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How times have changed

Red Sox's previous World Series title drew much less fanfare

Posted: Thursday October 28, 2004 2:13AM; Updated: Thursday October 28, 2004 2:13AM
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BOSTON (AP) -- Locals questioned their guts because they were on a baseball field instead of a battlefield. Fans soured on them after their demands for more money held up a World Series game. And when the 1918 Boston Red Sox finally won the title, the feat was greeted with little more than mild enthusiasm.

The 1918 World Series was the last time the Red Sox brought championship glory to the city, but there were few echoes then of the cathartic joy that greeted Boston's 2004 title.

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Back then, World War I was consuming the country's attention. The Red Sox weren't the only game in town, competing for fan loyalty with the National League's Boston Braves as well as a legion of local minor league and amateur teams.

And the team's success had spoiled fans. The 1918 title over the Chicago Cubs was the team's fourth in seven years.

"[The attitude] was, 'It's another championship for our boys. That's great. They'll be back again,"' said Richard Johnson, curator of the Sports Museum of New England. "Little did they know it would be 86 years."

The end of the drought came Wednesday when Boston completed a sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals and ended an improbable seven-game winning streak that started with Boston down 0-3 to the New York Yankees.

The mayor of Boston back in 1918 was Andrew Peters, a Brahmin who managed to interrupt the legendary tenure of James Michael Curley for four years. The city had more important things on its mind than baseball as its young men engaged in bloody battle overseas.

Major League Baseball considered canceling the season, but Johnson said executives relented, thanks in part to the persuasion of much-maligned Red Sox owner Harry Frazee, who's better known for selling Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees and starting the "Curse of the Bambino."

With most young men off to war, many of those who were left behind to play baseball had physical ailments that prevented them from fighting. Either way, they were healthy enough to play a sport, and that caused some resentment.

"It seemed inappropriate for able-bodied healthy young men to be taking part in any act that didn't involve wearing a military uniform," Johnson said.

Joe Dundon was a 12-year-old from East Boston when the Sox were making their last championship run. One of his first visits to Fenway Park was in 1915, when he saw Tris Speaker play. But a schedule of mid-afternoon games on weekdays made it hard for working people to make the games, meaning the crowd was largely "milkmen and gamblers," Dundon, 98, said with a laugh.

In 1918, Dundon followed the World Series laying on his elbows on his grandmother's kitchen rug, hovering over the evening paper.

"Most everybody was in the service," said Dundon, who now lives in South Bend, Ind. "[The Red Sox] had people play for them that I never heard of. ... And I never heard of them afterward, either."

"People didn't take [the Series] that seriously," he added. "And people didn't have a lot of money to go to the ballpark every day."

Some fans were galvanized after a threatened strike delayed Game 5, but not as the players would have hoped. Before the season, the owners cut the players' World Series shares by almost half. Both the Cubs and the Red Sox decided they wanted a bigger piece of the pie.

The teams refused to take the field, leaving 24,694 fans waiting almost an hour while the players negotiated with the owners. American League president Ban Johnson pulled out all the stops, including "croccodile tears," according to Richard Johnson, to persuade them to take the field for good of the game and the country.

The fans greeted the teams with a vigorous booing, and only 15,238 turned out for the next and final game of the series.

"These guys were vilified in their own ballpark by their own fans," Johnson said. "The true story was they were really getting hammered and abused by the owners."

Carl Mays led the Red Sox to the title in Game 6 with a 2-1 win, his second of the Series. Babe Ruth -- a pitcher before he was a slugger -- also won two games, allowing just two runs in two games, and Boston prevailed despite batting just .186 with nine runs over the six games.

The evening edition of Sept. 11, 1918, issue of The Boston Globe trumpeted the Boston's win in a banner headline, but Dundon doesn't remember much excitement.

"No, because what the heck, they won the pennant in 1912, 1915 and 1916," he said. "It was kind of a routine thing. They were expected to do it. There wasn't much enthusiasm."

Dundon stuck with the team in the following years, even as Frazee proceeded to sell it off, and endured World Series disappointments in 1946, 1967, 1975 and 1986.

He gets so engrossed in the games, that in recent years his doctor has advised not to watch the games for fear of health problems.

"There is a heart condition there," he said. "I do get kind of excited. It was thought it may be better if I found out who won when the game was over."

Did he ever think he'd have to wait so many years before he saw the Red Sox win another World Series?

"Oh, hell, no," he answered.

Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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