For all the decades we spent bemoaning Red Sox failures to win a championship, the toxic stew we’re seeing this season is rare. Eighty-six years and curses duly noted, the Sox have been more frequently mediocre than 12-22 bad. Only once since 1934 have they lost this much, this soon, and it was 24 years ago with a team “likeable and downright interesting,” as Chad Finn wrote in his paean to 1996.
More than that, when they have been truly heinous to watch and support, the darkest days of the Red Sox have almost always managed to produce an ember. Consider, if I may delay talking about this year’s seat-fillers — understandably, but also now sadly absent Mitch Moreland — for as long as possible:
• In 1906, Boston went 49-105, one of only five seasons in which they’ve lost at a pace worse than this year’s. The Americans’ starting catcher since their birth, Lou Criger, was ineffective that season due to a morphine addiction — shout out to “Red Sox Century” — and gave way to a succession of potential replacements. Among them was a Mainer fresh out of Holy Cross, Bill “Rough” Carrigan, who retired 10 years later as the player-manager leader of back-to-back world champions, and whose gushing admirers include Babe Ruth, who called him the best manager he ever played for.
• Boston’s other four worst teams all came between 1925-32, during the cash-strapped ownership of Bob Quinn. Somehow, losing 315 games in a three-year stretch from 1925-27 is just the start. When a barely maintained Fenway Park had a massive fire in May 1926, Quinn left it burned out and spent the insurance money on payroll. The franchise finally bottomed at 43-111 in 1932, oft-mentioned of late as the 2020 squad chases the six more wins it needs to better that .279 winning percentage. At least that year and the rampaging Depression finally shook Quinn loose, replaced by Tom Yawkey’s money. Which, noting nothing else about his legacy, can be thanked for rebuilding Fenway into the version now in baseball lore.
• The last 100-game loser in Red Sox history came in 1965, a seventh straight sub-.500 season that coincided with the last days of, and the days following, Ted Williams. Drawing barely 8,000 fans per game, and just 1,247 for Dave Morehead’s September no-hitter was finally enough to get Yawkey to dismiss Pinky Higgins, a status-quo loving Texan in every awful way you can imagine during the 1950s and 60s. Within 24 months, Yaz was captain, a prospect-laden roster was turning heads under former Triple-A manager Dick Williams, and the modern era of Red Sox baseball was underway.
You get the point. The listless early ’90s teams of Butch Hobson led to Dan Duquette, a modern front office, and the underpinnings of the 2004 team. Bobby Valentine’s 2012 debacle begat building around chemistry and veterans with something to prove in 2013. Almost every cloud in Red Sox history has had a silver lining, so there’s no reason to think even these Not Ready For 162 Games players can’t be redeemed.
Especially when fanless games, a shortened schedule, and a distracted world have given Chaim Bloom every opportunity to rip this thing down to the studs with minimal blowback.
“At the end of the day, to do what we’re trying to do over the time period that we’re trying to do it, we need talent throughout the system. We need waves of it,” Bloom said Sunday, discussing Moreland’s trade to San Diego for a pair of 20-something position players, Hudson Potts and Jeisson Rosario, who were in the Padres’ top 30 prospects. “That, we think, has to be our first priority when we’re looking at trade returns in this context.”
Just 14 players remain from the 2018 world champions, with Bloom — only the chief baseball officer for 10 months — stewarding the trades of Mookie Betts, David Price, Brandon Workman, Heath Hembree, Moreland, and whoever will follow them before the 4 p.m. Monday deadline. This, also, is not unique. When Dick O’Connell took over for the disgraceful Higgins in 1966, he largely just emptied the minors to see what he had. Duquette’s 1994 Red Sox used an MLB-leading 45 players and 23 pitchers. Among them were many of the day’s Dylan Coveys and Zack Godleys and Ryan Webers and Kyle Harts and Andrew Triggses.
It is the nature of a true rebuild. What comes today, whatever it is or isn’t, will be too. Blessed be the ones who only have to watch the pieceparts play games for two months instead of six.
In 2007, the Red Sox won their second World Series in four years, with a core that included no less than five players — Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, Jonathan Papelbon, and Jon Lester — who were significant parts of the title parade well before free agency. It felt like the start of something big. Four years later, it hadn’t yielded so much as another pennant, and John Henry was crashing sports radio to defend his honor to a rightfully enraged fan base.
Nothing is guaranteed, ever. Betts becoming the face of baseball in Los Angeles and eventually ending their title drought won’t make trading him wrong. Nor will Bloom being the wrong guy to spend the largesse saved by letting Betts go. This is not to defend the trade: I am standing by my initial pronouncement on the deal of, “I get it, but I hate it.“
The point is, simply, we have been here before. And we have been here with far less.
Alex Verdugo has baggage and much to learn, but he’s also got promise. Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers remain a potential decade-plus infield pairing. Eduardo Rodriguez still has his potential. Pawtucket’s final days include its usual mix of possible future stars. And if flipping a stopgap first baseman like Moreland to a team dying to end a playoff drought can net what it did, who knows what Bloom can wrench from the Mets or anyone else for Christian Vazquez, or Matt Barnes, or Ryan Brasier, or Kevin Pillar, or Jackie Bradley Jr.*
(Note: Trading Bradley Jr. after his actions, and notably those of his teammates, in the last 96 hours would be something else. And yet, they traded Betts and thought moving start times to 7:30 p.m. would be a good idea, so assume anything’s on the table.)
Whatever the final record reads, this calendar year has been as embarrassing as any the Red Sox have had in recent history. Any fan they’ve truly lost has every right to walk and multiple reasons they can point to. But that also means better days must be ahead, and history tells us they will begin on a day like this.
It’s deadline day. And whatever that means for the current roster, it’s end will mean something else, as Sept. 1 is luxury tax reset day. Gross that’s something we have to celebrate.
But it beats not getting to.