Boston Red Sox fans are guaranteed to go to their graves with smiles on their faces after winning three World Series championships. Following 80 years without one and before the curse was broken in 2004, they were one of the most lovable losing teams in all of baseball. They were like the Chicago Cubs, except they were better. They were always knocking on the door of a championship, but for years they couldn’t find a way to squeeze through the opening, and yet people adored them. Fans far and wide sang “Sweet Caroline” along with the Fenway faithful during the seventh-inning stretch, they cheered when Carlton Fisk bounced out of the batter’s box, waiving a homerun fair in Game 6 of the 1976 World Series, and they cried when they heard the call from Vin Scully in the 10th inning of the 1986 World Series. “Little roller up along first, behind the bag, it gets through Buckner, here comes Knight and the Mets win it.”
The Cubs on the other hand are just terrible, and have been for years. They haven’t given fans much to cheer about in the last century, which makes sense why they took out so much aggression, and shouted so much vitriol at Steve Bartman—the turtleneck wearing, headphone sporting fan who may have obstructed Moises Alou from making a play down the third baseline in Game 6 of the NLCS against the Marlins. The Cubs are the Holy Grail of lovable losers, with legendary Wrigley Field, the ivy that covers the outfield wall, the rowdy bleachers full of fans and the rooftop deck seating. The Red Sox were lovable losers on a whole different level. They were always so close, and now that they have achieved the highest prize for a MLB team, a World Series championship, not once, twice, but three times in the last ten years, their lure is not as appealing as it once was—at least for fans who wouldn’t consider themselves Sox fans, or to casual fans of the game.
Today’s rendition of the Boston Red Sox is different than it was from 1918-2004. For 86 years they were the lovable losers, and today they are lovable in a Duck Dynasty, “I love them big beards” kind of a way. Year in and year out they put a good group of ballplayers back together that are scrappy, hard-nosed and big time warriors on the ball field. What’s not to like about players tugging their teammate’s thick, lumberjack beard after a home run? Not much. It feels like a throwback to an older era where players were grimy, dirty and smelly, as opposed to the eyebrow plucking stars that litter some of the MLB rosters today. It feels real, and there’s a grit to their team that would make John Wayne jealous. While they are no longer lovable losers, and despite high payrolls and three championships in the last ten years, somehow they are still able to pull off being lovable winners.
Although the Red Sox still have the ability to be a lovable team, it’s not the same as before the curse was broken. In one sense, a lot of it had to do with the disdain from most baseball fans against the New York Yankees. Everyone outside of the Yankee faithful wanted to see the evil empire go down. People got tired of hearing about the 27 World Series championships, about George Steinbrenner and the Bronx bombers. Year in and year out, the Red Sox appeared to be the team that would challenge the Yankees in the AL East, but time after time they came up short. Fans who rooted for them to finally get over the hump slowly fell for the lovable losers, but now that they’ve won three championships, and have the fourth highest payroll in baseball, part of the allure that attracted so many fans in the past is gone. Sure, they’re still lovable, but somehow it just feels different.
Commentary by Johnny Caito