Champions Give the Game a Lift


The man in seat 12A, St. Louis to Los Angeles, had but a single request.

Not nine hours after his champions cavorted on the floor of Busch Stadium, he pulled a familiar cap over his eyes and cast a weary hand through a Kevin Millar goatee.

“Wake me,” he said, “when the Red Sox win another World Series.”

“In another 86 years?”

“Whatever,” he said, and for four hours, spent and content, the only sound from seat 12A was a steady snore, loud enough to wake a franchise dead since 1918.

Everything has changed, not just for the man in 12A, not just for Boston, but for baseball.


The Red Sox are winners.

It will take some getting used to. As the green bottles ran dry Wednesday night, Red Sox leaders spoke not of organizational flaws, but of maintaining what they had built.

Their president, Larry Lucchino, wiped his eyes with a towel provided by his wife, Stacey, and said, “In the 21st century, we’ve got as many World Series championships as any team in baseball.”

The list, ending with three wild-card teams: Arizona Diamondbacks, Angels, Florida Marlins and the guys with funny hair and beards.

“We are different now, certainly, because we have won,” Lucchino said.

They’ll find the challenge has changed, for sure. They’ll look into the faces of their fans and see something other than resignation. They’ll see expectation. It won’t be long before they’ll be asked to repeat the achievement, this time from ahead, with another large payroll and 13 potential free agents to square.

In the past year, under the fresh ownership of John Henry, under the stewardship of Lucchino and General Manager Theo Epstein, the Red Sox paid $130 million in salaries, second only to the Yankees.

Henry allowed the payroll to spike in order to bridge the gap between this season and the potential departure of so many players -- catcher Jason Varitek, starters Pedro Martinez and Derek Lowe, and shortstop Orlando Cabrera, to name a few -- so as not to have to start over in 2005. And it appears they’ll leave it that way.


In the meantime, they constructed a championship team whose enthusiasm and fight and likability swayed a nation of baseball fans. They became a story unlike any since Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa took off after Roger Maris, or perhaps since Babe Ruth

himself made the Yankees the Yankees.

In a season that otherwise was sodden with steroid inquiries -- some linked to the very man hoping to pass the legendary Ruth -- and the departure of the game from Montreal, the Red Sox, for a moment, made it all about baseball again.

They worked counts. They hit with two strikes. They scored with two out. They won with aces on the mound and with a knuckleballer and with a 6-foot-6 right-hander they’d all but forgotten about.

On the way, they defeated the Angels, champions from two seasons ago, and the Yankees, champions 26 times. They turned MVP3 -- Albert Pujols, Scott Rolen and Jim Edmonds -- into MIA3, in four swift games.

It was sad and it was breathtaking and then it was unbelievable, the month that stilled New England, that broadened Red Sox Nation, that wrought T-shirts that read, “WWJDD?”

Indeed, what would Johnny Damon do? He would grow his hair and shelve his razor and rally a doomed franchise into believing.


They’d all skip salon appointments and David Ortiz would carry them, and then Manny Ramirez, and then Mark Bellhorn, and then Dave Roberts, and then Keith Foulke. Their manager, Terry Francona, who’d surely be an idiot too had he any hair to sprout, played along, nudging when a larger ego might have shoved.

They have so much to do to keep it going, but for a night, maybe a few nights, they’d be satisfied that it went.

“We’ve transformed it into something a little bit different,” Lucchino said.

Oh, it’s different all right.

“I’m happy,” Epstein said. “I’m proud. Look at these guys. How many all-nighters did these guys pull to do this, all these 22-year-olds? They worked for this.”

In every corner of their clubhouse, they grabbed each other by the shoulders and looked each other in the eyes, searching for reassurance. They’d done this, right? It’s over, right?

And then they’d holler and go looking for the right fielder, the catcher, and the utility infielder.

Outside, in a stadium still wracked with chants of “Thank you, Red Sox!”, a man behind a bullhorn asked hundreds of the faithful to go home, to please go home.


They wouldn’t. They couldn’t. They simply did not want to wake up, perhaps ever.

The man in 12A roused and pulled a plastic bag from his pocket. It was filled with grainy dirt, brown as the photos of their last championship.

“From the Busch Stadium mound,” he announced.

Now they’ve got a piece of everything.