Our Fenway Frauds miniseries continues as we look at one of the most vile professional sports franchises in North America: the Boston Red Sox. Remember, after years of ramping up the efforts to beat the New York Yankees, the organization finally won a World Series in 2004 with a bunch of bad apples.
Without severe punishment, an entity will not change its bad behavior. That brings us to 2006, when the Sox dropped to third in the American League East Division, winning just 86 games on an 81-81 Pythagorean projection. Some effectiveness of the prior seasons (2003-2005) had worn off somewhat, and how the Boston organization would react by 2007 is very telling.
Exhibit A: Mike Lowell
This season began the final five-year stretch of his career, starting at age 32. The year before with the Florida Marlins, Lowell posted a .658 OPS, and his MLB service time seemed to be close to ending. Whether an injury or just ineffectiveness, the veteran played in 150 games and looked terrible, overall, considering he somehow got a Gold Glove for playing -0.5 dWAR defense at the hot corner.
In the offseason, the Marlins threw him in as a salary dump amid the Josh Beckett/Hanley Ramírez trade. Lowell was still owed $18M on his contract, and the Florida organization didn’t want to pay that for a .650 OPS at best. Lo and behold, you know what happened, right? Hanging with Manny and Big Papi, Lowell had a career resurgence at an age when he should have been in decline—and made $37.5M more.
From 2006-2010, Lowell posted an .814 OPS in his twilight years playing for the Red Sox, starting with this 2006 season: his HRs jumped from 8 to 20; his RBI increased from 58 to 80; his batting average jumped 48 points. Maybe some of that was due to Fenway Park—but not all of it. Boston re-signed him after the 2007 season and gave him almost $40M to retire comfortably on. The temptation is real.
Exhibit B: Curt Schilling
We know how this mouthy pitcher later stated that the Boston organization wanted him to pop PEDs, but it’s likely because he’d already shown himself willing to do so. In 2005 at age 38, Schilling had lost his effectiveness for whatever reason (age, injury, etc.). He posted a career-worst 5.69 ERA, albeit in only 93-plus IP. But still, for an arrogant guy like Schilling, there was no way he could end his career like that.
So, the Red Sox still owed Schilling $26M for 2006 and 2007—we suspect this is when he actually did take PEDs at the team’s behest, since Boston didn’t want to eat that money (see above). At age 39, Schilling rebounded suddenly to post a modest 15 wins and a sub-4.00 ERA, while posting an AL-best 6.54 BB/K ratio. He also topped the circuit with just 1.2 BBs per 9 IP. Again, he was 39 years old. Ahem.
He was even better in 2007, in terms of ERA, before re-signing with Boston for the 2008 season—which he never played, due to injury. The one-year deal was for $8M, and that’s probably why Schilling claims the Red Sox wanted him to juice up. Since he never threw a pitch in 2008, though, it’s easy for the pitcher to make that claim when he probably already was using previously in 2006-2007.
Exhibit C: Javier López
Yes, if this name looks familiar, you know why: He took what he learned in Boston all the way across the country to The House That Steroids Built. Or maybe López just knew he had to find a safe haven to continue his successful ways, and why not go to the place where Barry Bonds was adored for cheating? Either way, his 2006 season with the Red Sox stands out for many reasons.
López didn’t bust into the majors until age 25 with the Colorado Rockies, and in 142 appearances on the mound, he posted a 5.61 ERA over 101 IP. His WHIP was 1.465, too, so generally, he wasn’t very good. López wasn’t even a K machine, notching just 5.4 punchouts per 9 IP with Colorado. This is why the Rockies waived him after just 3 appearances in 2005. Arizona took a flier on him, only to get a 9.42 ERA.
Boston ended up with him in the middle of the 2006 season, and over the next three years (and 116 2/3 IP), López put up a 2.70 ERA—and bought himself new life in the majors by age 30. After this 2006 season, he would go on to collect 4 World Series rings and over $26M in salary … including almost $24M alone from the San Francisco Giants from age 33-38, where he was ageless and effective. Unreal.
Conclusion: Avoiding salary pains for the team and giving longer contract life to the players
That’s all this boils down to, of course, in addition to “winning” and putting shallow-minded fans in the stands. We see situations here where players stunk, so they tried something different to extend their careers and get an extra cash grab (or 20). We also a desperate franchise not wanting to eat excessive salary on ineffective players, falling in line with Schilling’s claims.
Perhaps they just thought the miracle of flaxseed oil could save them, like it did with Bonds. Either way, we see a team miss the postseason after peaking in 2004 with its first World Series title since 1918. The Red Sox certainly kept trying their dubious plans nonetheless, even though they were not successful in this specific season. That can happen, of course, although it usually just makes cheaters double down.