Way back in the summer of 1976, Morris Buttermaker’s Bears were floundering. His pitcher could barely see. His catcher was overweight. His shortstop had a debilitating Napoleon complex. And the rest of the team was no better; the Bad News Bears, as expected, were bad news.
Then Buttermaker recruited the 12-year-old daughter of an ex-girlfriend (who could throw some heat) and the town’s best athlete: a cigarette-smoking, loan-sharking, motorcycle-riding, badass-as-12-year-olds-can-get kid named Kelly Leak. As you all know (and if you don’t, I’m pretty sure the statute of limitations for spoiler alerts is way less than 40 years, so, sorry, but oh well), the Bears turned it around and started winning, though eventually lost in the championship game by a single run.
That turnaround isn’t unique to irreverent kids movies. Baseball teams are always looking for that extra spark that will take them to the next level. Managers get fired. Players get traded. Top recruits get promoted. Teams’ front offices are constantly moving pieces, hoping that maybe, just maybe, one of these changes will catalyze a turnaround akin to the one the Bears enjoyed back in 1976.
There are many examples of this throughout the history of baseball. There have been small sparks, like picking up a key reliever at the trade deadline, and there have been sparks that have literally turned around franchises. The 1967 Red Sox, a team current Sox broadcaster Jerry Remy credits for having “reinvented baseball in New England,” are an example of the latter.
The Red Sox’ 1967 season is remembered today as “The Impossible Dream.” Boston hadn’t fielded a winning team since 1958—heading into the ’67 season, expectations were low once again. Several things changed that year: Dick Williams, a reputedly stern disciplinarian, was handed the managerial reins; Carl Yastrzemski hit out of his mind and won the Triple Crown; Jim Lonborg pitched out of his mind and won the Cy Young…but there wasn’t one singular moment responsible for the turnaround. The Red Sox simply hung around all year until hope accumulated enough to seem real. After drawing a measly 8,000 fans on Opening Day, the Red Sox continually quashed expectations, eventually winning the AL pennant by a single game.
Like the Bears, they fell just short, losing to the Cardinals in seven games in the World Series. But the 1967 Red Sox brought hope and excitement to Boston, creating the Red Sox Nation that remains the team’s rallying epithet today. Most importantly, though, the season paved the way for the 2004 Red Sox to end an 86-year World Series drought in an even more impossible feat.
In the 2004 ALCS, the Red Sox were down 3-0 to the hated New York Yankees. No team had ever come back from a 3-0 deficit, not in the history of major league baseball, and this Yankees team hadn’t lost four games in a row all year. In the bottom of the ninth of game four, down to their last three outs, the Red Sox showed an obstinate tenacity, eking out a game-tying run against baseball’s best closer (Mariano Rivera) and eventually winning the game. The victory proved the Sox could win against the odds. Inconceivably, in one of the most memorable series of all-time, they came back to win the ALCS and then, with a certain poetic justice, they swept the Cardinals in the World Series. The Curse of the Bambino was lifted and the Red Sox have since won two more titles. They couldn’t have done it without Red Sox Nation, though, and each of their wins has been paved with memories of 1967.
The Red Sox are not alone in their conquests of the impossible. Each team’s history has moments like these. On September 7, 2009, for instance, my team, the Minnesota Twins, were 68-68 and what should been an insurmountable seven games behind the Tigers. The Twins eventually forced a single-game playoff and won in a dramatic 12-inning game to make the postseason. They didn’t do much beyond that, but it didn’t matter. The run was incredible, and my hope, even if for a moment, had been fulfilled.
Baseball is all about that hope. Knowing that the impossible has happened before and therefore can happen again. The Twins are now 16-37 but I still watch them every day. I still get to watch two of the most promising young players in the game (Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano), and I still imagine, as dimwitted as it might seem, that the Twins could turn it around and surprise everyone with playoff-caliber season. Crazier things have happened. I keep telling myself that, as all fans do when they hope. And even if this isn’t the year my Twins do the impossible, I can always echo the Bears’ Timmy Lupus after their narrow championship loss: “Wait ’til next year!”
The Cubs have been saying that for over 100 years, after all, and this year they’re going to win the World Series. Even in century-long droughts, there is hope. And that’s the beauty of baseball.
Featured Image: Paramount Pictures