If you ask ten different people where the best seats in Fenway are, you’ll get ten different answers. B.U. students will swear by the cheap bleacher seats, the upper class won’t consider anywhere outside of the luxury boxes, and the casual fan doesn’t care, so long as OBSTRUCTED VIEW isn’t tattooed on the face of their ticket.
Me? Right behind home plate. The netting is a lot like movie subtitles; you’re not sure about it at first, but eventually it seamlessly transitions into your view. I’ve sat there for one of Pedro’s 300th strikeout games. I was there on the back end of a doubleheader, where Mike Lansing started in place of Nomar; Lansing crushed a pair of homers that night. I’ve been lucky enough to watch dozens of Wakefield knucklers float home during a brisk May matinee. In one particular instance, Theo Epstein, along with a member of his nerd herd brain trust, were a few rows in front of me, and Theo politely (albeit with ever increasing frustration) signed hats and balls for fan after fan.
Epstein was the Michelangelo of the Sox 2004 world title. He was heralded as the boy genius and the architect behind a championship roster.
But that wouldn’t have been possible if it wasn’t for his predecessor, the current Baltimore General Manager, Dan Duquette.
A Massachusetts native, Duquette was in charge of the Sox from 1994–2002, until John Henry and the powers that be axed him in favor of Theo. Although Boston wasn’t considered a pillar of success during his tenure, the Sox put together a 656-574 record with him at the helm, to go along with three playoff appearances.
Despite letting Roger Clemens walk in what was said to be the “twilight of his career,” —which probably would have been, if it wasn’t for his rampant steroid use— and never constructing a pennant winning Sox team, there are seven integral players who came to our great sports city by the hand of Dan, making the 2004 World Series possible.
Johnny Damon. W.W.J.D.D.? Not only did the speedy, noodle-armed center fielder make beards in baseball cool again, but his .351 OBP during his stay in Boston was a huge reason why the Sox were such an elite offense during his four years with the team. And what did it cost? 36 million bucks. Not bad, all things considered.
Derek Lowe. Lowe had his share of personal struggles, but he was terrific in a Sox uniform. 70 wins, 85 saves, and allowed an average of one home run per every 17 innings. He was a key cog in the World Series run, going 3-0 against the Angels, Yanks and Cards.
But, D-Lowe was only a member of the Red Sox organization because Duquette was savvy enough to nab both him and the captain in a Seattle trade. Heathcliff Slocumb, anyone?
Nomar Garciaparra. Not only did Duquette draft the Georgia Tech standout, but he signed him to a lucrative deal worth $23 million during Nomah’s arbitration years. Had they allowed him to test the free agent market, given the shortstop’s dispassion for the media, he surely could have found a home elsewhere. Best case scenario for Sox fans? Nomar may have re-signed, but it wouldn’t have been for the mere $23M he was previously offered. Keep in mind, by Nomar’s walk year in 2004, Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter were earning $22M and $18M, respectively.
Of course, the only Sox player to challenge the .400 threshold since Ted Williams, was labeled a “clubhouse cancer,” jettisoned to the Cubbies along with Matt Murton, and wasn’t a part of the championship festivities. However, there’s no argument that the return of Orlando Cabrera and Doug Mientkiewicz were paramount in ending the 86 year long drought.
Tim Wakefield. On April 20th, 1995, the Pirates released Wakefield. Six days later he was a member of the Red Sox, and 17 years after that, a 200 game winner. The consummate professional, Wake did everything Boston asked of him, and was rewarded by Theo with a rolling contract, ensuring Wake would be a member of the Sox for as long he desired.
Manny Ramirez. I’m about as ardent as a defender of Man-Ram that you’ll find. I don’t care if he threw a bah mitzvah in the Green Monster between innings, or if the slugger caught balls in a wicker basket in left field. He was the greatest right handed batter Boston’s seen since Jim Rice, and in a vacuum, I’d take Manny over Rice any day of the week. So when Dan Duquette inked the slugger to a record deal prior to the 2001 campaign, I was ecstatic. How would Boston even have made the postseason in ’04 without Manny’s production? He led the league in dingers. He led the league in slugging. He led the league in OPS. Ortiz gets all the glory for his walkoffs, as he should, but with Manny looming on deck… what choice did the pitchers really have?
Jason Varitek. As mentioned, Tek came over from the M’s with Lowe. A lengthy blurb would almost be an insult to Varitek. What he did for Boston behind the plate, in the box, in the clubhouse, and off the field is bar none. He incited the greatest diamond brawl I’ve witnessed in my 30 years, one that lead to a Bill Mueller walk-off that propelled Boston’s 2004 run.
Pedro Martinez. If Danny Ainge fleeced the Nets, then Dan Duquette pillaged the Expos. In an incredible Cy Young winning season, Pedro posted one of the most dominating stats I’ve seen in recent years: 42% of his starts were complete games. And yet, all Boston gave up for him were a pair of pitchers, Tony Armas Jr. and Carl Pavano. Although any fan of the Sox wishes Pedro spent more time in Boston and less time with the Mets, his .760 winning percentage spanning seven seasons says all you need to know about the Hall of Famer.
Truthfully, a lot of the core talent was in place because of Dan. Among his notable draftees were Trot Nixon and Kevin Youkilis, who both provided that dirt dog attitude the blue collar city of Boston loves.
Of course, Theo and the trio of John, Tom and Larry will get the credit for building a championship ball club, but just as they’re partly responsible for Ben Cherington’s 2013 winners, we need to hold Dan Duquette in the same regard for 2004. Between ’04 and today, Boston has inducted Wake, Pedro, Nomar, Varitek, Lowe, and Youk into the Red Sox Hall of Fame.
Not bad, Dan. Not too bad at all.