The Ties That Bind the Red Sox and Dodgers

Given that the Dodgers have won 20 pennants and the Red Sox 13, and that the two teams have combined to make 25 trips to the postseason during the Wild Card era, it seems improbable that this World Series will be just their second meeting in the Fall Classic — and more than a century since their first. Both franchises have endured ups and downs over the decades, but in general have been among the majors’ most successful, with the Dodgers owning the third-highest winning percentage since 1901 (.526) and the Red Sox the fifth-highest (.519).

What follows is an exploration of nine shared aspects of the two teams’ rich histories, listed in vaguely chronological order. Not all of them will come to bear directly upon the action, but for a sport and an event where the present is always linked to the past, it’s worth keeping these relationships in mind.

1916: The Original Matchup

The Red Sox were one of the nascent American League’s most successful teams, winning six pennants in the Junior Circuit’s first 18 years and going undefeated in five World Series during that span: 1903 (the inaugural one, against the Pirates), 1912 (against the Giants), 1915 (against the Phillies), 1916 (against the Dodgers), and 1918 (against the Cubs). (John McGraw’s Giants refused to play them in 1904, and so there was no World Series.) As for the Dodgers, they began life as the Brooklyn Atlantics in the American Association in 1884 and were known variously (and unofficially) as the Grays, Bridegrooms, Grooms, Superbas, and Trolley Dodgers. They enjoyed some success in the 19th century, winning the 1889 AA pennant and the 1890, 1899, and 1900 NL ones, but they didn’t win their first of the 20th century until 1916, when they were known as the Robins in honor of manager Wilbert Robinson (a moniker that bore special significance to this scribe and expectant father a century later). Not until 1932 did they officially become the Dodgers, though a program from the 1916 World Series did bill them that way:

The series pitted the defending world champions against comparative upstarts, though it was the Robins who actually had the better record (94-60 versus 91-63). The Red Sox featured a pair of future Hall of Famers in right fielder Harry Hooper and pitcher Babe Ruth; the former had a series-high seven hits while batting .333/.417/.476, while the latter, just 21 at the time, held the Robins to six hits and one run over 14 innings in Game Two. The Dodgers had future Hall of Famers of their own in left fielder Zack Wheat, right fielder Casey Stengel (elected as a manager, of course), and pitcher Rube Marquard. Wheat and Stengel were two of the four Robins who collected a team-high four hits in the series, while Marquard, already a veteran of three straight World Series appearances with the Giants (1911-13), started and lost Games One and Four. While the first three games were all decided by one run, the end result was lopsided, with the Red Sox taking the title in five games.

Brooklyn’s only win came in Game Three, behind shortstop Ivy Olson’s two-run triple off Carl Mays and the shutdown relief work of Jeff Pfeffer, who pitched 2.2 innings of perfect ball in relief of flagging starter Jack Coombs. The Sox beat Pfeffer in Game Five, with Ernie Shore scattered three hits to give the Red Sox their fifth title.

Thus it’s been 102 years since the two teams met up, the longest wait for a rematch in MLB history, surpassing the 76 years for the Giants and Athletics (1913 and 1989), 59 years for the Yankees and Phillies (1950 and 2009), and 47 years for the Braves and Indians (1948 and 1995).

Opposite Ends of Integration

Everybody knows that the Dodgers broke the modern major-league color barrier with Jackie Robinson’s arrival in the majors on April 15, 1947 and that his arrival helped the team to six pennants and one championship during his 10-year career. What’s much less known — and certainly less flattering — is that the Red Sox were the last of the 16 franchises of the time to integrate, taking until July 21, 1959, when second baseman Pumpsie Green made his debut.

Any team could have had Robinson before the Dodgers, but the Red Sox actually brought him in for a tryout. In 1945, Boston city councilman Isadore Muchnick threatened to lead an effort to revoke the permits that allowed the Red Sox to play on Sundays if the team didn’t grant tryouts to players from the Negro Leagues. On April 16, 1945, the Red Sox finally relented for a tryout that included Robinson (then the shortstop of the Kansas City Monarchs), second baseman Marvin Williams of the Philadelphia Stars, and outfielder Sam Jethroe of the Cleveland Buckeyes.

It turned out to be a sham. Whether it was owner Tom Yawkey or general manager Eddie Collins is unknown, but while the players worked out, somebody in the stands shouted, “Get those n—ers off the field!” and they all went unsigned. While the Red Sox didn’t immediately suffer — they won the 1946 pennant, after all — they fell so far behind the curve when it came to the influx of black talent that they experienced eight straight losing seasons from 1959 through 1966, finishing no higher than seventh in a 10-team league for the last five of those years.

Damn Yankees

If these two franchises have a common enemy, it’s the Yankees. The December 26, 1919 sale of Ruth to the Yankees for $100,000 — one of nine deals made between the two teams by cash-poor owner Harry Frazee — shifted the AL’s balance of power to New York to such an extent that from 1921 through 1964, the Yankees won 29 pennants and 20 championships. From 1922 through 1932, the Red Sox escaped the AL basement just twice, and once they improved, they broke through to win just one pennant in that span, in 1946. Five times, they finished second in the league behind the Yankees (1938, 1939, 1941, 1942, and 1949), though only the last of those was a close race. In the division-play era, they’ve won 10 AL East titles, including the last three, but the Yankees have won 18, including the Game 163 tiebreaker over Boston in 1978 (via Bucky Dent’s homer) and a split-season title in 1981. The two teams have met four times in the postseason, with the Yankees beating the Red Sox in the 1999 and 2003 ALCS, and the Red Sox winning in 2004 and in this year’s Division Series.

The Dodgers haven’t had to endure the day-to-day challenges of dealing with the Yankees, but the two teams have squared off in a record 11 World Series, and they’ve wound up on the short end eight times. While in Brooklyn, they were part of a fierce intracity rivalry with the Yankees but lost the Series in 1941, 1947, 1949, 1952, 1953, and 1956, breaking through only in 1955; since moving to Los Angeles, the rivalry is on more even footing, with the Dodgers winning in 1963 and 1981, and the Yankees doing so in 1977 and 1978. That’s still a whole lot of heartbreak at the hands of the pinstripes.

Championship Droughts

It’s an oversimplification to say that the combination of the Yankees’ might and the Red Sox’ failure to integrate in a timely fashion kept them out of the winner’s circle for so long. Nonetheless, their 86-year championship drought, from 1918 until 2004, is the third-longest in major-league history behind those of the Cubs (108 years from 1908 to 2016) and White Sox (88 years from 1917 to 2005).

The Dodgers are no strangers to droughts, either. They went 52 years from the inception of the World Series until their first win in 1955, which now stands as the 11th-longest streak in major-league history, and they’ve gone 30 years since their last World Series win in 1988, the 11th-longest active streak.

The Presence of Pedro

One key to the Red Sox’ success in ending their drought — but only after some severe disappointment — was the presence and performance of future Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez, who led the AL in ERA four times and in strikeouts three times during his seven-year run with Boston from 1998 to 2004, winning two Cy Young awards along the way. Martinez, of course, was originally signed out of the Dominican Republic by the Dodgers at age 16 in 1988; the team had signed his older brother, Ramon Martinez, four years earlier. The younger Martinez debuted in 1992 and spent all of 1993 with the Dodgers, pitching primarily out of the bullpen because manager Tommy Lasorda feared that the 5-foot-11, 170-pound 21-year-old couldn’t withstand the rigors of starting.

Perhaps the concerns were warranted, given the way the skipper overworked Orel Hershiser, Fernando Valenzuela, and brother Ramon, but that misjudgment created a chip on Martinez’s shoulder that helped drive him to greatness. The Dodgers ultimately traded Pedro to the Expos for second baseman Delino DeShields in November 1993; four years and one Cy Young award later, he was traded to the Red Sox for a player to be named later (Tony Armas Jr.) and Carl Pavano. He was elected to the Cooperstown in 2015, wearing a Red Sox cap on his plaque and serving as a reminder of the one who got away.

The Ghost of Grady

The manager of the Red Sox in 2002 and 2003, Little piloted the team to 93- and 95 win seasons, but he’s remembered for his failure to remove Martinez from Game Seven of the 2003 ALCS against the Yankees before he squandered a 5-2 lead — that, despite ample data suggesting when to give his ace the hook. Little was soon fired and didn’t get another managerial job again until 2006, with the Dodgers, on a squad that also featured ex-Sox Nomar Garciaparra, Derek Lowe, and Bill Mueller. The team won 88 games and the NL West flag before being bounced from the NLDS by the Mets. When they won just 82 games the next year, Little was out of a job. He’s scarcely been heard from in a baseball context since.

The 2012 Blockbuster

From early 2004 to early 2012, the Dodgers were owned by Frank McCourt, a Boston parking-lot magnate who ultimately skimped on payroll, diverting money to fund a lavish lifestyle for him and wife Jamie (a marriage which ultimately ended in a very acrimonious divorce whose embarrassing details became public) and steering the team into bankruptcy. The Guggenheim Baseball Management group, which purchased the team for the astronomical sum of $2.15 billion, continued to flex its financial muscle with a midsummer trade for Marlins third baseman Hanley Ramirez (a once and future Red Sock owed $31.5 million) and then an August 29 blockbuster in which they took on $260 million in guaranteed salary commitments via the contracts of Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez, and Nick Punto. Heading the other way were Ivan De Jesus, James Loney, Rubby de la Rosa, Jerry Sands, and Allen Webster — all ballast, ultimately.

None of those players are still with their respective teams, and only Gonzalez and Webster even saw major-league action this year, but the Guggs’ legacy of big spending has continued. They had the majors’ second-highest payroll in 2013 ($223,126,072 according to Cot’s Contracts) and then led the majors in each of the next four seasons, crossing the Competitive Balance Tax threshold each time . In an effort to reset their marginal tax rate, they slipped to third in payroll this year behind the Red Sox ($233,200,429) and Giants.

Mangerial Matchup

Perhaps the coolest distinction with regards to this pairing — and one that brings the aforementioned integration issue full circle — is that this is the first World Series in which both managers are men of color. The Dodgers’ Dave Roberts is the son of an African-American father and a Japanese mother while the Red Sox’ Alex Cora is Puerto Rican. On the one hand, it’s a travesty that it’s taken 71 years since Robinson’s debut and 43 since the majors’ first black manager (Frank Robinson with the Indians), but at a time when the majors feature just four non-white managers (the Nationals’ Dave Martinez and the White Sox’ Rick Rentera being the others), it’s a clear positive that this pair has been successful, particularly amid a paradigm shift in which analytically driven organizations have turned to younger and comparatively inexperienced managers.

Roberts and Cora have one other unique distinction going for them: they’re the first pair of World Series managers who each played for both participating teams. Roberts, who spent 10 seasons (1999-2008) in the majors, played regularly in the Dodgers’ outfield from 2002 until July 31, 2004, when he was traded to the Red Sox; he was a reserve thereafter, but he made his mark in Boston history as a pinch-runner in the ALCS, scoring the tying runs in Games Four and Five as part of the Red Sox’ comeback against the Yankees. His steal of second base off Mariano Rivera in the bottom of the ninth inning of Game Four helped the team avert a sweep and is forever remembered in Red Sox lore.

Cora spent the first seven of his 14 seasons (1998-2011) in the majors with the Dodgers, who drafted him out of Puerto Rico in 1996. He’s best remembered there for homering off the Cubs’ Matt Clement to conclude an 18-pitch at-bat on May 13, 2004 (in a video that actually features Dave Roberts around the 1:40 mark).

Cora spent part of 2005 and all of 2006-08 as a utility infielder with the Red Sox, earning a World Series ring in 2007.

Hill and Eovaldi

Each of these teams’ probable World Series rotations includes a starter who spent time wearing the opposing colors. Nathan Eovaldi was drafted by the Dodgers out of Alvin (Texas) High School in the 11th round in 2008 and made 20 appearances for the team in 2011-12, posting a 3.96 ERA and 4.20 FIP in 91 innings before being traded to the Marlins in a five-player deal that sent Hanley Ramirez to Los Angeles. Between 2012 and -18, he spent time with the Marlins, Yankees, and Rays before making a solid 10-start return from Tommy John surgery with that last club this year. Traded to the Red Sox for Jalen Beeks on July 25, the 28-year-old righty been a key pickup. In two postseason starts and one relief appearance, he’s allowed just three runs in 14.1 innings while striking out 10 and walking just two.

As for Rich Hill, he’s done three very different stints with the Red Sox amid myriad arm injuries and an odyssey through the majors. From 2010 to -12, his age-30 to -32 seasons, he spent more time in the minors than the majors, in part because he was rehabbing from 2009 labrum surgery (done while an Oriole) and 2011 Tommy John surgery. At the major-league level during that span, he made 40 appearances totaling 31.2 innings, all in relief; he struck out 36 and allowed just four runs. In 2014, amid a stretch during which he also passed through the organizations of the Indians, Angels, and Yankees while making 79 major-league appearances totaling 44 innings, with an unflattering 5.90 ERA, he spent half a season relieving at Triple A Pawtucket. Finally, in 2015, after stints with the Triple-A affiliates of both the Nationals and Red Sox, he made four eye-opening September starts for Boston, posting a 1.55 ERA with 36 strikeouts in 29 innings. That led to a one-year, $6 million deal with the A’s the following year, during which he was traded to the Dodgers. While a series of blisters has limited him to 55 starts over the past two-plus seasons, he’s been effective when available, and in two postseason starts and one relief appearance, the 38-year-old southpaw has allowed just three runs in 10.1 innings while striking out 10, working around nine walks.

While the exact order hasn’t been announced, it’s not out of the question the two pitchers could face off, though Eovaldi’s two starts have come in Game Three of the Red Sox’s previous series, while Hill’s have come in Game Four for the Dodgers.

Brooklyn-based Jay Jaffe is a senior writer for FanGraphs, the author of The Cooperstown Casebook (Thomas Dunne Books, 2017) and the creator of the JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score) metric for Hall of Fame analysis. He founded the Futility Infielder website (2001), was a columnist for Baseball Prospectus (2005-2012) and a contributing writer for Sports Illustrated (2012-2018). He has been a recurring guest on MLB Network and a member of the BBWAA since 2011, and a Hall of Fame voter since 2021. Follow him on Twitter @jay_jaffe... and BlueSky

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5 years ago

Koufax had a secretary named Yastrzemski and Yastrzemski had a secretary named Koufax

david k
5 years ago
Reply to  Ivan_Grushenko

Wondering how many people here know the significance of this reference…

Ryan DCmember
5 years ago
Reply to  Ivan_Grushenko

I don’t get it

5 years ago
Reply to  Ryan DC

It’s a reference to the Lincoln/Kennedy thing.