Forever (Cy) Young

Cy_YoungA century and a decade ago last Sunday, Boston defeated Pittsburgh 3-0 to win the very first World Series championship. That’s 110 years ago. In 1903.

Man, those were the days. The team then went by the patriotic name of the Boston Americans, a nod to the newly formed American League (est. 1901).

We had the Cy Young.

Then 34, Young was getting older when we nabbed him from Cleveland in 1901. But the 19th-century superstar didn’t disappoint, racking up 93 victories in his first three years sporting the B.

He was pulling down big money — $3,500 (or a little under a hundred grand in today’s money). And looking at his stats, Cy Young would have easily won about 10 Cy Young Awards. His first two seasons in Boston he busted out monster numbers (32-11, 2.15 and 33-10, 1.62), then took a 28-9, 2.08 record into that first World Series. Boston also had Long Tom Hughes (20-7, 2.57) and Big Bill Dinneen (21-13, 2.26) on the mound.

This was the Dead Ball Era, folks, and our biggest slugger was rightfielder Buck Freeman, who led the league with 13 home runs and 104 RBI, along with 20 triples. We also had leftfielder Patsy Dougherty (.331 and a league-leading 107 runs) and future Hall of Famer Jimmy Collins at third.

(Note: It’s legit — and fun — to say “we” about one’s favorite team when referencing events that occurred six decades before one’s birth.)

The deal back in ’03 was first team to win five, and Cy got knocked around a little in a 7-3 Game 1 loss. But after pitching seven innings of stellar relief in a Game 3 defeat, he came back to win Games 5 and 7 before Dinneen blanked Pittsburgh in Game 8 to clinch the crown.

Next up in this mini-cavalcade of Beantown baseball glory is the best baseball player of all-time. Babe Ruth.

I would brush back anyone who suggests otherwise by noting that, amazingly, the most extraordinary hitter of his time also was one of the era’s elite pitchers.

Before the orphan from Baltimore homered his way into America’s heart, the future “Bambino” made World Series history in Boston.

During Ruth’s five full seasons, the Sox won three World Series (1915, 1916, 1918). Dominant on the mound (think 23-12, 1.75 with nine shutouts in 1916) he hurled three World Series games for Boston and won them all — tossing a 1-0 shutout over Hippo Vaughn to open the 1918 Fall Classic and setting a consecutive scoreless innings record (29-2/3) that endured until Whitey Ford broke it in 1961.

The Sox sunk to sixth in 1919, even though Ruth — now batting more and pitching less (9-5, 2.97) — smashed a single-season record 29 home runs …

… We interrupt this Red Sox highlight newsreel to report that Babe Ruth has been traded to the Yankees! That’s right, Sox Nation — New York is now going to win two dozen championships while you come up empty for 86 years.

With Babe gone, Boston didn’t earn a return to the Series till 1946.

World War II was over, baby. And Ted Williams was back!

Playing in baseball’s lengthy, long-ago Nickname Era, Williams was known as the Splendid Splinter (a salute to his wizardry with the wood, I assume), Teddy Ballgame and The Kid.

The team’s next larger-than-life superstar missed the previous three seasons serving as a wartime military pilot. (You can’t make this stuff up. Williams would return to duty during the Korean War to fly 39 combat missions, many as wingman to future astronaut John Glenn, who reportedly described the ballplayer as one of the best pilots he knew.)

Back on the diamond, Williams won Most Valuable Player honors and lit up the 1946 All-Star Game, swatting two home runs while leading the American League to an 11-0 victory on his home turf, Fenway Park.

The Red Sox rolled into the World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals with the best record (104-50), but they had a problem. During a brief layoff before the Series, Williams got hit in the right elbow during an exhibition game intended to keep the players sharp.

He ended up hitting just .200 with one RBI in the Sox’s seven-game loss and, though refusing to blame the injury for his subpar performance, said it was the biggest regret of his career.

Teammate Johnny Pesky, the legendary Sox shortstop, also took it hard. After the Sox tied Game 7 in the top of the eighth on a two-out double by Dom DiMaggio, Pesky, according to some accounts, blamed himself for hesitating with the ball as Enos “Country” Slaughter dashed home with the winning run.

That was 67 years ago Tuesday.

Hard times continued through the rest of the century — with those epic, gut-wrenching close calls every decade or so.

Yaz was a force of nature in 1967, but the Impossible Dream got a rude awakening from the Cardinals’ Bob Gibson (who won three games and even smacked a home run in Game 7). Not even Carlton Fisk could will us to victory in 1975. And 1986 gave us the Ballad of Billy Buckner. The post-Ruth drought even inspired talk of a Curse of the Bambino.

Of course, enduring disappointment made it all the sweeter when Manny and Papi and Pedro finally swept us to the promised land against those Cardinals in 2004.

Suspense (and another St. Louis showdown) looms as I write this, as the Sox either clinched a World Series berth late last night or set up a climactic Game 7 for today.

I picture my favorite ghosts of Red Sox past listening on the radio (or maybe on their 55-inch hi-def plasma TV) as Ruth double-fists a brew and something stronger.

This game of baseball is older than dirt. It brought me joy as a boy and memories as a man, and something about it will always make me feel young at heart.

And I think three of Boston’s brightest stars will back me up on that. One’s name is Young. The other two are called The Babe and The Kid.

— John Breneman


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