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Who else?

Red Sox and their fans make Sportsman of the Year choice an easy one

Posted: Sunday November 28, 2004 5:33PM; Updated: Monday November 29, 2004 12:37PM
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Sportsmen of the Year
SI's 2004 Sportsmen of the Year
By Tom Verducci

SI's official Sportsmen of the Year story: The Red Sox staged the most improbable comeback in baseball history and liberated their long-suffering nation of fans.

FULL STORY

 Chris Stone: Red Sox Nation, you've earned this one
 Paul Zimmerman: Boy Wonder brought Boston a title
 B.J. Schecter: Red Sox captured Boston's heart
 Richard Deitsch: The Babe had a big presence in '04
 Rick Reilly: Big Papi did it all for the world champs
 Jeffri Chadiha: A reward for reversing The Curse
 Lisa Altobelli: Ramirez never took anything seriously
 Sportsman of the Year archive

Hard to believe, but a few weeks ago, our Sportsman of the Year selection hung in the balance. Oh, there were deserving candidates. A wealth of them. And that was the problem.

Would you bestow the honor on the human parable that is Lance Armstrong, winner of a sixth consecutive Tour de France? Or Roger Federer, who played peerless, lights-out tennis, all the while comporting himself like the consummate gentleman? What about Ichiro Suzuki, who used his bat with surgical precision as he set the all-time record for hits in a season? But was he really more deserving than Diana Taurasi, who became the standard bearer for basketball excellence (gender be damned)? Then there were Olympians such as Michael Phelps and Carly Patterson who prospected so much gold in Athens.

Just when the discussions started to rage, a group of self-professed idiots and their long-suffering and adorning fans made our decision clear cut. Already, the story has taken on a biblical ring, but we like retelling it anyway. It had been -- all together now -- 86 years since Red Sox Nation had won the World Series. During that time the Boston franchise found new and creative ways to perpetuate the Curse of the Bambino and tatter the soul of its followers. The Red Sox didn't merely reverse the curse in 2004 -- they made a mockery of it. Down 3-0 in the American League Championship Series against their pinstriped rivals from New York, the Sox mounted an unprecedented rally to win the pennant. By then the fates had written the script and Boston simply crushed St. Louis to win the World Series, consecrating the most stirring victory in New England since 1776.

Collectively, the Sox were Sportsmen in the truest sense -- professional, collegial, colorful athletes who were easy to root for. The word heroic might get tossed around too blithely in sports, but how else to describe Curt Schilling's surpassing pitching on a mangled ankle? David Ortiz, who played the role of the clubhouse cut-up, redefined the term clutch hitting. Keith Foulke -- previously known for postseason jitters in Oakland -- emerged as a reliable stopper. Lambasted by the Boston media, righty Derek Lowe pitched the clinching games in all the postseason series. Johnny Damon was the free-spirited lead-off hitter in terminal need of a haircut and shave.

"Since Red Sox fans are so intense and baseball's a long, 162-game season, it helped that this team was as loose as it was," says Theo Epstein, the team's 30-year-old general manager. "If this team was as intense as its fans, it could have been too serious, too overbearing for everyone."

After the final out of this unlikely season, as rapture was overtaking Red Sox Nation, a group of fans paraded around Boston with shirts reading "It's Over." The slogan, of course, referred to the exorcism of the curse. But, lucky for us, it also applied to any further Sportsman of the Year deliberations.

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