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Legends On Deck

’04 Red Sox “Curse of the Bambino” vs. ’16 Chicago Cubs “The Billy Goat Curse”

The whole world loves an underdog and even more so true in World Series competition in the last 12 years. In 2004 the Boston Red Sox broke an 86- year drought in World Series championships when they defeated the St Louis Cardinals to capture that long awaited title, breaking the alleged “Curse of the Bambino”. Boston had won 5 previous titles and after 2004 would go on to capture two more titles, one in 2007 and one in 2013.

On the other side of the diamond, there is the Chicago Cubs who last won a World Series title in 1908, making their fans wait 108 years to taste victory. Also, the Cubs title in 2016 was the first title for the Cubs at Wrigley Field as they had won in 1907 and 1908 while playing at the West Side Grounds. In fact, the Cubs had last played in a World Series in 1945 when the “Curse of the Billy Goat” grew in legend. Chicago had previously made it to seven World Series after 1908 and curiously they were the Red Sox opponent in 1918 when the Sox won their last World Series title.

It is only natural to have these two long suffering franchises face off to see which one of the teams can shed a black cloud and move on.

Starting off behind the plate at the catcher’s position we have Jason Varitek of the Red Sox against Miguel Montero/David Ross of the Cubs. Varitek in the modern era of baseball is one of the best handlers of a pitching rotation around. He has caught 4 no hitters in his career and also is a solid player on offense who during the historic 2004 season hit 18 home runs, drove in 73 runs and hit for a .296 batting average. He was also a solid defender behind the plate with a fielding percentage of .998 for the year. The man did not make mistakes behind the plate or when he was at bat. Montero and Ross split the catching duties with Ross being he inspirational leader of the team. However even putting Montero and Ross’s statistics together, it just does not measure up to Varitek’s value to the Red Sox and the clear-cut winner here in Jason Varitek of the Red Sox.

The first base position for Boston in 2004 was manned for the most part by Kevin Millar who hit 18 home runs, had 73 RBIs and hit for a .297 average during the season. Millar was an inspirational leader, who when the Red Sox were down 3 games to none to the New York Yankees coined the phrase “Cowboy Up” and as we all know the Red Sox came back from a three games to none deficit to defeat the Yankees, go on to beat the Cardinals in 4 straight games and end the “Curse of the Bambino”. Millar is now the co-host of Intentional Talk with Chris Rose on the Major League Baseball network. Slugging first baseman Anthony Rizzo is the Cubs rep at first base and the young slugger in 2016 drove in 109 runs, hitting 32 home runs in the process and batting .292 for the 2016 season. Rizzo has a decided edge in the offense department and defensively Rizzo fielded .996 to Millar’s .986 giving the Cubs the advantage at that part of first base as well. Advantage at first base goes to the Chicago Cubs.

Mark Bellhorn hit 17 home runs, drove in 82 runs and hit for a .264 average in 2004, while in 2016 Ben Zobrist of the Cubs had 18 home runs 76 runs batted in and a .272 average. With both men wearing the leather, Zobrist had a slightly better fielding percentage than Bellhorn (.985 to .977) while Bellhorn had more chances in the field, (.598 to 479). The advantage at the fielding position would go to Zobrist but Bellhorn would not hurt a team at second base. One of the deciding factors here would be the ability of Zobrist to play anywhere on the diamond and factoring that into the equation advantage to Zobrist and the Cubs.

Playing shortstop in the major leagues, no matter what the team, is a very glamorous position. The history of the position dates from the great Honus Wagner of the Pirates to Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr who broke Lou Gehrig’s consecutive game streak. Pokey Reese of the Red Sox matches up against Addison Russell of the Cubs. Pokey Reese’s final year in baseball was 2004 and he left the sport a winner with a World Series win to both him and the Red Sox credit. At best Reese was a mediocre hitter and in 2004 he had 3 home runs, 29 runs batted in and a .221 batting average. Defensively he made 6 errors in 281 chances for a .979 fielding percentage. Russell was playing in his second major league season and had 21 home runs, 54 RBIs and a .238 batting average. In the field for Chicago he had 554 chances in the field with 14 errors for a .975 fielding percentage. Neither Russell nor Reese is in the category of Ripken or Wagner, but they are an important piece of the team picture. Russell has the offensive advantage, however looking at the overall picture there really is not a clear-cut winner when comparing the teams in their curse breaking seasons.

Bill Mueller the Red Sox third baseman had previously (2003) led the American League with a .326 batting average. In 2004 Mueller batted .283 with 15 home runs and 57 runs batted in. That is a good steady offensive season for Mueller and the Sox. On defense Mueller made 14 errors in247 chances for a fielding percentage of .943 Mueller would finish out his career in 2006 with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Kris Bryant, the National League’s 2015 Rookie of the Year, was coming of another good season in 2016. Bryant would hit 39 home runs, have 102 runs batted in and hit for a .292 average, numbers that were a help in Bryant being named the National League MVP for the 2016 season. Defensively he had a fielding percentage of .953 with 12 errors in 257 chances. When the league MVP is on a team, the scales tip in the advantage of that team. Mueller is a good player but with Bryant winning the MVP award, advantage Cubs.

The outfield is always interesting and usually it is best to compare them as a group. Boston’s outfield consists of Gabe Kapler in right field, Johnny Damon in centerfield and the enigmatic Manny Ramirez in left field. These three as unit offensively certainly are a force to be reckoned with. Kapler had 6 home runs, 33 RBIs and a .272 batting average. Damon 20 home runs 94 runs batted in and a .304 batting average and Ramirez, the best hitter in the group had 43 home runs, 130 runs batted in and a .308 batting average. Defensively this group certainly will not make people forget the great Red Sox outfield of Duffy Lewis, Tris Speaker and Harry Hooper. Kapler had 4 errors in 180 chances for a .978 fielding percentage. Damon may look like Jesus Christ, but he has the arm of the Virgin Mary as he made 5 errors in 358 chances for a .986 fielding percentage. Ramirez is a dangerous hitter, but he may in fact be a more dangerous fielder making 7 errors in 209 chances for a .967 fielding percentage. Like was said before a purely dangerous hitter but a fielder with a lack of focus.

The Cubs outfield of Jorge Soler (12 home runs-31 RBIs – .238), Dexter Fowler (13 home runs-48 runs batted in – .276 batting average) and Jason Hayward (7 home runs 29 runs batted in-.230 batting average) is certainly not the offensive juggernaut of the Red Sox. Defensively the advantage goes to Chicago, however there is one factor that Boston has that Chicago does not have, with that being “Big Papi” David Ortiz. Ortiz may tick people off with his antics, but for my money in this lifetime there is no greater clutch hitter than the recently retired Ortiz. If the game is played with a designated hitter advantage Red Sox, if not the advantage would still go to Boston, s Ortiz can still be used as a pinch hitter.

Boston’s starting five pitchers are Curt Schilling (21-6), Pedro Martinez (16-9), Tim Wakefield (12-10) Derek Lowe (14-12) and Bronson Arroyo (10-9). For the Cubs it is, former Red Sox Jon Lester (19-5), Jake Arrieta (18-8), Kyle Hendricks (16-8), another former Red Sox, John Lackey (11-8) and Jason Hammell (15-10). Both Boston (Schilling and Martinez) and Chicago (Lester and Arrieta) would be considered the staff aces and in a matchup, because of the guts and guile of Schilling and Martinez, advantage Boston. In positions 3 through 5 advantage would go to the Cubs as the pitchers have an overall better record of 42 wins and 26 losses versus the Red Sox 3 through 5 who have a combined record of 36 wins and 31 losses.

This can even be broken done to the managers Terry Francona for Boston and Joe Madden for the Cubs. Both men could motivate their teams and get the most out of what they had and manager wise there really is no decided advantage. The general manger for both teams is Theo Epstein who may just be the best GM in the game today.

Chicago has the decided advantage at almost every position, however since it is only one game in this game the advantage goes to Boston with the one-two pitching punch of Schilling and Martinez.

Kevin Larkin

Kevin Larkin has been going to all kinds of baseball amateur and professional since 1969. When asked he says he is a baseball fan who likes the Yankees. He was a police officer for 24 years in his home town of Barrington Massachusetts and helped on investigating most major crimes including murder, plane crashes and automobile crashes. He was certified as an expert witness in accident reconstruction and investigated almost 90 fatal automobile accidents. After retiring from the police force he renewed a love for baseball and as of now has authored three books on the subject: Baseball in the Bay State, Gehrig:Game by Game and Baseball in the Berkshires. He has authored articles for SABR and helps out there with research whenever possible. He has a coloection of almost 700 baseball books and enjoys pre 1900 and post 1900 baseball as well as the Black Sox Scandal and learning about the Negro Leagues. He also writes a column for CNY Baseball and loves giving back to the sport which has given him so much.