December 13 should’ve taught the Red Sox two lessons. It didn’t.
For nearly three decades, December 13 has been a notable day in Boston Red Sox history in ways that still resonate deeply.
On December 13, 1996, Roger Clemens signed a three-year, $25.75M deal with the Toronto Blue Jays, leaving Boston after 13 big-league seasons. He’d led the American League with 257 strikeouts that year and then-GM Dan Duquette said they had offered him “a substantial, competitive offer, by far the most money ever offered to a player” in franchise history.
But Duquette also made the mistake of describing the upcoming years as the “twilight of [Clemen’s] career,” which would turn out not to be the case; he went on to pitch another 11 seasons after his 13 in Boston. In his first two years in Toronto, he added a pair of Cy Young awards to the three he’d won with the Sox; he’d win two more before retiring.
On December 13, 2000, the Red Sox introduced Manny Ramirez as the newest, and highest-paid player in franchise history. His original asking price had been a decade and $200M, and the Sox gave it to him in the form of eight years and $160M, with a pair of $20M player options for 2009 and 2010.
Ramirez said and did all the right things in his introduction to Boston. He made assurances that he wasn’t worried about being under the Boston microscope because he didn’t watch tv or read the newspaper. He announced that he was pledging $1M to local charities focused on Latino youth. He talked about how excited he was to play with Pedro Martinez and how he idolized the “unbelievable” Nomah (Nomar Garciaparra). He declared that he wanted to vanquish the New York Yankees, and how honored he was to join the same organization as Ted Williams, “probably the best hitter in baseball history.” He even ate a cup of clam chowder.
On that fateful day in December, the Boston Globe – which would later be purchased by the same man who would soon buy the city’s beloved baseball team – described Ramirez’s arrival at Fenway thusly:
"“There were glimmers of great expectations among the men and women on Yawkey Way who are paid to eradicate the club’s 82-year World Series famine.”"
That famine would stretch to 86 years before Ramirez and the self-proclaimed Idiots made it a thing of the past. In that long-awaited World Series, he was the MVP.
Great expectations, met.
That was also the year Clemens won his seventh and final Cy Young award.
Fast-forward to 2022, it appears the Red Sox still haven’t learned from those two very different December 13 experiences:
Valuing homegrown talent is crucial.
Paying the right men will win you a trophy or two.
Since Clemens departed for Toronto, the Sox have willingly let three homegrown stars, Jon Lester, Mookie Betts, and now, Xander Bogaerts, go. Lester and Betts both won rings within two years of signing lucrative long-term deals with new teams. The Padres made it to the NLCS last fall, and now have a proven winner and leader in Bogaerts.
Cleveland made a serious bid to keep Ramirez, and Boston’s reported contingency plan was to trade for Chicago Cubs slugger Sammy Sosa. Imagine that.
Instead, Sox outbid by tens of millions to get their guy. Imagine that.
Ramirez remains the second-richest contract in franchise history, especially notable because received his deal from the previous ownership. Fenway Sports Group has had many a high payroll and handed out a few sizable deals over the last two decades – including the record-breaking David Price contract in 2015 – but even on the rare occasion when they’ve made an offer bigger than Ramirez’s, it’s always come too late. Hopefully, Rafael Devers changes that soon.
The day before Ramirez walked into Fenway and put on his new jersey, this is how Bob Ryan headlined the Globe’s sports section:
"“You wanted him. You got him… Ask and ye shall receive… Did the Red Sox really want to do this? Who knows? The truth is that they were harassed and bullied into it by you, the long-suffering and angry Red Sox fan. The Red Sox never, ever dreamed that the ticket increase announced a few weeks back would become such a local flashpoint. They should have understood, but they didn’t.They should have understood that whacking folks upside the wallet before you have so much as signed another Manny Alexander would not go over well with an emotionally abused fandom that follows everything happening 225 miles to the south. This fandom, as they say these days, can do the math.”"
So much has changed since Ryan both praised and admonished fans for their role in the blockbuster signing, and yet, so much is the same. Red Sox Nation of the year 2000 was 82 years into a drought, and there have been four championships since then. But this isn’t about rings and trophies, it’s about paying the right players. What’s worse is that the Sox know who’s up to the task of bringing a trophy to Boston now; they had no such assurances with Ramirez, who’d made five consecutive fruitless postseason appearances between 1995-99. With Boston and Chicago’s championships in 2004 and 2016, Cleveland now owns the longest drought, dating back to 1948.
This offseason, the Sox announced yet another increase in ticket prices, despite Fenway Park having its worst attendance since 2000 and ownership still being hesitant to commit to top-tier talent. And this time, the public pressure, louder and unceasing in the age of social media, fell on deaf ears.
Once upon a time, Manny Ramirez became a Red Sox.
And after they all lived happily ever after, Xander Bogaerts became a Padre.