Tonight’s Lineup: A Crash Course on Red Sox History
By Brendan Shea
For baseball rookies, the following is a digest of the important figures,
essential factoids and historical moments in Red Sox history
George Herman “Babe” Ruth
Born on February 6, 1895 in Baltimore, Maryland in a poor waterfront neighborhood. In 1902, he was sent to the St. Mary’s Industrial School for Boys (a reformatory) and legally removed from his parents’ care. In 1914, Babe debuted with the Boston Red Sox, where he remained until 1919, becoming one of the best hitters—and pitchers—of the time. In 1920, his contract was sold to the New York Yankees for $100,000. Thanks to his enormous appetite and reckless lifestyle, Ruth became a legendary figure during the Roaring Twenties, even appearing in several films. He retired in June 1935 with 714 career home runs, a record that wasn’t broken until 1974, by Hank Aaron. Ruth died of throat cancer on August 16, 1948, leaving much of his estate to the Babe Ruth Foundation for underprivileged children.
Catcher for the Red Sox from 1918–1920. Schang is generally considered to be the greatest offensive catcher of the World War I era.
Red Sox Manager Edward Grant Barrow won the 1918 World Series in his first year with the Red Sox, but managed the team for only two more years. Upon leaving Boston, Barrow was hired by the New York Yankees as the business manager; he built the Yankees into baseball’s premier franchise and arguably greatest dynasty as their top executive from 1921 to 1945.
Thomas Austin Yawkey
Lumber and iron magnate Tom Yawkey became president of the Red Sox in 1933. He was the sole owner of the team for forty-four seasons, longer than anyone in baseball history. The Red Sox had been at the bottom of their league for more than a decade—ever since Yawkey’s predecessor, Harry Frazee, had sold Babe Ruth. Determined to turn the team around, Yawkey bought as many talented players as possible. He heavily renovated Fenway Park, which had fallen into disrepair over the years. He also served as American League Vice President between 1956 and 1973. Jersey Street, the street that Fenway Park is on, has been renamed YawkeyWay in his honor.
Joe Cronin was a star player from 1926 to 1945 and manager from 1933 to 1947. For a time, Cronin played shortstop for the Red Sox and managed the team simultaneously, retiring as a player in 1945, but remaining manager until 1947. Cronin passed on signing both Jackie Robinson and a young Willie Mays, and never fielded an African-American player during his tenure as General Manager. In January 1959, Cronin was elected president of the American League, the first former player to be elected.
Willie “The Say Hey Kid” Mays, Jr. is a retired American baseball player who played the majority of his career with the New York and San Francisco Giants before finishing with the New York Mets. He was part of the first wave of African-American baseball players to be fielded by major league teams following Jackie Robinson’s breaking of the color barrier. During the twenty-one seasons in his major league career (1951–1973), Willie Mays slammed over 600 home runs and 3,000 base hits. Mays was also one of the finest defensive outfielders and best baserunners in baseball, winning twelve consecutive Gold Glove awards and appearing in twenty-four All- Star games. Mays was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1979, his first year of eligibility. Many consider Willie Mays to be the greatest all-around player of all time.
THE RED SOX CURSE
Between their 1918 and 2004 World Series victories, the Red Sox had a number of extremely close—but disastrous—World Series losses. Fans began to blame this perennial letdown on a “Curse,” possibly originating with the sale of Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees in 1920. Harry Frazee, theatrical producer and owner of the Red Sox, was said to have sold Ruth to finance his newest Broadway play, Frank Mandel’s My Lady Friends. This play would later be adapted into the successful musical No, No, Nanette. In addition, Frazee was reportedly unhappy with Ruth’s widely reported boisterous behavior and his unwillingness to continue as a pitcher. The sale resulted in a string of almost incomprehensible Red Sox failures, and a bitter rivalry between the underdog Sox and powerhouse Yankees.
1946 World Series
Enos Slaughter led the St. Louis Cardinals to a World Series win over the Boston Red Sox when, in the final game of the series, he made a famous “Mad Dash” from first base to home plate, scoring the winning run after a delayed relay throw by Red Sox shortstop Johnny Pesky. Some historians say that Pesky assumed Slaughter would not run all the way to home, and checked first base before throwing to home plate. Critics would vilify Pesky for “holding the ball” for decades to come; however, he has redeemed himself in the eyes of all Red Sox fans by his unflagging loyalty to the club. Pesky’s nickname today is “Mr. Red Sox.”
1975 World Series
In one of the most iconic moments in sports history, Carlton Fisk scored the winning run in Game 6 of the 1975 World Series against the Cincinnati Reds; as the ball flew close to foul territory, Fisk leapt along the first base line, magically “waving” the ball fair. The wave worked, the ball landed fair and Fisk scored a home run. However, the Sox could not follow through. They lost the seventh and deciding game of the Series to the Reds.
Early in the 1978 season, the Sox seemed invincible, with a fourteengame lead over the Yankees. This ended abruptly during the “Boston Massacre,” in which the Yankees gained on the Boston lead, then won four games at Fenway, tying the two teams for the American League East title. In a tie-breaking playoff game, Yankee Bucky Dent (a highly unlikely slugger) hit a three-run homer to win it for the Yankees. To this day, he’s known to Sox fans as “Bucky ****ing Dent.”
1986 World Series
The Sox headed into Game Six having won three games to the New York Mets’ two. The Red Sox were one out away from winning the World Series, when the Mets suddenly staged one of the most amazing comebacks in history. “A little routine grounder” hit by the Mets’ Mookie Wilson in the tenth inning rolled under Red Sox first baseman Bill Buckner’s glove. Then through his legs. Then into right field, allowing Ray Knight to score the winning run. This forced a seventh game, which the Mets won, along with the World Series title.
THE BIG GAME
The action of Johnny Baseball is framed by the most important game in the historic 2004 Red Sox season:
2004 American League Championship Series, Game 4
Every World Series is played between the top American League team and the top National League team. In 2004, the Red Sox and their nemesis, the Yankees played a best-of-seven contest to decide who would move on to the World Series. The first teamto win four games would be the American League champion. The Red Sox had lost the first three games of the American League Championship Series to the Yankees. If the Yankees won Game Four, the series was over. Boston fans were despondent. No team had ever come back from trailing three games to none.
This epic game became tied in the ninth inning and lasted three extra innings, about five hours total, until a home run from David “Big Papi” Ortiz won the game for Boston. Against all odds, the Red Sox won the next three games in a row, defeating the Yankees, then easily winning four more games to sweep the 2004 World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals. Game Four of the American League Championship Series was the turning point in the Red Sox’s path to victory. When Johnny Baseball begins, it is the fifth inning of Game Four and the Yankees lead 2 to 1. Boston is at bat. Manny Ramirez has just been walked, and the bases are loaded. There is hope…but not much.
Brendan Shea is a second-year dramaturgy student in the A.R.T./MXAT Institute for Advanced Theater Training at Harvard University.