The Red Sox, to their credit, did not ruin Christmas this year.
That’s not nothing, given their historic knack for it and what’s on the table this winter.
New England awoke on Dec. 26, 1967 — no doubt thousands having slept in Red Sox gear they’d received for the first Christmas after the “Impossible Dream” — to a front-page-of-the-Globe picture of Jim Lonborg, playing in the Lake Tahoe snow with future Bond girl Jill St. John. Taken three days prior, the accompanying story was decidedly less sunny: The Cy Young winner, 25 and ascendant, “suffered a serious knee injury” on his final ski run that day and “may need an operation.”
He had the operation later that week, and what was first reported as one damaged ligament in his left knee was actually two. Lonborg didn’t start a game until mid-June 1968, by which point the Red Sox were locked into the fourth-place spot they’d finish in. He spent much of his final 12 MLB seasons — the last eight elsewhere, after an October 1971 trade out of town — battling through shoulder pain that began when he tried to rush his recovery.
Jose Contreras spurned the Red Sox for the Yankees on Christmas Eve, 2002. New York swiped Mark Teixeira out from under Boston’s tree on Dec. 23, 2008, the first baseman perhaps helped to his decision by Alex Rodriguez, whose epic potential trade from Texas to the Red Sox died just before the holiday in 2003. And we haven’t even discussed the Sox essentially squandering Carlton Fisk and Fred Lynn in 1980 when Sox GM Haywood Sullivan didn’t mail them new contracts before a Dec. 20 deadline, or the sale of Babe Ruth on Dec. 26, 1919, because news of both didn’t break until much later.
100 years ago today, Babe Ruth was sold to the @Yankees for $100,000 by @RedSox owner Harry Frazee. At @SABRbioproject, here's the story behind The Babe's record-setting deal on December 26, 1919, by @MarkArmour04 & @dlevs1: https://t.co/13gBUKFnnZ #SABR pic.twitter.com/zqLf8zFusx
— SABR (@sabr) December 26, 2019
Those last two still sting when it gets cold, even if the wounds are long scarred over. As baseball moves, none of the others lingered near that long. Contreras was a journeyman, out of New York in fewer than two seasons. Not trading Manny Ramirez and Jon Lester for Rodriguez is one of the great non-moves in the history of the franchise, if not the sport, and the Sox were champions again midway through the deal the Yankees gave Teixeira, whose most productive years there were largely matched by Kevin Youkilis and Adrian Gonzalez. (The latter, to be fair, is a can of worms we’ll leave unopened today.)
The things we’re sure we know often up being wrong, and the final version of history often ends up a lot different than the initial draft. When the Red Sox acquired Joel Hanrahan to be their closer on the day after Christmas 2012, there’s likely not a person who thought Brock Holt would be the most valuable piece to either side in the end, never mind that he’d be it in a rout.
Or that, 18 years after John Henry’s group won the right to spend $700 million on the Red Sox on Dec. 20, 2001, we’d have four World Series titles in our collective trophy case, still have Fenway Park to bask in and kick around depending on your perspective, and have every reason to complain that an ownership that’s expended in excess of $3 billion on payroll is cheaping out at exactly the wrong time.
“Maybe John Henry and Tom Werner will be the best Boston sports owners since Walter Brown … but forgive me if I don’t trust these guys,” proclaimed Dan Shaughnessy in the Globe when Henry’s group won, dismissing them as “people who don’t know Fenway Park from Jellystone Park.” The Herald gave it the tabloid treatment: George Kimball called it all a “charade,” beneath a mocked-up Green Monster screaming “Visitors 1, Boston 0” because local ownership was spurned.
A higher bid from Cablevision boss Charles Dolan apparently was as well, but deeper study explained why the Yawkey Trust chose who it did, and I don’t think most anyone wants the state to reopen its investigation about it. There is some irony, given the current $208 million 2020 mandate, that Henry’s victory was spurred by a simple business truth: He was willing to spend the money for a product that warranted it.
“This was a rare, unique opportunity,” he told Seth Mnookin for 2007’s ‘Feeding the Monster,’ “to own one of the crown jewels of baseball.”
Mookie Betts is one of those, too, one of you just screamed, and you’re not wrong. As we and others have said, it’s fair to point out why the Red Sox want to reset their competitive balance tax penalties while also deriding the idea a sport with billions in annual revenues tumbling from its pockets is in desperate need for fiscal responsibility.
I will merely note, as we wait for Chaim Bloom and his team to do something bigger than Jose Peraza, Martin Perez, and Chris Mazza, that we have lived through recent times when most of us would’ve traded John Lackey, Hanley Ramirez, and David Price for the bag of used wrapping paper stuffed in your garbage this morning, and through times when the departures of the first two — Ramirez especially — brought much gnashing of teeth.
I don’t like that we’re here either, watching Toronto give Hyun-Jin Ryu $80 million and lamenting it means they were smart enough to spend it on him rather than one fewer season of Price, Boston’s similar potential ace with the similarly spotty medical history. I take solace in knowing we’ve been down similar dark roads quite a bit for a team with those aforementioned four championships in the time since Wikipedia and the iPod became things.
Baseball doesn’t get the benefit of the doubt when it’s trying to muscle the minor leagues. An owner with Henry’s history, who just added one of the game’s most renowned young baseball minds to a core that’s been here decades, does at least relatively, at least at this address.
At least until the axe drops. Or Xander Bogaerts decides to actually take up skiing.