2004 championship Red Sox team reunites at Fenway Park

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BOSTON — The most celebrated team in Red Sox history gathered at Fenway Wednesday to commemorate the 10-year anniversary of the 2004 championship team.

In some ways, the players said, the title feels like it was won a long time ago. In other ways, it seems much more recent.

“People don’t understand,” said Derek Lowe, “but when the season ends, you just kind of go your separate ways, so I haven’t seen a lot of these guys for 10 years.

“There’s been a lot of great stories and it’s great to see some of the young guys all grown up.”

“It’s crazy to think 10 years have already gone by,” said Kevin Youkilis. “You sit back and think how quickly it goes.”

“This is great,” beamed Jason Varitek. “There’s faces I haven’t seen since 2004, since the parade. Fortunately, there’s been a few things (occasions to re-unite) and being around, you get to see some people at different times. But you’ve got people scattered all over.”

For a period of 48 hours or so, however, this was a chance to get together and toast the first championship for the franchise in 86 years.

“When you start watching clips,” said Varitek, “it seems like just yesterday. But everybody moves on and you sometimes need to watch things on TV (to jog your memory) and remember some of the moments and the faces. Then the stories start — stuff that went on in the clubhouse, stuff with the guys and a lot of the fun.”

It was, to put it mildly, a unique bunch, full of characters as diverse as Pedro Martinez, Johnny Damon, Kevin Millar and Manny Ramirez. Each brought something to the mix.

Related content: Manny Ramirez says “I behaved bad and I regret it.”

“We had chemistry,” declared Lowe. “We had a lot of great personalities, strong personalities. But the way we were able to jell, that was (special).”

Those personalities helped withstand what Varitek termed “the burden of 86 years” without a championship.

The team had come paralyzingly close a season earlier, when the American League pennant slipped from their hands in extra innings of Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS.

That spurred on the players, and in turn, management.

“What made ’04 so special is the way ’03 ended,” said Lowe. “Getting Keith Foulke and Curt Schilling (was key). The team was built for success, built to get back (into the post-season).”

Which they did, only to fall behind 0-3 to the Yankees in the ALCS, before beginning their historic comeback.

Now, the players from 2004 have changed and so, too, has the perception of the Red Sox. Back then, the Sox were seen as a team which historically had big stars, but could never win it all.

A decade later, they’ve won three championships, and become a model organization.

“They’ve created a winning atmosphere,” said Lowe, “and people know what the Red Sox have achieved and guys want to be part of it. You look at the chemistry they had in 2013 (and it’s similar).”

“I think what’s important is to recognize what went on before we won the championships,” said Varitek, “with the Mo Vaughns and Jim Rices and (Carl) Yastrzesmkis. You keep going back and see the guys who fought and battled to help teach the next generation and say, ‘OK, we got close. This is what we need to do better.’ And you build and build.

“We crashed and burned in ’03 at the last possible moment, but it still a building block. Then we finally broke through.”

After that, there was a palpable sense of release that the Sox had shun the negative baggage that had weighed down the franchise. It was liberating.

“Maybe in your first year here, you don’t really understand (the magnitude of it),” said Varitek. “But the longer you’re here, the heavier it is.”

Now, those same players are part of the most beloved Red Sox history, who seemingly can’t be thanked enough.

“I didn’t know that much about the 86 years,” said Orlando Cabrera. “It didn’t really hit until after we won and we were in the parade, and I saw these really old people, like 90 years old, saying, ‘Thank you – I can die happy.’ Or, ‘Thank you — you’ve made my father’s day.’ I was like, wow.”

Evan Longoria: ‘I just kind of feel sorry for the Rays fan base’

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The Rays were busy over the weekend, trading starter Jake Odorizzi to the Twins, designating All-Star outfielder Corey Dickerson for assignment, and then picking up C.J. Cron in a deal with the Angels. The Rays saved about $4 million — Odorizzi’s $6.3 million less Cron’s $2.3 million salary — and picked up a prospect. They’re still on the hook for Dickerson’s $5.95 million salary until they can find a trade partner, which seems likely.

Those are some head-scratching moves if you’re a Rays fan or a member of the Rays. Dickerson hit .282/.325/.490 with 27 home runs, 62 RBI, and 84 runs scored in 629 plate appearances last season, part of which resulted in his first trip to the All-Star Game. Designating him for assignment is strictly a financial move, assuming he can be traded. The Rays are currently operating with a payroll below $70 million. This comes just a week and a half after Rays ownership proposed the public footing most of the bill for the club’s new stadium. And the Rays had traded third baseman Evan Longoria — then the face of the franchise — to the Giants earlier this offseason.

Longoria expressed sympathy for Rays fans for having to put up with this. Via Andrew Baggarly, Longoria said of the curious Dickerson move, “I just kind of feel sorry for the Rays fan base. … I’m not going to take too many shots but it’s pretty obvious that guy is a valuable player and didn’t deserve to be DFAd. Corey was our best player last year.”

Longoria isn’t quite on the money there. By WAR, Dickerson ranked fifth among position players on the team, according to Baseball Reference. FanGraphs is also in agreement. Still, it’s indisputable that Dickerson, who turns 29 years old this May, more than pulled his weight. The Rays do not have a surfeit of starting outfielders, so it wasn’t like they were making room for other capable players. Mallex Smith, who put up a .684 OPS in 282 PA last year, is slated to start in left field at the moment. Designating Dickerson for assignment, as well as trading Longoria and Odorizzi, were simply cost-cutting decisions.

The Rays’ M.O. has been part of the problem leading to the current stagnant free agent market (sans Eric Hosmer‘s eight-year deal on Saturday). Teams like the Rays, Phillies, Reds, and Tigers have been explicitly putting out non-competitive teams in order to facilitate a rebuilding process. Longoria is right to express sympathy for Rays fans, who see their favorite team worsening a roster that went 80-82 last year. The Rays haven’t finished at .500 or above since 2013 and doesn’t figure to halt the streak this year.