How Boston Broke the Curse

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How Boston Broke the Curse
(Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

It all started on December 20, 2001 when the Red Sox were sold to a group headed buy John Henry, Tom Werner, and Larry Lucchino for $660 million. 

These men were not only shrewd businessmen but also baseball insiders.  They fired their general manager immediately and hired an interim one so they could take time to find their guy. They also fired their manager and hired Grady Little. 

The most important hire they made that off-season was for their assistant general manager position which went to Theo Epstein. 

Epstein, a Yale graduate, was only 28 at the time, but was more than ready for the job. He had a different mindset than most of the ‘old school’ guys. 

Epstein believed that you can find talent and evaluate players based on some numerous statistics.  Epstein was of a big fan of Bill James and his sabermetrics approach and Billy Beane, general manager of the Oakland Athletics

The front office was run in the relatively same manner in 2002 but Epstein and other young assistants made their first move when they acquired Alan Embree in June of 2002, who went on to be a key cog in the Red Sox’s bullpen for the next four seasons. 

The Red Sox won 93 games in 2002 but missed the playoffs, and in the off season, John Henry set out to find his general manager.  Henry himself was a supporter of sabermetrics and statistical analysis, and so he went after Billy Beane, but was turned down by him and eventually hired the guy who Beane recommended, Theo Epstein. 

It became official on November 25, 2002, just shy of Epstein’s 29th birthday.  Henry also hired James as a senior adviser and Josh Byrnes, a 32-year old, as assistant general manager.  The transition was complete and the Red Sox had effectively turned into the Oakland Athletics, only with a lot more money.

The Red Sox’s first battle with the Yankees was over Jose Contreras.  Epstein personally went to Nicaragua to wine and dine Contreras. Contreras ate it up and all signs pointed to him signing with the Red Sox. 

Then the Yankees swooped in with a better offer and signed Contreras.  Though the Red Sox lost another battle to the Yanks, they were not beaten up over it.  The Red Sox were determined to get value for their players and not get into any bidding wars, but also be bold and not worry about looking stupid if things didn’t work out like with Contreras. 

The Red Sox then went on to have one of the most efficient off seasons in baseball history. 

With only 13 million dollars spent and trading three low level prospects the Red Sox acquired David Ortiz, Kevin Millar, Todd Walker, Bill Mueller, Jeremy Giambi, Mike Timlin, and Bronson Arroyo.  The common denominator was that all of the hitters were better than the league average in on base percentage, a key statistic in sabermetrics. 

Every one of the players panned out except for Giambi, who got injured.  These players, along with the core players of the Red Sox, help guided the Red Sox to 95 wins in 2004 and a playoff appearance. 

In 2003, they led the league in slugging and runs while also setting a franchise record for home runs.  In only two years, the Red Sox had built a true rival to the all mighty Yankees.

The Red Sox advanced to the American League Championship Series against the Yankees that year.  They were locked in a tense series with momentum going back and forth that led to Game Seven in Yankee Stadium. 

The Red Sox had a 5-2 lead and were only five outs away from reaching the World Series, but Grady Little left Pedro in and the Yankees rallied to tied the game. Aaron Boone then hit the game-winning home run in the 11th inning sending the Red Sox home for the winter. 

Little would be fired and replaced by Terry Francona.  The Red Sox knew they could finally beat the Yankees and knew they needed one more ingredient to do so, another starting pitcher.

That off season, the Arizona Diamondbacks put Curt Schilling on the trading block, but Schilling had a full no-trade clause and said he would only accept a trade to the Yankees or Phillies

The Yankees had talks with the Diamondbacks but they fell apart.  The Red Sox, with their new motto of being bold, decided to inquire about Schilling. 

The Diamondbacks listened and came up with an offer for Schilling, which was a no brainer for the Red Sox, but they had only 72 hours to convince Schilling to come to Boston. 

Epstein was set to go down to Phoenix to talk to Curt, and before he got there the Red Sox sent a 1,165 word letter to Curt to appeal to his ego.  They also showed Schilling the advanced scouting they did and film breakdown that Schilling just ate up. 

They had James write a letter to Schilling proving Fenway Park was beneficial to right-handed fly ball pitches, contrary to what Schilling previously said. 

Schilling finally agreed and they worked out a contract.  The Red Sox finally had a pitching staff that was equivalent to their dynamic offense.

The Red Sox were not done upgrading their roster though.  They used their statistical analysis and found out their defense was terrible, and in particular Nomar Garciapara, who was the worst defensive shortstop in the history of their database. 

At the trading deadline, Epstein organized a four-team trade that netted the Red Sox Orlando Cabrera and Doug Mientkiewicz, both good defensive players, for Nomar.  After the trade, the Red Sox had the best record in baseball (42-18). 

The Red Sox and Yankees met once again in the American League Championship Series.  The Red Sox lost the first three games of the series but never let it get to them.  They still stayed loose in the clubhouse doing a pre-game toast of Jack Daniels and were joking around before the game. 

The Red Sox had remarkable comebacks to win both Game Four and Game Five and went back to Yankee Stadium for Game Six with Schilling on the mound. 

Schilling came up big for the Red Sox in what became known as the “Bloody Sock Game,” allowing only one run over seven innings in the win. 

Giambi, commenting on the addition of Schilling, said, “until they got Schilling to go with Pedro, we could beat them.  Then once they got that extra guy, that’s what turned the table for them.  That’s where they turned the tide on us.” 

The series was tied, but everyone knew it was over.  The Yanks had no one to throw in Game Seven and ended going with Kevin Brown who got rocked and the Red Sox won easily while advancing to the World Series. 

The Red Sox didn’t miss a beat against the Cardinals in the World Series, winning the first three games. Finally, on Wednesday October 27, 2004, the Red Sox won Game Four and broke the curse that had haunted them for the past 86 years.

It took the Red Sox three seasons from when the team was sold to John Henry to win the World Series. 

They were ahead of the curve in their statistical analysis, while most other teams were still using the old school method of scouting and evaluating.  They were not the only team doing this, with the Athletics and Indians being the other prominent teams, but the Red Sox had the money to spend that these teams didn’t. 

They used their methods to have one of the most efficient off seasons in 2003, and in trading Nomar, also were bold and weren’t afraid to go after a big guy which they did when they landed Schilling. 

The publication of "Moneyball" has tipped off everyone else in baseball about what teams like the Athletics, Red Sox, and Indians were doing. Now teams like the Yankees are using their methods.  The Red Sox added another title in 2007 and are poised to add more.

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