My Sportsman Choice: Boston Red Sox
Posted: Friday November 19, 2004 3:39PM; Updated: Friday November 19, 2004 3:39PM
By B.J. Schecter
Full disclosure: I'm a lifelong Red Sox fan and the day the Olde Towne Team finally reversed The Curse was one of the happiest days of my life (after getting married and being hired at Sports Illustrated, of course). That said, even a Yankees fan would agree that the Boston Red Sox deserve to be named SI's Sportsmen of the Year.
From the time they first stepped on the field at spring training in Ft. Myers, Fla., this self-proclaimed bunch of idiots exhibited a love of the game -- and each other -- which enabled them to do what 85 previous Red Sox teams could not accomplish.
Sure, the Red Sox were maddening at times. They went through a stretch this summer that was so awful it appeared there was no way this team could make the playoffs, let alone win the World Series. Boston was 9 1/2 games behind the Yankees heading into its July 24th game with New York -- and the Sox looked like they were toast. I was at Fenway Park the July afternoon when A-Rod started woofing, and Jason Varitek went Boston on him. From that point on, the team had life. They put a dent into the Yanks' Mariano Rivera by scoring three runs in the ninth inning to beat the Evil Empire, 11-10. I sensed this could be a sign of things to come, but being a Sox fan, I quickly erased that thought from my mind.
When Nomar Garciaparra was traded at the July 31 deadline, the Sox came together more. New shortstop Orlando Cabrera quickly showed he was everything Nomar wasn't; most importantly, he was a good teammate. The Sox never once wilted under the intense scrutiny of the media and the fans. They never once believed they couldn't beat the Yankees, even when they were down 3-0 in the ALCS and everybody in the world -- including myself -- had given up. They simply put together the greatest comeback in sports history and proceeded to make a very good St. Louis Cardinals team look like the Detroit Tigers.
To single out any one player would be an insult to this team. From Manny Ramirez to David Ortiz to the last player on the bench, everyone had a role. Dave Roberts didn't play in the World Series, but without his pinch-running and two key stolen bases against the Yankees in the ALCS, there's no way the Red Sox would have made it to the Fall Classic. Curt Schilling made the ultimate sacrifice, literally stitching up his mangled ankle to win two of the biggest games in team history. But afterward Schilling said he didn't do anything that every one of his teammates wouldn't have done. Johnny Damon, Derek Lowe, Mark Bellhorn, Bill Mueller, Kevin Millar, Pedro Martinez. They all came through at key times when the stakes were high and the pressure was mounting.
This team didn't feel pressure. They didn't believe in curses, jinxes or anything like that. They played hard, partied hard and never conceded an inch. These Red Sox captured the hearts of a city -- and a nation -- by doing what no Boston baseball team had done since 1918. They won the World Series and proved that talent combined with teamwork and camaraderie is stronger than any curse.
Sports Illustrated will announce the 2004 Sportsman of the Year winner on FOX on November 28. Check back every weekday until then to read more Sportsman picks from SI writers.