This Daly On Baseball History
The Red Sox and Braves just collapsed this year. Where they the worst collapses? I’m a Red Sox fan and I’ve felt worse. Maybe it is because the 2004 and 2007 World Series titles added a psychic cushion. 1977 and 2000 were probably the most disappointing Red Sox seasons for me. I know that they aren’t the usual suspects like 1978, 1986, or 2003 (or ’48 or ’49 for the old timers), but hear me out.
77 times 7
1977 was a watershed year of baseball for me. It was the first time I played in an organized league. I was on the Vikings in the Farm League in Ellington, Connecticut. Farm League was for nine year olds and ten to twelve year olds who weren’t playing in Little League. We went 10-0, no thanks to me. I got two hits all year both in the first game. One was a well-stroked liner that I pulled to right field. I rounded first and took second. The throw was way offline, so I was able to wind up on third. Later that night, I hit a popup that died in no man’s land somewhere in short center. The rest of the year, like a lot of kids. I was the master of two true outcomes. I either walked or struck out. I played leftfield mainly, but hitting was more fun for me, even with my limited success.
After games, we’d go to Moser’s Dairy farm for ice cream or some pizza joint across the street from there. I remember one teammate playing KC and the Sunshine band on the jukebox and another playing Ricki Lee Jones’s “Chuck E.’s In Love.” It was a good time with a good set of fathers coaching us. They were better than my next coach on the Cardinals, a chain-smoking Walter Matthau wannabe who taught me more four-letter words than I would’ve learned on a tour of duty with the Seventh Fleet.
The 1977 AL East race that year may have been just as good as the one in ’78, if not better. There were three contenders that finished over .600. And the race lasted until the last Saturday as the Red Sox and Orioles finished each other off and the Yankees won the crown.
It was the first real year of the Free Agent Era. The Yankees signed Reggie Jackson and Don Gullet in the offseason. The Red Sox countered by signing reliever Bill Campbell, a Vietnam vet that the Minnesota Twins found a few years back in some factory league. As a kid, this blew my mind. I was still under the impression that the world was pretty much a steady-state world. North Central Connecticut is pretty much equidistant between New York and Boston, so we got to hear a lot about the Red Sox and Yankees, and read about them in the Hartford Courant and Journal Inquirer. There was a smattering of news about the Mets, but their Big Story that year was off the field when they traded Tom Seaver to the Reds. They were barely on my radar screen (and wouldn’t be until a few years later when I started hanging out with The Wig and Admiral Will). I grew up in a Red Sox family in a Yankees neighborhood. It was disputed territory; like Kashmir without the nukes.
Reggie. I was sick of the other kids in the neighborhood like Skeeter talking about him all the time. I dunno, maybe the media colored my perceptions, but he was probably the first or second player that I didn’t like. The other one who vied for that honor was Graig Nettles, thanks to a fight against the Red Sox in ’76; the one where Bill Lee separated his shoulder. I didn’t care for the rest of the Yankees (except Lou Piniella for some reason) but I really didn’t like Jackson or Nettles.
That Red Sox team was sometimes called the Crunch Bunch. They hit a ton of home runs for a team from the 1970s. Now this has nothing to do with nothing, but that ’77 O’s team was the one that Eddie Murray and Brooks Robinson played together on. That’s 42 years of baseball history right there. Their three managers ably skippered the teams. Don Zimmer was having a good year, and I think he’s underrated. (He had Mario Mendoza as his starting shortstop one year and the Rangers still had a winning record!). Billy Martin managed to stay gainfully employed the whole year. Son of Sam didn’t get to him. Neither did the looters during the great blackout that year. And Earl Weaver, well, he may be the best manger I remember (although La Russa and Howser may have overtaken him by now. But neither of them had a perm like Earl’s).
It came down to this game. It was the last Saturday of the season and the Orioles (eliminated by the Red Sox the day before) paid the Red Sox back and eliminated them. I still remember that ninth inning. I was in my grandparents’ living room watching it. The Sox were down three and Bernie Carbo hit a clutch two run homer, plating Fred Lynn. I think that there was a Marlboro billboard in Fenway near where the ball went. There was still hope for a few minutes, until the game ended on a Jim Rice fly ball to center. I cried. I really expected the Red Sox to come back and win the game and make the playoffs somehow that year. But it wasn’t meant to be. I’m pretty sure that was the last time that I cried tears of sorrow over a sporting event. After that, 1978 wasn’t as disappointing. I was numb by 1986. They were supposed to finish the season on Sunday, but it rained. It was just as well.
In The Year 2000
The deadest the Red Sox ever were to me was 2000; the year they signed up Steve Ontiveros (Not the infielder. The pitcher. What are the odds that there would be two major league Steve Ontiveroses? Bobby Jones, I can understand. Mike Stanton, I can understand. But Ontiveros is not a common surname.) to make a late September start. The Yankees were reeling but Boston couldn’t capitalize and there were some major league $#@&*)@! on the team; Izzy Alcantara, Dante Bichette, and Carl Everett. This was the squad that almost led me to become an apostate and root fro the Mets or some other team.
On the other hand, that team gave me one of my best baseball memories. A couple of my brothers and I drove up to Boston on a lark to pick up SRO tickets for this game. This was two days before Carl Everett flipped out and bumped an ump. We made a day of it and had lunch at Pizzeria Uno’s down the street from Fenway. I ran into Brian Daubach washing his hands in the men’s room. I went ahead and said, “Is that you, Brian?” Like I knew him or something. He nodded and I wished him luck in that nite’s game. If you peruse the link, you’ll see that he hit a walk off double. Did I have anything to do with that? No, that was more Armando Benitez’s doing, but it is a neat story; my favorite Close Encounter of the First Base Kind.
The Red Sox do not have a monopoly on misfortune. Other teams have had their share disappointment. Take the 2007 Mets, The 1969 Cubs, or the 1964 Phillies. There were the 1934 Giants. Before the season started, manager Bill Terry predicted a Giants pennant. According to Leonard Koppett, Terry named Pittsburgh, Saint Louis, and Chicago as the other first division teams. Someone asked him about Brooklyn.
“Is Brooklyn still in the league?” he quipped.
That comment came back to bite him. 1934 was the year of the Gashouse Gang; one of the most colorful collections of ballplayers with rustics like Pepper Martin and Paul and Dizzy Dean and slick types like Leo Durocher. The Giants took a commanding early lead, but Saint Louis started to chip away. On September 3rd, the lad was down to 5 ½ games and the two teams faced off at the Polo Grounds. The Cards took three of the four games in the series and tied things up by the final Saturday of the year. They faced the Cardinals and beat them twice that weekend while Brooklyn delivered the coup de grace to the cross-town Giants. The Dodgers were still in the league, after all.
Today in Baseball History
October 3rd is a big day in baseball history. There were batting titles settled on that date, as well as memorable games. Here are just some of the highlights.
1919 Dolf Luque becomes the first player from Latin American to appear in a World Series. He appeared in relief for the Reds in Game Three; a 3-0 loss to the White Sox at Comiskey Park.
1924 Game One of the first Colored World Series took place. At Philadelphia’s Baker Bowl, the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro National League beat the Eastern Colored League’s Hilldale Giants (PA), 6-2. This Series featured Hall of Famer’s Biz Mackey, Louis Santop, and Judy Johnson on the Hilldale side. Bullet Rogan and Jose Mendez played on the Kansas City Monarchs.
1947 In Game 4 of the Fall Classic, Bill Bevens comes within one out from pitching the first no-hitter in World Series history. The Yankee hurler loses his claim to fame and the game when Cookie Lavagetto, pinch-hitting for Eddie Stanky, hits a two-out ninth-inning double giving the Dodgers a 3-2 improbable victory. Don Larsen would accomplish the feat with a perfect game nine years later,
1962 The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant! This time, the Dodgers were leading the NL but an injury to Sandy Koufax in July allowed the Giants to get back into the race. On September 11th both teams were tied and they stumbled the rest of the way and had to play a three game playoff. At Dodger Stadium, the Giants won the rubber game of the National League playoffs beating Los Angeles, 6-4 as they batted around and scored four Don Larsen got the win in relief of Juan Marichal.
1974 Frank Robinson hired as baseball’s first black manager by the Indians. Dennis Eckersley turned 20 that day. Robinson would put Eck in the rotation in 1975. Gaylord Perry didn’t exactly get along with Robinson and felt that the manager was rushing the young pitcher. Eck shared a birthday with Al Sharpton on Stevie Ray Vaughn. Both Eckersley and the guitarist suffered from substance abuse issues and both went into rehab in 1986. (I find it interesting that SRV got his big break by playing on David Bowie’s Let’s Dance album. Glam rock and the blues are an unusual combo.)
1976 On the last day of the season, Kansas City’s George Brett and Hal McRae and Minnesota’s Rod Carew are separated by .001 for the batting title. Brett, who goes 3-for-4 edges his Royals teammate (.333 vs. .332) for the American League crown with the deciding hit, an inside-the-park home run, being a misplayed line drive leading McRae to believe the lack of effort was intentional. Fourteen years later, Brett pinch-hits a fifth-inning RBI sac fly, and then singles in the seventh inning to end the season winning the batting title with a .329 batting average. #5 is the only player to win a batting title in three different decades (1976-.333; 1980-.390).
1993 Shades of 1934: Despite winning 103 games, the Giants are eliminated from the Western Division race as the Dodgers defeat them, 12-1. Catcher Mike Piazza, who will be named the league’s Rookie of the Year, hits two home runs in the game. Los Angeles was still in the league.
1995 In other sports news, O. J. Simpson found not guilty
1951 was a transitional year for managers. As Bill James once said, Leo Durocher became the norm. Most of the older generation was retiring or being put out to pasture. Casey Stengel was the exception, but Billy Southworth, Connie Mack, Frankie Frisch, Joe McCarthy, and Burt Shotton all left the managing ranks around the same time. Also around this time, managers stopped using private eyes to follow their players around. Teams sometimes would still do it, but they dicks didn’t report to the skippers anymore. The Yankees said goodbye to Joe DiMaggio and hello to Mickey Mantle. Eddie Gaedel pinch hit in a game. Topps started printing baseball cards.
It was the Fifties but it wasn’t quite Happy Days yet. We were at war in Korea. We were testing nuclear weapons, including exercises involving troops that fall at the Nevada Test Site. The film The Day The Earth Stood Still reflected some of these nuclear fears; as did the Rosenberg trial in the spring.
If you are reading this, odds are you know that sixty years ago today, the New York Giants won game three of a playoff to capture the NL pennant. The outcome was in doubt until Bobby Thomson hit a three run home run leading Red Smith to declare, “The art of fiction is dead.” The home run has been referred to in The Godfather, a M*A*S*H episode, and Dom DeLillo’s novel Underworld. The Dodgers would have to “wait ’til next year” to win the World Series (it would actually take until 1955 before they finally did.)
Thomson hit his home run off of Ralph Branca. Branca’s daughter married Bobby Valentine. Valentine was on the San Diego Padres with Dave Winfield until he was traded to the Mets for Dave Kingman the same day that New York traded Seaver to the Reds for Pat Zachry, Doug Flynn, and other dreck. The Padres often had former Dodgers on the team. Johnny Podres was on the Padres in their inaugural season. Willie Davis was a Padre. Later on Steve Garvey would sign with the team. Winfield was born sixty years ago today, the same day of the famous game.
Winfield was taken fourth in the 1973 draft and went directly to the majors; just like the number one pick David Clyde (but Winfield was far more successful.) He was actually drafted by teams in four leagues; the Vikings drafted him in the NFL draft and the Atlanta Hawks and Utah Stars drafted him in the NBA and ABA drafts respectively. Winfield played hoops with the Minnesota Golden Gophers along with Jim Brewer. Brewer, whose nephew is Doc Rivers, by the way, went on to play with the Cleveland Cavaliers. One of Brewer’s Cleveland teammates was forward Fred Foster. Foster was on the 1970 Cincinnati Royals along with player-coach Bob Cousy. Back in the Fifties, Cousy shared the Celtics backcourt with Bill Sharman. Sharman was a Brooklyn prospect and in the Dodger dugout when Thomson hit his home run.