You'd probably ask him what exactly was in his frosty beverage. Yet there was a teary-eyed Buckner, basking in the adoration bestowed upon him by a sun-baked sellout crowd, throwing out the first pitch Tuesday. And among those applauding Buckner were eight Sox players who have won two rings in Boston.
What a long strange trip it's been for the Sox, who have gone from baseball's most lovable star-crossed losers to the game's model franchise in just four seasons. It's not just that the Sox have won two World Series, even though they are the only team to win two crowns this decade. It's how they've gone about it, winning one title by mortgaging the future and earning the next by investing from within.
Think about it: The Sox had to bankrupt an already barren farm system in order to acquire the final piece of the 2004 championship puzzle in Curt Schilling, whom the Sox obtained from the Diamondbacks in November 2003 in exchange for pitchers Casey Fossum and Brandon Lyon and prospects Jorge de la Rosa and Michael Goss.
By any measure, that was a steal, even if Schilling—37 years old at the time of the trade and only three years removed from major shoulder surgery—did not come without some risk. But last fall, the Sox refused to pay the premium necessary to land the best pitcher on the planet. The Twins had to get rid of impending free agent Johan Santana, a 29-year-old left-hander with two Cy Young Awards on his resume, but the Sox refused to part with the likes of Justin Masterson, Michael Bowden, Jacoby Ellsbury and Jed Lowrie.
The 2003 Sox would have done that deal in a heartbeat. But the Sox' success in 2007—homegrown hurlers Jon Lester and Jonathan Papelbon won and saved the clinching game of the World Series, respectively, while Dustin Pedroia won the Rookie of the Year, Jacoby Ellsbury hit .353 in 116 regular season at-bats and .438 in the World Series and Clay Buchholz threw a no-hitter in his second career start—proved the Sox could harvest their own talent and win all at the same time.
Now the rest of baseball is following the lead of the Sox—even the Yankees. The Sox' reluctance to part with prospects in exchange for Santana opened the door for the Yankees, who have specialized in acquiring superstars for pennies on the dollar (anyone remember who they sent to the Blue Jays in exchange for Roger Clemens in 1999?). But the Yankees held on to their own prospects and Santana remained on the market until just before spring training, when the Mets sent four solid but mostly unremarkable prospects to the Twins for Santana.
The Sox are doing everything right, on the field as well as off it. Who could have imagined Buckner would ever set foot back in Fenway after some yahoos chased he and his family to the west coast in the early 1990s? But the Sox did it.
From the team that could do nothing right to the team that can do nothing wrong. All in four years.
Diehard managing editor Jerry Beach can be reached at email@example.com. To receive a free issue of Diehard, call 888-501-5752.
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