There was no Commissioner's Trophy the last time the Boston Red Sox (search) won the World Series. In fact, there was no commissioner.
So when the Red Sox won it all for the first time since 1918, they didn't think it would be right to stick their trophy on a shelf somewhere to gather dust. Instead, they took it to every state in New England, to a fan hangout in California and the team's academy in the Dominican Republic, to Christmas tree lightings and churches and nursing homes, where octogenarians have waited all their lives to see their favorite team win just once.
The World Series (search) trophy has been a much-welcomed and well-traveled guest this offseason. And how it got to be that way is the sports story of the year, according to a vote by the newspaper and broadcast members of The Associated Press.
Boston's first World Series title since 1918 and the unprecedented comeback against the Yankees that made it possible was a runaway winner with 108 first-place votes and 1,325 points.
Lance Armstrong's (search) sixth straight Tour de France title (seven first-place votes, 785 points) finished second and the Indiana Pacers-Detroit Pistons brawl was third (six first-place votes, 662 points).
The New England Patriots' Super Bowl victory and 21-game winning streak was next (zero first-place votes, 498 points), followed by sports' steroid stories (eight first-place votes, 495 points).
Merely winning the Series after an 86-year drought probably would have been enough to make the Red Sox the year's top story. But the way they did it was one for the ages.
After falling five outs short of the World Series last year and firing their manager because of it, the Red Sox acquired Curt Schilling, the top starting pitcher on the market, and Keith Foulke, the top reliever.
Their pursuit of Alex Rodriguez — a deal that would have involved unloading Nomar Garciaparra and Manny Ramirez — ended late in 2003. But before spring training got started the reigning AL MVP went to the hated Yankees — thanks in part to the groundwork the Red Sox had done.
It seemed as if Boston would be New York's runner-up once again.
The Red Sox played .500 ball for most of the year, prompting general manager Theo Epstein to trade Garciaparra for shortstop Orlando Cabrera and spare parts Dave Roberts and Doug Mientkiewicz.
But the regular season was, as expected, merely the undercard for a Red Sox-Yankees playoff rematch; for the seventh consecutive year, Boston finished second to New York in the AL East.
The only indication that things might be different this year was that the Red Sox won 11 of 19 meetings between the teams during the regular season — Boston's first edge in the season series since 1999.
Boston swept Anaheim in the first round, with designated hitter David Ortiz — "Papi" — hitting a clinching homer in the 10th inning of Game 3. But the Red Sox just as quickly fell behind the Yankees 3-0 in the AL championship series.
No major league team had rallied from a 3-0 deficit to even tie a seven-game series, let alone win it. But the Red Sox, self-proclaimed "idiots," insisted they were too stupid to be intimidated by the gravity of their predicament.
Things got more dire when the Yankees took a 4-3 lead into the ninth inning of the fourth game, with star closer Mariano Rivera on the mound. But he walked Kevin Millar and Roberts, pinch running, stole second before Bill Mueller singled to tie it.
Boston won in the 12th on Ortiz's homer, then won Game 5 less than 24 hours later on his 14th-inning single. The series moved back to Yankee Stadium, where 2003 had ended so disastrously.
The Red Sox sent Schilling to the mound only after season-ending surgery was postponed in favor of a radical and unprecedented procedure to keep him in the rotation. After testing the technique on a cadaver, Dr. Bill Morgan stitched a loose tendon in Schilling's right ankle in place so it wouldn't flop around when he pitched.
With blood soaking through his sock, Schilling beat the Yankees and forced a decisive seventh game. But the only pitcher the Red Sox had left was Derek Lowe, who pitched so poorly in the regular season that he was bumped from the playoff rotation.
Lowe pitched six innings of one-hit ball, Ortiz homered and Johnny Damon hit a grand slam to help Boston open a 10-3 lead — too big even for the Red Sox to blow. They were going to the World Series.
Their NL opponent was a familiar one: The St. Louis Cardinals had beaten Boston in the 1946 Series and again in '67, both times in seven games. Red Sox fans wondered whether the Series would be a letdown after the emotional victory over the Yankees, and they were right.
The Cardinals failed to put up a fight this time and the Red Sox would soon be celebrating a sweep in Busch Stadium. Millions turned out for the victory parade as it drove through Boston and into the Charles River on amphibious vehicles.
At the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, where they treat sick children thanks in part to the Red Sox and the Jimmy Fund, the trophy caused such a hubbub when pitcher Tim Wakefield brought it by last week that order, finally, had to be restored.
"I just want to get some kids up here!" activities coordinator Lisa Scherber shouted as the patients, too young to understand, watched their parents pose for pictures with the prize. "We've got a lot of adults."
Those who couldn't see the trophy at the "rolling rally" might still get their chance. The Red Sox promise to bring it to every one of the 351 cities and towns in Massachusetts that asks.
If it makes it that long: Already, two of the flags on the trophy have come loose and need to be fixed. But the Red Sox can't bring themselves to take it out of commission that long.
"Just about everywhere I go, people get very emotional. These people have been waiting a lot longer than I have," said Bill Mullaly, a 30-year-old Red Sox security guard who escorts the trophy on many of its visits.
"It's had a huge impact on people. It's made them feel good."