Commentary

Red Sox recall better times

Unlike 2012 team, 2004's 'Idiots' came together on and off the field

Updated: September 26, 2012, 2:48 AM ET
By Joe McDonald | ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- Since there's nothing substantial to celebrate in 2012 for the Boston Red Sox, the team decided to turn back the clocks to 2004 on Tuesday night at Fenway Park.

As part of the season-long 100th anniversary celebration of the storied ballpark, members of the 2004 World Series team were honored in a pregame ceremony. Duck boats rolled out from the center-field wall as "Dirty Water" blared over the sound system.

[+] EnlargeJason Varitek
Michael Ivins/Boston Red Sox/Getty ImagesJason Varitek embraces Keith Foulke, reenacting their celebration after the Red Sox won the World Series in 2004.

On the boats were Terry Francona and members of his coaching staff Brad Mills, Lynn Jones, Ron Jackson and Dave Wallace. The players included Pedro Martinez, Jason Varitek, Tim Wakefield, Trot Nixon, Nomar Garciaparra, Kevin Millar, Dave McCarty, Keith Foulke, Joe Nelson, Phil Seibel, Mike Timlin, Alan Embree and Adam Hyzdu. (Among the missing were Manny Ramirez, Curt Schilling, Johnny Damon, Bill Mueller, Mark Bellhorn and Orlando Cabrera.)

The boats traveled along the warning track and stopped in front of the Red Sox dugout with the World Series trophy in tow. The only player on the active roster who played for the '04 team is David Ortiz, and he emerged from the dugout and joined his former teammates as the boats drove on.

Members of the '04 team then walked to the pitcher's mound as video messages from fellow teammates Derek Lowe, Dave Roberts and Bronson Arroyo were shown on the video board in center field. Arroyo even ended his message by doing a shot, something the players did prior to Games 6 and 7 of the 2004 ALCS against the New York Yankees.

On Tuesday night, Foulke, that team's closer, tossed out the ceremonial first pitch to catcher Varitek, with the former captain then trying to recreate the final out of the series victory over the St. Louis Cardinals by jumping into the pitcher's arms.

The current Red Sox team, which will go down as one of the worst in team history, could only watch the bunch of "Idiots" who erased 86 years of baseball misery in Boston.

There's a distinct difference between the 2004 and 2012 versions of this team. It was explained in detail after the celebration by the former players who told many stories why the '04 team was successful.

Foulke, along with former ace Martinez and "Cowboy Up" Millar, recalled what helped the Red Sox win in 2004. They talked about the camaraderie, chemistry and cohesiveness any team needs in order to win.

"The group of guys, the family, it wasn't just a team. It was a unit that literally hung out together and ate together and liked each other," Millar said. "You can't buy that."

The Red Sox were able to win again in 2007, but even that club had a completely different aura to it. Boston tried to recapture that winning magic and spent lots of money doing it, but the team will miss the postseason for the third consecutive season.

The 2012 season has been marred by stories of discontent, disconnect and displeasure by everyone involved. 2004 was completely different.

"The group was just a group. That was the one thing, coming back and seeing everybody, you remember the tightness of that team," Millar said. "It wasn't the best players. We had a few superstars in Pedro and Manny, but we were the best unit, if that makes sense."

It makes perfect sense.

"You hear a lot, 'What's chemistry? If you don't have the players, you don't have chemistry.' Bull. Bull. You've got to pull for each other because you're not fooling us. You can't fool your teammates," Millar said. "If you feel that someone is pulling against Keith Foulke because he wants to be the closer and doesn't know his role, you feel that. If you're pulling against Pedro Martinez because he wants to be the guy, you feel that. We pulled for each other and that's what was cool."

"We were buddies and when Johnny [Damon] is out there running into walls, that makes you want to work harder to make sure that effort doesn't go for naught," Foulke said. "We're a family and you go to battle with your brothers."

The '04 players claim there were never any arguments or issues on the field or in the clubhouse.

"Everybody's different. A certain team doesn't have to be vocal," Millar said. "The Yankees had great chemistry and they were very vanilla, but they won 100 games. You don't have to be the wild, quirky, Mohawks but we were just that way. We were going to shave our heads, have handlebar [mustaches] and we were just opposite of the Yankees.

"Those kinds of things you can't teach. You either have it or you don't. We had the right mix. We loved each other. It's hard to explain, but we cared because there were good guys."

The loudest ovation of the ceremony came when Francona was introduced. He was fired after the 2011 season and Bobby Valentine took over. Because 2012 has been a complete debacle, both on and off the field, Francona's presence has been missed.

When the Red Sox won in 2004, Francona was in his first year as manager in Boston after he replaced Grady Little, who was fired after the Sox lost to the Yankees in the ALCS in 2003. During his time in Boston, Francona was considered the prototypical players' manager. He let the players play, while controlling all the different personalities in the clubhouse.

[+] EnlargeMartinez-Garciaparra
Jared Wickerham/Getty ImagesPedro Martinez hoists the World Series trophy with Nomar Garciaparra looking on.

He simply let the players do their thing, but in the end he was taken advantage of and ultimately was fired.

"The strength that Francona had was that there was very little ego, the door's always open and it was almost like he's a player," Millar said. "He allowed you to be who you are. . . Let that person be who they are and that's when good things happen, and I think Terry did a good job of allowing that. Grady Little did a great job of allowing that also."

While Martinez, Foulke and Millar could have told stories all night, their teammates and plenty of libations were waiting for them in one of the luxury boxes at Fenway Park. They did share two interesting stories about the 2004 season that give a clear indication why they were so successful.

Here's Pedro's story:

"I'm going to tell this story because it's hilarious," Martinez said.

He started to explain that he was relaxing in the Jacuzzi before a game, and before he got in he made sure it was nice and clean with all new water.

"All of a sudden, Manny comes out of nowhere, takes off his pants, but leaves his socks on and his shirt. I'm not looking and all of a sudden, Manny jumps into the Jacuzzi. Millar sees Manny and all of a sudden, 'Oh, what do we have here? We having a party?' So he jumped in, and then Johnny Damon broke the party because Johnny Damon wanted to take all his clothes off.

"Manny came right out, took my underwear, my socks and everything, put them on, sprayed perfume on them, put his uniform on and went to play. That's probably a Manny story you haven't heard, but to see four guys, a couple of them half-naked in the same Jacuzzi, you can't make that up. That's the kind of group we had."

Millar quickly added his two cents to the story.

"Imagine [Jorge] Posada and Bernie [Williams] butt naked with Mariano [Rivera] jumping in," Millar said while shaking his head no. "You can't make that up."

Here's Millar's story:

He recalled a game during a 2003 series with the Yankees in New York when then-Yankees pitcher Roger Clemens drilled him with a pitch. When Millar was in the dugout, Martinez sat next to him and asked which Yankee he should drill during his start two days later.

Two days later, Martinez drilled Alfonso Soriano and Derek Jeter to lead off the game.

At the time, of course, Martinez denied he was throwing at either of them. He admitted to doing it on Tuesday.

"Now we're old and fat and we can tell you the real truth, he was drilling both of them," Millar said.

"The quote was: 'You hit one of my guys, I'm taking down two of yours -- you tell Clemens that.' That's what that team was about. It wasn't about being tough guys, that's just the way it was," explained Millar.

Fast forward to 2004.

Most will focus on the bench-clearing brawl between the Red Sox and Yankees on July 24 of that season as the turning point. Of course it was spectacular theatrics when Varitek gave the Yankees' Alex Rodriguez a face wash with his catcher's mitt. That incident no doubt ignited the fan base, but as Martinez recollects, the more important moment came in Game 6 of the ALCS when Rodriguez slapped the ball out of Arroyo's glove.

"We could take the one with A-Rod and Tek and let it go as one little brawl, but the second one was like, 'No, you're not doing that to us -- not any more.' So we decided to go after them with bad intentions. I remember we held a meeting and we said it clear … We were ready to fight, kick and scratch and do whatever it takes."

They completed one of the greatest comebacks in sports history by beating the Yankees the next night before sweeping the Cardinals in the World Series.

Martinez said when the final out was made in St. Louis, the thing that stood out most was knowing the burden was gone for the Red Sox, current and former players, and for Boston and all of New England.

"It was a moment of relief for everyone who played the game in Boston," he said. "That was the biggest moment, getting that last out. I kept thinking about getting that last out and when [Foulke] finally flipped that ball [to Doug Mientkiewicz] and I saw they called him out, that was it."

As much as the Red Sox want to remember the good times, the night ended the way so many have this season, with a loss -- 5-2 to the Tampa Bay Rays.

Sadly, it was 2012 again.

Joe McDonald

Reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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