Art Martone

Red Sox finish first in consecutive seasons for third time in their history

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Red Sox finish first in consecutive seasons for third time in their history

So what do John Farrell, Bill Carrigan and Jimmy Collins have in common?

The same thing Cy Young, Babe Ruth and Mookie Betts have in common.

They're all members of the only three Red Sox teams to ever -- as in ever -- finish first in two consecutive seasons.

It's true: In their 117-year history, the Red Sox have finished first in back-to-back seasons only three times -- 1903-04 (that was the team managed by Collins, with Young as the ace pitcher), 1915-16 (managed by Carrigan, with The Babe as a budding star) and, now, 2016-17. (No need to mention Farrell and Betts, since you're probably familiar with them.)

The 1903 Red Sox won the World Series -- the first Series ever played -- but didn't get a chance to defend their title: In 1904, the National League champion New York Giants refused to participate. The American League was only four years old at the time and there was no umbrella organization known as Major League Baseball. The A.L. champ would challenge the N.L. champ at the end of each season, and '03 was the first time the N.L. champ -- the Pittsburgh Pirates -- picked up the gauntlet. After the Sox beat Pittsburgh, the Giants said no thanks the following season. (From 1905 forward, however, there was a World Series every year . . . except for 1994, when it was canceled by a strike.)

In 1915 and '16 the Sox also won back-to-back World Series for the only time in their history, beating the Phillies in '15 and the Brooklyn Dodgers in '16.

They won't get the chance to do that this year because, obviously, they didn't win the World Series in 2016. But this season's already notable: After all, it's been more than 100 years since they've finished first for two straight years.

However: 

Thanks to the expanded postseason field, they've made the playoffs in consecutive seasons three other times: 1998-99, 2003-05 and 2007-09. The only division title in that span was in 2007; every other year, they were the A.L. wild card.

Martone: There was more to Yawkey than all this

Martone: There was more to Yawkey than all this

As we sit here 41 years after Tom Yawkey's death, two generations removed and with detail lost to time, it's hard for many to know exactly why he was thought of as a man for the ages.

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The Red Sox won only three American League championships during his 44 years as owner. He spent money lavishly, and many said unwisely, in creating an organization where accountability -- on and off the field -- was a largely unknown word. It goes without saying the team's racial history left a dark stain, dark enough that current owner John Henry says he's been troubled by it since purchasing the club in 2002.

Thing is, I'm old enough to remember the last decade or so of Tom Yawkey's life. Hard as it may be for anyone under the age of 50 to believe, he was a beloved figure.

He was generous to charities and causes; the Jimmy Fund is what it is today in large thanks to the support -- financial and otherwise -- of the Yawkey Red Sox. He was regarded as a benign gentleman sportsman who, rightly or wrongly, valued team above profits. When he died, the people who worked for him chipped in for a plaque that still hangs outside the front door of the team offices that reads "In memory from those who knew him best: His Red Sox employees." Sox players, at least those who spoke publicly about him, adored him. (Of course, that may have had something to do with the generous salaries he paid in those penurious times.) Even some minority players spoke well of him near the end of his life. Bill North, an outspoken black outfielder for the Oakland A's, once said: "Tom Yawkey's the only white man I call 'sir'."

That was the public perception of Tom Yawkey that I -- and others of my age -- grew up with. The portion of Jersey Street in front of Fenway Park was renamed Yawkey Way a year after his death without any pushback that I recall. He sailed into the Hall of Fame a few years later with barely a peep of protest.

All of that has been lost over the years, overwhelmed by the Sox' disgraceful racial past. (And the subsequent revelation that Yawkey and his widow Jean, who ran the team for 16 years after his death, reportedly protected an employee pedophile who sexually abused young clubhouse workers for years.) The negative is all that people seem to remember about Tom Yawkey now.

And I'm not saying that's wrong. Some sins are so strong there's no defense for them.

I just think this story is more nuanced than it's become. My feeling (and it's just my feeling): Yawkey was more weak than evil, a man who had problems with alcohol until he stopped drinking in the 1960s, who didn't question the norms of his time, who wasn't strong enough to stand up and say, "This is wrong." And he certainly surrounded himself with some virulent racists, like Pinky Higgins, to whom he gave enormous power in the organization.

The question, really, is why such a non-groundbreaking figure was given these honors in the first place.

I always had the feeling it was his philanthropy, his generosity -- which was considerable -- that earned him the love. That, and his gentle, non-assuming public persona, was why people of his time regarded him so fondly.

None of which is what John Henry's talking about. The thrust of Henry's statement -- the Yawkey name is a symbol of baseball racism, and we should distance ourselves from it -- is hard to stand against.

But though I never met him -- I was only 21 when he died -- I remember Tom Yawkey as more than just a one-dimensional, bigoted symbol of baseball's blighted past. Even if he doesn't deserve the plaudits he received, there was more to him than that.

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NFL player reaction to Hernandez's suicide run the gamut

NFL player reaction to Hernandez's suicide run the gamut

When news broke of Aaron Hernandez's suicide, past and present NFL players took to Twitter to express their feelings. But, like the general public's reaction to Hernandez himself, not all the reaction was symaptheic to a lost life.

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Some was. Such as that of former Steeler Ike Taylor:

And the Bills' Jerel Worthy:

But there were other thoughts, too. Former NFL cornerback Antonio Cromartie hinted at the conspiracy theories that are flying around cyberspace . . .

. . . which drew this response from ex-NFL punter Pat McAfee:

And then there was the case of Ike Reese.

Reese, a former Eagle and current sports talk-show host on WIP Radio in Philadelphia, said in a Tweet that has since been deleted: "Aaron Hernandez, #HeGone!!!!" When he was called out for being insensitive, he got his back up:

But then he had second thoughts (or he realized that this probably wasn't the right path to go down). He deleted the Tweet and said:

And, in the end, that's probably how a lot of people feel this morning: Hate the sin but, ultimately, have mercy on the sinner.