“Wait till next year.” That plaintive cry — which originated with snake-bitten Brooklyn Dodgers rooters in the 1950s — is now a rallying point for disappointed sports fans everywhere. In Boston, 2005 didn’t bring as many blessings as the previous year, what with the Sox going out early in the playoffs and the Patriots facing incredible adversity and numbing injuries. (Although their season is far from over.)
While 2006 may not bring the Red Sox another World Series or get more than three people to watch the Bruins on TV, it will be a topsy-turvy year of spills, thrills, and chills. And there is only one thing we know for sure: Manny will be Manny.
A Flag for LA-LA Land
The 2006 baseball season starts out poorly for the Red Sox. Theo Epstein declines another entreaty to rejoin the front office in order to head up the fledging “Kerry ’08” presidential campaign. That breeds trouble when ace pitcher Curt Schilling responds by threatening to retire in order to become press secretary for Mitt Romney’s White House bid. (Schilling is talked out of the move only when WEEI agrees to give him his own weekend show, bumping the likable “Preacher and Teacher” combo of Larry Johnson and Craig Mustard.)
To the disgust of Red Sox Nation, Johnny Damon gets off to a torrid start for the Yankees, finding that short right-field porch to his liking and belting 10 homers in the first month of the season. Soon, he is the toast of the Apple, his clean-cut visage adorning billboards in Times Square. He becomes a regular guest on Imus in the Morning, and begins holding forth on politics with the I-Man’s favorite pundits, Tim Russert and Howard Fineman.
At the same time, Manny Ramirez, whose trade demands cannot be met, grudgingly shows up, but his heart is clearly not in it. In a classic case of “Manny Being Manny,” he spends one entire game inside the Green Monster wall rather than manning his position in left field. Forced to go with only eight defenders on the Fenway diamond, the Sox are mauled by the woeful Devil Rays 27-6. Manager Terry Francona promises to talk to Manny soon about his “unorthodox defensive positioning.”
Given baseball’s tougher policy on performance-enhancing drugs, a number of players enter the 2006 season with that suddenly shrunken Sammy Sosa and Pudge Rodriguez look — claiming, of course, that they “ate better” and hired new personal trainers during the off-season. Barry Bonds returns to the Giants healthy and raring to go. But in a stunning development, Bonds, ensnared in the BALCO case, is arrested by Pac Bell security guards while rounding third base after blasting home run number 714, which would have tied him for second place all time with Babe Ruth. Because he never stepped on home plate, he is officially awarded a triple and remains in third place on the homer list. A shell-shocked Commissioner Bud Selig mutters something about “the integrity of the game.”