At 1:55 p.m. on Friday, April 8, military jets will streak across the sky to kick-off a baseball season that, to a vast swath of New England, no superlative can adequately describe. If you tune into WEEI 850 AM, you will hear caller after caller proclaim that he or she has truly found the best baseball team in the world. Not only that, you can be part of the excitement on Opening Day at Fenway Park, for just $100 on the secondary ticket market (seat not included)!
Where will the latest edition of the Red Sox actually rank in the history of Boston hardball, and what does dominance truly mean? The standards are etched into the minds of Red Sox fans; memories of the champions of 2007 and 2004, and the near misses of 1986, 1975, 1967, and 1946, are alive and well. Of those teams, however, only the 2004 team won more than 60 percent of their regular season games, and that team was three outs away from an embarrassing sweep in the American League Championship Series.
No, the only historical Red Sox team that truly embodies what Bostonians envision when they see Adrian Gonzalez stroll to the plate is the 1875 Boston Red Stockings. The Boston Red Stockings won four pennants in four years as a member of the National Association before joining the National League as the Red Caps in 1876. In 1875, they won 71 games, lost just eight, and also garnered three ties, duking it out with noted competition like the Hartford Dark Blues and the New York Mutuals. The franchise has never quite been the same since and endured a string of identity crises. The team metamorphosed into the Boston Beaneaters, the Boston Doves, the Boston Rustlers, the Boston Bees, and ultimately the Boston Braves, after which it moved to Milwaukee before settling at long last in Atlanta as the Atlanta Braves.
Turning toward 2011, I see a baseball landscape that features two well-established favorites, the Red Sox and the Phillies. The chances for the Red Sox to win the World Series trophy are contingent upon Clay Buchholz living up to his 2010 performance and substantial improvements on the part of Josh Beckett and John Lackey. The Phillies fell to the Giants in last year’s NLCS and will have to overcome them this year. Let’s examine the playoff contenders, as well as those who have fonder memories of years past:
AL East, Divisional Champion: Boston Red Sox. It’s a long season; no one-time Cinderella is going to crash Boston’s party.
Baltimore wishes it was: 1884, when the Baltimore Monumentals of the Union Association finished fourth of twelve.
AL Central, Divisional Champion: Minnesota Twins. Starter Francisco Liriano is entering his prime. If only Johan Santana wasn’t stuck in New York …
Kansas City wishes it was: 1985, when the Royals last won a World Series. Other teams to play in Kansas City, including the Kansas City Cowboys (1884–1889) and the Kansas City Packers (1914–1915), were approximately as atrocious as the modern-day Royals.
AL West, Divisional Champion: Texas Rangers. The bigger question is if a baseball journalist will ever pick the Mariners to win anything again after last year’s much-hyped debacle.
Seattle wishes it was: 2001, when they won an astounding 116 games with(out) Junior in his prime.
NL East, Divisional Champion: Philadelphia Phillies. Atlanta could challenge them, but the Phillies acquired the best free agent talent on the market.
New York wishes it was: 1890, and they were the Brooklyn Ward’s Wonders, who managed a second-place finish in the eight-team Federal League.
NL Central, Divisional Champion: Cincinnati Reds. In a division with no strong contenders, the Reds should pull off the repeat.
St. Louis wishes it was: 1899, when they went by the name of the St. Louis Perfectos; even if that squad managed just a middling fifth-place finish, it undoubtedly had the best nickname in the league.
NL West, Divisional Champion: Colorado Rockies. The Rockies will bring back memories of 2007 with a playoff run.
Los Angeles wishes it was: 1955, and they were celebrating a World Series title in Brooklyn.
AL Wild Card: Tampa Bay Rays.
NL Wild Card: San Francisco Giants.
World Series Prediction: Red Sox over Phillies in seven games.
Look through baseball’s history books at http://baseball-reference.com/ for more fascinating nicknames and oddities of old-time baseball.