2015 Postmortem: The Weirdest Red Sox Season in Recent Memory

Red Sox rookie day dress up

We don’t know if 2015 will go down as the weirdest season in Red Sox history. But it has to be up there, all things considered. What began as just another season with a modest amount of promise thanks to some high-profile free agent signings and a core of young, budding stars has ended with an organization undoubtedly in a state of flux.

It’s quaint now to think back to spring training and the early portion of the season.

In April, we all have a few chuckles at the not-so-spry Pablo “Panda” Sandoval and the awkward existence maintained by “outfielder” Hanley Ramirez. Mookie Betts makes a memorable catch in the Opening Day win at Fenway and, briefly, things seem to be on track. The team’s electrifying youth will commingle with dependable veterans to win 90-plus games en route to the postseason. The pitching is bad but it could only get better and eventually more of the hitters will hit…right?

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Things get a little more suspect in May. Unfortunate suspicions that we conveniently dismissed in April start to be confirmed.

Kung Fu Foul Ball King Pablo Sandoval is slapped on the wrist for looking at racy Instagram photos while using the bathroom during the middle of a game. (Later in the summer, the Sox forge ahead unironically with “Social Media Day.”) *Speaking of Panda, late in the year Sean McAdam very depressingly sums up how Year 1 wentI’ve lost track of the number of games from which Sandoval has been removed this season for either “dehydration” or “lightheadedness. 

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The first few weeks of summer bring no additional heat to the lineup. Offense remains anemic. In related news, Brock Holt is the team’s lone All-Star Game participant.

From there, things get weird.

The Shocking

In August, manager John Farrell announces he has been diagnosed with lymphoma. Torey Lovullo takes over manager duties for the rest of the season.

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It is both touching and maddening that in the subsequent two games the team scores a combined 37 runs. You can arbitrarily select any number of week-long stretches when the team didn’t manage to crack the 30-run threshold. In May, the team scored 82 runs in 29 games.

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The Not-So-Shocking

Larry Lucchino announces he will step down as CEO of the Boston Red Sox at the end of the season.

Shortly thereafter, the Red Sox oust Ben Cherington by hiring Dave Dombrowski – a move that they wind up announcing during the late innings of a weeknight game at Fenway Park in mid-August. The team is taken aback by Cherington’s unwillingness to accept a lesser role in the front office under Dombrowski’s watch.

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The Shocking – Part 2

In a move that stuns fans and media alike, NESN announces in late August that Don Orsillo is done after the 2015 season. He will be replaced by Dave O’Brien next year.

During the following homestand, Dan Shaughnessy – of all people – ‘reports’ that fans trying to bring signs into the ballpark in support of Orsillo were forced to relinquish them before going into the game. The Boston Globe posts this fact on its online edition the evening before and then removes that throwaway tidbit from Shank’s column in the following morning’s print edition. The paper cites weak sourcing (it’s definitely weak something…), but it seems more than plausible that John Henry, rumored to have less affection for Orsillo than foot-out-the-door Lucchino, had an associate make a friendly call into the newsroom that Henry technically owns.

Keeping up with its classy reputation, NESN refuses to air a tribute to Orsillo played on the scoreboard at Fenway Park during the team’s final home game of the season. The following week, news leaks that Orsillo will be heading to San Diego to do TV and radio play-by-play for Padres games.

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The Unlucky

Knuckleballer Steven Wright, smack in the midst of what may be his most extensive shot to prove himself as a viable major league starter, goes on the 7-day disabled list after getting hit in the neck by an errant flyball while warming up before a game in Miami.

Statistical Weirdness

– In the final home series of the season against the Orioles, the Red Sox pitching staff puts together three straight shutouts. It’s been more than half a century (1958) since the team has pulled off the feat.

– After proclaiming himself a Cy Young candidate in the offseason, then pitching poorly enough to be removed from the rotation at one point in July, Joe Kelly returns to a starting role in late July to reel off wins in eight straight starts–something that was last achieved in the major leagues by Pedro Martinez in 1999. It was during Kelly’s streak, by the way, that Pedro Martinez was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame and the Red Sox retired his number.

– It is reasonable to assume that Kelly’s streak of success will serve as the most remarkable and unexpected of the season. Surely, no one else will put together a Pedro-esque stretch. But of course, in September Rich Hill returns to the team  and starts getting the ball, reeling off three straight 10-strikeout performances. He allows three earned runs in his first 23 innings as a starter since 2009. It is the first time since 1900 a pitcher debuts in September and strikes out 10 batters in three straight games.

The Uncomfortable

In September, David Ortiz hits career home run No. 500 and later reveals via The Players Tribune that he dreams of becoming a porn star. It’s probably for the best that these types of revelations slip through the cracks with little fanfare with the season now five-plus months old and football season is under way.

Runner up: Hanley Ramirez’s left field.

The Shitshow Red Sox Alum

Curt Schilling signs on to host the first ever sleepover at Fenway Park, part of an Airbnb promotion. This is bad enough on its own, but unfortunately there’s much more.

The week prior to the scheduled sleepover on September 2, he is taken off Little League World Series coverage on ESPN for posting images on his Facebook page of Adolf Hitler while talking about Muslim extremists. It is arguable if this chain of events involving the once proud Sox alum is even the most discussed of the year. In the spring, he fought off social media bullies in the name of defending his daughter. This is all a roundabout way of saying Curt Schilling should stay off the goddamn Internet for a while. Schilling is eventually relieved of his sleepover appearance duties.

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The Shitshow Red Sox Alum, Runner Up

Jonathan Papelbon. Another former Boston postseason hero further disgraces himself by trying to choke out Bryce Harper, his new teammate on the Nationals and MVP candidate, doesn’t run out a pop-up.

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Media Think Piece

The best piece of investigative reporting related to the Red Sox shows up in the dead zone of late summer in the form of a ridiculously long Grantland.com feature detailing the rise and fall of the low level drug dealers who managed to capitalize the most on the Yankees Suck T-shirt craze circa 1998-2004. The story discusses at length its backdrop–the formerly seedy Fenway/Landsdowne neighborhood, where it was especially fitting that a rogue vulgar T-shirt business could thrive.

Grantland Yankees Suck

It is an especially interesting read, particularly in light of the numerous residential developments and high-end dining establishments that have gentrified the area during the last 15 years. The transformation has been aided in large part by the Red Sox’s ownership and their business ventures and revitalization efforts aimed at keeping the crowds flowing into Fenway.

It only makes sense then, in this season of weirdness, that there is a shooting outside the Fenway ticket office during Labor Day weekend.


Steve Horgan Lives…

Mookie Betts’ shutout-saving catch to preserve Rich Hill’s complete game win in the second-to-last game of the season at Fenway Park offers the symbolic hope Red Sox fans need to last the winter. Betts’ highlight reel catches – going toward the bullpen on Opening Day and going into the bullpen in the Fenway Finale – bookend the team’s home schedule and are perfectly suitable takeaway images for the season.

For those in need of something a little more heavy-handed, though, observe the photo below from Sons of Sam Horn’s soxhop411:

Steve Horgan redux Mookie Betts catch

Better days are ahead…

Pedro Week: The Many Faces of Pedro Martinez

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With Pedro Martinez set to be inducted into the Hall of Fame this weekend, Fenway Pastoral takes a look back at some of the images of a baseball icon’s career in Boston.

When he played for Boston, Pedro was a man who radiated extremes. On the one hand, the man most fans saw the most of – the side we paid to see –  was intensely competitive and bitter. He took everything personally. Pedro once confirmed that, sadistically, he invented reasons to hate the opposition by going so far as to imagine twisted scenarios such as players bounding and gagging his mother and holding a knife to her throat. These were the things he conjured up when he dug deep for extra zip on a fastball.

This brooding made his sense of humor and playfulness all the more stark on those occasions when he’d let it out. Pedro was unapologetic; a man of complexities that, decades from now, will not be lost in the oversimplification that tends to come with the passage of time. He was indeed a pitcher of a thousand scowls on the mound, but he somehow seamlessly transitioned into the man who was infectiously personable off the field.

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Pedro Week: The ESPN Sportscenter Ad That Was Way Funnier than Roger’s

With Pedro Martinez set to be inducted into the Hall of Fame next weekend, Fenway Pastoral takes a look back at some of the moments and images of a baseball icon’s career in Boston.

Pedro Martinez’s 2002 ESPN Sportscenter ad:

Roger Clemens’ 1995 ESPN Sportscenter ad:

Pedro Week: The Magazine Covers

With Pedro Martinez set to be inducted into the Hall of Fame next weekend, Fenway Pastoral takes a look back at some of the moments and images of a baseball icon’s career in Boston.

Sports Illustrated, April 1998

Pedro SI 1998

Beckett Baseball, 1999

Pedro Beckett Magazine 1999

The Sporting News, May 2000

Pedro Sporting News 2000

The SPorting News, February 2001

Pedro Sporting News 2001

Sports Illustrated, October 2003

Pedro SI Oct 2003

Pedro Week: Spring Training Portraits, 1998-2004

With Pedro Martinez set to be inducted into the Hall of Fame next weekend, Fenway Pastoral takes a look back at some of the moments and images of a baseball icon’s career in Boston.

The seven-year progression of the “first day of school”-style spring training portraits provides an interesting visual evolution of the dynamics that belied Pedro Martinez’s Boston career.


Pedro shows up in Fort Myers in February 1998 and dons the Red Sox uniform for the first time. He is a signature talent, representing a true rarity in the modern game–a non-homegrown ace changing teams on the cusp of his prime. Still, for all that talent, he wallows in relative obscurity because he had been pitching for the Montreal Expos in the waning days of the franchise’s existence. It may have been unjust, but it isn’t until he arrives in Boston that he will become a household name.

We see a solemn Pedro overwhelming the shadows at his back. There is a hardness, a guile. There is that ruthless intensity even before he’s thrown a meaningful pitch. There is a greatness restrained. It’s maybe easier to see now, in retrospect and with the benefit of knowing what he would do on the mound – particularly in the few years immediately following the taking of this photo. This is the young man coming into his own even as a lingering fear can be detected in his eyes.

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Pedro aced his first year in Boston, at the helm of a pitching staff for a team that returned to the playoffs the prior autumn thanks to the newly instituted Wild Card format. The team heads into the ’99 season with glimmering hope and genuine optimism. The city and the fans are on their feet, taking Pedro’s cue. That pesky stool is kicked away and basically nobody will sit down for six-plus months. Things have changed. Fenway hosts the All-Star Game. The team wins a playoff series against the team that had twice dispatched it with ease. Out of the darkness and into the light. The fear evident only a year earlier has struck out. Pedro looks cocky enough to already know what’s ahead.

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The Year After. How could any season follow Pedro’s 1999? The ’99 All-Star Game patch on the left sleeve is fittingly in full view. Nobody is quite ready to move on. Every start remains an unequivocal event. Pedro is again seated and there is now a visible weight on his shoulders. An earnest look in his eyes tell it all; they speak out to all those now looking on, paying the utmost attention. They plead, ask us for space. It’s not easy coming to realize you’ve been chosen to be a god.

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Slightly apprehensive excitement as Pedro begins what would ultimately be a lost season for the team and by what is now astronomical individual standards, disappointing in its brevity. Even in his 116 innings, he electrifies to the tune of the second-best K/9 rate of his career (12.6, behind only the 13.2 rate in 1999). By this time, he knows the evolution of his brand. The fans, the media, the league expect that his snarl on the mound will be balanced by a good-natured grin off the field. There is a bit less of Pedro to go around. Reservations are setting in.

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Pedro returns to form with a cool 199 innings. By this time at odds with various media and division foes, Pedro is still as charismatic as ever. He even bumps heads with his old pitching coach and (briefly) manager and comes out virtually unscathed. His name and popularity at this point are now in another stratosphere.

He shows a two-seam grip on the baseball in the shot, almost as though by default. Like it’s just easier to walk around this way so he can merely lift his arm when he is next asked to demonstrate it–a favorite go-to visual for countless unimaginative reporters during interviews.

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Pedro Martinez, prior to the final season when he was truly jaw-dropping (his ERA and home runs allowed totals would make their way north in 2004). On an individual level, this is the final year when it could be All About Pedro for any length of time. There was already Manny and, soon enough, there is also Ortiz. He is still the head honcho of the pitching staff and that is undisputed. But even that would change within a year. We were all better off for the evolution of it. As it turned out, Pedro couldn’t do it all himself even though he gave it about as noble an effort as he possibly could. This is his brightest, most polished look yet.

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Apprehension lurks behind the grin. Things are infinitely more complicated. Pedro’s legacy is even beginning to come into question by some looking for cheap bursts of attention. The naysayers come out, predictably in sync with his obvious mortality on the mound. He would finish fourth in the Cy Young voting–second fiddle even on his own team with Cy runner-up Curt Schilling now in the picture. His departure at the end of this year would be bittersweet for everyone.

He has the look here of someone who knows there are end points on the horizon. But it is not a look of unrest. He is at peace with his place. World Series title or not, Pedro’s status in Red Sox lore has already more or less been decided even if nobody can truly say that for sure.

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Scrollable Photo Gallery: Recognitions of the Beauty that is Hanley Ramirez’s Left Field

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If there is anything in the baseball world that is so obviously wrong, it has been Hanley Ramirez’s first three months in left field for the Boston Red Sox. For those unimaginative Red Sox fans out there still growling over the reality that the team probably isn’t winning the World Series, the only thing left to say is, Why so serious?

There is a growing contingent of observers (we’d estimate roughly 90% of the media; maybe 25% of fans) proving to be dead inside, who want to take it all away from us. They want to kill the laughter – they want HanRam and his bulky contract gone. They want the Red Sox to swallow a chunk of the deal and essentially pay one of the most entertaining players in baseball to DH for some other club. They say, “Cut bait now or pay the price later! He’s a clubhouse chemistry nightmare!”

They are what is wrong with modern professional sporting culture. If this is what this team is going to be, why not keep letting HanRam do what he does? Keep him where he is, in this awkward angular space, creating offense with his glove, teaching us all the joy of laughter during a season otherwise destined to be wrought with despair.

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Red Sox fans ecstatic they’ll no longer have to sneak contraband veggies into Fenway Park

Fenway Farms photo

Photograph from @FreshNewEngland

Season ticket-holder Edith Coakley knows the feeling all too well. The nervous anticipation, ticket in hand, as she nears a turnstile to enter Boston’s baseball cathedral, Fenway Park on many a warm summer’s day.

It should be a feeling of excitement and euphoria. Instead, all she can do is fret anxiously as the gate attendant goes through her canvas carryall. Don’t find the eggplant, please. For the love of God, take away my carrots, but stay away from the eggplant. 

“I find the ballpark food options to be a bit too predictable,” Coakley explains. “So I’ve been bringing in my own vegetables for years. Fresh cherry tomatoes that you can pop in your mouth instead of stale Cracker Jacks or peanuts. Trust me, on a hot summer’s day, munching down crispy cucumber dices is so much more refreshing than eating some $5 frankfurter that’s been soaking in lukewarm toilet water for the past four hours.”

Her wisdom may be far from conventional, but the organization has finally caught on. The ballpark vegetable craze is no longer mere fad, limited to the over-industrious, enterprising health-nut minority.

Earlier this week, the team announced that this season will serve as the inaugural year for “Fenway Farms,” an on-site vegetable garden that will grow all the family favorite herbs and vegetables: green beans, kale, cucumbers, tomatoes, eggplant, pea shoots, parsley, oregano, cilantro, mint and countless other edibles.

Fenway Farms rendering

Homegrown products from Fenway Farms will be sold at concession stands and used as ingredients in food offerings. The team will also donate some beans and leaves to local needy school children.

For most fans such as Coakley, this is welcome news.

“No more weird glances when I pull a big-ass squash out of the front of my half-unbuttoned Nomar Garciparra jersey!” she rejoices.

As Loraine Smith from Seekonk put it, “Raw vegetables chock full of vitamins and a revamped Sox lineup chock full of raw power. What more can we ask for as Boston fans?”

John Hammond from Wellesley: “Some people are saying kale is just having its moment right now. That it’s a fad. That it’s a fluke or whatever. Well guess what, people said the same thing about David Ortiz in 2003.”

head of lettuce

One club official also confirmed to Fenway Pastoral that there is serious charity auction potential with Fenway Farms. “We have some stuff up our sleeves. For example, fans may enjoy our plan to sell to the highest bidder all heads of lettuce resembling Mark Bellhorn. These will become instant collector’s items and a portion of the sale proceeds will go to the Jimmy Fund.”

Fenway Farms is a worthy endeavor indeed. However, as with everything good in life there are drawbacks. As part of the team’s plan to enter the lucrative farmer’s market industry, it confirmed it will be forced to crack down on fans that continue to insist on bringing outside veggies  into the park on gameday.

“We cannot have unauthorized contraband cauliflower and cukes floating around the bleachers,” said one club official. “It will compromise our business model and I think fans will hopefully understand and accept that.”

Unfortunately, with Opening Day looming on Monday, some fans are planning to fight back.

“These damn big government liberal hippies want to control my every move. This is Agricultural Big Brother gone mad,” said Pete James of Hanson. “I have a right to choose where I acquire and consume my veggies. This is un-American and wrong. So long as this is still the U.S. of A., I plan on chopping my own broccoli fresh in the comfort of my grandstand seat. I’d just like to see them come try to stop me.”

Ray Holtz from Framingham: “This is your garden variety capitalistic get-rich quick scheme. Entice a captive audience with delicious vegetables and make them pay an exorbitant mark-up. Seen it a thousand times. John Henry is just lining his pockets with the money he prints and you just know he’s keeping his pretty fancy boy self trim and his bowels regular with all that free kale.”