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Upon Further Review…The Standard

You don’t have to take college level classes on the topic to understand the big key that drives sports media: There is always a standard.  Every player that is dissected on national television is eventually discussed as a legacy, comparing his play to a relic of the past. Just like every team that has success is associated with another’s lasting triumph. Nobody can just be, there always has to be a standard to be examined against.

Yet, how interesting that so few of these standards have withstood the test of time. It’s the 1972 Dolphins, Joe Montana or Joe DiMaggio. It’s Eckersley or Russell. It’s Jordan or it’s Gretzky. Very few times in sport is the standard set by a player or team so current, so contemporary.

In Boston, the standard is the 2004 Boston Red Sox. It’s hard to believe they accomplished greatness nine years ago. The early morning hours of this Friday marks 9 years since Kevin Millar drew the walk in the 9th inning of Game 4 of the ALCS against the Yankees. 9 years have passed since Dave Roberts pinch ran. 9 years have faded since he beat Jorge Posada’s bullet to second base by little more than a fingernail. 9 years have transpired since Bill Mueller gave a nation a shred of hope.

But what made them the standard? It wasn’t because of how they did it: down 3-0 to the Evil Empire, with the executioner himself– Mariano Rivera– on the mound to finish off the Red Sox. It wasn’t who did it: a bunch of longhaired, blue-collar baseball players who wore their pants too baggy and their pockets untucked. It wasn’t even because of how long it took: 86 friggin years!

It was all of it: every single aspect of the 2004 Red Sox made them one of the most lovable teams in Boston History. They weren’t flashy or clean cut, but they liked being around one another and liked playing baseball (almost a complete contrast to the 2011 installment, one of the most loathed, and reviled teams at the crux of their downfall).

2004 World Champion Boston Red Sox (Source: Jim Davis, Boston Globe)
2004 World Champion Boston Red Sox (Source: Jim Davis, Boston Globe)

Two years since that vile bunch went 7-20 in September to complete a historic collapse, the 2013 installment sits on the verge of another trip to the Fall Classic. In nearly one fell swoop, Boston pushed the re-set button last August by sending Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, Josh Beckett and Nick Punto to the Dodgers, effectively ridding the clubhouse of the pricey pariahs who were at the epicenter of the proud franchise’s collapse.

The method to the madness that has propelled Boston to the ALCS is similar to what turned the tide in the early 2000s. While the names have changed, save for David Ortiz, the Red Sox embraced character and chemistry over statistics. As a clubhouse, they returned to playing with the grit and determination applauded in the working-class streets of Boston.

Yet, as soon as the AL East Champion Sox began winning games far better than the anticipated clip, many journalists described the standard to which this team emulated: the 2004 Red Sox.

We will soon find out if the 2013 Red Sox will complete the season like their brethren nine years ago, but it cannot go unnoticed how the pulse of the city has so drastically changed in the past near decade.

New Englanders have witnessed a championship parade in each of the four major sports since Dave Roberts stole second. The fan amended “Reverse Curve” sign en route to Fenway Park now resides in a museum, not on the freeway.  Since 2004, Boston became a City of Championships, rising from the ashes of misery and uncertainty that plagued Boston in the 90s.

The fan-altered "Reverse Curve" Sign in Boston (Source: Flickr)
The fan-altered “Reverse Curve” Sign in Boston (Source: Flickr)

So is it justifiable to compare 2013 to the watershed moment of 2004?  In reality, the standard will never be replicated. When Dan Shaughnessey’s “Curse” was lifted, it was for the generations who never witnessed a championship, those who eternally wear the scars of 1946, 1967, 1975, 1978, 1986 and even 2003. But if the Red Sox win a World Series in 2013, this team will be remembered for the revival of beloved Red Sox teams, genuine players that a proud city can happily endorse.

2004 may forever be the standard in Boston, but nine years later, a team is undoubtedly reverred in the same breath, in the highest regard.