By Mark Behan – February 23, 2013
“Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed.”
― Alexander Pope
From 1959 to 1966 the Boston Red Sox were, um, losers – as they did not post a winning record during that eight-year span. In fact the 1965 team lost a league-worst 100 games and the 1966 squad finished 9th among 10 teams in the American League with a record of 72 wins and 90 losses, 26 games behind the first-place Baltimore Orioles. Ouch!
A year later the Carl Yastrzemski-led Red Sox not only enjoyed a winning season but they also won the American League Championship, advanced to the World Series for the first time since 1946, and captured the hearts of New Englanders during what truly was an “Impossible Dream” season.
The 1967 Red Sox eventually fell to the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series, but not before reversing their 1966 regular-season record by winning 90 games and losing 72.
For the record, after 1966, the Red Sox would not lose 90 games in a season until last year’s Bobby Valentine-engineered train wreck – 46 years later – when they finished in last place at 69-93. Ugh!
The 2013 Red Sox season kicks off at Yankee Stadium on April 1. On the heels of an injury-plagued 93-loss campaign, the Sox, World Series champions in 2004 and 2007, enter this season with expectations lower than Lance Armstrong’s popularity.
But could the 2013 Red Sox pull off their own version of the Impossible Dream (The Sequel) and vault from worst to first in a year?
Anything is possible – as we learned in 1967, but it is highly unlikely.
This is not to say the 2013 sons of new skipper John Farrell will be cellar-dwellers. The folks in Vegas have set the over/under for Red Sox wins at 79.5. And that number seems about right. But as far winning 90 or more games and contending for the playoffs or a World Series berth (gulp!), well, let’s just say there’s a better chance of my wife’s being named the next Pope.
The American League East is not the strongest division in baseball. But there are too many unanswered questions concerning this $170 million Red Sox team (one of the highest payrolls in all of Major League Baseball) – to envision more than a .500 record and middle-of-the-division finish.
For the record I am not in the prediction / tea leaf business – the crystal ball has been sent out for polishing – but here are a few things I think I know about the 2013 Red Sox:
First off, Farrell, the team’s third manager in the past three years and the club’s former pitching coach, will be a huge improvement – as would your town’s dog catcher – over last season’s head honcho Bobby V. Valentine is not to blame for all of last season’s woes, but one season of Bobby V. was one season too many.
This off-season the Sox acquired a darn good relief pitcher by the name of Joel Hanrahan in a trade with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Hanrahan has 76 saves the past two years and made the 2011 and 2012 All-Star teams. He throws a very fast fastball (96-99 miles per hour), is built like a middle linebacker, and has the team’s coolest nickname, “The Hammer.”
In off-seasons past, the Red Sox tossed money at free agents as if they were the free-spending New York Yankees. Many of the deals failed miserably. This year, instead of plunking down $100 million for a big name with a big bat, the team acquired a cadre of “character” guys for reasonable cash. These nice guys can all still play; a few are former All-Stars who should be welcome additions to a clubhouse that sorely lacked integrity the past few years. You will find the personalities of Jonny Gomes, Ryan Dempster, Shane Victorino, David Ross, Mike Napoli and Hanrahan – to name a few – as pleasantly refreshing as Josh Beckett was surly.
What we don’t know about this team – among many things – is its health status.
Can the 2013 Red Sox team stay healthy – unlike the 2012 edition, where players spent more time on the disabled list than playing field? That’s the $170 million question.
And if the team does stay healthy, will its multi-million-dollar stars – guys like John Lester, Clay Bucholtz, Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz, Jacoby Ellsbury – produce?
In hindsight the 1967 Red Sox were not the most talented team in Major League Baseball. But the team’s best players played their best baseball that magical season. And that elevated the level of play of the supporting cast around them.
Pitcher Jim Lonborg won the 1967 Cy Young Award as the best pitcher in the American League. He was named to the All-Star team along with Rico Petrocelli, Tony Conigliaro and, of course, Carl Yastrzemski.
“Yaz” batted .326, swatted 44 home runs, and drove in 121 RBIs. He led the league in all three of these main offensive categories, along with most cigarettes smoked in the dugout between innings.
He achieved the Triple Crown, was the league’s Most Valuable Player and earned a Gold Glove for his fine defensive play in left field. That’s what I call production.
Will John Lester and/or Clay Bucholtz have a Jim Lonborg-like season in 2013? They are certainly talented enough. Will Ellsbury show the mental toughness of Tony C.? How about David Ortiz? Will his Achilles heel ever heal? And will he or Dustin Pedroia carry this team on his back like Yaz did in 1967?
We shall see. If not, well, at least the 2013 Sox will be a congenial bunch, though we know where nice guys usually finish.
Mark Behan may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org