...in 2004, the Boston Red Sox ended an 86-year drought and buried the "Curse of the Bambino." They won the World Series! Their sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals was almost but not quite anti-climactic. The pivotal battle had taken place in the American League championship against their nemesis, the New York Yankees. Down three games to none, and facing elimination, again, Boston did what no team had ever done before in baseball history. They came back to win the series 43. Then they took on and dispensed with the Cardinals. Jubilant Red Sox fans around the world celebrated. Three days later, an estimated 3,000,000 of them lined the parade route in Boston and cheered themselves hoarse as the victorious team passed by.
Story has it that there are more than a few tombstones in Massachusetts bearing the words "Not in my lifetime." Season after season, these diehard fans believed their beloved Red Sox would once again be world champions. But for 86 long years, it was not to be.
In 1901 a new American League team began playing in Boston: The Boston Americans. Two years later, the fledgling American League and the more established National League pitted their two best teams against each other in the first World Series. The American League entry was the Boston Americans, led by legendary pitcher Cy Young. The National League pennant winner was the Pittsburgh Pirates. Both teams had devoted and energetic fans, known as rooters, and when Boston won the contest, it captured national attention.
In late 1907, the team adopted the name Red Sox, and in 1912 constructed a brand-new ballpark, which writer John Updike would describe as "the lyric little bandbox of a park. Everything is painted green and seems in curiously sharp focus, like the inside of an old-fashioned Easter egg." Fenway Park, built on the filled-in mudflats of Boston's Back Bay, is the oldest park in professional baseball.
Triumphant years followed as the Red Sox won four World Series titles (1912, 1915, 1916, and 1918) in seven years. Outfielders Tris Speaker, Harry Hooper, and Duffy Lewis, and southpaw pitcher Babe Ruth created a formidable team. And then it ended. Team owner Harry Frazee, mired in debt, began to gut the team. One by one he sold his best players, let the general manager go, and then in January 1920, sold Babe Ruth (the "Bambino") to the Yankees. In the next decade, the New York team won six pennants; Boston finished last five times. That, it is said, is when the "curse of the Bambino" began.
Thomas Yawkey bought the dismal team in 1933 and slowly began to breathe life back into it. Over the years, he added talented players like Bobby Doer, Joe Cronin, Johnny Pesky, Ted Williams, Carlton Fisk all ultimately destined for the Baseball Hall of Fame. In 1946 the Sox won the American League Championship for the first time since 1918, before losing the World Series to the Cardinals in seven games.
Twenty-one years later would come 1967, the year Red Sox fans dubbed "The Impossible Dream," the team rose from the previous year's ninth-place finish to win a tight pennant race. Carl Yastrzemski was the star, leading the team to the World Series against the Cardinals again. And again they lost the critical seventh game.
Dennis Eckersely, former Sox pitcher inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2004, described the team's fans as the "ultimate manic-depressive fan base." Hard to imagine how it could be otherwise. In 1975 and again in 1986 the team lost the World Series, both times in seven games. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the Sox won one division title after another only to accumulate a losing streak of 13 post season games, which they finally snapped in 1998.
In 2002 a group of investors led by John Henry, Tom Werner, and Larry Lucchino bought the team. They hired Theo Epstein, at 28 the youngest general manager ever. In 2003 the team came close, oh so close, before losing in heartbreaking fashion to the hated Yankees.
2004. A sign on Storrow Drive in Boston had been altered: instead of "Reverse Curve," it read "Reverse the Curse." No one admitted to changing it, and the D.P.W. left it in place. Bumper stickers on cars and banners flying outside homes proclaimed (with a note of desperation): "We Believe." The Sox won the Wild Card spot in the playoffs. And then it began all over again. Red Sox Nation seemed heading for another bitter disappointment. In the third game of the American League series, New York crushed the Sox 198 to take a 30 lead. One nail-biting game followed another31, 32, 33. Bleary-eyed fans shuffled into work the morning after each incredible win, exchanging tremulous smiles. Could it be? Was this the year? Indeed it was.
Only three years later, the Red Sox did it again. After coming from behind to defeat the Cleveland Indians for the American League pennant, the Red Sox swept the Colorado Rockies to win another World Series. Once again, on October 30, 2007, the team mounted the "duck boats" at Fenway Park for a triumphant victory parade through Boston.
Boston's Ballparks & Arenas, by Alan E. Foulds (University Press of New England, 2005).
The First World Series and the Baseball Fanatics of 1900, by Roger I. Abrams, (Northeastern University Press, 2003).