Last month, Kevin Youkilis joined a special branch in Boston Red Sox lore, that of the star and fan-favorite sent off to Chicago after spending quality time in Fenway Park.
Nomar Garciaparra joined the club in 2004, sent off to the Cubs as part of a three-team trade that sent Doug Mientkiewicz and Orlando Cabrera to Boston, jump-starting their run to an eventual World Series crown.
There have been others, too — Dennis Eckersley was traded to the Cubs in 1984 for Bill Buckner, for example — but the bad blood that seems to exist between the hard-swinging third baseman and certain members of the team, along with his dramatic return, more closely mirror that of catcher Carlton Fisk.
★ ★ ★
The contract fiasco that Fisk lived through in the winter of 1980-81 is famous and well-documented. Haywood Sullivan, the Red Sox general manager, “forgot” to mail the All-Star catcher his contract for the 1981 season, turning Fisk into a free agent.
This was all news to Fisk, of course, who had been waiting for his contract at home in New England. But freed from Boston and offended by such shoddy treatment from management, Fisk sought employment elsewhere. He signed on with the Chicago White Sox, and he didn’t have to wait longer than the first game of the 1981 season to drive home the point that Boston had made a mistake.
Down 2-0 in the bottom of the eighth inning, Fisk took Bob Stanley deep, hitting a three-run home run to give Chicago a lead they wouldn’t surrender, pacing them to a 5-3 win.
As sick as the sight of Fisk must’ve been, hitting a key home run in Fenway Park against the Red Sox, I can’t imagine too many fans directed their anger at him. Was there anger? Sure. But this wasn’t a player who wanted to leave. This was a player who got away, perhaps needlessly.
After the game, Fisk sat in the visitor’s clubhouse, confident and smiling as he took questions from reporters. He was wearing a t-shirt that read, “Haywood Sucks.”
★ ★ ★
While Fisk’s exile came as a surprise to much of New England (and the other Red Sox), Youkilis’ departure seemed inevitable, with the rise of rookie Will Middlebrooks coupled with Youkilis’ terrible relationship with manager Bobby Valentine.
In Youkilis’ return, the result was, for Boston fans, near perfect. Youkilis went 3-for-4 with two doubles and was received warmly at every at-bat, especially his first. The Red Sox pulled out a 5-1 win in the eighth inning on the back of Adrian Gonzalez. Carl Crawford played well in his first game of the 2012 campaign. And Aaron Hill threw a solid game, going seven innings and leaving with a 1-1 tie. The only downside was the sight of David Ortiz limping home during Gonzalez’s three-run home run, leaving doubt hanging in the air over the health of Boston’s big slugger.
But this was a good day for Boston baseball. A hero returned, shortly after he was shown the door, and he continued to burn up the box score. And he got as much of a guarantee as ever that he’ll always be welcomed back.
Youkilis furthered his point the next day, turning a Jon Lester pitch into his own three-run homer to push his new Sox to a win. The third game was a lost cause for Chicago; Boston won 10-1.
The newness of Youkilis in Chicago is wearing off now, the thought of him no longer wearing a “B” on his cap no longer as jarring. No. 20 is playing third base on the South Side instead of in the Fens, his at-bats setting the table for Paul Konerko and Adam Dunn instead of Ortiz and Gonzalez. The White Sox will probably leave Fenway in first place, and Boston will sit in fourth. Times change.
But no matter the uniform, the season or the circumstance, Fenway Park will always be home for Kevin Youkilis. That seemed the case his emotional final game for the Red Sox, but it was cemented this week. Even though Youk wears White Sox now.