Title Town: Shrewd front offices build city of champions
Relative to most other sports towns, Boston has had an unparalleled amount of success since 2000. With seven major championships since 2001 — arguably the best decade in sports history for any town — Boston fans have a lot to celebrate.
This success cannot be attributed to any one particular player, though many talented athletes have come through Beantown. At the end of the day, the success goes back to the ownership.
Other cities haven’t had quite the same fate. Yahoo! Sports recently published a piece on some of the worst owners in sports, and the actions of other owners would be shocking to current Boston fans. Take a look at Jeffrey Loria, owner of the Miami Marlins. After taking over the Montreal Expos and essentially ruining that team, he bought the Marlins. He convinced the city of Miami to invest in a gaudy billion-dollar ballpark. Shortly thereafter, he traded away pretty much everyone who was good. The Marlins sit dead last in the NL East with no signs of potential improvement.
Or you can look at Isiah Thomas, former President of Basketball Operations for the New York Knicks. The 12-time NBA All Star had nowhere near as much success in the front office as he did on the court, as the Knicks posted both the highest payroll and second-worst record during the 2005-06 season. He traded away draft picks that would eventually become Joakim Noah and LaMarcus Aldridge for an under-performing Eddy Curry. Donnie Walsh replaced Thomas in 2008, and just like that, the Knicks started winning again.
Recently anyway, Boston teams haven’t had to deal with this careless ownership and front office management; rather, some brilliant moves have brought a lot of hardware back home to Boston. Here’s a look at what ownership has done to make Boston into a title-town.
The Patriots brought the earliest success to Boston fans in the new millennium due in large part to the success of owner, chairman and CEO Robert Kraft.
Since Kraft bought the team in 1994, the Pats have gone to the playoffs 12 times in 17 years and have played in 25 playoff games under the Kraft ownership, far more than the team’s first 34 seasons combined, in which they appeared in 10 total postseason games. They have won three Super Bowls (2001, 2003 and 2004) and nearly went undefeated in 2007 before falling to the New York Giants in the Super Bowl.
Kraft was there for the acquisition of quarterback Tom Brady, when the Patriots picked him in the sixth round of the 2000 NFL Draft. Brady has gone on to win two Super Bowl MVP awards and appear in eight Pro Bowls. He holds the NFL record for most touchdown passes in a regular season, and in 2012, Brady became the first quarterback to lead his team to 10 division titles.
Kraft also brought head coach Bill Belichick to the team in 2000. In his first season, Belichick went 5-11. He has not had a losing season since.
In 2002, the Red Sox were sold to an ownership group of John Henry, Tom Werner and Larry Lucchino. Under their tenure, combined with GM Theo Epstein, the Red Sox signed David Ortiz, Kevin Millar and Curt Schilling, and went on to win the World Series in 2004 — their first in 86 years. They won it again in 2007, with the signing of then-highly coveted Japanese pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka and the emergence of AL Rookie of the Year Dustin Pedroia.
Following the team’s late-season collapse in 2011, Epstein resigned and became President of Baseball Operations for the Chicago Cubs. He was replaced by Ben Cherington, who, despite a shaky 69-93 season in 2012 with Bobby Valentine as the team’s manager, appears to have the Red Sox on the right track in 2013 thanks to a new manager in John Farrell and some offseason spending. The Red Sox sit in first place in the AL East, two games ahead of the New York Yankees, reveling in the offseason acquisitions of catcher and first baseman Mike Napoli, relief pitcher Koji Uehara and outfielder Shane Victorino.
After the 2006-07 season, the Celtics finished with a 24-58 record (the second worst in team history), Paul Pierce told team management that if they couldn’t sign a veteran with the same level of talent, then he would leave Boston. GM Danny Ainge jumped into action. He traded Al Jefferson, Ryan Gomes, Sebastian Telfair, Gerald Green, Theo Ratliff, cash considerations and two 2009 first-round draft picks to the Minnesota Timberwolves for Kevin Garnett. He sent Delonte West, Wally Szczerbiak and Jeff Green to the Seattle SuperSonics for Ray Allen and a draft pick that became Glen Davis.
Pierce, Allen and Garnett became the new incarnation of the “Big Three,” and, with the help of emerging point guard Rajon Rondo, led the C’s to a 66-16 record in 2008 — a 42-win improvement. They beat the Los Angeles Lakers in six games in the NBA Finals to take home the franchise’s 17th championship and its first since 1986.
The next year, they started the season 27-2, and had a franchise-record 19-game winning streak before losing Garnett to injury midway through the season. The Celtics have had an up-and-down past few seasons, perhaps taking the hardest blow when Allen signed with the Miami Heat as a free agent. But regardless, the Celtics have made the playoffs each of the past six seasons. Right now, the biggest problem — and, potentially, Ainge’s legacy — rests on whether the team will be able to re-sign Pierce as a free agent this summer.
For a while, the Bruins were the odd man out when it came to Boston sports — after the Celtics’ championship in 2008, the B’s were the only Boston team not to have won a championship in the 2000s.
Ownership hired Peter Chiarelli as a GM in 2006 and appointed former player Cam Neely as team Vice President in 2007 in an attempt to get the team back on par with other Boston sports teams. Relative success came somewhat quickly, but despite a 116-point season in 2008-09, the Bruins remained trophy-less in the new millennium.
During the 2010-11 season, that changed. Prior to the season, Neely was named team president and the Bruins drafted right wing Tyler Seguin with the second overall pick of the 2010 draft. They traded defenseman Dennis Wideman to the Florida Panthers, receiving winger Nathan Horton in return. The Bruins battled in a back-and-forth Stanley Cup final in 2011, winning in seven games against the Vancouver Canucks and bringing the Stanley Cup home to Boston — the team’s first Cup since 1972.
Following the 2012 season, successful yet outspoken goaltender Tim Thomas left the team, and Seguin and left winger Milan Lucic signed contract extensions with the team. In a season cut short due to lockout, the Bruins finished with a 28-14-6 record, earning the fourth seed in the conference. They had a tough series against the Toronto Maple Leafs but easily handled the New York Rangers in the first two rounds of the 2013 playoffs. For now, matched up against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference finals, the Bruins are still well armed to make another Stanley Cup run.