When Last They Were Terrible

How long has it been since Boston lost 90 games? The last time it happened, Omar Vizquel hadn't been born yet. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

So that was quite the Pats win yesterday, yeah? The thing that's great about the Patriots over the last decade is how utterly boring they are to watch against mediocre teams. Against lousy teams, they'll just blow the doors off, and it's really impressive in a brutal kind of way. Against good teams, they play exciting football, and it's always a joy to observe the way Brady and Belichick try to exploit the weaknesses of a solid club. But against the teams in the middle of the pack, it's all business. Pure ho-hum football, no frills, no excitement, just an everyday 20-point beatdown. That's the sign of a truly great franchise, and it's the sort of thing I can recall seeing from the Red Sox as recently as last July.

But it's been a while now since the Red Sox were that sort of team. Every game is a struggle, except the games against truly good teams, which are miserable soul-sucking beatdowns. Boston's currently sporting a record of 63-78, four losses from their first losing season since the Clinton Administration. And we're all in a state of resigned acceptance, which is impressive, given how unfamiliar this situation is to modern-day Red Sox fans. How unfamiliar? Well...

The last time the Red Sox had a losing record...

The year was 1997. Boston finished 78-84, 20 games back of the division-winning Orioles, and one game behind the third-place Detroit Tigers. Yes, that's how long it's been, the Tigers were still in the AL East, and the Milwaukee Brewers were still in the AL. Boston's leader in innings was Tim Wakefield, who threw 201.1 innings of 4.25 ERA ball. The rotation was rounded out by Tom Gordon, Aaron Sele, Jeff Suppan (in his original go-round with Boston), and Steve Avery. John Wasdin even got in seven starts. (Note to the youngest among us. Anytime you complain about the relief pitching, and find an older fan laughing uproariously, it's because of Wasdin.) It wasn't all bad news for Boston, of course, since 1997 marked the first full season by a 23-year-old shortstop named Nomar Garciaparra, who hit .306/.342/.534 and won Rookie of the Year. In addition, the offseason following their fourth-place finish saw the acquistion via trade of a slender righty named Pedro Martinez, who did all right for himself around here.

The last time the Red Sox had a top-ten draft pick...

The year was 1993. The previous season had seen Boston finish dead last in the AL East, 23 games back of the eventual World Champion Toronto Blue Jays. (Incidentally, this was also the last time the Red Sox finished in last place.) Not much went right for the 1992 Red Sox. The team leader in home runs was Tom Brunansky, with 15, and no, that's not a misprint. They were the only Boston team since 1981 to score fewer than 600 runs in a full season. Basically the lone bright spot was Roger Clemens, who went 18-11 with a 2.41 ERA, good for 8.4 rWAR, and third in the Cy Young voting. Because Cy voters were not what you'd call overly bright. When the following June rolled around, and Boston was able to leverage their awfulness into the seventh overall pick, they took a high school outfielder from North Carolina named Christopher Trotman Nixon. Boston's hat-cleaning community would never recover.

The last time the Red Sox lost 90 games...

It was 1966. Boston finished 72-90, and deserved every loss. Strong offensive showings from George Scott, Rico Petrocelli, Tony Conigliaro, and Carl Yastrzemski weren't enough to overcome what was, for the time, fairly mediocre pitching. The '66 Sox lost 16(!) games in extras, and 32 one-run games. The next year, of course, was slightly better. In addition, Boston didn't finish last that year. That honor went to the New York Yankees. It may not be coincidental that these teams were two of the last in the AL to integrate their rosters.

The Boston Red Sox have a long-standing reputation as a team whose default setting is pain. And to a certain extent, that's been true for most of franchise history. Boston's consistently been a team that's not quite good enough, always one game short or one crucial error away from the big prize. Obviously, that's seen a big shift in the last decade, which has been arguably the most successful in franchise history. But looking back on teams past, it's impressive to see how rarely the Red Sox have been actively terrible. There was a stretch in the 60s, leading up to the aforementioned 1966 season, in which Boston was down near the bottom of the division every year. And the twenties were a completely lost decade. And even with all that, Boston's lost more than 90 games 11 times in its 112-year history. Kansas City's lost more than 90 games 11 times since 1997.

None of this makes this year any easier to handle. In some ways, it even makes it harder, since it reinforces exactly how strange this season has been. All in all, the Red Sox have had it pretty good for the last few decades. And they need to get back to that as swiftly as possible. Because this sitting in last while the Orioles compete for first place thing ain't gonna stand.

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