Anyone who says that watching the 2012 Red Sox play is only slightly more enjoyable than getting attacked by robot bears is missing the point. For me, each game of this wretched, every-metaphor-for-cars-falling-off-a-cliff season represents a chance for something amazing.
You see, this year’s Red Sox team has the chance to be the least successful Red Sox team of my lifetime. And just so we’re all on the same page, the yardstick I’m using to gauge “success” is a team’s ability to win games.
Right now, the worst-performing Red Sox team of my lifetime is the 1992 Red Sox. And, like this year’s version, that team looked fairly good on paper. The 1992 Sox had hall-of-famer Wade Boggs, future hall-of-famer (if he can start bribing voters now) Roger Clemens, Mo Vaughn, Tom Brunansky and Jeff Reardon. Yet they somehow still managed to finish dead-ass last in the AL East; an even more impressive feat when you consider that back then, in the pre-“AL Central” days, the East had seven teams, not just five. Their final record was 73-89, which earned them scorn and ridicule from fans, who finally went berserk and stormed the field during the last home game of the season, wedgie-ing pitcher Danny Darwin within an inch of his life.
As a point of reference, on August 13, 1992, they were 53-61, which isn’t too far off from our current 57-59 record.
Granted, in those pre-2004 times, we were used to the wheels falling off the wagon. But in 1992, the wagon lost its wheels then fell into a pit of fire crawling with man-eating bison and featuring music by Seals and Crofts. This was a bad, bad team that seemed like it should have been better — in addition to Boggs, Clemens and Vaughn the team featured Tony Pena, Jack “Man do I love million-dollar cars” Clark, Franky Viola and the immortal (and the ironically named) Herm Winningham. But once they hit the field, it all went tits-up. Clemens went 18-11 with a somewhat respectable 2.41 ERA and Viola won 13 games. But their fellow starters and the relief corps could barely work their way out of the bullpen gate.
The offense didn’t fare much better. In 1992, none of the regulars hit over .276 for the year (that average owned by Mighty Bob Zupcic) while Boggs earned the lowest average of his career at .259. Our home-run leader was Brunansky (15) and the guy with the most hits was Jody “Free Mustache Rides” Reed (136). The team finished second-to-last in the American League in hits, RBIs and runs scored.
Making the 1992 season even more puke-inducing was the fact that, like 2012, it marked the debut of a new manager. Butch Hobson was touted by many as the future Greatest Red Sox Skipper Ever–although that “many” was later revealed to be Hobson’s parents and a couple people who knew him from the local tavern. After watching him lead Pawtucket to the playoffs, Sox management was so eager to install Hobson in the bigs, they sent Walpole Joe Morgan packing, even though the team made the playoffs twice in his three-and-a-half years on the job.
Hobson was apparently never a player favorite — the most ominous sign of things to come was at 1992 spring training when Rocket showed up late, then jogged the field with headphones firmly in place while Hobson huffed alongside him, supposedly giving him a “talking to.” Once it was established that his star player had little or no respect for his authority, Hobson turned his attention to other things, like keeping Daryl Irvine and Joe Hesketh in line. And despite lofty expectations, the team never finished above 4th place during his three year tenure.
I remember going to a bunch of games that season with my dad, commiserating with the masses from our perch in the section 16 grandstands. I don’t think they won a single game I attended, but there was something oddly comical and fascinating about just how poorly this team performed. In a year of few highlights, I do recall left-fielder Billy Hatcher going on something of a tear at the plate for a couple weeks, prompting a NESN game graphic labelled “Who put the match to Hatch?” Other highlights included Frank Viola’s mustache and Greg Harris’ glasses. And not much else.
Again, it’s important to keep things in context. This was 1992. The Sox were six years removed from their 1986 World Series meltdown, and we were used to getting nothing but pain and torment and “wait ’til next year.” Still, even by the standards of those dark ages, 1992 was a truly wretched time to be a Red Sox fan. It also, curiously enough, turned out to be the last year we finished in the AL East basement (although we did finish below .500 in 1993, 1994 and 1997).
Until this year, our pre-2004 legacy seemed a distant memory. Hell, I’d say we’ve reached that Bizarro World point where, God help us, we’re surprised when the team doesn’t make the playoffs. While I will obviously root for the 2012 edition until the math tells me I’m wasting my time, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t oddly fascinated with this team’s flirtation with becoming the worst Red Sox team of my lifetime. Hey, if you’re not gonna win it all, might as well claim some form of notoriety.
Not that even losing baseball isn’t enjoyable. I do remember stumbling out of one of those 1992 shitfests and wondering aloud if the boys would ever make it to the promised land. Dad, ever one to find the bright side, just said, “Hey, at worst, we just got to see a ballgame at Fenway. That’s a pretty good way to spend an evening.”
And, as usual, he was right.
Parts of this piece (a good chunk in fact) were taken from my 2011 post on the 1992 Red Sox. Recycling, kids… that’s what’s gonna save the world.)