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These Red Sox are lousy, but not the worst

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff  September 11, 2012 12:26 PM

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Ah, yes. The Carl Everett glory days. I remember them well.

The silly pregame clubhouse wrestling matches with Darren Lewis. Charmingly showing kids on family day at Fenway how to properly cuss out an umpire. Breaking up Mike Mussina's perfect game, then acting like he'd actually won something of magnitude when the Sox still lost.

Sing it with me, Red Sox beat writers and scattered other Springsteen devotees:

Glory days. They'll pass you by. Glory days. Headbutting Ron Kulpa's eye. Glory dayyyyyyayayays.

Everett had a great first half when he arrived here in 2000. And beyond that, you constantly wished the miserable whack-job had never come here in the first place. He was the worst, and so was his final Red Sox team, the miserable 2001 crew, which, whether it's convenient to acknowledge at the moment, was far more repulsive than the current collection of dazed veterans and roster-fillers playing out the string at Fenway.

There's been no worse Red Sox team in my lifetime than that 2001 pack of jerk-store refugees. Oh, this is no fun -- it was never right from the beginning, and the manager is so out there on the brink right now that he probably believes the sellout streak is legit.

But what has happened this season is also a reminder of how consistently good we've had it around here since ... well, pretty much since Pedro Martinez's arrival in 1998. Save for the occasional hiccup, the Sox have been good to championship-level great for more than a decade. Even that Adrian Beltre 89-win "bridge year" looks pretty darned good right now.

It hasn't always been this way. The Red Sox have lost 100 games seven times in their history, most recently in 1965. From 1925-29, the fewest games they lost in a season was 96. They lost 111 in '32. And if you wonder why the dream in '67 seemed impossible, consider that they were coming off eight consecutive losing seasons.

My personal reference point begins with 1978, when they won 99 games -- fourth-most in franchise history -- but needed a 100th victory in the 163d game to play on, falling a run short. There were bouts of mediocrity in the early '80s, but the list of lousy Red Sox teams I've had to watch has been a short one.

In fact, this short:

82 wins, 79 losses

The worst. The worst. You can argue among yourselves about who deserves the dubious dishonor of second place.

But there's no debate whose first among the worst if you remember the circumstances of 11 years ago. These guys were the worst, and I'm getting annoyed just thinking about them.

That wasn't always the perception -- it took them some time to reveal their true selves. The 2001 Red Sox were great fun for a while. Pedro Martinez still mesmerized every fifth day. Manny Ramirez's first season in Boston began gloriously -- he hit .408 with 9 homers in April. Jason Varitek and Trot Nixon continued to emerge. Hideo Nomo threw a no-hitter. They were in first place 97 games into the season.

But Manny got hurt, and then Pedro, and Varitek, and Nomar Garciaparra was only around for a cameo after his wrist injury. Jimy Williams was fired, replaced by overmatched egotist Joe Kerrigan, a capable pitching coach who carried himself like Alexander Cartwright Jr. had stolen his idea for a game.

The 2001 Red Sox finished with a winning record. But in their 6-15 September -- and during the weeks leading up to it -- too many of them were revealed to be unconscionable, self-interested losers. The atmosphere was poisoned by angry headcases (Everett, Jose Offerman) and bitter, fading, in-denial veterans who thought they should be playing every day (Mike Lansing, Dante Bichette). Shea Hillenbrand seemed like a nice kid when he made the team out of camp unexpectedly. He was as miserable as the rest of them by season's end.

The second-worst story of the 2001 Red Sox was Joe Kerrigan and Dan Duquette's insistence that Pedro try to pitch through rotator cuff pain that essentially had him throwing sidearm. It was the total opposite of what the Nationals have done with Stephen Strasburg this season, and it was shameful.

After a blowup with Kerrigan during a team work out in which Pedro ripped into Kerrigan, he made one more start, against the Yankees on Sept. 7. He lasted 54 pitches, topping out at 90 miles per hour. It was agonizing to watch, and even the Yankees suggested he shouldn't have been out there.

This, from Bob Hohler's game story, titled "Too Painful To Bear, Yankees Make It An Early Night For Martinez, Sox.''

"I thought a week ago he wasn't maybe as sharp as he is normally," [Yankees manager Joe] Torre said. "But I thought today was even more of a problem."

So why did the Sox send him back out?

"We pitched him," Kerrigan said, "because he wanted to pitch, he's healthy enough to pitch, and we're still in the pennant race."

Sort of. After the Bombers took their sixth game of seven from the Sox at Yankee Stadium and 11th of 16 overall, Kerrigan's crew was 11 games out in the American League East with 23 to play.

That they put Pedro at risk and questioned his commitment was beyond unconscionable. Both Duquette and Kerrigan should have been fired on the spot.

But that wasn't the worst story, though I suppose the one that owns that title could be apocryphal. The story -- I believe told by Peter Gammons, but I couldn't find reference to it anywhere via Google -- goes that Scott Hatteberg, in the wake of September 11, tried to organize his teammates into making a team-wide donation to a charity related to the unthinkable tragedy. But the gesture never became reality because so few of his teammates were willing to reach into their own pockets to help. It's a tale of such selfishness and narcissism that it's almost impossible to believe. But with the wretched 2001 Red Sox, it fits the pattern more than anything else.

73 wins, 89 losses

Since the blockbuster trade with the Dodgers that got Josh Beckett out of our faces, it's not that the current Red Sox are so unlikable. It's more that they're so damn boring. There's no one, save for maybe Dustin Pedroia, who you stop what you're doing to watch hit, and while Clay Buchholz has been decent this year, it's not as if we look forward to his turn in the rotation. It's hard to believe a franchise that won a World Series five years ago could be so dull so soon.

But they'll never be as dull as their counterparts from 20 years ago, the Butch Hobson-helmed seventh-place finishers in the AL East. The pitching was respectable, if not respectful -- Roger Clemens, who instantly undermined the new manager in spring training by refusing to remove his headphones while Hobson attempted to talk to him, went 18-11 with a 2.41 ERA and led the AL in bWAR (8.4). Frank Viola was a quality No. 2 starter, going 13-12 with a 3.44 ERA in 238 innings. Joe Hesketh was involved.

But the offense ... let's just say that if there's an opposite of a corked bat, that's what they were all using. The '92 Sox scored 3.7 runs per game, second-worst in the AL to the Angels. Wade Boggs hit just .259. Mo Vaughn hit .234 with 13 homers. Jack Clark hit .210 and bought a lot of sports cars. Bob Zupcic somehow had 432 plate appearances.

How feeble were they? Well, Tom Brunansky won the team Triple Crown -- with a .266 batting average, 15 homers, and 74 RBIs.

It's not that they were particularly unlikable. They were just unusually lousy.

78 wins, 84 losses

You know what? Let's keep it to two that were worse that the current disaster. Because despite this team's fourth-place finish and its unwanted and soon-to-be-shaken status as the most recent Red Sox team finish below .500, there was actually quite a bit to like. Starting with a certain slugging rookie shortstop with a first name made for the Boston accent.

Nomar Garciaparra -- Nomahhhhh! to you -- arrived on the scene and instantly captivated Red Sox fans with his quirks (adjusting his batting gloves then adjusting them again just in case, slinging sliders to first after ranging to his right), passion (I can still picture him low to the ground, head forward, darting out of the batter's box after roping one into the gap -- he always ran hard), and immense talent (he had 85 extra-base hits, and there was a time when it felt like a line drive was the result of every single one of his at-bats).

I'll always wish it had ended better for him here, but man, was it ever fun for a while.

Like pretty much every other team in the heart of that particular era, the Red Sox scored a ton of runs -- 851 total, or 5.25 per game, which ranked fourth in the AL. Mo Vaughn hit 35 homers with a .980 OPS. John Valentin hit .306 with 18 homers. Troy O'Leary, Mike Stanley, Jeff Frye and Reggie Jefferson all hit over .300.

Despite the firepower, they never contended, peaking at two games over .500, going 9-17 in May, and entering the All-Star break as an afterthought at 38-48. You probably don't need to be told at this point that the pitching was terrible, but I'll confirm it anyway. This was the Season Without An Ace -- Roger Clemens moved to the Houston suburb of Toronto after the '96 season, and Pedro Martinez would arrive courtesy of the Expos in November 1997. Tom Gordon was the Opening Day starter, Aaron Sele the top winner (13, with a 5.38 ERA), and former Braves star Steve Avery left his fastball in Atlanta, finishing with a 6.42 ERA.

The bullpen was just as horrendous -- John Wasdin, ol' Way Back himself, was tops on the club in appearances, which tells you everything -- but even then it all worked out for the best. On the July 31 trading deadline, supposed closer and confirmed bullpen arsonist Heathcliff Slocumb was dealt to the Seattle Mariners for a pair of minor leaguers in what is on a very short list of the best trades in Red Sox history.

Jason Varitek and Derek Lowe had one at-bat and 16 innings pitched between them for the '97 Sox, but they'd go on to create some of the most legendary moments in franchise lore.

It may have been a lost season, but 1997 proved crucial in building a foundation for the great things to come. Fifteen years later, the best we can ask is that the same is someday said about this Red Sox team, the second-worst my eyes have seen.

About Touching All The Bases

Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.

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