Jacoby Ellsbury’s return to Fenway Park wasn’t exactly a hero’s reception. Although the Red Sox properly honored their former centerfielder with a video montage before the game, the fans weren’t as generous. Most favored status in Red Sox Nation can be fleeting, especially when you return in the road grays of New York, but the lack of appreciation for a player who had been so instrumental in Boston’s recent success seemed a little ungrateful.
Who knows, maybe the Fenway faithful simply forgot about all the great things Ellsbury did for their team. If so, it didn’t take long for the speedy lefty to offer a few reminders. Before some in the crowd even had a chance to take their seats at the old ballpark, Ellsbury had already tripled to lead off the game and then robbed Grady Sizemore of an extra base hit with a sliding catch in center. It was just like old times, except now the Yankees were the team having all the fun.
Ellsbury isn’t the first home grown Red Sox All Star to return to Fenway wearing a different uniform. Over the years, Boston has regularly bid a premature farewell to some of their biggest stars, but the centerfielder’s return certainly ranks among the most triumphant, at least from a performance standpoint. From a fan perspective, Ellsbury’s Fenway reunion was underwhelming compared to other recent Red Sox refugees. Listed below are the results of some prominent Fenway returns along with the crowd reaction to each player.
Fenway Park Reunions
|Babe Ruth||Yankees||4/19/1920||2-4, 2B|
|Carlton Fisk||White Sox||4/10/1981||2-4, HR, 1R, 3 RBI|
|Wade Boggs||Yankees||5/21/1993||4-4, BB|
|Roger Clemens||Blue Jays||7/12/1997||8IP, 4H, 1R, 16K, W|
|Nomar Garciaparra||Athletics||7/6/2009||2-4, RBI|
|Kevin Youkilis||White Sox||7/16/2012||3-4, 1R, 2 2B|
|Jonathan Papelbon||Phillies||5/28/2013||1IP, 1K, Save|
|Jacoby Ellsbury||Yankees||4/22/2014||2-5, 2R, 2RBI, 2B, 3B|
Note: Includes select home grown players who left the Red Sox in close proximity to their prime years.
It’s been almost a century since the Red Sox sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees, but the Bambino still remains the most infamous Boston castoff. However, his initial return to Fenway was far from heralded. Only 6,000 fans woke up in time to catch the first game of a doubleheader that marked Ruth’s first appearance in Boston as a visitor. The New York Times account of that game makes no mention of any fan reaction to the Bambino, which seems to be an understated way to begin a lifetime of regret.
The Fenway crowd was much more vocal over 60 years later when Carlton Fisk returned to Boston wearing White Sox instead of Red. Over the winter, Fisk and fellow All Star Fred Lynn both took advantage of a clerical error to seek out greener pastures, so, with Chicago in town on Opening Day, the scars were still somewhat fresh. When Fisk was announced to the crowd during the pre-game ceremony, a steady din of boos descended over him, but gradually, the cheers caught up and crescendoed into a standing ovation. The applause wasn’t thunderous, but, at least begrudgingly, Red Sox fans showed their appreciation.
Later in 1981, Lynn, Rick Burleson and Butch Hobson returned to Fenway as members of the California Angels. All three prodigals sons were subjected to boos, but the crowd showered the most disdain upon Lynn, who had forced a trade out West. According to the Boston Globe, “Lynn was booed royally, except in the fifth inning when he made a long run and a dive but missed catching what turned into a triple by Dave Stapleton. They were no longer the boys in exile. They were Angels, and that was that.”
Wade Boggs was part of a Red Sox re-birth that took place after Fisk and Lynn departed, but in 1992, his time in Boston also came to an end. After struggling through his first sub.-300 season, Boggs, unwanted by the Red Sox, landed in the Bronx, and made his first appearance back at Fenway the following May. It was a perfect night for the perennial All Star…literally. In five plate appearances, Boggs had four hits and one walk, but the Yankees lost the game 7-2. However, Boggs, who had been routinely booed by the denizens of Fenway the year before, had to have been most pleased by the reaction he received from the crowd. “His first time up, Boggs was met with scattered boos, which the more welcoming part of the crowd quickly drowned with a standing ovation,” the New York Times wrote. “The applause was strong, and lasted long enough to prompt Boggs to step from the batter’s box and doff his batting helmet to all corners of the field.”
Like his teammate Boggs, Roger Clemens was also cast off from the Red Sox prematurely, with GM Dan Duquette suggesting the two-time CY Young winner was in the “twilight of his career.” It proved to be a very long twilight, and one of its brightest moments was Clemens return to Fenway in July. At first, Clemens was treated to a mixed reaction dominated by boos, but, as Boston Globe columnist Bob Ryan reported, by the end his outing, which featured 16 strikeouts, “Fenway Park was once again playing host to a regional meeting of the Roger Clemens Fan Club. They were chanting “Rock-Et!’’ and they were standing as they were doing it.”
Clemens ended his memorable return to Fenway by striking out Mo Vaughn, who, two years later, would make his own Fenway return. Unfortunately for Vaughn, he was facing Pedro Martinez that day. Despite going hitless in four at bats, the slugger was treated to overwhelming applause in his first at bat. According to the Hartford Courant, “the cheers outweighed the boos 4-to-1”, but the spirit goodwill dissipated thereafter. “[The standing ovation] is something I will always remember,” Vaughn told the Courant, “and I wanted to let them know I appreciated it. The boos were expected. I’m a realist.”
The next big Red Sox star to make his Fenway return was Nomar Garciaparra, and there was nothing mixed about the reaction. The former Boston short stop was greeted to a thunderous standing ovation before his first at bat, and Garciaparra repeatedly made appreciative gestures to the crowd. Of course, it’s worth noting that Garciaparra’s return took place in 2009, six years and two championships removed from his deadline trade during the 2003 season. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, but regardless, Garciaparra’s reception was a worthy salute for his many excellent seasons with the Olde Towne team.
Like Garciaparra, Kevin Youkilis was treated to a hero’s welcome when he made his first visiting appearance at Fenway in 2012. However, unlike Nomar, Youkilis’ return came less than one month after a midseason trade. It was an emotional moment for the gritty Youkilis, who tipped his cap to the adoring crowd, which greeted him with a standing ovation and then a familiar chorus of “Yooouk”.
Jonathan Papelbon was a stalwart in the Red Sox bullpen for seven seasons, but when it came time for free agency, Boston had no qualms about letting their closer flee to Philadelphia. In his second season as a Phillie, Papelbon made his return to Fenway, and, during a pre-game video montage, the fans saluted him with mild applause. However, when he was summoned to save the series’ second game, the reception was rather chilly. “The boos began when the bullpen door opened in the bottom of the ninth,” wrote ESPN’s Gordon Edes, “continued as Papelbon made his way to the mound and peaked when PA announcer Henry Mahegan uttered his name.”
For the most part, Red Sox fans have been more generous to their departed heros than the team’s front office, but they haven’t been uniformly appreciative of the franchise’s all-time greats, at least not immediately (and especially if they are wearing road grays with New York emblazoned across the chest). Considering his defection to the Yankees, the subdued level of booing might actually be a sign of appreciation by the Fenway faithful, but still, it would have been nice to see Ellsbury treated with a little more gratitude. Yankees fans will face a similar test when Robinson Cano returns to the Bronx on April 29. Hopefully they’ll do a better job than their rivalry counterparts.