1901 – 1911: Humble Beginnings
Founded in 1901, the franchise was not known originally as the Red Sox; in fact, research from well-known author Bill Nowlin shows that several names were used by local sportswriters to identify the team. None of these names included the Boston Pilgrims, which has often been cited erroneously as the team’s name before owner John Taylor christened the popular moniker known and loved today in December of 1907.
In 1903, in just its third season of existence, Boston not only won its first pennant, but challenged and defeated the National League champion Pittsburgh Pirates in the inaugural World Series. One year later, Boston finished the season as the 1904 American League champions, but the 1904 National League champion New York Giants refused to play against an “inferior” league, so Boston had no opportunity to defend its world championship title.
During these seasons, the team took residence at the Huntington Avenue Grounds, a ballpark hastily built not long after the city was awarded the franchise. Besides being the predecessor to Fenway Park, it witnessed the first perfect game thrown in the American League in 1904 by none other than the legendary Cy Young.
1912 – 1919: Baseball Dynasty
With the opening of Fenway Park in 1912 came a string of success in terms of championship teams in Boston. With star players like Smoky Joe Wood, Dutch Leonard, Tris Speaker, Duffy Lewis, Harry Hooper, and the infamous Babe Ruth, the team won World Series titles in 1912, 1915, 1916, and 1918. Oddly enough, for financial reasons, the franchise played its home games during the 1915 and 1916 World Series at Braves Field, this after the Braves used Fenway for its home field in the 1914 World Series since Braves Field was undergoing renovations at the time.
Probably the biggest star to come out of that span was Ruth, who began his career with Boston as a pitcher before ownership realized that it was his hitting prowess that brought the crowds to the park. Unfortunately, despite Ruth’s popularity and box office appeal, the relationship between the club and Ruth went sour, so much that Red Sox owner Harry Frazee sold the disgruntled player to New York for $125,000 and a loan of $300,000, secured by Fenway Park itself.
1920 – 1938: Down and Out in Boston
With the departure of Ruth after the 1919 season, the Red Sox went to a tailspin for several seasons as, year after year, ownership with little eye for talent would pay huge sums to hopefuls that would not only disappoint but continue to lead the team to sub-.500 records. The low point probably came in 1932 when Boston could manage just 43 wins against 111 losses. In contrast, the New York Yankees, Ruth’s new team, found a formula for success, winning seven pennants and four World Series titles during his tenure with the club, the last coming in 1932 with a team that won 107 games.
The luck of the franchise seemed to turn slightly after a young Thomas Yawkey, who had inherited millions from his uncle and had just turned 30, purchased the franchise after the 1932 season. Two seasons later, he brought player-manager Joe Cronin into the folder and the team enjoyed its first winning season in 17 years in 1935. The latter part of the Thirties did not bring any championships, but it did witness the club begin to turn its fortunes, with players like Cronin, slugger Jimmie Foxx, and pitcher Lefty Grove giving fans a reason to come back to the park.
1939 – 1960: The Age of “The Kid”
Perhaps no other player so defined the franchise as Ted Williams did during his time with the ball club from 1939, his rookie season, until his final at-bat in the 1960 season. He and players like Bobby Doerr, Dom DiMaggio, Johnny Pesky, Boo Ferriss, and Tex Hughson seemed destined to return the club to championship form. Unfortunately, the advent of the United States’ involvement in World War II took many of Boston’s star players abroad, including Williams, and left behind almost nothing that represented a pennant hopeful.
Boston’s only shot at a World Series title during Williams’ tenure came in 1946, but the Red Sox lost in seven games to the St. Louis, the first of three meetings between these two clubs for a world championship. Boston had opportunities to return to the Series in 1948 and 1949, but the Sox instead lost a one-game playoff to the eventual world champion Cleveland Indians in 1948 and then blew a one-game lead over the Yankees with two games to play at the end of the 1949 season.
The Fifties saw Williams lose better than a season of play due to the Korean War, but he continued to hit for average and power, even as mediocre teams around him failed to contend. Age soon caught up to the player nicknamed “The Kid” and, after hitting a home run in his final at-bat, Williams retired at the end of the 1960 season.
1961 – 1983: “Yaz,” The Impossible Dream, and Game Six
With Williams’ departure saw the emergence of a new star in Boston, one who would go on to eclipse most of his records, as Carl Yastrzemski, nicknamed “Yaz,” took over in left field. Still, the team continued its stretch of mediocrity, with eight straight losing seasons between 1959 and 1966. All that changed in 1967; under the direction of a young Dick Williams, the Red Sox surprised the league as 100-1 long shots to win the American League pennant in what became know as the “Impossible Dream” season, despite falling to St. Louis in the World Series.
Despite new expectations of the club, a repeat of that success did not come for another eight seasons, when the 1975 team managed to beat the defending world champion Oakland Athletics for the American League pennant. That year, the Fall Classic featured perhaps one of the best seven-game World Series ever played, with five of the seven games decided by one run. It also featured perhaps the greatest single game in World Series history, Game Six, in which Boston rallied from a late 6-3 deficit against the National League champion Cincinnati Reds and then won the game in extra innings on a memorable shot off the bat of future Hall of Fame catcher Carlton Fisk to force a deciding seventh game. Unfortunately, for Red Sox fans, the Reds themselves rallied in that final game to take the series and denying Boston its first championship in 57 years, with Yaz making the final out of the series.
Like Williams before him, Yaz would be denied a chance at championship glory, despite playing for several teams that contended well up the end of nearly every season. After 23 seasons in a Red Sox uniform, the future Hall of Fame outfielder retired at the end of the 1983 season.
1984 – 1997: The Rocket, Morgan Magic, and the Hit Dog
Boston returned to the World Series in 1986, thanks in part to the young arm of “Rocket” Roger Clemens, who won not only the Cy Young Award but American League MVP honors. Unfortunately, despite coming within one out of the club’s first title in 68 years, costly mistakes in the sixth game of the series led to defeat against the eventual world champion New York Mets. Two seasons later, with Walpole, MA native Joe Morgan named as the new Red Sox manager at the All-Star break, Boston rallied from nine games out of first place to win the American League East; however, that momentum did not carry into the playoffs, where the Oakland Athletics swept the Red Sox in four games for the pennant. In 1990, nearly the exact same scenario played out again, with Boston winning its third division title in five seasons but unable to get past the Athletics in the ALCS, losing all four games in the series.
As the early Nineties progressed, another star emerged in the form of first baseman Mo Vaughn, who displayed a hitting prowess and power that had not been seen since the days of Jim Rice. In 1995, as the “Hit Dog” put together an MVP season, the Red Sox managed to win yet another East Division title in the new three-division league. However, Boston’s post-season losing streak continued as they were swept in a division series match-up against the Cleveland Indians, giving the Red Sox 13 straight losses dating back to that sixth game in the 1986 World Series.
1998 – Present: Champagne and Championships
As the dawn of a new millennium approached, yet another star emerged in the form of Pedro Martinez, who showcased an arm good enough to win back-to-back Cy Young Awards with Boston in 1999 and 2000, perhaps two of the best back-to-back seasons ever pitched in league history. After a three-year absence, the Red Sox returned to the playoffs in 1998 and 1999 as wild card hopefuls; though the team would not get any further than the ALCS in 1999, the Red Sox did win a memorable division series match-up against Cleveland in 1999, rallying from a two-game deficit and winning with Martinez on the mound in Cleveland in the deciding fifth game.
Boston would make another attempt to capture a title in 2003, forcing a deciding seventh game in the ALCS before losing against its Eastern Division rival New York Yankees for the pennant. Finally, the hopes and dreams of millions of Red Sox fans was realized in 2004; after Boston pulled off an unbelievable rally from a 3-0 series deficit to the Yankees in the ALCS to win the pennant, the Red Sox swept the St. Louis Cardinals in four games to win the club’s first World Series title since 1918, a span of 86 years.
Boston would attempt to repeat that success the following season, but instead lost in its division series to the eventual world champion Chicago White Sox. After a one-year absense from the playoffs, the club returned to the post-season in 2007, winning the American League East Division for the first time in 12 years and tying Cleveland for the best regular season record in baseball, a feat they had not achieved since 1946. Almost in parallel to 2004, Boston was forced to rally from a 3-1 series deficit in the ALCS versus the Indians to claim the pennant; the Red Sox then swept the Colorado Rockies in the World Series for the team’s second world championship in four years.