Genius moniker: origin of '04 Sox 'Idiots'

February 5th, 2021

They formed a legendary team of unique characters with free-flowing long hair, and together they accomplished something no other baseball team ever has -- coming back from a 3-0 deficit in a postseason series.

But those 2004 Red Sox also carried with them a nickname that baffles the mind a bit when you consider all they accomplished.

They will forever be known as “The Idiots.” The first Merriam-Webster definition of an idiot is “a foolish or stupid person."

The 2004 Red Sox never could have accomplished all that they did if that team nickname was literal in meaning.

So how did it start?

In 2003, a resilient Red Sox team that went all the way to Game 7 of the American League Championship Series against the Yankees swore by the slogan “Cowboy Up!” due to their ability to constantly bounce back from adversity.

By Spring Training 2004, everyone on the team but Kevin Millar (who came up with “Cowboy Up!”) was sick of hearing that slogan.

It was center fielder Johnny Damon who came up with the “idiot” mantra. It had to do with not only that team’s care-free and fun-loving demeanor, but also their ability to block out negative history (as in their franchise not having won a World Series in 86 years).

“Everyone calls themselves an idiot every now and then but the whole [idiot] thing was just saying we didn’t care what happened to those teams of the past,” Damon once recalled to

“We were our own team. We had our own identity. Well, shoot, we weren’t even around. Why do we feel this pressure? That’s why I was like, ‘We’re a bunch of idiots, we don’t care about any of the stuff that’s happened before.' We knew then that our job was to go out and win right now. But yeah, it caught on.”

If David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez, Curt Schilling and Pedro Martinez were the best players on that team, Damon in the minds of many was the face of the club, with his hair below his neck and his beard several months in the making.

Damon’s top ringleader in clubhouse fun was Millar, who constantly loosened up all of his teammates in an ultra-pressurized environment.

Millar’s words prior to Game 4 of that ALCS were contrary to what you usually hear from any player on a team down 3-0 in a postseason series.

MLB Productions was fortunately within earshot to capture his words for eternity.

“Don’t let us win tonight!” Millar said on the field during batting practice to anyone within earshot. “If you let us win tonight, we’ve got Pedro [Martinez] in Game 5, [Curt] Schilling in Game 6 and anything can happen in Game 7.”

The prediction might have seemed “idiotic” for a player from a team that had taken an embarrassing 19-8 pounding in Game 3. But Millar’s words became prophetic.

In fact, it was Millar who drew the leadoff walk in the ninth inning of Game 4 against Rivera, before Dave Roberts pinch-ran for him. Well, you probably know what happened after that.

Prior to Game 6 at a raw and chilly Yankee Stadium, Millar and his teammates took the team’s “idiot” and Animal House culture to another level by taking shots of whiskey after deciding not to take batting practice on the field.

“Yankeeography possessed me to do that,” said Millar. “When you take visiting batting practice on the field at Yankee Stadium, they play music for their batting practice and we get Yankeeography and have to listen to Yogi Berra stories and Derek Jeter and Bernie Williams.

“At that point, I said, 'We’re not falling for that.' And it was a misty night anyway and rainy and cold. I told [manager] Terry Francona that we were going to hit in the cages. He was like, ‘What?’ As I was walking down there, there was the Jack Daniel's in one of the rooms. I just grabbed it and it started out as a joke.”

After the Red Sox won Game 6, they became superstitious and took the symbolic shot prior to their final five postseason games (all wins) en route to that World Series championship at Busch Stadium.

In the clubhouse that night, the big toast took place after the game and the whiskey was replaced by champagne.

“To the greatest Red Sox team ever!” said Schilling.

Several teammates echoed. “Ever!”

There will likely always be some debate whether it was the best Red Sox team ever, but it was probably the most beloved.

And the team nickname was certainly the most unique.