It all started because of a word that has often been used in countless threads on the popular Boston Red Sox message board, “The Sons of Sam Horn,” over the years.
Mojo, according to Webster’s Dictionary, is a noun with an intriguing denotation: “A magical power or supernatural spell.”
After the last out of Game 3 of the 2004 American League Championship Series, nearly every member of SoSH – some 1900 strong at the time – had called upon whatever mojo they could muster to help their Sox stave off the shackles of elimination against their arch-rivals, the New York Yankees who, at the time, had a seemingly insurmountable three games to nothing lead and had just humiliated the Red Sox at Boston’s Fenway Park, 19-8.
From the inclusion of the complete text of Act IV, Scene 3 of Shakespeare’s Henry V (“We few, we happy few, we band of brothers….”) to the publication of a series of montages depicting heroic players from Boston’s sports past, nearly every poster had beseeched the sporting gods on behalf of their beloved baseball team.
As a Red Sox fan who had followed the team on a pitch-by-pitch basis since 1963, I had experienced enough pathos to turn me into the ultimate oxymoron – a raging existentialist. In my forty years of following the team, I had seen them come perilously close to winning the final prize, only to see them stumble, often in inexplicable, even comical circumstances. In 2004, the Boston Red Sox had not won a World Series since the year President Woodrow Wilson had proposed the Fourteen Point Plan. Thus, there were more than three generations who never knew what it was like for the organization to be the sport’s best. Still, as the 2004 playoffs unfolded, I, like countless other Sox fans, didn’t allow myself to wallow in abject misery this time.
The next morning, I appeared on a local New York radio station and proclaimed: “Listen, folks, there has never been a curse that began with the trading of Babe Ruth from the Sox to the Yankees. The only reason we haven’t won it previously is that we’ve always lacked the pitching needed to win. This year, we have the pitching. If we can somehow win Game 4 of this series, the Yankees will be in trouble. We CAN win these next four games. You watch.”
William Jennings Bryan once wrote, “Destiny is not a matter of chance; it is a matter of choice. It is not a thing to be waited for; it is a thing to be achieved.” I wore a Red Sox baseball cap to work each day that week.
Miraculously, the Red Sox won the next three games, two of them in extra innings, to tie up the series.
Accordingly, at 11:25 am on the morning of October 20, 2004, I sat down at my teacher’s desk in Room 7 of the Upper School at The Greenwich (CT) Country Day School and began pounding away on my then Dell laptop keyboard, crafting my own particular mojo that – I hoped – would ultimately defeat the despised Yankees.
I called the thread, “Win it For.”
“Win it for Johnny Pesky, who deserves to wear a Red Sox uniform in the dugout during the 2004 World Series, I began. “Win it for the old Red Sox captain Bobby Doerr, who, through the sadness of losing his beloved wife, Monica, would love nothing more than to see his Sox finally defeat New York in Yankee Stadium. Win it for Dom DiMaggio, the most loyal and devoted of men. If he hadn’t gotten hurt in Game 7 of the 1946 World Series, Enos Slaughter never would have scored – and the Red Sox would have been the champions.”
I then urged my SoSH compatriots to win it for other Red Sox icons and personal favorites – Carl Yastrzemski, Ted Williams, Tony Conigliaro, Jack Lamabe, Luis Tiant, Dewey Evans. For Red Sox announcers who had helped hone our love for the team before they had passed on – Ned Martin, Ken Coleman, Jim Woods, Sherm Feller.
I encouraged them to win it for our cherished Red Sox friends, and for other SoSH members who had devotedly followed the fortunes of the franchise, each of them marking their own time with each passing season.
And finally, most of all, I urged them to win it for my father, James Lawrence Kelly, 1913-1986, who “always told me that loyalty and perseverance go hand in hand. Thanks, Dad, for sharing the best part of you with me.”
As I looked over my copy on the SoSH website, I realized that there may be a few others who’d want to dedicate a possible championship to those individuals in their own lives who had loved the Red Sox through thick and thin.
I was right.
In the end, the original thread would contain hundreds of tributes from the populace of Red Sox Nation. Ultimately, 51,000 entries were submitted by posters and lurkers from 47 different states, 39 foreign countries, and six continents. By the time the “Win it For” thread was purposely shut down eight days after it began, each poster had added something unique to what became an utterly compelling Red Sox mosaic. Later that winter, it would be converted into a bestselling book with the proceeds going to both the Jimmy Fund and Curt Schilling’s “Pitch for ALS.”
In an ESPN column paying tribute to the thread, Bill Simmons, deftly crystallized the uniqueness of it that week: “Plow through the ‘Win it For’ posts and it’s like plowing through the history of the franchise – just about every memorable player is mentioned at some point – as well as the basic themes that encompass the human experience. Life and death. Love and family. Friendship and loss.”
What made the thread were the assorted posts that poured out of the hearts of Red Sox fans across the globe and reminded us all that the bonds we had created around the team had never died.
“Win it for my grandfather (1917-2004), who never got to see the Red Sox win it all – but always believed. And for my Dad who watches each and every game wishing his dad were there to watch it with him.”
“Win it for my mother who died of ALS in 1999. The only personal item I have left of hers is her Red Sox visor.”
“Win it for my ten-year-old son, Charlie, who fell asleep listening to Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS assuming the Sox would win. When he woke up the next morning, he asked me eagerly, ‘Did we win, Dad?’ When I told him, gently no, we did not win, his anguished moan startled me. I knew I had raised him as a Red Sox fan, and I began to question whether that was a good thing.”
“Win it for my grandfather, who succumbed to Alzheimer’s disease in 2002. In one of my last conversations with him, he asked me how Ted Williams was doing. During Game 7 on October 20 against the Yankees, his birthday, he was smiling down on the Red Sox.”
“Win it for the elderly Sox fan that I hugged at Yankee Stadium last Wednesday night after Game 7 of the ALCS. Seeing the look of relief and jubilation on his face was one of the most emotional experiences I have ever been through. Yes, baseball has the power to unite generations of strangers.”
“Win it for my Little League coach, Ralph Retera, a tough man who landed on Omaha Beach, and yet a tender man as well who always gave on extra pat on the back of those of us who frankly weren’t very good. ‘Baseball is a game of failure, boys,’ he’d say, ‘look at the Red Sox. But that doesn’t mean we can’t give it our best!’ Coach Ralph used to wear a grungy Red Sox cap that he bought in the 1950’s and would take us to games at Fenway when we played for him. When he died in 1988, Coach Ralph’s tattered Bosox hat adorned the top of his flag-draped casket.”
“Win it for my boss, a dear friend, who lost his dad unexpectedly in March of this year. More than once this season, I’ve seen him glance at the phone after a game, half expecting his father to commiserate, rejoice, or just shoot the breeze about the game that just ended. I’ve seen the sadness in his eyes as he realizes that the call isn’t coming. Win it for his dad, a lifelong fan who never had the opportunity to witness his beloved team taking it all.”
“Win it for my buddy, Brian Kelly, who worshiped at the feet of Tony Conigliaro growing up. He even used to copy Tony C’s swing and was devastated when Jack Hamilton almost killed him. Brian’s favorite time as a Red Sox fan was that magical summer and early fall of 1967, two years before he went off to Vietnam. If the Sox win this whole thing, I plan to go on down to the Vietnam Memorial Wall where you can find Brian’s name. God, he would have loved this team.”
“Win it for my aunt, God rest her soul, who, at her funeral, the priest said, ‘She was a woman of great faith. She believed that she’d see a Red Sox championship in her lifetime.”
Within 48 hours of the inception of “Win it For,” political columnist, Andrew Sullivan linked it on his highly popular political blog. Newspaper reporters from Kansas City to Tampa, San Francisco to Baltimore began to write comprehensive pieces on the thread. Before Game 1 of the World Series, the gang on ESPN’s Baseball Tonight began to refer to the magic of “Win it For” as “the Red Sox’ secret weapon.” Radio commentaries on the thread surfaced in Dallas, New York, Los Angeles, Albany, Seattle, and Atlanta. The thread itself garnered more than fifteen-million Internet hits.
On the evening of October 28, 2004, the day after the Red Sox had swept the St. Louis Cardinals, 4-0, to win their first World Series in 86 years, Peter Jennings ended his nationally televised ABC News Tonight broadcast with a piece that paid tribute “to the power of an emotive Internet thread and its eloquent posters, followers of a championship team that came to define the word – hope.”
Six weeks after the season ended, author Leigh Montville dedicated 33 pages to “Win it For” in his narrative on the 2004 Red Sox, Why Not Us? He entitled Chapter 7 of his book, “The Story of the Amazing Thread.” In an interview after the publication of his remembrance of a remarkable season, Montville maintained that…“at the very least, one-hundred years from now, ‘Win it For’ will be THE historical record of what happened here. The other works – mine included – will have faded away, but the ‘Win it For’ thread on the Sons of Sam Horn website will remain as the voice of all voices concerning the 2004 Boston Red Sox.”
What made the thread so unique were the individual anecdotes that connected generations of fans together. In page after page, the singular stories of Red Sox fans formed bookends to the notions of both loyalty and passion:
TrapperAB: “Just like last year, there will be an empty spot on the couch as I watch Game 7 of the ALCS tonight. Dad cheered for the Sox from the age of eight in 1930. He went to games at Fenway with his father and told me about it when he took me to the most glorious stadium on God’s green earth. My father passed away in 2001, which means, of course, that he never saw the Sox win one in his lifetime. One of his final moments of clarity was seeing Rivera blowing a save and the D-Back’s winning the World Series that year. That was also his last smile. I believe that my father has been busy lately, along with a lot of other fathers and grandfathers and brothers and sons – helping umpires see the truth and helping David Ortiz lead the way. That hand that Curt Schilling talked about last evening after Game 6? It was the legion of dearly departed Red Sox fans – of which my father was one. Once again this year, there will be that empty spot on the couch…reserved for my Dad. I can only hope that he’s sitting there with me.”
Monbo Jumbo: “Shaun – add my old man to your list (1909 – 2000). He saw Ruth pitch, and he saw Pedro pitch. And now, he’s upstairs playing gin rummy with Joe Cronin between games.”
Sooner Steve: “Win it for my old man, who taught me how to love the game and this team; who taught me what it means to be a man; who, even in his darkest hours facing the end, still wanted to talk about his team; who never saw them win it in his lifetime, but who loved every minute of the Impossible Dream to Morgan’s Magic; who worshiped ‘The Splendid Splinter’ and extolled the virtues of Yaz. Win it for me so I can pay a visit to Dad’s grave and toast that title we always dreamed about. Here’s to you, Pops – in loving memory…DW Gibbs (1936-1993).”
Norm Siebern: “Win it for my Granpa Harvey (1974) who would rise up from his seat along the right-field line in the grandstand and defend Scotty from the boo birds, even if Boomer was only hitting .170 in 1968. Win it for that seven-year-old kid who fell in love with a game and a team that long ago magical summer of 1967. And for that eighteen-year-old young man who sat in the left-field grandstands and watched a little popup hit by Bucky “Bleeping” Dent nestle into the screen on October 2, 1978.”
Ramon’sBrother: “Win it for a certain nineteen-year-old who cried himself to sleep in the early morning hours of October 17, 2003.”
An unknown lurker: “Some morning next week, in the hours just before dawn, the cemeteries all over New England will be filled with middle-aged men, standing by ancestral graves marked – whatever the headstone – with the same bronze veterans’ plaques at the foot – First Sergeant, Staff Sergeant, PFC, served some range of years beginning with high school graduation and ending with the year, 1945. We will be reading aloud from tear-stained newspapers, sharing our first too-early libation of the day. (A Gansett? A Ballantine Ale?) We will be drinking to Cabrera’s defense; Foulke’s grit; Damon’s grace; Ortiz’s incredible sense of timing. MAYBE we will even have a reason to toast Manny. We will be waving the bloody sock – thanking God and Theo Epstein for sending us Curt Schilling, on whom all our hopes rested, and did not die in vain. Remembering all those who came so close but did not get there, like Yaz and Boomer and Rico and Hawk and El Tiante and Dewey and Jim Ed, even Nomar. Remembering all those who did not live to see us get there, like Ted and Tony C and my Granpa Dan. The clock will be unwinding; the pages will be flying off the calendar; the earth will tilt slightly on its axis. I will be there. My brothers will be there. Get there early. It’s going to be crowded.”
Tedsondeck: “Win it for my brother, Johnny, who left Boston in 1944 for the South Pacific, a Red Sox hat planted firmly on his head. He was a nineteen-year-old kid who loved three things – the Red Sox, Fenway Park, and Ted Williams. He lost his life in a hellhole called Okinawa. There hasn’t been a single day that hasn’t gone by when I don’t think of him. This one’s for you, JB.”
SFGiantsFan: “Win it for the people of Red Sox Nation. You people are the legacy of what this great game is all about – or should be about…the love and support of your team through good times and bad. People like you, and teams like this one, have brought me back to baseball after the shame of 1994. Thank you all. You truly deserve this.”
PUDGEcanCATCH: “Win it for my brother, who worked on the 94th floor of the North Tower, and who died on September 11, 2001. He used to look out the window and stick his tongue out in the direction of the Bronx. Above his desk, he had a framed picture of Fenway with two baseball cards scotch-taped to the bottom, Reggie Smith and Pudge Fisk, his two favorite Red Sox players growing up. Many times when he worked, he would proudly wear his Sox hat. After the plane hit his building, I have a strong hunch that he then put his Sox hat on for the last time.”
BasesDrunk: “My mother-in-law was as diehard a Red Sox fan as they come. She died of cancer in February 2003. My wife was born on October 7, 1967, literally in the middle of Game 3 of the World Series against the Cardinals. Her mother kept asking the nurses for updates while in labor. No doubt she now wants revenge for St. Louis ruining an otherwise perfect day.”
Lurker OregonSoxFan: “Win it for my dad who passed away on 10/20/93. When I was a seven-year-old boy, he introduced me to – and shared – the Impossible Dream, which was where my love for this awesome team began. Last night, I watched the greatest Sox victory (so far this year) with his eight-year-old grandson, Jeremiah, who, in turn, is catching the fever. We talked about Dad and all that he taught me about the game. Mom called after the game, and we shared tears of joy, and a tear of grief.”
BoSox Lifer: Win it for that little boy who was sitting with his dad and his uncle at Game 7 at Yankee Stadium last October. With him crying as the game ended, I leaned over, and holding back my own tears, I told him with as much conviction as I could muster to cheer up because next year we were going to win it all. Somewhere I know – that little boy is smiling today…”
Curtis Pride: “I want the Red Sox to win it for my mother. She became a fan in 1967 and has followed them faithfully via radio to this very day.”
“I was born deaf, so growing up was difficult for me. But then I discovered the Red Sox in 1977, and my parents took me to Fenway that summer, which made me a Sox fan for life. And since then, I would sit with my mother by the radio while she listens to the Sox and relayed the events to me as they unfolded.”
“We still discuss the Red Sox today, but I want them to win so that she can experience that sweet taste of victory that has been denied her for so long. I know how it feels to finally overcome an enormous obstacle, and I want her to feel that as well.”
Cheekydave: Win it for my father, who had a love for numbers and baseball and passed it on to me; it was the only way we could communicate. But it was always a safe haven, and at least there was ONE way to communicate between us. He died last year on his birthday, October 20th, one year to the day that the Red Sox beat the Yankees! Also, win it for my mother, who died when I was nine on October 2, 1967, the day after the Red Sox won the pennant, and the day I became both a Red Sox fan and also a single parented child.”
A lurker from Australia: “Win it for all of you New Englanders who deserve at least one warm winter.”
“I became a Red Sox fan when I first read Roger Angell’s account of the Impossible Dream team; I became an official citizen of Red Sox Nation when I walked into Fenway on a dreary night in 1985.”
“I ended up living in Boston until 1993 when I returned to Australia. October is the spring down here, but not a baseball season has passed by without me thinking of you hardy New Englanders preparing for a winter that most of my countrymen couldn’t even comprehend; dreaming of Spring Training, and thinking that maybe next year will be ‘the year’ for the Red Stockings.”
“Well, next year is here! This week, all of your dreams will come true. And when it’s time to rake the leaves and put up the storm windows, you’ll be thinking, “Next year – back to back…”
Lurker Nomarfan31: “Win it for my mom, Mary, who died of lung cancer on July 9, 2003, and who loved to declare, “They’re gonna lose,” while inside wildly rooting for them to win. I cried when Nomar was traded, not because it wasn’t time for him to go (sadly, it was) but because it was the loss of another link to Mom, who always call me whenever he did something spectacular in a game.”
Red Sox Owner John Henry: “There was a point during this season that was very, very tough. But I came here, Shaun, and read your Bandwagon thread, and was uplifted by the depth and breadth of your faith. It was at the time the best thing we were reading anywhere. These guys – I’m so proud of them – they refused to lose for the faithful this week. I’m proud of everyone who refused to get off the bandwagon.”
Sargeiswaiting: The Mekong Delta is a long way from Boston. During the summer of 1969, I found myself as a private in the army, fighting in a war that was becoming increasingly unpopular at home. When I was homesick for Boston, a fellow private named Kevin, born and raised in the Boston area, kept my spirits up. We used to listen to the radio after the hell of a patrol. There was one song by Neil Diamond that we used to love listening to on the outskirts of the jungle. We would scream it out at the top of our lungs. The girl in the song was the girl in our dreams! Kevin was a big Sox fan. He especially loved the Boomer, George Scott. Kev got Agent Orange and began to fade away in the early eighties. The war eventually killed him years after he returned home. Earlier this August, I attended a Sox game against the White Sox. It was cold as hell for a summer afternoon, and the Sox lost in disappointing fashion. Still, at the bottom of the eighth inning, I began to hear the strains of that song that Kev and I sung so well back in Vietnam –‘Sweet Caroline.’ Jesus, Kevin’s favorite, playing at Fenway. The tears are flowing now as I write this. Win it for Kevin. Win it for Sweet Caroline!”
In early November 2004, ten days after the last out of the 2004 World Series, I received a note from a most perceptive lurker to the website. He wrote: “You know, Shaun, I really believe that the ghosts that we all beckoned, our dearly departed fathers and grandfathers, sisters, brothers, neighbors, coaches, and friends, had a hand in the astonishing two weeks that we’ve just experienced. In a way, it was their last loving act to us. And we, in turn, responded as only we could…in the posts that we ultimately submitted.”
I concluded the “Win it For” thread on the morning of October 28, 2004, with the following entry, written seven hours after Keith Foulke had stabbed Edgar Renteria’s one-hopper for the third and final out of the ‘04 Series:
“In the end, people talk about the ghosts Red Sox fans live with, but they have it all wrong. It isn’t the ghost of Babe Ruth or Bill Buckner or all the names associated with a curse that never really existed. Instead, it is the ghosts we can still see when we walk into Fenway Park. It is our fathers and mothers and grandparents. It’s our next-door neighbors and our baseball coaches and our aunts and uncles. Those are the ghosts that matter to us. Those are the specters we see, huddled together, watching their team and the game so intently.”
“For those of us who have followed the fortunes over an extended period, a Red Sox World Series championship marks a beginning – and an end. While we have made peace with all of our relatives and friends who have passed on over the years, there was always a little unfinished business between us – and them. Now with this incomparable victory, that too is complete.”
“And so, after all of these years, we can finally have a clean goodbye to our dearly departed. Perhaps that is why so many tears were shed in living rooms all over New England and beyond in the early morning hours of October 28, 2004.”
The “Win it For” thread, a small idea in the beginning, was formally inducted as a literary entity into the writer’s section of the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York in the summer of 2007.
“Win it For’ seamlessly connected six generations of Red Sox fans together as no other document ever has,” wrote a publicist for the Baseball Hall of Fame upon the thread’s induction. Even today, 16 years after it first was published, the original “Win it For” thread still has the capacity to bring tears and smiles together as close as they can ever be.