This is the season we might label as the end of the First Act for the Fenway Frauds: 2001. While the Boston Red Sox floundered to just 82 wins in a non-playoff season, the rival New York Yankees won another American League pennant—the fourth one in a row and the fifth in six seasons—which reminded the Beantown organization of its second-class status in New England and in baseball, overall.
As the case studies below also show, this was a season where the Red Sox re-committed to the fraud, in a certain sense, and the front office would double down going forward in the effort to catch/surpass the Yankees at any cost. The “coincidences” on this roster are too blatant to ignore, as the team also fired its manager, Jimy Williams, despite his .540 winning percentage and two postseason appearances during his tenure. Clearly, the old-school Williams was not on board with some front-office plans.
Exhibit A: Manny Ramírez
This player requires no analysis: Manny being Manny is well documented and had kept him out of the Hall of Fame, despite being a 12-time All Star, a career .312 hitter, and the owner of 555 MLB home runs. Ramírez is a known PED user, and the question remains when did he start doing it. He was a good hitter from the moment he showed up in the majors with Cleveland as a 21-year old star in 1994. He was a first-round draft pick, and Manny’s minor-league stats were very good.
Can we assume that he was always a PED user? Perhaps, as he did go to high school in New York City, and who knows what drugs were available on the streets of Gotham in the early 1990s? We have no discernible ability or idea here on pinpointing the use of his PEDs. We just know from the MLB tests and suspensions that he did use them, and the consistency in his numbers suggest he was always using them.
Ramírez made over $140M from the Red Sox, as Boston initially tripled his Cleveland salary when the Red Sox signed him before this 2001 season. The money was there for Manny, and the return on investment was there for Boston, as well—just like the San Francisco Giants in The House That Steroids Built, there was no punishment for teams who employed PED users. Do the math; follow the money, Bud Selig, who saw in the Red Sox another slumbering giant of profiteering to be maximized at any cost.
Exhibit B: Doug Mirabelli
We know you’re asking, “Who cares about a little-used backup catcher?” But there is a catch here. Mirabelli spent five years in the majors (1996-2000) with the Giants after being drafted by San Francisco in 1992. Guess who Mirabelli was playing with in the City by the Bay? You guessed it: Barry Bonds. We know Barroid starting using in 1999; that’s documented in the Game of Shadows book. In 1999 and 2000, Mirabelli played in 115 games for the Giants before S.F. strangely waived him in March 2001.
What do you think Mirabelli saw in the S.F. clubhouse for those two seasons? What did he decide to do or not do at the time? We don’t know. Your guess is as good as ours, but when the Giants waived him, the Texas Rangers picked him, and Mirabelli struggled with the Rangers for 23 games in 2001 (.570 OPS). We don’t know why Boston would have traded Justin Duchscherer—a future All-Star pitcher—for Mirabelli, but the Red Sox did so. And Mirabelli flourished for the next five seasons in Fenway Park.
Mirabelli’s career OPS is just .724, but in 7 overall seasons in Boston, his OPS was .748—and that could be attributed to Fenway Park, but the Texas stadium in 2001 was also a bandbox, so that doesn’t really make sense, even with the small sample size. Either way, in the 54 games he played with the Red Sox in 2001, Mirabelli posted an .877 OPS. Later in 2004, at age 33, he posted a career-best OPS (.893) playing alongside Manny and David Ortiz.
The connection to Bonds is too coincidental, as is his success immediately thereafter with the Red Sox—with the failure in Texas between the two. We surmise he saw what Bonds was doing, and after getting waived by the Giants and struggling with the Rangers, he found himself at risk of losing his livelihood, saw Manny being Manny, and decided, “Why the f**k not?” Otherwise, Mirabelli doesn’t have an MLB career past 2001, and he doesn’t win two World Series with Boston as a their backup catcher.
Exhibit C: Rolando Arrojo
The Cuban defector made his MLB debut in 1998 with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays at age 32, so he was already past his prime at that point. He posted 4.1 WAR with the expansion team in its first season, and then it was pretty much all downhill for Arrojo over the next few seasons. His 5.18 ERA in 1999 was terrible, and the Devil Rays traded him to the Colorado Rockies to start the 2000 season. That was a disaster as well: a 6.04 ERA in 19 starts with the Rox forced them to dump him on Boston.
Why would the Red Sox want him at that point? He was 34 and clearly washed up, and even if the Red Sox organization wanted to sell some tickets to the Cuban immigrants in Boston, surely there were better players to acquire. However, with the arrival of Ramírez in Fenway Park, Arrojo posted the best season of his career in 2001 at age 35 somehow: 3.48 ERA and a 1.190 WHIP, both career-best marks. This again is too much of a coincidence for us to accept on the surface.
Admittedly, after being exclusively a starter through the 2000 season, the Red Sox decided to vary Arrojo’s usage in 2001, and he only started 9 times in 41 appearances. He also secured 5 saves for Boston during this season, so perhaps that helped reduce wear and tear on his old arm, but it’s still crazy to see a guy drop his ERA from 5.05 with the Red Sox in 13 starts at age 34 to the 3.48 level at age 35 over 41 appearances. We wonder how close his locker was to Manny’s locker.
Alas, the magic didn’t survive the winter, as Arrojo reverted back to form in 2002 with a 4.98 ERA, washed out of the majors, and was never seen again in MLB. Maybe he didn’t want to be like Manny after all, and considering other reports later, perhaps he just ended up saying no.
Conclusion: The Fenway Frauds were just getting started …
As we noted in the opening comments above, this was a turning point for the Red Sox organization where they decided to go all in on the strategy to run down the Yankees. Bringing in Ramírez and letting him be himself in the clubhouse while firing the old-school manager despite his success signaled a firm shift in organization philosophy. Boston was going to start letting the inmates run the asylum, just as the Giants were doing in San Francisco.
This was Selig’s dream: reviving moribund and wealthy fan bases by any means necessary, and establishing regional rivalries for the Los Angeles Dodgers and the New York Yankees, two of the most profitable teams in the game regardless of whether they won or not (thanks to ginormous metropolitan profit potential via TV ratings).
This was the end of the First Act for the Fenway Frauds. The Second Act would get a whole lot better for Boston fans, sadly, even though it helped damage professional baseball as a whole beyond repair.