SI Flashback: 2004 Sportsmen of the Year
The 2004 Boston Red Sox staged the most improbable comeback in baseball history and liberated their long-suffering nation of fans
Posted: Wednesday October 24, 2007 3:13PM; Updated: Wednesday October 24, 2007 3:13PM
Issue date: December 6, 2004
The cancer would have killed most men long ago, but not George Sumner. The Waltham, Mass., native had served three years aboard the USS Arkansas in World War II, raised six kids with a hell of a lot more love than the money that came from fixing oil burners, and watched from his favorite leather chair in front of the television -- except for the handful of times he had the money to buy bleacher seats at Fenway -- his Boston Red Sox, who had found a way not to win the World Series in every one of the 79 years of his life. George Sumner knew something about persistence.
The doctors and his family thought they had lost George last Christmas Day, more than two years after the diagnosis. Somehow George pulled through. And soon, though still sick and racked by the chemo, the radiation and the trips in and out of hospitals for weeks at a time, George was saying, "You know what? With Pedro and Schilling we've got a pretty good staff this year. Please let this be the year."
On the night of Oct. 13, 2004, George Sumner knew he was running out of persistence. The TV in his room at Newton-Wellesley Hospital was showing Pedro Martinez and the Red Sox losing to the New York Yankees in Game 2 of the American League Championship Series -- this after Boston had lost Game 1 behind Curt Schilling. During commercial breaks Sumner talked with his daughter Leah about what to do with his personal possessions. Only a few days earlier his wife, Jeanne, had told him, "If the pain is too much, George, it's O.K. if you want to go."
But Leah knew how much George loved the Red Sox, saw how closely he still watched their games and understood that her father, ever quick with a smile or a joke, was up to something.
"Dad, you're waiting around to see if they go to the World Series, aren't you?" she said. "You really want to see them win it, right?"
A sparkle flickered in the sick man's eyes and a smile creased his lips.
"Don't tell your mother," he whispered.
At that moment, 30 miles away in Weymouth, Mass., Jaime Andrews stewed about the Red Sox' losing again but found some relief in knowing that he might be spared the conflict he had feared for almost nine months. His wife, Alice, was due to give birth on Oct. 27. Game 4 of the World Series was scheduled for that night. Jamie was the kind of tortured fan who could not watch when the Red Sox were protecting a lead late in the game, because of a chronic, aching certainty that his team would blow it again.
Alice was not happy that Jaime worried at all about the possible conflict between the birth and the Sox. She threatened to bar him from the delivery room if Boston was playing that night. "Pathetic," she called his obsession with his team.
"It's not my fault," Jaime would plead, and then fall on the DNA defense. "It was passed down through generations, from my grandfather to my mother to me."
Oh, well, James thought as he watched the Red Sox lose Game 2, at least now I won't have to worry about my team in the World Series when my baby is born.
Dear Red Sox: