Guys who cracked code in Boston sports: Jonny Gomes

Jim Hackett
March 13, 2019 - 11:38 am
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(Third in a series on athletes who have figured out how to thrive amidst the pressures of Boston. For Parts 1 and 2, see below.)

In this edition we learn that you don't have to be a first ballot Hall of Famer like Kevin Garnett or a perennial Cy Young award candidate like Chris Sale. Sometimes players come to town with average or slightly above average talent but have all the extras that fans love and appreciate. "The Lucky Gnome" Johnny Gomes most certainly qualifies and his indelible mark on the magical 2013 season will be felt in this city forever.

Shortly after the train wreck best known as the 2012 Red Sox season, needing many things including power in the lineup and character in the clubhouse, the Red Sox made a subtle and smart move in signing Johnny Gomes. At the time the addition was a little uninspiring to be frank. A lot of that had to do with how terrible the Red Sox were just a couple of months before. They needed a lot of help and with big name offseason splashes in the not so distant memory, the Gomes signing was a modest piece to a still very incomplete puzzle. I recall a conversation with my co-worker Rob Bradford who broke the news of his signing. I responded with a very loud silence, followed by an even louder yawn. What followed was truly an unexpected, season-long joy. The Red Sox shocked everyone, except for themselves in their 2013 fairytale season that couldn't have been scripted better by Steven Spielberg or Disney.

Johnny Gomes was a huge part of it all.

When you Google the 2013 Red Sox the first image you see is Johnny Gomes. Beard, sunglasses and World Series trophy in hand. If you go deeper in your search he's tough to avoid. Sometimes the images spotlight his own accomplishments; like his game winning home run in mid-June that led to the subsequent punt of his helmet into the stands. Other images are of team success and his unavoidable mug is right in the middle of the celebration in nearly every shot. There he is, Johnny Gomes, celebrating his team for all to see and nobody did it better or made it more inviting for the fans. If David Ortiz was "Best Actor" in 2013, then Johnny Gomes most certainly earned "Best Supporting Actor" honors. Ortiz was the heart, John Lester was the guts and Gomes was the soul if not the pulse of that storybook team and season and it didn't take long to recognize it.

I recall an interview by Jerry Remy in spring training of that year when Gomes boldly declared "he was looking forward to a parade in this town." Remy, I'm sure like most of us looked at him like he was high. After a 69 win season with nothing but bad memories of Red Sox baseball dating back to late in the 2011 season, that comment sounded more delusional than confident.

Then in the mid-afternoon of April 15th the most heinous act that has occurred on Boston's soil happened as two bombs went off roughly 200 yards from the finish line of the Boston Marathon. This senseless act of cowardice defiled what has always been one of the most special days celebrated in Boston for well over 100 years. Precious lives were lost. Many were critically and permanently injured. Families and communities would be forever changed and a city, its citizens, community and their baseball team rallied around this most noble search for healing. Enter the Boston Red Sox.

An act of terror that horrified and saddened quickly galvanized us. Sadly that kind of connection and togetherness is rarely found outside the realm of tragedy. This moment and the many moments that followed from the heroics of the citizens who ran into the chaos to help, to our civil servants including police, fire and scores of healthcare professionals and volunteers brought so many of us together. The Red Sox became the perfect symbol of hope during that time of tragedy. Johnny Gomes was front and center and he did it right. While his on-field leadership was loud and colorful, his demeanor was quiet and classy and his gestures were genuine and met the moment well. The hanging of the 617 jersey in the dugout the next night in Cleveland was a perfect example.

I basically feel like there's no need to write any more as I recall the impact of Gomes and the team in the wake of those moments. I'll just add this . . . it's rare when a ballplayer puts up a stat line with a batting average of .249 with 13 home runs and 52 RBIs and becomes a folk hero. Gomes most certainly did. He was clutch. He cared and brought an identity and unity to that 2013 championship team that cannot be ignored or underestimated.

If you watched that entire season, from front to back then you know. If you jumped on the bandwagon sometime after the All-Star break then you still probably have a sense, but not the whole picture. Gomes mattered on that team and it was obvious.

I can tell you, just two months after the Marathon Bombings when Gomes hit that game-winning homer in June and punted his helmet into the stands I turned to my wife and said, "They're going to win the World Series." That team had a special feel to it and Gomes' impact was inescapable. Leadership, personality and the unity he brought was the fuel that helped Gomes crack the code here in Boston.

Now, no matter how silly and simple he sounds during the occasional NESN broadcast he'll always gets a pass. That's simply because he's Johnny Gomes and he's one of us.

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