With this past season in the books for the Red Sox — and all but eight of the other 29 teams as well —so is the latest decade of baseball history. The next time we’ll see this Boston team, in whatever form it takes, on the field it will be 2020, which is both mind blowing in the weird way the standard passage of time tends to be as well as something I hadn’t really thought about while the season was going on. As the decade comes to a close, it seems as though this team will be heading into another transitionary period as we enter the 2020s.
Before we get to the next decade, though, we have to get some closure on the one that just passed. No sane person would argue that the last season of the 2010s was anything but a massive disappointment. One could certainly argue that our collective expectations heading into the year were perhaps too grandiose, but expecting the team to be out of playoff contention for the final month of the year would have been absurd. If we had strangely specific magical powers that only allowed us to change the outcomes of baseball seasons — I would not watch this origin story, for what it’s worth — every one of us would obviously change what just happened in 2019. That being said, the season that just was ended up being a poetic and fitting ending to what was a positively chaotic decade for the Red Sox.
Let’s go back ten years in the past. Yours truly was just starting college, the Black Eyed Peas were ruling the music world and Paranormal Activity was freaking everyone the hell out. A strange time to be alive to be sure. On top of that, the Red Sox were fresh off an ALDS sweep at the hands of the Angels and were forced to watch the Yankees march through the postseason and win a championship.
They were heading into a new decade looking to answer that. So, they signed Adrian Beltre and John Lackey. They had traded for Victor Martinez in the previous season and were about the start their first (and ultimately only) full season with him behind the plate. We were, unbeknownst to us at the time, to be introduced to Daniel Nava for the first time later in the summer. It was the season Daniel Bard lit the world on fire out of the bullpen. Through all of that, the Red Sox would win 89 games but miss out on the playoffs.
That first year of the decade was certainly eventful for the reasons mentioned above and more, but in hindsight it was arguably the least notable year of the decade. Let’s take a quick walk through some history, shall we? The team reacted to that missed playoff berth by trading for Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford, forming the best team ever. Except, well, they would instead suffer one of the greatest collapses in the history of the sport culminating in an indescribably heartbreaking night on the last day of the season. It also saw Jacoby Ellsbury absolutely robbed of an MVP, an injustice for which I will never forgive the BBWAA.
Then, everything blew up. Chicken and beer dominated the conversation in Boston, Terry Francona was let go and embarrassingly trashed by the team on his way out the door. Theo Epstein followed him out the door. Ben Cherington came on as the GM and the team hired Bobby Valentine. What followed was the most incredibly terrible season anyone could imagine. Valentine was a disaster, which seems like a generous way to put it, and it all culminated in a franchise-altering deal that sent Gonzalez, Crawford and Josh Beckett to the Dodgers in the Nick Punto deal.
As it turns out, that would make the next season possible. With John Farrell now at manager, Cherington filled the roster with a bunch of second- and third-tier free agents around the core of the club, and the team went from one of the worst seasons in the history of the franchise to winning the entire damn thing. Given the improbable turnaround, the roster that seemed like (but really wasn’t) a team of misfit teams and, of course, the Marathon bombing earlier in season, it was an incredible season that will not long be forgotten in this city. (That seems like a given, but ask the 2007 team about that.)
And then, well, things went right back down into the tank. They came back with a lot of the same players in 2014, and they went right back to last place in the division. So, to recap, they went worst to first and then right back to worst. They would do the same in 2015 as well. By the end of the 2015 season, which to be fair ended with a much better second half than the first, the goodwill from 2013 was totally out the window. Also out? Cherington, who was let go in the middle of the season with Dave Dombrowski coming in to take over the front office.
He, of course, put his mark on the team right away by trading for Craig Kimbrel and signing David Price in his first offseason. The result was a division title. They would get ousted in the first round, but after two straight last place finishes it was tough to be too mad, though it was still tough that they couldn’t send David Ortiz out on top. They then acquired Chris Sale in the next offseason and won a second straight division title. But, of course, they were again ousted in the first round, which was much more annoying this time around.
Then, 2018 happened. We don’t need to go over that. It was the best season in franchise history and the best season any team has had since the 1998 Yankees given their regular season success and their dominant (record-wise) run through and all-time great postseason field. That all happened only to be followed up by this past year, which saw another front office head get fired. They did finish with a winning record and finished in a position other than first or last in the division for the first time since 2011, but it was wholly disappointing.
And well, that’s that. An absolutely bonkers decade of baseball was over. It saw four playoff berths, seven winning seasons, two championships, three last place finishes, four front offices (including the current interim group) and four managers. They finished the decade with a .538 winning percentage (an 87-win pace), the fifth highest in baseball. They won more championships than anyone besides the Giants (2019 pending, of course). Only six teams finished in last more than them.
The point of all of this is to say: This decade was bananas. There was no rhyme or reason to anything, and it was a rollercoaster from beginning to end. If you ever got comfortable, the team was there to knock you down a few pegs. On the other end of the spectrum, as soon as you were ready to throw in the towel they’d come back and wow everyone. Heading into the 2019 season they had won three straight divisions and were fresh off a championship. We weren’t expecting it at the time, but given what we knew about the 2010s we probably should have expected exactly what happened. They were just continuing their pattern.