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The new Red Sox recipe

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I'm old enough to remember the last time the Red Sox went through such a radical change in their roster in such a short period of time, and the result was not pretty. In fact, it took them 15 years to recover.

Dick
Flavin

Take a large portion of hope, add a dollop or two of equal parts pessimism and optimism (to give it that sweet and sour flavor), then spice it up with a dash of trepidation; let simmer for 162 games.

That's my recipe for watching the Red Sox this year. I have no idea how it's going to taste -- or if it's even going to be digestible. After all, Fenway Park will be an experimental kitchen this year. There is optimism that the experiment will go down as smoothly as the one in 2013, when free agents Mike Napoli, Shane Victorino, and Jonny Gomes were added to a base of David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, and Jacoby Ellsbury. The result of that was a prize-winning combination -- the prize being a World Series trophy.

The flavor of the 2021 version of the Red Sox is totally different from what we are used to. Take, for example, the outfield; just over a year ago, it was made up of Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley, Jr., and Andrew Benintendi. We had hopes (silly us) that they'd be together for years. As of this writing, the opening day roster of outfielders is projected to be, in alphabetical order, Franchy Cordero, Marwin Gonzalez, Kike Hernandez, Hunter Renfroe, and Alex Verdugo. Only Verdugo was with the team during last year's abbreviated 60-game schedule. We could also add to the mix designated hitter and sometime outfielder J.D. Martinez but we don't know yet whether J.D. or his evil twin, M.I.A (for Missing in Action) Martinez who, somehow or other, snuck into the park past security guards last year, will show up again this year. I don't have the slightest idea what to expect. Do you?

At least, it should be better than the fare offered in 2020 when no one was allowed into Fenway Park, the reason being that there weren't enough barf bags to go around.

I'm old enough to remember the last time the Red Sox went through such a radical change in their roster in such a short period of time, and the result was not pretty. In fact, it took them 15 years to recover.

At the end of April 1952, when Ted Williams was recalled to military duty in the Korean War, the Sox, though aging a bit, were still considered to be pennant contenders. By the time Williams returned in August 1953, less than 16 months later, gone were first baseman Walt Dropo, shortstop Johnny Pesky, third baseman Junior Stephens, right fielder Clyde Vollmer, and center fielder Dom DiMaggio. Gone also were any hopes of winning a pennant. The only starters still with the team were second baseman Billy Goodman (who had replaced the retired Bobby Doerr) and catcher Sammy White. In 1951, the last season before manager Lou Boudreau instituted his disastrous "youth movement," the Sox had finished 11 games behind the pennant-winning Yankees; in 1954, Boudreau's youth movement by then fully installed, they ended up 42 games out of the running. Oof.

Williams, of course, was exempt from Boudreau's house cleaning of veteran players from the roster. Ted had returned from Korea an even bigger star than when he'd left. His death-defying return to home base after his plane had been severely damaged by North Korean anti-aircraft fire had been front-page news in every newspaper in the country.

Williams played on through 1960 but never again for a Sox team that was anywhere near being a contender. His presence kept yearly attendance above the million mark, but once he retired, it totally cratered to only a few thousand per game.

Though they still had Teddy Ballgame in the lineup, they had little else. The Red Sox went through an extended drought both in the standings and at the gate from which they would not recover until the Impossible Dream season of 1967.

The only other time the Red Sox roster went through such a drastic change was a century ago when they sold Babe Ruth plus their starting catcher, shortstop, third baseman, and entire starting pitching rotation to the Yankees over a period of just three years. That wasn't just a case of a recipe gone wrong, though; the Red Sox were strangled to death by team owner Harry Frazee.

In this instance, general manager Chaim Bloom was brought on board with the following marching orders: cut the payroll and do it in a hurry. That translated to: trade Mookie Betts. Bloom did so and actually got some pretty good value in return, though not, of course, commensurate to the value of Mookie.

One thing has led to another, and now we find ourselves in a situation where the players should probably have name tags on their uniforms -- you know, those stickers that say "Hello, my name is . . ." It's not so much for the fans's benefit as it is for the other players. Let's face it, it's a new world and a new team out there and it's going to take some getting used to. But there is some good news. The uniform is still the same.

The cap still has the "B" on it in old English lettering, the same as when Yaz used to wear it. The ballpark is still right where it has been for the past 109 years -- oh sure, most of the new guys will have to ask directions to get there, but they'll learn soon enough. And we'll learn who they are, what their idiosyncrasies and their tendencies are. We'll find ourselves rooting for -- and criticizing -- the new guys just as fervently as we did the old guys. It's not that we'll forget Mookie; we'll remember him forever, just as we remember Big Papi, Pedro, Pudge, and Pesky.

So pull up a chair and make yourself comfy. Your waiter will be right along with the Red Sox specialty of the day. No one has ever tried it before, but you'll find it to be absolutely satisfying and delicious. We hope.

- Dick Flavin is a New York Times bestselling author; the Boston Red Sox "Poet Laureate" and The Pilot's recently minted Sports' columnist.



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