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Pieces in place for what would rank as a dynasty

Red Sox slugger David Ortiz hoisted the World Series trophy to fans on Tremont Street during yesterday's parade. The team's recent successes have been built on the signing of free agents such as Ortiz, judicious trades, and the grooming of young talent. Red Sox slugger David Ortiz hoisted the World Series trophy to fans on Tremont Street during yesterday's parade. The team's recent successes have been built on the signing of free agents such as Ortiz, judicious trades, and the grooming of young talent. (Barry Chin/Globe Staff)

The pinstriped standard is 26 World Series championships, including 10 won by the Yankees between 1947 and 1962. That was baseball's definition of a dynasty back when players were bound to one team for life.

With that dominance, the Yankees became the most-watched, most-admired, most-feared, and most-resented team. What qualifies as a dynasty now? "I would think three in a row, something like that," said Philadelphia general manager Pat Gillick. "It's very difficult. Two in a row is a doable. Three is probably over and above the call of duty."

If the Red Sox can win again next season, the team will have claimed three crowns in five seasons. In a topsy-turvy era when no club has repeated since 2000, that would be remarkable. Yet the Red Sox are well-positioned to pull it off. They have locked up most of their top players for several more years and have the best young talent in the game.

"They have a good organization, a good foundation and they're packing the house," said Detroit GM Dave Dombrowski, whose club played in last year's Series. "They have a lot of good things happening."

Certainly, longtime Boston fans are familiar with what dynasty really means. They witnessed the aura of both envy and resentment that surrounded the Celtics, who claimed 11 NBA titles in 13 years, and the Patriots, who won three Super Bowls in four seasons.

For decades, the Yankees have had the richest tradition of any sports team, with immortals like Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, and Reggie Jackson and, more recently, Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez. Yet their perennial success and a perceived attitude of arrogance and entitlement also made them the most hated club of all. Rooting for the Yankees, it was said during their heyday, was like rooting for US Steel.

In Boston, there's euphoria now about the recent role reversal between the sport's two most storied and bitter rivals. After 86 years of emptiness, winning two titles in four seasons changed how long-suffering Red Sox Nation feels about the club, which has been transformed from star-crossed loser to odds-defying victor.

"In 2004, there was the release of a million souls," said Hall of Fame chief curator Ted Spencer, a Quincy native who was named after Ted Williams. "Now, there are going to be expectations that will put more pressure on the team."

One of the biggest changes to baseball came in 1976, when the sport abolished the reserve clause. Until then, players could not move freely from one team to another. But with the landmark ruling that all changed, creating tremendous mobility for players and instability for teams. Since then, only two franchises have won consecutive Series - the Yankees in 1977-78 and from 1998-2000 and the Toronto Blue Jays in 1992-93.

And the Yankees, who will be without longtime manager Joe Torre, Rodriguez and probably several other top stars next year, will be rebuilding after losing the divisional title for the first time in a decade. How will this go over? Any season that does not end with champagne and a ring is considered a failure in the Bronx.

"After we lost the 2001 Series [to Arizona] in the bottom of the ninth inning of the seventh game, we went to spring training," said Torre, "and our fans are saying, 'we'll do better next year.' Every time we go to postseason, there's nothing that's going to satisfy anybody unless you win the World Series. And that's very difficult."

Until recently the goal for the Sox, who have won seven titles in 104 years, has been more modest, with the team's management patiently assembling a club with enough talent and character to play October baseball more often than not. "Giving us a chance to have a chance," manager Terry Francona observed.

The newfound success and stability have been by design, with owner John Henry and his front office spending lavishly on a few free agents (most notably $100 million pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka), making judicious trades (for pitcher Josh Beckett and third baseman Mike Lowell, the Series MVP) and developing future stars such as center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury, second baseman Dustin Pedroia and pitchers Jonathan Papelbon, Jon Lester, and Clay Buchholz.

If baseball dynasties are decidedly shorter now, it's because free agency has made it more expensive both to keep players and to acquire them. The Yankees, who won two titles right after players went on the open market, didn't manage another for 18 years.

"Free agency was important, but divisional play had a big impact also," said Dan Desrocher, a baseball historian and author. "It changed the whole scenario. In the last eight years, you've had 12 teams in the World Series."

The wild card, which goes to the best second-place finisher in each league, gives more clubs an incentive to keep striving in September. Three of them - the 2002 Angels, 2003 Marlins, and 2004 Red Sox - have won the last six crowns. "When it comes to the World Series," said Desrochers, "it seems the `Team of Destiny' goes all the way through."

But not this year. The Rockies were cast in that Cinderella role, having won a historic 21 of 22 games to reach the Series before being swept. The Red Sox simply had too much of everything and most of it will return next year. But champions have proven to be remarkably vulnerable during the past seven years.

"If you have an injury to one of your major contributors, it changes everything," said Philadelphia GM Gillick. "Those people are very difficult to replace. You lose a guy like Beckett and all of a sudden you have to fill 20 wins."

That's what happened in 1968, when star pitcher Jim Lonborg tore up his knee skiing during the winter and Boston went from first to fourth; the team didn't win another pennant until 1975. "Is this a dynasty? The first answer is, it's a little early yet," said the Hall of Fame's Spencer. "You need a few years down the line and see how many things fall into place."

John Powers can be reached at jpowers@globe.com.

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