Last year's Red Sox squad finished the year at 69-93, the first time since 1965 they failed to clear the 70-win mark (not counting the strike-shortened 1994 season). With that in mind, I took a look at previous Sox squads to reach that level of ignominy, and frankly it was depressing as hell. When I started writing this column, they had an outside shot at hitting the coveted 100-win mark, a total reached by only three teams in the 113-year history of the franchise. Even though last night's loss put that goal out of reach, however, their total would still put them in pretty impressive company historically.
Times reached in team history: Seven (1904, 1975, 1986, 2003, 2005, 2008, 2009)
The most recent of the 95-win teams, the 2009 edition, was also the last Sox squad to make it into October play. They didn't do much with the chance, swept out in the ALDS by Anaheim. It was an interesting team, actually, featuring among other fun things a truly spectacular season by Kevin Youkilis (.305/.413/.548 with 74 extra-base hits). Of the pre-2000 teams, each won an AL pennant. 1986 we shan't speak of, 1975 took the Big Red Machine to seven games, and 1904 would likely have won a pennant had the Giants agreed to play the World Series that year.
Times reached in team history: Three (1948, 1949, 2007)
A trio of historically significant teams, this. The 1948 team famously lost a one-game playoff for the AL title to Cleveland (there are still guys at the end of the bar in certain Southie pubs who will curse the name of Denny Galehouse). The 1949 team followed it up with one of the greatest pennant races in history, missing the playoffs when the Yankees swept a doubleheader on the final day of the season. (If you haven't read David Halberstam's "Summer of '49" about this season, fix that. Immediately.) The 2007 team, I think, did something cool.
Times reached in team history: One (1977)
The late-70's Red Sox teams are probably the ones I most regret not having been around for. Yaz, Rice, and Evans in the outfield, Pudge behind the plate, Tiant and Lee pitching... I've enjoyed almost all of the Sox teams I've gotten the chance to see, but there was something special about that group. Not to mention that I would have been able to read Peter Gammons writing about them on a daily basis, instead of his... successors. The '77 team tied for second in the East with Baltimore, falling just short of the Yankees.
Times reached in team history: One (2004)
This is a pretty damn nice precedent, actually, meaningless though it may be. And not entirely unfitting. The 2004 team was assembled with the mistakes and flaws of the previous year in mind. Well, really there was mostly that one "the manager doesn't know how to follow simple directions or count pitches" flaw. But it was fixed, and it turned out very well. This team also has more than a bit of that squad's swagger and flair, which is nice to see.
Times reached in team history: One (1978)
Let's just move along.
Times reached in team history: Three (1912, 1915, 1946)
The Red Sox have actually never won exactly 100 games, so that would've been an interesting first. But the 1915 championship team won 101 behind a great pitching staff led by Rube Foster (19-8, 2.11 ERA), Ernie Shore (19-8, 1.64), and Babe Ruth (18-8, 2.44). Ruth also led the team with four home runs, while Tris Speaker paced the offense with a .416 OBP and no homers at all. The entire Boston offense that year combined for 14, or as many as Shane Victorino has hit this year. It was a different time. The 1946 team, led by Ted Williams's .342/.492/.667 MVP year (after three years out of baseball fighting a war, reinforcing further that Ted Williams was ridiculous), won 104, made the World Series, and lost in seven to St. Louis. The 1912 team, the first to call Fenway Park home, won a franchise record 105 games, led again by Tris Speaker, and Smoky Joe Wood's absolutely absurd season: 34-5, a 1.91 ERA over 344 innings. They, too, brought a World Series title home.
After last year's fiasco, simply staying in the race for most of the year would have been welcome. But instead this team has surpassed any of our wildest expectations, and regardless of where it finishes the season, or how far it goes in October, it's already placed itself among the best teams in the franchise's history. Simply remarkable.
One final note, a fun reminder of how bizarre last year was and how spoiled we've been, relatively speaking, by the current ownership and front office.Of the seventeen seasons in which Boston has won at least 95 games, seven have come since 2003. And only one of those teams included Xander Bogaerts, so I'd say we're set up to see a few more before the decade's out.
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