In case you live outside North America and/or in a cave, you probably know that the Red Sox are going to the World Series for the third time in 10 years. Before 2004, such an achievement was unimaginable.
The Red Sox aren’t the only local team that has enjoyed recent sporting success. Our professional sports franchises have had a tremendous collective run in the last 12 years, with three Super Bowl wins by the Patriots (2002, 2004, 2005), an NBA Championship by the Celtics (2008), and a Stanley Cup by the Bruins (2010) to go along with the Red Sox wins. It hasn’t always been like that. When our teams have enjoyed success, it was usually one at a time, while the other teams floundered. I got thinking that it would be interesting to look at the entire history of our major sports franchises and see exactly what they have and haven’t done for us over the decades. The results surprised me.
Boston is one of several cities that has teams in all four major team sports: baseball, hockey, basketball, and football. So let’s start at the beginning.
- Boston Braves were the city’s first major professional sports team. A charter franchise of both the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players (1871-1875) and its successor, the National League of Professional Baseball Clubs (1876-1953), they were previously called the Red Stockings, Beaneaters, Doves, and Rustlers. After the 1953 season, the franchise moved to Milwaukee and and then to Atlanta.
- Boston Red Sox were a charter franchise of the American League of Professional Baseball Clubs (1901-present). Previously called the Americans, they are one of only four original AL teams to still play in their original city.
- Boston Bruins were the first U.S. team in the National Hockey League (1924-present) and are considered one of the “Original Six” teams that comprised the league when it reorganized in 1942.
- Boston Redskins, National Football League (1932-36), were originally called the Braves, after the baseball team at whose stadium they played. The franchise moved to Washington, DC, after the 1936 season.
- Boston Yanks were another Boston NFL team (1944-48) that didn’t last. The franchise moved to New York City, where it operated for three more seasons. Finally, it moved to Dallas, Texas, and played for a season before folding.
- Boston Celtics were a charter franchise of the Basketball Association of America (1946-1949), later called the National Basketball Association (1949-present).
- New England Patriots, a charter franchise of the American Football League (1960-1969), were originally known as the Boston Patriots. They joined the National Football League (1970-present) when the two leagues merged. The team soon moved to Foxboro, Massachusetts, and changed their name to the Bay State Patriots and then the New England Patriots. Although no longer in Boston, they are widely considered to be a Boston team.
- New England Whalers were a charter franchise of the short-lived World Hockey Association (1972-1979). When the league folded, the Whalers joined the NHL and moved to Hartford, Connecticut. The franchise is now the Carolina Hurricanes.
That’s a total of eight major professional teams that have played in Boston. Six of them have won championships. Only one team, the Yanks, failed to even make it to a championship game/series, so they’re excluded from the following chart showing championship performance decade by decade.
- F = First place finish, no championship game/series played
L = Played in but lost the championship game/series
W = Won the championship game/series
* = The 2013 Red Sox will end up with either an “L” or a “W”
— indicates that the team either didn’t yet exist or had left the Boston area
|1901-1910||1W, 1F||—||—||—||—||—||1W, 1F|
|1921-1930||1W, 2L||—||—||—||—||1W, 2L|
|1941-1950||1L||1L||1W, 2L||—||—||—||1W, 4L|
|1951-1960||3L||—||3W, 1L||—||3W, 4L|
|1971-1980||—||1L||1W, 3L||—||2W||—||1W||4W, 4L|
|1981-1990||—||1L||2L||—||3W, 2L||1L||—||3W, 6L|
|2001-2010||—||2WL||—||1W, 1L||3W, 1L||—||6W, 2L|
|2011-||—||*||1W, 1L||—||1L||—||1W, 2L, *|
|TOTAL||1W, 1L, 12F||7W, 4L, 1F||6W, 13L||1L||17W, 4L||3W, 4L||1W||35W, 27L, 13F|
The leanest decade (and having lived through it, it sure felt like it) was the 1990s, when the Patriots were the only team that even got close to a championship, losing in the second Super Bowl appearance in their history. The 1881-1890 period was a bit dry too, with only one first place finish by the Braves, at that time the only team in town. In every other decade, at least one team won a championship (or, in the case of the 19th century Braves, the closest thing to it).
Let’s look at those totals again. Thirty-five outright championships is an astounding number. Sure, almost half of those came from the Celtics, the most successful pro sports franchise of all time, having won championships in slightly more than 25% of their seasons. But our other teams aren’t crap, either. By my count, the only city that exceeds our total championships won is New York (in which I have included Brooklyn), which has consistently hosted multiple teams in each sport.
What our teams have done is quite remarkable. Sure, we’ve suffered through periods in which one team or another sucked badly (think the Red Sox of the 1950s, the Celtics of the 1990s or the Patriots before 1996). Most fans feel very fortunate to have enjoyed our teams’ recent run of success. But the fact is since the advent of professional sports, Boston has been royalty.
Here’s hoping we soon add one more jewel to the crown.
1. In case you’re wondering why I have separated the decades as I have, remember that there was no year 0; the year after 1 B.C. was 1 A.D.. Thus, historians consider a new decade to begin on January 1, XXX1.
2. Baseball had no formal championship series in the 19th century. Though there were so-called championship series, they were considered exhibitions and not analogous to the World Series that began in 1903. Before that, the team that finished in first place was considered the league champion.
3. For purposes of compiling these numbers, I placed the championship in the year when it was won. For example, the 1980-81 Celtics won the NBA championship in 1981, so that victory goes in the 1981-1990 decade, not the previous one. Also, keep in mind that since the 1969 NFL season, the pro football championship game has taken place in the next calendar year, though that wasn’t an issue in compiling Patriots wins by decade.)