Ithaca College Quarterly 2004/4
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Blame It on Les
Red Sox executives/partners David Ginsberg, Phillip Morse, Les Otten '71, and Michael Gordon on the morning of the Boston parade. Photo by Jack Maley.

Wonder who made the Yanks lose the Series this year? Maybe it was Les Otten '71.

by Maura Stephens

Even non-sports fans got caught up in the story of the "über-underdog" Boston Red Sox this year. They accomplished what no one could ever have thought possible: they vanquished the fabled New York Yankees, the "winningest" team in baseball history, in a back-from-the-dead four straight wins in the playoffs, and then went on to beat the St. Louis Cardinals in another four straight to sweep the 2004 World Series. On the way they refashioned legends, lifted curses (real or imagined), put an end -- at least for a season or two -- to the taunts of Bronx fans, and rewrote history. And they sent an ecstatic city, state, and region into the streets for an impromptu party.

Practically every Red Sox fan claims credit for the win because of something he or she did that was special. People wore the same shoes during each game, sat in special chairs, ate the same breakfast day after day, stopped shaving, started shaving, parted their hair on the opposite side from usual, wore the same socks for three weeks straight. Whether any of these activities was responsible is subject to debate, but there can be no argument that after 86 years Red Sox fans deserved to celebrate.


Last summer Les hosted Peggy R. Williams and some 50 IC alumni at a Red Sox game. The day was marred only by the fact that the Rangers beat the Sox 6-5! Photo by Kirk Swenson '96

The last time their team won the World Series was in 1918, over the Chicago Cubs; the last time they were in the World Series was in 1986, when they lost in seven games to the New York Mets. Game five of the 2004 playoffs set a record for longest postseason game (5 hours, 49 minutes; 14 innings). No team in professional baseball team history had ever forced a tie in a seven-game playoff after losing the first three, and the Sox were the first team ever to rally from a 3-0 deficit to win a best-of-seven series.

The playoffs were so exciting, the triumph over the Yankees so delicious, that the World Series itself was rather anticlimactic. The Sox swept it handily, keeping the Cardinals from gaining the lead at any time. The Cards had won in seven games in both of the two previous World Series in which they faced Boston, in 1946 and 1967. This time they hadn't a chance against the red-hot Sox.

This win could not have been tastier. And few Red Sox fans could have savored it more than Les Otten '71. Those who knew him at IC might find this kind of funny because he grew up outside New York City and was a die-hard Yankees fan back then. But these days when he's asked how he feels about the Yankees, all he'll answer is, "Who?"

He's been living in New England since graduating from Ithaca, so it's not hard to see how his allegiances changed. "I resisted for a long time," he says. "But the local culture finally took over." So much so, in fact, that in October 2000 he purchased a bidding package on the Red Sox from the attorneys representing the team's owner, the Yawkee Trust, giving him a right to bid on a majority ownership in the team. This was a $25,000 commitment. "That was the number they came up with to start the process, to separate the wheat from the chaff," Les explains. "After you bought the package you could look at info on the team and the numbers, and figure out how you could find the money. You bought the right to bid." Les was the first member of a group of would-be ball club owners. "Then we added Tom Warner, a host of other people, and John Henry, the largest investor for principal owner. The negotiation process was grueling, taking 18 months. It covered all sorts of things, such as whether we could save Fenway Park. Just surviving everything our competitors threw at us was exhausting."

The battle to buy the Red Sox was the biggest thing to happen in New England sports in quite a while. "The process probably drew more attention in the local media than the recent presidential election and almost as much as the World Series itself," Les recalls. "We were really under the magnifying glass."

The quest for the Red Sox became Les's full-time commitment until his group took possession just before spring training in 2002. "We prevailed in the end," he says, and took possession of the infamous perennial losers.

The new owners and their team prevailed indeed; just two seasons later the Red Sox would shatter the "curse of the Bambino" and capture the imagination of the country. Les would attend every single postseason game -- every one a winner.

"My story," Les says, "is that perhaps had I not prevailed this outcome might not have come to pass. I take full credit for winning the World Series!"

He's smiling, of course, when he says this. More seriously, and very graciously, he adds, "Red Sox fans are wonderful. Every one had a hand in the win. So much credit goes to so many people that I don't see why they can't all take credit. They can all say, no matter what it was they were doing to try to help the team, 'Maybe if I hadn't done that the Red Sox wouldn't have won.' "

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