September 30, 2014

A Confession to my parents: I played sick to watch the 1967 World Series

January 8, 2013 by · 1 Comment 

As my mom says, “Bobby would always confess when he did something wrong, just not immediately after he did it.”    Well, I am at it again.  I have a confession.  Of course it is for something from over four decades ago.  But before I actually confess, let me provide some background to support my little white lie.

How could I help myself?  I fell in love with the game of baseball in 1964.  The World Series between the St. Louis Cardinals and New York Yankees was like my first kiss.  It would become the beginning of a long and beautiful relationship.

While I lost my virginity to this great game when I was seven, it was the miraculous season of 1967 that cemented our torrid affair.  It was because of that season,  I actually lied to my parents.  Yes Mom and Dad, I have a confession.  I told you a fib.  I pretended to be sick from school on October 4th through the 12th, back in 1967.

I am not sure whether I can still be punished, but now the cat is out of the bag.  It is definitely something that I needed to get off of my chest.  Well, at least the ten-year-boy trapped inside of my chest is free.

“All I can say, better late than never, right?”

Of course, my little white lie was kind of believable.  When I was in the third grade, I had every childhood disease, so I had a track record.  Back then my dad would bring home packs of Topps Wax packs on Fridays after he got paid.   But honestly, I was not sick the week of October in question in 1967.

Arguably, this was the last true pennant race.  To be honest, what they refer to as a pennant race nowadays is an insult.  I realize that the addition of wildcards and extra playoffs make it more exciting for more fans, but nothing can match the excitement of the one in 1967.  Back during he the golden years of the sixties, there were only team teams, and not too long before that, each league consisted of only eight.  During that magical 1967 season, four teams finished the season by being separated by only three games.  They were the Boston Red Sox, Detroit Tigers, Minnesota Twins and Chicago White Sox.  In fact, until September 27th, a four-way tie for first place was a distinct possibility.

Unfortunately it would also be a season punctuated by tragedy.  August 18, 1967, one of the games brightest young stars, Tony Conigliaro of the Boston Red Sox stepped into the batter’s box during the fourth inning of a game at Fenway Park. Just before Jack Hamilton of the Angels, who was known for the occasional spitball, got set, some IDIOTIC fan threw a smoke bomb onto the field. The game was halted for ten minutes until the smoke cleared. Tony Conigliaro stepped back into the batter’s box squeezed his bat and waited for a fastball. He had already singled during his first at bat.   This time, the Boston slugger braced himself for a fastball.

Hamilton’s pitch came in towards Tony’s chin. Conigliaro put up his hands for protection and leaned back. The ball seemed to follow him and struck him just below his left temple. The Red Sox slugger went down like a sack of potatoes.   Like Ray Chapman did forty-seven years ago to the day after being hit by a ball thrown by Carl Mays.

Everything went black for Conigliaro. The first voice he heard was Rico Petrocelli who batted behind him in the lineup. They carried him off on a stretcher to the clubhouse.  He regained full consciousness just before being taken to the Santa Maria hospital. Doctors diagnosed him with a severe concussion. Originally the papers reported that Tony would miss four weeks but he never returned that season or all of 1968.  He eventually came back to play in both 1969 & 70 seasons, putting up nice numbers for the Bosox. (In1969: 20 Hr, 82 RBI and .255 BA. 1970: 36 Hr, 116 RBI & .266).

But before that fateful August night, Tony was having a successful season of 20 HRs and 65 RBIs.  When he went down, most felt that that the BoSox were doomed.

At first, the Sox would tried to replace Conigliaro with Jose Tartabull but when that did not work out they signed Ken “the Hawk” Harrelson on August 28th. The Hawk was released by Kansas City when he fell out of favor by publicly criticizing its owner Charlie Finely.

Harrelson’s 1967 contribution was not substantial. He appeared in 23 games, hit 3 homers drove in 14 runs with a .200 average.

The American League pennant came down to October 1st.Three teams were still in the mix on the final day. The Red Sox, the Twins and Tigers. That day the Red Sox faced off with the Minnesota Twins and the game pitted the Tigers and Angels.

At Fenway Park, Jim Lonborg, the Red Sox ace and the eventual Cy Young winner faced Dean Chance of the Twins.  Tony Oliva doubled in Harmon Killebrew during the top of the first. Then in the top of the third, Killebrew brought in Cesar Tovar with a single to make it 2-0. Neither run was earned since each inning began with an error. But then in the fifth inning, the wall came tumbling down for the Twins. Lonborg led off with a bunt single, moved to second on a single by Jerry Adair and Dalton Jones loaded them up with another. Yaz drove in two with one of his four hits to knot the game up. Harrelson reached on a fielder’s choice, Dalton Jones scored. Al Worthington came in relief and uncorked two wild pitches to make it 4-2. Tartabull came in on another fielder’s choice for the fifth run. The Twins would get a meaningless run on an Allison homer to finish the scoring at 5-3.

At Tiger Stadium the Tigers and Angels split a double header. Detroit won the first when Joe Sparma beat Jack Hamilton 6-4. The second game featured Denny McLain against Jim McGlothin. The Angels ended the Tiger’s season with an 8-5 beating.

The Red Sox earned the right to go to the series.

Which brings me to the reason for my confession. After being exhausted from watching this unprecedented pennant race, I could not very well miss an inning of the World Series, could I? For those too young to remember, during those days, all of the World Series games were played during the day, until 1971, when the first night World Series game was played in Pittsburgh. While it would be nice to think that MLB wanted more viewers to watch, it all came down to money, larger viewer ship, more money for commercials.

Since we were still four years away from the World Series being playing at night, I relied on old reliable…Post Nasal Drip. I always sounded sick in the morning.  By afternoon, I felt like my own self.

So on the morning of October 4th, when my mother came in to wake me up for school,  I replied, “Mom, I don’t feel good…”

The 1967 World Series between the Boston Red Sox and St. Louis Cardinals was the definition of what every World Series should be like. It was a “knock down, drag out” brawl that featured some fancy pitching by the likes of Bob Gibson and Jim Lonborg. The teams combined for thirteen homers during the seven games. “Yaz” led the way with three. What a wonderful year he had. Carl was the league’s MVP and the Triple Crown Winner.  The season before, Frank Robinson had also accomplished that feat.  The first one since Mickey Mantle did it in 1956.  On top all of that,  “Yaz” is fun to say.

While I’m a National League fan, I was pulling for the Sox. My Dad tried to change my loyalty to the Cardinals, reciting the unwritten rule that National League fans were obligated to root for their league’s representative. But how could I go against the team I rooted for during the “The Impossible Dream?” It was a feel good story that captured the heart of this ten-year-old boy.

The first game opened at Fenway Park in Boston, a classic baseball venue. The home of the “Green Monster.” A monolithic structure that turned homeruns into ordinary doubles. Well on the afternoon of October 4th, Jose Santiago squared off against Bob Gibson, the Cardinal’s ace. Santiago pitched a fine game. Surrendering two runs driven in by Roger Maris groundouts. On top of that, he hit the game’s only homer. Life is not always fair in baseball and he lost 2-1.

Well, the two heavyweights came out to the center of Fenway to square off for round two. This time Boston’s ace Jim Lonborg met the challenge. Yaz, the American League MVP and Triple Crown winner crushed two homers and Lonborg hurled 7 2/3 innings of no-hit ball, finishing with a one hit 5-0 masterpiece.

It was all even on the judges’ cards as the Fall Classic flew out to St. Louis. Nellie Briles faced Gary Bell but the Boston starter left during the third inning. Waslewski, Strange and Osinski followed him. Mike Shannon hit one out to tip the scale in Cardinal’s favor.

Then on Sunday, October 8th was a rematch of Gibson and Santiago. The result, just another gem by the Cardinal ace, 6-0. Good old 45 was capturing my imagination. Gibbie seemed to throw everything at the batters, not just the ball. Each pitch looked like it was his last or that his life depended on it. His body would fall off of the mound and he would end up closer to the first base line.

St. Louis were now up 3 games to 1.

Game number five pitted Jim Lonborg against Steve Carlton in St. Louis. The Boston ace had a two hitter going into the ninth until Maris hit a home run with two outs in the ninth. The Red Sox were climbing back into the series!

The champions flew to Boston and a revived Red Sox squad slugged it out with the NL champ. The match up featured Dick Hughes of the Cardinals and Gary Waslewski of the Red Sox. The two teams traded punches and homers for six and a half innings until Boston pushed four runs across home plate. Boston was victorious 8-4 to knot up the series.

The deciding game show cased each team’s stud, Gibson for St. Louis and Lonborg for Boston. Unfortunately, Lonborg had to go on two day’s rest. But his manager Dick Williams said you had to go with your best.

St. Louis scored two in the third, the second run came when Dal Maxvill scored on a wild pitch. Gibson would hit a solo homerun in the fifth and Maris’ sacrifice fly brought in the fourth run. Julian Javier hit a three run shot over the Green Monster to lock it up at 7-2.

Bob Gibson who was 3-0, 1,00 ERA and 26 strikeouts and took home the MVP of the World Series award…

And like the words of Chuck Berry, I was “…back in school again.”

Comments

One Response to “A Confession to my parents: I played sick to watch the 1967 World Series”
  1. EmptyD says:

    Ok, here goes Nitpicky Jerk time:
    I enjoy reading these articles, but, jeez, it’s ‘Tigers,’ not ‘Tiger’s,’ and ‘Pirates,’ not ‘Pirate’s.’ And the Chuck Berry lyric is ‘back in class again.’
    See, I told you! Nitpicky Jerk, that’s me. The first Series I remember was that same ’67, and I distinctly recall usually being allowed to have a transistor radio to listen to the games in class and if you had a really cool teacher, a tv. I think you’re right, the last actual pennant race was in 1968. And I think there are a lot of folks in our demographic that do not find multiple rounds of playoffs and multiple ‘wild card’ teams exciting. In my view, this only serves to delude players and fans of certain teams into thinking that mediocrity equals a championship caliber club. One of these days a team that was under .500 during the regular season in a weak division will get hot and win the World Series, and what a dark day that will be! And you kids get off my lawn!

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