The last time the Boston Red Sox had a losing season was in 1997.
The team was in flux. A few years removed from an impressive string of playoff appearances, they had become an ill-fitted collection of fading veterans, young players and a few legit stars.
The year before they had fallen just short of the playoffs. Then ownership, perceived by the fanbase as meddling, let the manager go and their star pitcher as well.
Replace Kevin Kennedy with Terry Francona and Roger Clemens with Jonathan Papelbon, and it basically sounds like the 2012 squad.
Red Sox fans hardly hold Mike Stanley, Steve Avery, Wil Cordero, Shane Mack, Chris Hammond and Pat Mahomes close to their heart as beloved members of their team. They were an irrelevant and tired team.
The great run that had begun in 1986 and ended with the 1995 Division Series and mad-dash attempt for the 1996 playoffs that fell just short had ended. Clemens and Greenwell were gone. The new cast was unclear.
For most of that 1997 season, only one player who would eventually play in the 2004 and 2007 postseasons was on the Red Sox roster: Tim Wakefield. (To be fair, Trot Nixon appeared as a September call-up in 1996, but did not play on the 1997 team.)
Then the Red Sox made a pair of moves that completely redefined the team. One was trading Heathcliff Slocumb to the Seattle Mariners in exchange for Jason Varitek and Derek Lowe. The second was made in the offseason, as the Red Sox put together the package that would bring in National League Cy Young award winner Pedro Martinez from the Montreal Expos.
In two moves, the Red Sox got the pitcher that would represent their swagger, their future captain and the man who would win the World Series clincher.
One era ended, and another began.
The second era essentially ended when Carl Crawford could not catch the sinking fly ball in Baltimore that ended the Red Sox's 2011 season.
The worst thing Boston could possibly do is bring the team back.
Someday not too long from now, the Red Sox will be back in the World Series. And when they do, there will be many names on the team that are currently unknown to Boston fans now, but will be as loved as Kevin Millar, Varitek and Dave Roberts were in 2004.
There are a David Ortiz, Curt Schilling and Keith Foulke out there now who do not know they are about to become folk heroes. There are a Mike Lowell, Dustin Pedroia and, yes, even a Josh Beckett who will deliver more glory.
They are out there somewhere. We just don't know them yet.
But Red Sox fans will, and the chain reaction that will lead to their New England folk hero status will have began with the dismantling of the ill-fitting 2011 and 2012 teams.
Who knows? Maybe there are a Varitek and Lowe in the deal from Los Angeles.
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