BOSTON — Red Sox players back then were constantly joking around on and off the field and frequently meeting up for lunch at restaurants around town.
"We rode motorcycles to the ballpark," ex-Boston center fielder Johnny Damon said, discussing the unity of the 2004 World Series champion Boston Red Sox.
The '04 Red Sox were easy for fans to cheer for — not like this year's team.
Those players were fun. They loved being with one another and even outsiders knew it. They didn't put individual stats ahead of the team. They respected manager Terry Francona and the front office. They did the jobs they were assigned. They policed one another and themselves. Almost anybody would stand up to anybody. Yes, they were that comfortable with one another.
They were a pack of self-proclaimed "idiots" who knew the exact formula of winning: That the team — and not the individual — had to come first.
"That team changed the culture of how teams should be," said Damon who is in town with Cleveland this weekend and chatted one-on-one with The Eagle-Tribune on Friday. "And you see the teams that are winning now are teams that have very good chemistry. And I think when all of us left, they (the Red Sox) kind of lost something."
The Boston Red Sox — who sit in last place in the AL East here on May 13 — have lost their way from ownership down to the players, who think they can get away with whatever they want — and they actually do because ownership seems scared of upsetting them.
"It's always easier working together," Damon explained.
Hey Johnny, why don't you share that concept with these current Red Sox players.
Not all but some of the 2012 Red Sox players seem like they would rather sit in the clubhouse checking their own statistics on their iPads and focusing on what they need to do to earn their next big-money contract rather than riding motorcycles together to Fenway Park or even partying together like the 2003 Sox did by jogging in full uniforms and cleats from Fenway to the nearby Baseball Tavern and pouring (and buying) beer for fans after clinching the AL Wild Card.
The 2003 club had pretty much the same personnel as the 2004 club, give or take a few players.
"(The '04 team) was probably the closest, funnest team I've ever been on," said Derek Lowe, who pitched for the Red Sox from 1997-2004, and who also is in town with Cleveland and chatted one-on-one with The Eagle-Tribune on Friday. "You can't teach chemistry. You can't teach guys to get along. You can't teach guys to check their ego at the door."
What was special about the '04 squad, Lowe explained, is players policed themselves and one another.
"We had rules among the starting staff that we knew if we went upstairs for more than two innings, you were going to get — I don't want to say fined — but you were going to get in trouble with your other starting pitchers," Lowe said. "So we controlled ourselves. We had no (team) rules. We didn't need rules. We had so much respect for one another that we didn't want to let down the guy next to us.
"You don't want to have your manager make up all those kinds of rules," Lowe added.
Pitchers on the '04 staff didn't have a problem standing up to one another if something needed to be said. They also looked out for each other.
"As far as everything: making sure we were out there to shag, out there to stretch," Lowe said. "Everything."
Surely no current Boston pitcher or position player has stood up to Josh Beckett, one of the ring leaders in the beer-drinking and fried chicken-eating clubhouse gatherings during games last year.
Beckett hasn't done anything to improve his image this season. He decided to go golfing May 3, the day after it was determined that he would miss his May 5 start because of tightness in his lat muscle. That has caused quite the stir here in Boston.
The Red Sox' culture has grown progressively worse — and players have grown more and more entitled since the 2007 World Series championship.
This entitlement was at an all-time high — or should we say an all-time low — last year when pitchers drank beer and ate fried chicken during games and when players complained over management scheduling a doubleheader on a Saturday in late August to avoid a rain out that next day when Hurricane Irene was excepted to arrive in Massachusetts.
And the owners certainly are to blame for reportedly giving each player $300 headphones to sooth things over when the players clearly were in the wrong.
You want more examples of entitlement?
OK, how about when fan-favorite Dustin Pedroia challenged Bobby Valentine's authority after the new manager publicly called out Kevin Youkilis' commitment level?
"Maybe (that works) in Japan or something," Pedroia arrogantly said before even speaking with Valentine about the comments.
Or just look at the way Daniel Bard, who was converted from a reliever into a starter this season, acted when the Red Sox assigned him to help out the struggling bullpen for a couple of days after his April 22 start was postponed and it was decided it would be best for the team to skip his turn in the rotation. Bard asked Valentine and GM Ben Cherington several questions about the decision before he told them he was OK with it for now.
For now? It seems like he is the one dictating his role to the GM and manager.
What ever happened to keeping quiet and doing what is best for the team?
Is this just the way things are done nowadays all around Major League Baseball? Are the high-paid players running the show and making the calls over their lesser-paid executive bosses?
"We're not the boss," Lowe said.
Lowe was a reliever his first four seasons in Boston, but would have rather been starting. Still, he never made demands. He didn't even tell the manager about his desire to start, he said. The only one he told was the pitching coach.
"I don't think there is anything wrong with expressing your opinion that you want to do something else," Lowe said. "But this organization's job and what they will do is put you in a spot that's best for the team."
Like this year's Red Sox squad, the 2004 club was coming off a shocking end to its previous season.
No, the 2004 Red Sox had not experienced a collapse the previous September which saw them go from 31 games over .500 on Aug. 31 to third place and no playoffs on the final day of the season.
But the '03 club did blow a 5-2 eighth-inning lead with ace Pedro Martinez on the mound in Game 7 of the ALCS against the hated New York Yankees, who won 6-5 in 11 innings on an Aaron Boone walkoff homer.
Then-Red Sox manager Grady Little was fired soon after. Many say his firing had to do with keeping Martinez in the game too long.
Lowe indicated the switch from Little to Francona was a much easier transition than it probably was for this year's Red Sox team going from Francona to Valentine.
"It's different because Grady and Terry are kind of the same person," Lowe said. "They're very laidback.
"And we didn't have any so-called drama," Lowe added. "I know Grady left, but as far as the team was concerned, we had been pretty much together for a long time. I think that makes it easier where this team here (the 2012 Red Sox) is not the same team. They've had a lot of injuries. You're asking a lot of new guys to step in."
All in all, this year's Red Sox squad looks like it has no motivation to atone for last September when the 2004 team did everything it could to forget its disappointing end to 2003.
"It was just a really fun group to be around," Lowe said. "And I think that's what every team strives for — that chemistry. Chemistry can go a long way. When you don't have it you kind of go in the opposite direction pretty fast."