While the “Loveable Losers” of Chicago’s North Side set the standard for baseball futility in the 20th century, the Boston Red Sox were the team that constantly brought their fans to the brink of euphoria…only to break their hearts. The Olde Town Team came up short in four World Series from 1946 to 1986, losing each in agonizing seven-game fashion. Of all the lore from failed World Series past — Slaughter’s mad dash, Lonborg and champagne, “behind the bag” — one contest stands as a mystical marker of time when cold reality was suspended just long enough for absolutely anything to be possible — Game 6 in 1975.
While the Impossible Dream Red Sox of 1967 resuscitated baseball in Boston following years of callous mediocrity, the good feeling died from the inside-out over the span of a few short seasons. Glenn Stout and Richard A. Johnson’s must-own Red Sox Century details a pattern of self-destruction (starting with Jim Lonborg’s skiing injury on Christmas Eve 1967), that left Carl Yastrzemski as the only member of the Impossible Dream squad employed by Tom Yawkey just six years later.
Squabbles between Yawkey and manager Dick Williams that eventually led to Williams’ dismissal, bad trades of ‘67 stalwarts, a fractured clubhouse with “twenty-five players who take twenty-five cabs” which Reggie Smith openly critiqued at a time the city’s racial tensions needed ample gauze but received an inadequate Band-Aid, repeated collapses down the stretch – these were among the many reasons why the Red Sox ceded the American League East pennant to the Detroit Tigers, Baltimore Orioles and Oakland Athletics between 1968 and ’74.
Even when, buoyed by an influx of talent who were merely boys in ‘67, the Red Sox got past the A’s and into the 1975 Fall Classic, the underdogs faced massive obstacles – the Big Red Machine, a season-ending injury to star Jim Rice, Larry Barnett’s non-call on Ed Armbrister’s interference in Game 3 (if you were mad about the Allen Craig-Will Middlebrooks fiasco last fall, get a load of this). All of the factors, some self-wrought, others accumulating in a scrapbook of bad luck into which Destiny continued to paste its Polaroids until October 16, 2004, were washed away with a few days of rain in October of 1975.
Game 6, rescheduled three times, would be the greatest game ever played, and the Boston Red Sox would win. On a Tuesday evening, when the rain had stopped, the New England air was warmer than usual; with it, an aura of autumnal magic usually reserved for the New York Yankees passed 200 miles to the northeast and lingered until 12:34 the next morning. Then, like the fog that comes on Carl Sandburg’s little cat feet, it moved on.
The 1975 World Series is often not remembered by the result, which saw Cincinnati take the reins from Charlie Finley’s well-scouted Oakland powerhouse for a two-year run atop the baseball world. The Machine boasted four Hall of Famers at the height of their powers and yet, outside of Ohio, the 1975 Series comes down to a game the losers won.
There was Luis Tiant, 294 innings into his season, all arms and legs, tossing Wiffle balls past Cincy batters until his tank ran empty and the visitors began to put a charge into his weary offerings, scraping at the green barricades designed to keep the ball in the yard. One deep drive sent Fred Lynn careening into the center field wall; there was no padding out there in those days. A Cesar Geronimo twister in the top of the eighth tallied the sixth run for the Redlegs and ended Tiant’s 1975 season, but the home team charged back behind Bernie Carbo: strung out and in a pinch-hitting role, the former Red bashed a pitch into the center field stands with two on and two out in the bottom of the frame.
The Red Sox might have scored the winning run in the bottom of the ninth, but their historical preference to make things as painful as possible registered for a brief moment. With the bases loaded, nobody out and Denny Doyle on third, a cannon from Big George Foster nabbed the second baseman trying to score on a Fred Lynn fly to left. The story goes that Doyle thought he heard third base coach and Eddie Andelman irritant Don Zimmer telling him to “go, go.” Zim actually said “no, no.” And so went the rally.
There was the Dewey catch. Dwight Evans might not have grown his trademark superhero mustache by 1975 but he still possessed otherworldly defensive aptitude and turned in one of the finest grabs of all time. With Ken Griffey taking off from first, Evans lost track of the ball but somehow knew where he needed to be, plucking Joe Morgan’s deep drive to right from its trajectory into the seats, wheeling, and heaving an off-line dart back to the infield. Griffey had run so far from first that the Red Sox scooped the ball somewhere near the home dugout and secured the double play.
That set the stage for this. Poetry in motion. She blinded me with science.
Game 6 was the game that made me want to become a sports writer. The odes stirred six senses in search of a seventh — Tim Horgan deemed the evening “bitter, glorious, stupid, marvelous, damnable,” while Ray Fitzgerald implored, “Call it off. Call the seventh game off. Let the World Series stand this way, three games for the Cincinnati Reds and three games for the Boston Red Sox.”
Then, there was Gammons, deft and powerful like Ray Robinson with a typewriter, who Fitzgerald describes in the madness of polkas and song and dance asking, “What was the final score?” Peter must have altered the space-time continuum as he submitted one of the all-time greats to make the morning edition, a story of “a game won and lost what seems like a dozen times.” No game was more deserving of a place in mythology.
If the ensuing autumn was the hammer of Thor, the Red Sox were Loki, employing just the right amount of mischief to keep the last remnants of summer from being swept off into the Atlantic during extra innings.
The Red Sox dropped the series, scuffled in ‘76, choked in ‘78, and didn’t return to the grand stage for eleven years. Yet, for one night, past and future had no matter. For 35,205 in the yard and millions across the region, from the bare trees of the Northern Kingdom to the frothy Cape Cod shoreline, Carlton Fisk blasted Giamatti’s Dame Mutability over the head with the left field foul pole. For one night only, summer won.
Red Sox Century by Glenn Stout and Richard A. Johnson
“Fisk’s HR in 12th beats Reds” by Peter Gammons from The Boston Globe, 10/22/75