As a diversion from this awful 2012 season, it worked.
On Tuesday night, the Red Sox brought back the 2004 team that broke the 86-year curse.
The honor wasn’t observed at one of the usual five-, 10, or 20-year milestones, it was part of the 100-year celebration of Fenway Park. But the timing was good and the event was entertaining.
If anything, it was a reminder to the fans who have endured this miserable season what it was like when things were good. It showed some of the things — as chief Idiot Kevin Millar pointed out — that made a team a team; not only the incredible talent, but the way the players meshed. The 2004 team was all about chemistry.
It was also a reminder of how far from that the current Red Sox are.
The 2012 team was a chemistry nightmare, from Carl Crawford, who never fit, to Adrian Gonzalez, who was never what he was billed and certainly not a leader, to Josh Beckett, who was a big part of the 2007 championship team but seemed to bring everyone down this year.
Not to mention that the 2012 Red Sox put 27 players on the disabled list, and a team-record 56 players were used by manager Bobby Valentine.
The skipper in 2004, Terry Francona, attended, as awkward as it had to be for him after being let go following the 2011 season after eight seasons with the Sox and two championships.
As Millar pointed out, “He allowed us to be who we are.”
Millar, Pedro Martinez, and Keith Foulke — all of whom spoke after a ceremony on the field in which 21 members of the team were brought around in duck boats — tried to downplay the talent the squad had, but that part was undeniable.
It was a team with Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz in their prime; with Curt Schilling, Martinez, Derek Lowe, Tim Wakefield, and Bronson Arroyo not missing a start. Jason Varitek was still an excellent offensive threat as well as having off-the-charts defensive ability behind the plate.
It had key players such as Johnny Damon, Millar, Bill Mueller, and Mark Bellhorn. Nomar Garciaparra, who was also in attendance, was traded at the deadline in a blockbuster deal that brought Doug Mientkiewicz, and Orlando Cabrera to Boston. Dave Roberts came to the Sox the same day in a deal with the Dodgers.
The fabulously talented 2003 team under Grady Little never had a strong closer per se, and Foulke solidified that role in ’04.
Millar, when commenting about Francona and the fact that he let individuals be individuals, also praised Little and suggested Francona and Little were similar in many ways.
“It was a team where I had more dinners together than any team I’d ever played for,” Martinez recalled.
“And he paid for everyone,” Millar kidded.
“We had black, white, Latin, country . . . it didn’t matter,” Millar added. “We were all together.”
Martinez, of course, was the superstar. He was often called a diva. He had his own schedule and did things his own way. But he was beloved by his teammates because he didn’t deviate from the team concept.
Martinez has endless stories about Manny being Manny. He even related a story about Ramirez getting into a Jacuzzi with him and then Damon joining them as one of the bizarre things that happened that year.
Ramirez was among the notable absentees Tuesday night. Among the others were Mientkiewicz, Mueller, Roberts (who did a video), Arroyo (pitching for the Reds, who also did a video), Lowe (a Yankee; video), Cabrera, Bellhorn, Doug Mirabelli, and Schilling. But the folks enjoyed Trot Nixon, Mike Timlin, Alan Embree, and others, including bench coach Brad Mills and hitting coach Ron Jackson.
Foulke, who got the final out in the ’04 World Series against Cardinals shortstop Edgar Renteria, threw out the ceremonial first pitch to Varitek. The ball was a little high, but Varitek came out to greet Foulke and jumped into his arms as he did eight years ago.
It’s tough to even think about this current group of Red Sox coming close to the accomplishments of that team. It really was the perfect storm — a combination of great talent, incredible chemistry, and clutch performances.
Right place. Right time.
The Sox entered ’04 after the troublesome ending of 2003, when a great team in its own right melted down in Game 7 of the ALCS vs. the Yankees, with Martinez being left in too long by Little, who as a result was fired.
Francona was hired as the new manager. With a stacked roster that got better with the addition of Schilling and Foulke, the Sox persevered.
The ’03 team was a who’s who of offensive stars. The stats were unbelievable. Player after player hit 20-plus homers, knocked in 90-plus runs.
“We didn’t have the closer in ’03,” Millar said. “That, to me, was the missing piece on the field.”
“We didn’t know what we were getting into,” Foulke said about ending the curse. “It was amazing to get that final out.”
The Sox eventually filled holes with the midseason deals that greatly improved the overall defense and added speed with Roberts. He, of course, had The Steal in Game 4 of the ALCS against the Yankees, which wound up allowing the Sox to mount one of the greatest comebacks in postseason history.
“The truth of the matter is the group of guys, the family . . . it wasn’t just a team, it was a unit that literally hung out together and ate together and liked each other,” said Millar. “That doesn’t go on, you can’t buy that.
“We all went to other teams, played on other teams, [but] that one group that we had, we had so many different guys, you remember the tightness of that team.”
Martinez noted, “Everyone has the history of signing the Green Monster. I refused to until I won for Boston. And I keep forgetting every time I come back. Now I feel like I can finally sign it and leave my name on the Green Monster. And I haven’t signed it yet. I’m gonna sign really high so Manny doesn’t pee on it.
“Now we can all go and sign it and say, ‘Mission Accomplished.’ To me [failing] would have been the most disapppinting thing that ever happened in my career.”
It was great in 2004, wasn’t it?
The players had fun. They policed themselves. Everyone knew what they had to do.
There was no confusion. There was no controversy.
They would hoist an occasional shot of Jack Daniels and play ball.
You couldn’t assemble that again if you tried.