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Olympus

There’s a pantheon in Boston sports, with a clearly defined roster: Bill Russell, Bobby Orr, Larry Bird, and Ted Williams are the definites. People argue for Carl Yastrzemski, and it’s hard to object to that one. It’s players who were the best of the best and who spent their careers with a Boston sports team. Championships matter, but Williams and Yaz are in the club, and they never won one — so maybe things like being the only player ever to win two Triple Crowns, or being part of the 1969 Impossible Dream season, maybe those matter too.

Tom Brady’s got a provisional invitation. He needs to spend a few more years with the Patriots, which he’ll do. He doesn’t really need to win any more titles, not that we’d mind. He needs to keep on being as good as he is. Those outside Boston might never see him as the best quarterback of the era. Us? We know what’s going on. If his skills hold up without Charlie Weis calling plays, it’s gonna be pretty clear.

So, though. What about the 2004 World Champion Boston Red Sox? Anyone there?

Schilling isn’t. He’s not going to pitch in Boston for more than four years, and I’d honestly be surprised if he gets more than three given his ankle woes. He ended his career prematurely for us, and he never is anything else in this town but a hero. There is no doubt of what he meant. Pantheon, though — that’s a different thing. Maybe if he retires here? Yeah, if he becomes part of the social fabric of the city, I could see it. Bill Russell goes to Celtics games still. I don’t think Schilling’s gonna do that, though.

Manny Ramirez qualifies on skill. Have you noticed how consistently good this guy is? He costs a fortune, but he’s worth a fair chunk of it. If he sticks with Boston for the rest of his career, and keeps being the friendly guy he became last year, he probably makes it in. Probably. Alas, Theo Epstein would love to get out from under his salary. And someone else will pay his demands when he hits free agency in, um, 2008? It’s a shame, though; he’s a stupendous player and it’s fun watching him hit. Frustrating, but fun.

Now. The fun one. I say Pedro’s in the pantheon.

Yeah, he’s an unpleasant asshole. So was Ted Williams. He was also arguably the best pitcher in the world for most of the time he was in Boston. His 2000 season was the kind of thing that is simply implausible — look at the difference between his stats and his competition. His SO/W ratio was literally half again that of the next best starting pitcher that year. Insane. What he did in 1999, against Cleveland, in the ALDS? That thing where he came into a tie game in the fourth inning, injured, and shut Cleveland down — the best bats in the AL — for six straight innings? It gets no more epic than that.

And sure, the 2004 season, he wasn’t the ace. Still. The Red Sox don’t win that World Series if Pedro didn’t pitch for them that season.

Probably I get no agreement on this from anyone. I don’t care. Pedro Martinez was one of the four or five best athletes to ply their trade in Boston; we should recognize him for precisely that thing.

5 Comments

  1. Mark Mark

    Sorry. I can’t agree.

    The thing that makes the Boston Pantheon special is, above all, loyalty. Greatness? Absolutely. But loyalty is where the rubber meets the road here. All the Olympians you’ve named loved Boston as much as Boston loved them.

    The era of pros sticking with one team for their whole career is probably over – free agency bidding wars have changed the nature of the game that much. I don’t think we’ll ever see the like of Yaz and the Splinter again.

  2. Not really. We like to pretend that loyalty was greater back then, but look at the tale of the tape. Bobby Orr didn’t finish his career with the Bruins.

    And Ted Williams /hated/ Boston and the fans. Just hated ’em. He didn’t stick around after he retired; he went off to manage in Washington. Sure, we revere him, but it’s all after the fact.

    More important, if there’d been free agency back when Williams had been playing, you can bet that he would have wound up with another team. Bill Russell… harder to say, but let’s not pretend he was /happy/ in Boston. It’s documented that he wasn’t.

  3. Bryant, I agree with you on the loyalty question. Loyalty cannot be attributed to guys who had no choice.

    As far as Pedro goes, he belongs on the All Time Great Red Sox Team, along with Joe Dugan and Jimmy Foxx, neither of whom spent the best parts of their careers in Boston. But you’re right he’s not a candidate for you pantheon.

    Manny could be if he lasts another couple of seasons. But he wants out, doesn’t he?

    I think David Ortiz is a good candidate. And Damon.

  4. Skott Klebe Skott Klebe

    I think that the common thread among the guys you mention is one that rules Pedro out (and Manny big time) – focus and dedication to winning. Was the Larry ever criticized for being a distraction? Did anyone ever question whether Teddy was giving it his all? Or Orr? With Russell, there was never any question – he never lost.
    I don’t disagree that Pedro and Manny are great players, and will clearly one day deservedly join Yaz in the Hall of Fame. You’re not talking about being a great player, though, you’re talking about the pantheon – Clemens isn’t there, for instance, and was (and remains) the best pitcher ever to play in Boston (or maybe the planet).
    On Tom Brady, I agree – a few more years of comparable performance (with or without another Super Bowl), and he’ll join the Gods in the pantheon. But Manny? He’ll be the clown who always wanted out.
    Pedro will be the guy who wanted out, and who, like Clemens, left.

  5. Skott — that’s a really good point. (Although the answer is yes, with Teddy, at the time. But we know better now.)

    Still… I think Manny doesn’t get enough credit for wanting to be good. You do not get as good as he is on talent and no effort. He doesn’t show us his focus, most of the time. I have no doubt that it’s there. He isn’t just a guy getting by on natural talent, not with the track record he has.

    Now, he does have focus problems sometimes. Hm.

    Lance — I got no idea what Manny wants. I like the theory that he asks for trades when he’s feeling a bit unloved. I don’t think he actually wants to leave; he seems to like it here on the whole. Damon’s gonna be elsewhere next season, sadly. Ortiz — we’ll see. He needs a few more years like this. He’s pretty damned good, though.

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