I don’t think we, as a society, talk enough about how absurd the last few years of Red Sox history has been. When we stop and think about it, of course it’s obvious that it’s been a strange few years. If we’re honest with ourselves, though, it really isn’t talked about enough. There have been so many ups and downs, from championships to multiple rock bottoms, that I’m struggling to come up with a comparable example. With this in mind, Jeff Sullivan of Fangraphs had an interesting question that he took to a poll last week that I think warrants further discussion.
Obviously you should click on the link for a broader explanation, but I’ll give the bullet points here. Sullivan asks who you, as a fan of baseball, would rather root for: the Red Sox from 2012-2015, or the Tigers from 2011-2014. Essentially, he’s asking if you’d rather follow a team that was mostly bad but did win a championship, or a team that was consistently good but never took home the ultimate prize.
To me, the answer is the 2012-2015 Red Sox and it's not particularly close. I won’t pretend this answer comes without bias. I’ve followed this team incredibly closely during this stretch, and have a strong connection with it. With that being said, I think an objective person can come to this same conclusion. The easy way to argue it would be to simply state "Flags fly forever. End of story." It would be a fair argument. I won’t resort to that, though. Not only because I couldn’t make a full post out of two sentences, but also because there are legitimate reasons that the run in its entirety — not just 2013 — was one that I will look back on with fondness for a long time.
I like to remind myself every so often that sports is an entertainment business, and as long as I’m entertained by what I’m watching, I can’t complain. And man, have the Red Sox been entertaining. Think about every year in this four-year stretch. With each season came high expectations. As Sullivan noted in his original post, 2013 was supposed to be the worst team of the bunch. With those high expectations come excitement early on in the year. When the team plays well, it’s obviously fun to watch. When they play poorly, it can be extremely fun to see the reactions and the fallout. Let’s look at each of these years and why all of them were fun even if the end results sucked.
Photo credit: Al Bello/Getty Images
Ah, the year of Bobby V. Do I even need to say more? There was nothing more entertaining than Bobby Valentine: Red Sox manager. Back in these days, I listened to fair amount of sports radio. On a weekly basis, there were few things I looked forward to more than Valentine’s WEEI appearances. The man was a walking story and he turned the clubhouse into a legitimate sitcom. And who among us doesn’t enjoy sitcoms?
This was also the year of the Punto Trade. It’s almost impossible to overstate how exciting it was to watch this deal unfold. We saw Adrian Gonzalez go on waivers, but of course that didn’t mean anything. Everyone goes on waivers! Then, it all happened. One by one, we learned the names going to Los Angeles, and the prospects coming back to Boston. Everyone dreams of a bad team doing a complete reset, but the 2012 Red Sox actually did that.
Finally, do you remember the lineups they were trotting out there at the end of the year? Look at the batting order for October 1. Look at it! Pedro Ciriaco leading off! Mauro Gomez batting fourth! Che-Hsuan Lin! That’s the definition of "so bad it’s good."
This is probably the dullest year of the four-season stretch. We were all still on the high from the 2013 championship that last year just bored us. It was too soon after winning to really care too much, and there wasn’t a ton happening that was worth paying attention to. One thing that was happening, though, was the Jon Lester saga. There were so many opinions on this and it was fascinating to discuss. How much money does he really deserve? How bad was the preseason lowball offer? If he really an "ace?" We all know how it ended, but at the time it was one of the more divisive baseball discussions in recent memory.
On a somewhat related note, the trade deadline was also a fascinating time to be a Red Sox fan. There had surely been some bad years before this, but it was the first time in forever that Boston was in a selling position at the deadline. Both Lester and John Lackey were big trade chips and no one knew how they’d be used. Eventually, Yoenis Cespedes, Joe Kelly and Allen Craig came back, with Ben Cherington opting for current talent over prospects. In hindsight it looks horrible, but it didn’t look like one last year. There were certainly some who didn’t like the strategy, but it was more of a fun, divisive discussion than a clear mistake.
I don’t really need to say much about this current season. We are living it right now, and it’s still fresh in our minds. Clearly, it’s been a miserable time, right? In terms of performance, of course. In terms of story lines, not so much. We’ve watched Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts grow before our eyes. We’ve watched David Ortiz come back to life at age 39. We’ve watched a farm system continue to grow in depth and take big strides. Even on the negative side of things, the drama surrounding Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval has been quite the story to follow. There was an Honest-To-God Instagram controversy! What a time to be alive.
Clearly, this is where the four-year stretch was made. For as entertaining as the three bad seasons have been, it wouldn’t beat four good teams without the crown jewel in 2013. That team was just so much fun. Everyone was a joy to watch that season. Jonny Gomes was a total goof in the field. Mike Napoli was what every beer league softballer aspires to be, down to drunkenly walking the streets of Boston with no shirt and a cigarette dangling from his mouth. Lester was a force in the playoffs. Lackey had an amazing comeback season. Clay Buchholz was one of the best pitchers in baseball for half the season. So on and so forth. I could write thousands of words on how fun this team was.
Like I said, I’m not going to provide an objective answer to this question, being a Red Sox fan and all. However, I think it’s clear that the 2012-2015 Red Sox were better to root for than the 2011-2014 Tigers. The championship puts it over the top, but even the losing seasons were fun in retrospect. From Bobby Valentine to Carl Crawford to Pablo Sandoval, there have been fun "villains." From The Punto Trade to the Lester saga to Betts and Bogaerts, there have been fascinating story lines. Ten, twenty, fifty years from now, we’ll still be talking about this absurd stretch of Red Sox teams. Even if it's been miserable at times, every season have been fun enough that I wouldn't trade the championship for better surrounding seasons.