On Tuesday night the Boston Red Sox won their third World Series in ten years. I have been jaded, along with millions of others, since the turn of the century/millennium with the dominance of Boston-area sports. “Boston teams in the four major American professional sports have now won eight championships since 2001, 15.7% of all the titles contested in that period.” The next best city is LA with five, an impressive tally since the city has no NFL team, and New York, our ancient rival sits tied for fourth with others on three championships. Nearly every season a Boston sports team enters, they are expected to at the very least make the playoffs if not win a title.
This past decade-plus of success, has brought an year-round arrogance to Boston fandom, where before (although I’m not exactly old enough to remember it) there had only been a kind of seasonal drop in expectations when fall came and the Red Sox, despite how well they may have done during the year, would almost certainly find a way snatch defeat from the jaws of victory and the continually mediocre Patriots began their season. 2001, Tom Brady, Bill Belichik and a Superbowl changed all of that and kick started a run that has seen the Duckboats run through Back Bay on eight separate occasions.
What I find remarkable about this run is the way the organizations have been run, especially the Patriots who not only catalyzed this stretch but have held the other area teams to a standard of leadership and a sense of community. The Celtics have always had “Celtic Pride” (there’s a decent movie based the idea), a family atmosphere in the Garden that was the work of the legendary Red Auerbach. But for all the Celtics’ decades long dominance, this never truly spread across town, it wasn’t contagious. This current incarnation has primarily been articulated as the “Patriot-way” and comes directly from Patriots owner Robert Kraft and his family.
Many around the country decry this as mere marketing and showmanship, arguing that the business reality belies this supposed standard. They cite the signing of players like Randy Moss and Chad Ochocinco-Johnson who were troublemakers at other teams or the Aaron Hernandez scenario of this past summer as instances where the team sold-out their values for talented players. I would retort that neither of the former two caused any trouble when they played in Foxboro and the case of the latter defies any reasonable suspicion that the team may have had over a player with a troublesome past. What the Patriots have done is created a culture, not just in their locker room but across the other organizations, where the team is bigger than any individual, where players who were under-appreciated or under-valued elsewhere step up in big occasions alongside stars whose egos are kept at a minimum by intelligent and classy coaches.
Last year the Red Sox had a manager that, while entertaining, was neither of those. Intelligent and classy are not the first words that come to mind with Bobby Valentine, who, for all his personality and charm, was not right for a city, whose teams are not built on showmanship, as say teams are in Miami or LA. This is where the owners of the Red Sox tread on thin ice with their fan-base, and was, for many the last straw in their loyalty to an ownership that has, on several occasions, broken with the ethos that has surrounded Boston sports for these last 13 years. Rather than listen to their second boy-genius General Manger Ben Cherington (after Theo Epstein, now with the Cubs), they hired Valentine, probably for the headlines, and it was clearly the wrong choice. Bobby Valentine has been and probably continues to be a good manager but he is not the same mold as John Farrell this year’s manager or his predecessor, Terry Francona, who won the Series’ of 2004 and 2007. For that matter he is even less like Belichik, Claude Julien, the Bruins coach who has brought the team to two Stanley Cup Finals in three years, winning one or Doc Rivers who, until last year coached a team of aging superstars to a title and 5 years of contention. The 2012 season left the Red Sox with their worst regular-season record in 65 years but, on the other hand, did set up the lovely little storyline of “worst-to-first”.
That storyline, along with “Boston Strong”, born out of the Marathon Bombings in April, which took place blocks from Fenway Park as players were walking out of the stadium, characterized this year’s team. It was a character, instilled by Farrell, that was based on focus, playing for each other and the community, in other words, playing like a team from Boston. This year, ownership seemingly learned their lesson from 2012, from the buying of superstars and the huge contracts attached to them and returned to a style of ownership that has led them to a decade success (accompanied by a record breaking streak of sold out games) and Tuesday night bore that reversal’s fruits. Yes, Boston fans have been jaded over the past thirteen years, and that does lend itself to some degree of arrogance. But when the teams one supports play the right way, are coached by men who hold themselves and their players to a professional standard, and through ownership, place themselves at the heart of a community that arrogance smells much more like well-reasoned pride. While pride supposedly comes before a fall, it is certainly hard not to enjoy the ride while it lasts.