By Sterling Pingree
Over the 4th of July weekend, I was quizzing myself on Red Sox trivia because that’s how I celebrate holidays, by learning the most random facts that I can. (Did you know that the only Red Sox players with 4 World Series titles are Harry Hooper and Heinie Wagner? I bet you didn’t get Wagner, Hooper maybe, but there’s no way you go Wagner, you liar.) Whilst I was being quizzed by season about the Red Sox, I was able to transport back in time to certain years to recall certain games and moments throughout history. This sounds like I’m bragging, I swear I’m not, I understand that previous sentence sounds a bit like I have some sort of Star Trek teleportation powers, but I’ll assure you that isn’t the case. It’s a metaphorical transporting, I’m not able to time travel back to my college days, if I did I would’ve told myself that my sideburns did NOT look cool and to say no to a lot more 3am pizzas.
In the process of going back to great years in Red Sox history, I was reminded of 2007 and that it was 10 years ago. Math didn’t do that, it was this trivia book that reminded me that 2017 minus 2007 is 10 years. I got to thinking about Jonathan Papelbon. It suddenly seems forever ago that he was the Red Sox closer, but it has been just over 5 seasons since he walked off the mound after blowing a save in Baltimore in his final appearance with Boston.
I prefer to remember the good times with Pap, and like the song says: “Good times never seemed so good.” (So good? So good? So good?) Papelbon emerged during the summer as 2005 as a spot starter and eventually the most trust worthy relief pitcher not named Mike Timlin. As a side note, I’d trust Mike Timlin with anything: a 9th inning lead, cooking a steak, pouring me a drink, financial advice, godfather of my first child, just about anything really. Put it this way, if next week Mike Timlin made a comeback at 51 years old, I would feel better about him coming into the game than Noe Ramirez. I went a little Jon Gruden there for a minute, I’m back on track.
Papelbon came along at the exact right time in Red Sox history. It was the year after the curse was reversed by a bunch of idiots in 2004 and Red Sox fans were a much looser bunch than they were a year earlier. First Pap established that he could really pitch and in Boston that always comes first and foremost. As the attention came, we saw the wild side in the pitcher, who for a time we tried to call “Wild Thing”. Remember that? The nickname didn’t stick, but Papelbon came into the game to same song as Ricky Vaughn from Major League, only Pap came in to the original version of “Wild Thing” by The Troggs which is way slower. It was eventually relegated to the opening act to the song that would become synonymous with Jonathan Papelbon, “Shipping up to Boston” by the Dropkick Murphys.
Off the field, Papelbon was a wild man and there was plenty of evidence to back up tales of his debauchery. There were numerous pictures of his drinking on planes, drinking at Mississippi St. football games, drinking in bars, on bars or just general public. I wondered for a microsecond this winter why nothing was made of Gronk chugging beers during the Patriots victory parade and then I remembered Papelbon’s performance after the Sox won the 2007 pennant. If you saw it, you could never forget the image of Papelbon on the infield, wearing bicycle shorts and a shirt, River Dancing with a cigar in his mouth and beer in each hand. Beers that Papelbon would eventually use in an attempt to intoxicate the Williams Harridge trophy. (Isn’t there a slight chance that at some point Mike Lowell convinced Papelbon that William Harridge was a little man that lived in the trophy?)
The comparisons between Gronk and Papelbon are numerous. Thinking about the Red Sox winning it all in 2007 was an even more exciting proposition to me because I couldn’t imagine what Papelbon’s reaction would be upon getting the final out. (It was epic.) The same holds true for Gronk when he finally won the Super Bowl in 2015, I legitimately worried about his safety. I wanted teammates, his brothers or the National Guard to just get Gronk home safely from Arizona.
Think about this, Gronk and Papelbon’s career in Boston overlapped by two years in 2010 and 2011. Imagine those two rolling into the Kawloon at 3am. There wouldn’t be plaster left on the walls after that night.
Jonathan Papelbon spent 7 great years in Boston where he never had less than 30 saves in a season and only once had an ERA of over 3. Last year he decided not to come to Boston during the stretch run for reasons that have never been explained and he hasn’t pitched anywhere since. Papelbon’s legacy will be that of an original. Yes, we’ve seen colorful characters in Boston before, but Papelbon was the wildest of the athletes at the dawning of the social media age. To the guys like Gronk, and those that will likely come after, Papelbon will serve as the Bill Murray like figure to their Sandlers, Farrells and Fallons. For the good, the bad and the rowdy, we will always remember Jonathan Papelbon.
Sterling Pingree (@SterlingPingree on Twitter) is a co-host on The Drive, weekdays 4pm to 6pm on 92.9fm The Ticket and streaming live at DriveShowMaine.com. Follow us on Twitter, @DriveShowMaine and “Like Us” on Facebook, Drive Show Maine.