By Sterling Pingree
With the buzz about the royal wedding beginning to subside, I got to thinking about who had sat upon the throne of Boston sports. There isn’t much argument as to who is sitting atop the kingdom right now, but going by the rules of the monarchy, where you are king until you parish, I wondered what the lineage looked like. Was there anybody who got passed over for the crown because someone’s reign ran parallel with their own? There were some tough omissions, but hey, in royalty even if you’re not a king you could be a prince?
I am operating under the rules that someone sits on the throne until they retired, left Boston or passed away and cannot be booted off of the throne for any other reason.
1939-1960: Ted Williams. Not a lot of argument as to who was the biggest icon in Boston sports from the last year of the 1930’s until after the Korean War. The Celtics were born during this era and the Boston Patriots came along during the last season and even with limited competition from the Bruins. To paraphrase the great John Updike, nobody was dethroning Williams until the king bid hub fans ado.
1960-1969: Bill Russell. Replacing one icon with another, Russell served as the king for almost a decade. On the parquet, Russell replaced Bob Cousy as the captain as the Boston Celtics and Ted Williams as the king. Not surprisingly, Russell is the only king to also serve as a coach until he retired as both a player and coach after winning the title in 1969.
1969- 1976: Bobby Orr. “The Big Bad Bruins” owned the Boston sports scene in the early 1970’s and at the center of things was Bobby Orr. The guy has a statue, only kings get statues and our first three kings all have statues. Orr left the throne in 1976 when he signed with the Chicago Blackhawks. Orr is our first king to abdicate the throne in a way besides retirement.
1976- 1983: Carl Yastrzemski. Poor Yaz had to wait 16 years for his chance to ascend to the throne. It’s funny to think that you could have gone from Williams to Yaz and covered 44 seasons of royalty, but then you would have missed out on Russell and Orr. Yaz was great, especially in 1967, but Russell and Orr are both considered in the top 2-3 greatest players their sport has ever seen. Though Yastrzemski was in the twilight of his career while he was the king of Boston sports, was anybody more regal than Yaz?
1983-1992: Larry Bird. Bird had already won a title in his second season while he was waiting to become king. Bird reacted well to becoming royalty by winning two championships and three MVPs during the next three seasons. Larry Legend wrapped up his career in 1992 with a gold medal with the Dream Team.
1993: Reggie Lewis. Here is where things get difficult for a number of reasons. Lewis had his two best seasons in 1991-1992 and 1992-1993 before tragically passing away. Lewis was set to become a star and with the departure of Bird, Lewis had tremendously large shoes to fill.
1994-1998: The crown is left open after Lewis’ abbreviated reign. The three Dukes that ran the kingdom during this time was Ray Bourque, Drew Bledsoe and Mo Vaughn. Bourque had the best claim to the throne, but I couldn’t give him the crown because at this time was he really any better than Vaughn and Bledsoe? He probably was, Bourque is a Hall of Famer while unfortunately Mo isn’t (I blame Anaheim) and Bledsoe probably isn’t but the with the football hall, you never really know. Vaughn was the MVP in 1995 and Bledsoe took the Patriots to their second Super Bowl and along with Bill Parcells and Robert Kraft kept the franchise in Foxboro. All three were important to their franchises, but the mid 90’s was a dark time in Boston sports.
1998- 2004: Pedro Martinez. The reason that I couldn’t put the crown on Bourque was because his reign would have cut into that of Pedro and NOTHING could stand in the way of Pedro’s reign in 1999 and 2000. The two most dominant seasons that we will ever see from a pitcher, there was nothing like Pedro during this era and he was able to cap this run with a World Series title before leaving for the Mets. Pedro weirdly becomes controversial because he keeps Bourque from ever being the king and delays our next king’s reign by three years and two Super Bowls.
2004- Current: Tom Brady. Was there ever really a doubt here? Brady comfortably sits atop the throne now into his 40’s and many speculate when his run might end but in the meantime. Long live the king.
The question becomes, who would be next? Interesting to ponder.
Sterling Pingree 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.