Bambino 53
9 Tony C 58
10 Yaz 65
11 Brookline's Own Theo Epstein 70
12 Pesky 77
13 Jim Rice 82
14 Pumpsie, Yawkey, and Race in Boston 87
15 1975 and Carlton Fisk 92
16 1978 and Bucky Bleeping Dent 98
17 Fenway Park 103
18 Manny Being Manny 108
19 2003 114
20 The Peak of the Red Sox-Yankees Rivalry 119
21 John, Tom, and Larry 124
22 1986 131
23 Roger Clemens 138
24 The Killer B's 143
25 Broadcasters 148
26 The Courtship of A-Rod 153
27 Jon Lester 158
28 Nomar 163
29 Tito 169
30 Dewey 175
31 Dave Roberts' Steal 179
32 2007 184
33 Morgan Magic 190
34 El Tiante 195
35 Fred Lynn 200
36 Eccentric Characters: A Spaceman and an Oil Can 206
37 The 2011 Collapse 211
38 Bobby Doerr 216
39 Chris Sale and Dealer Dave Dombrowski 221
40 Harry Agganis 227
41 Dice-K 232
42 The Greek God of Walks 237
43 Early Hall of Famers 243
44 The Dan Duquette Era 248
45 1946 253
46 Boggs 259
47 Ben Cherington 265
48 Pedroia 270
49 Schilling 275
50 A Legacy of Baseball Writers 280