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An era in passing

Posted by Eric Wilbur, Boston.com Staff September 24, 2008 09:32 AM

Itís been 18 years since the Red Sox have played October without their rivals to the south, which means there are college freshmen throughout this city that have never experienced a Boston baseball postseason without the Yankees looming somewhere in the general vicinity.

Eighteen years. Back then, that was a dynasty, as far as the Red Sox were concerned. Between 1986 and 1990, the Red Sox made the playoffs three times, twice running into the powerhouse Oakland Aís and dropping all eight games.

Two more playoff appearances followed over the next eight seasons, both ending at the hands of the Cleveland Indians, who swept the Sox in 1995 and won a four-game series in '98. The same Cleveland Indians against whom Boston earned its 2008 playoff berth last night at Fenway Park. The same Cleveland Indians against whom Pedro Martinez and Co. mounted a comeback in 1999 in the most unforgettable postseason series in these parts for a span of five years. The same Cleveland Indians against whom J.D. Drew and Co. overcame a 3-1 deficit in last year's ALCS and moved on to their second World Series appearance in three years.

It was just 10 years ago that the Red Sox put an end to a 13-game postseason losing streak. They head into next week winners of their last seven playoff games, including eight straight contests in the Fall Classic.

Meanwhile, the Yankees, who last night watched their 13-year postseason streak come to an end, haven't won a playoff series since 2004. Since then, the Red Sox have two World Series titles to their name. The Yankees have four postseason wins.

If the transfer hadn't already been signed and completed, consider it official now. The Yankees dynasty, which percolated during the strike-shortened 1994 season, announced itself in 1996, and reached its apex in 2000, with New York's fourth title in five seasons, is now, after seven years of decay, officially over.

The Red Sox are holding the deed, yet to be stamped, waiting to be notarized.

Much like the Patriots of 2004, it's going to take one more before anyone can get all worked up about the "D" word around here. As much as these Red Sox have delivered since the magic of 2004, they've yet to win titles in back-to-back seasons, a seeming prerequisite for any such talk of ruling an era. While some were willing to label them as such after their second championship in four years last October, that's pretty much akin to labeling the Minnesota Twins a dynasty for winning titles in 1987 and '91, or heck, the Marlins for winning twice over the span of seven years. Anyone consider those among the greatest reigns in the game?

While we've never experienced anything quite like this, making the playoffs five out of six years hardly qualifies as a dynasty. If that were the case, the Bruins would have been the class of the NHL from 1967 to '97, despite just two Stanley Cups to go along with 28 early exits. Call them a dynasty, and the Oilers, Canadiens, and Islanders might have something to say about it.

But, in the same respect, should we consider winning it all the last word in defining what constitutes a dynasty? Hardly. After all, the Atlanta Braves won one World Series and were a perennial playoff disappointment, but nobody in their right mind is going to deny that they dominated their era from 1991 to 2005. The Patriots haven't hoisted Lombardi in almost four years now, nor does last year's Super Bowl choke, or even Sunday's embarrassment to the Dolphins remove them from their perch. Not until they're knocked off the postseason mention entirely. That's the right that those in power receive.

That's why today, officially, the Yankee dynasty is dead. It wasn't in 2001, '04, or even during last year's Cleveland insect plague. Now that they have fallen off the map, their era is over.

It's the Red Sox' to take, but make no mistake. It's not theirs yet. For all they've done, the Sox have won the division just once this decade. Think about this: If we still played under the alignment of 18 years ago, Boston wouldn't have played in October since Tom Brunansky disappeared in the right field corner. In '95, the 100-44 Indians would have won the East. Last season, Boston and Cleveland, both 96-66, would have gone to a one-game playoff to determine things.

Sox fans owe their gratitude to guys named Big Papi, John Henry, Terry Francona, and Dave Roberts for all the fall fun around these parts over the past five years. But for as much as we like to kick him around since those final, dark days of 2001, let's not forget it was former Sox CEO John Harrington who spearheaded baseball realignment and helped bring us the wild card, without which the Red Sox would not be enjoying this decade of good times.

So, can a team that hasn't even dominated its own division since 2004 be up for a dynasty? With one more title, absolutely. But right now, these Sox, a dynasty? Please.

It's theirs to assume, of course, from their hated rivals, who just so happen to be in town this weekend with little to play for and nothing to spoil. Wish them well in '09, won't you. It's been almost two decades since Boston has played in October without them, yet it will take about two minutes for the Red Sox to miss them.

They've got a dynasty to secure.

8 comments so far...
  1. 3 Super Bowls in football especially in the salary cap era can constitute a dynasty but baseball I think it takes more. The Yankees have set the bar high in that respect. Maybe 4 WS titles can constitute a dynasty but 3 definitely does not seem like enough.

    Posted by Bill McGGGGGGG September 24, 08 11:31 AM
  1. A repeat and a recent WS in the past will constitute them a dynasty. If they lose out early in the playoffs, but win in 09, that might redefine what a dynasty is.

    Posted by mjb September 24, 08 12:00 PM
  1. "If we still played under the alignment of 18 years ago, Boston wouldn't have played in October since Tom Brunansky disappeared in the right field corner. In '95, the 100-44 Indians would have won the East. Last season, Boston and Cleveland, both 96-66, would have gone to a one-game playoff to determine things."

    Wow, I guess I knew this but it never really occurred to me. Very interesting perspective.

    Posted by Yo Yo Yo September 24, 08 02:07 PM
  1. Baseball isn't played the way it was 18 years ago and we have no idea what would have been. The schedules would be completely different and who knows how many games any team would have one?

    Posted by Joe September 24, 08 10:20 PM
  1. Hats off to the Sawx. They are definitely the model franchise these days. I guess as a Yankee fan the only thing I can hang my hat on is how improbable it will be for Boston to ever catch the Yanks for total World Series titles. But even I know that's living in the past. Hopefully the Steinbrenner boys will keep an arm's distance away from the daily operations and the Yanks can eventually return to the top, but it won't be anytime too soon in my opinion.

    Posted by MDD September 24, 08 10:25 PM
  1. Some notes on the word "dynasty," and its usage in a sports context. Merriam Webster defines it as follows:

    1 : a succession of rulers of the same line of descent
    2 : a powerful group or family that maintains its position for a considerable time

    The root, "dynast," means ruler, in particular a hereditary monarch; it derives from the Latin "dynastia," which itself derives from the Greek "dunastÁs," which means "lord."

    I don't have time to research when the word first was used to refer to a dominant sports team, but clearly there is no precise way to determine what is and what ain't. Wikipedia, for example, attempts to define a sports dynasty as "a team that dominates their sport or league for multiple seasons or years. Such dominance is often only realized in retrospect. Whether a team has achieved a dynasty is often subjective, and can be a frequent topic of debate among sports fans. Some argue that a dynasty requires consecutive championships over a period of time, others suggest that non-consecutive championships are sufficient, and some feel that a team must simply dominate its league but need not win championships."

    Personally, I don't see the Sox as a dynasty quite yet - if they win the Series this year - or at least get there once again - then we can start talking about it. Regardless, the Jeter-era Yankee dynasty is officially and unequivocally done, the worm has fully turned, the Sox are the dominant team, and I say this as a lifelong Yankee fan who was born less than a mile from the doomed Stadium three months before The Babe passed away. Strangely, I'm not even sorry - I still love baseball, but it's moved so far beyond its blue collar roots, and become so corporatized, that it's become a chore to care a whole lot. Further, Yankee fans of this generation began to think that getting into the playoffs was a given, their inalienable right, and that's just plain wrong. I saw several great Yankee teams, and grew up with the Mantle-Berra era dynasty, yet never, ever as a kid growing up did I ever take winning anything for granted. Needless to say, we had plenty of lean years between the powerhouse teams, and it's those bad times that make the good ones, when they happen, so very sweet - as those of you who have been through it know now so well.

    Being a real fan means

    Posted by Mike September 25, 08 04:51 AM
  1. Hey Wilbur, how the hell could you forget Keith Foulke's performance in the AL playoffs in 04????? Even if you dont like the guy you have to give him credit man, he and Papi were the 04 postseason MVP's or should have been.

    Posted by Matt September 25, 08 01:49 PM
  1. I agree, love him or hate him, Foulke was an actual "lights out" closer during the '04 postseason. The only problem that I see with a closer being the MVP is that he didn't win any games - he saved them. Now Papi on the other hand...

    Posted by Possum Pete September 25, 08 02:26 PM
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