- The Yankees and Red Sox are baseball's bitterest rivalry, and it was never more intense than in 1978. SI's new documentary "14 Back" relives the wild Summer of '78.
Eleven-time Emmy award-winning filmmaker Jonathan Hock will direct “14 Back,” the story of the historic summer of 1978 pennant race between the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox. The documentary, which is scheduled for a late summer debut, will be co-produced with Major League Baseball and distributed by SI TV, the over-the-top streaming network that launched in November 2017.
This summer marks the 40th anniversary of a touchstone season in arguably the most bitter rivalry in baseball, which has found fresh blood this season. The teams, which own the two best records in baseball and close a three-game series tonight in New York, are less than a month removed from a bench-clearing brawl in Boston that has reignited old, sleeping hatreds.
“I was a 14-year-old Yankee fan on October 2, 1978, when Bucky Dent sent a sinker from Mike Torrez over the Green Monster, capping the greatest comeback season in baseball history,” says Hock. “It was, without exaggeration, the happiest moment of my young life. So when Sports Illustrated asked me to direct a documentary about that season, I must have said yes before they finished the question.
“But getting to relive some happy memories and interview childhood heroes like Ron Guidry, Graig Nettles and Goose Gossage, has just been the icing on the cake for me as a filmmaker. The real joy of this project has been the story itself – hearing stories for the first time about what went on behind closed doors with Reggie, Thurman, Billy and George in the “Bronx Zoo” Yankees. And the other guys, the Sox, who an emotional Rick Burleson told me had to be the greatest team ever to not win the pennant. Tiant, Eckersley, Lynn, Fisk, Rice, Remy and Yaz—their side of the story is every bit as compelling as the Yankees’. There was greatness in both dugouts on that autumn day at Fenway in 1978, and each team needed the other to define itself. The result was as rich and juicy a sports story as two teams were ever destined to write together. To be the filmmaker to help tell that story is, for me, as good as it gets.
Hock has directed four ESPN 30 for 30 documentaries and was the writer and producer of last year’s critically-acclaimed “Celtics/Lakers: Best of Enemies,” a three-part, five-hour film about the rivalry that was the de facto successor to Red Sox-Yankees as the most gripping in sports.
“I had seen the exceptional work that Jon had done with Best of Enemies,” says Sports Illustrated editor-in-chief, Chris Stone. “Imagine the magic, I told [SI TV executive producer] Josh Oshinsky, he could work with a rivalry in which the hate ran even deeper and further back, and which Jon, as a rabid Yankees fan who came of age in the 70s, was so personally invested in.”
The discussion around the project initially focused on the 40th anniversary of the one-game playoff between the Yankees and Red Sox on Oct. 2, 1978, most famous for the light-hitting Dent’s three-run home run that was the crucial blow in the Yankees’ 5–4 victory.
“But then Jon and I relived that entire summer, almost game-by-game—“Reggie Jackson’s weird, failed bunt in KC, ‘One’s convicted, the other’s a liar,’ Luis Tiant winning three games in eight days to force the one-game playoff and, of course, the Boston Massacre—and we realized it had to be bigger than one game.”
Next week Hock and Stone will join Jimmy Traina on his podcast, where they discuss the strange, sudden trade for Dennis Eckersley, the last of the Buffalo Heads, why there’s an argument for titling the doc “14 1/2 Back” and plenty of other wonderful minutiae from the Summer of ’78.