It was only a matter of time before one of Boston's finest would approach the young couple relaxing on a blanket beside the Charles. Like the other sun worshipers stretched out along the river from the Hatch Shell to the Harvard Business School, these kids were guzzling the nectar of the gods at an intoxicating rate and listening to a pocket transistor radio that was turned up loud. But they were sunning themselves in the nude, and while au naturel may be acceptable at Big Sur, it is banned in Boston. So now the policeman stood next to the naked couple, and what did he say? "Hey," he said, pointing to the blaring radio, "how're the Sox doin'?"
Man, the Sox are doin' just fine. They are impersonating some of those aggressive teams over in the National League and, with a 4½-game lead over Cleveland on Sunday, scenting victory in the American League East. What the Red Sox really are doing, though, is ruining the summer vacations of millions of New Engenders. Families still flock to beaches along the jagged Maine coast and down on the Cape and out on Narragansett Bay, and they still swarm to the cool mountain lakes up north, but life wears a worried face when the Sox are locked in a pennant fight. They are the Sox, mind you, not the Red Sox. If you call them the Red Sox, people know immediately that you are from New Jersey or Kentucky or Utah or maybe some other world.
In the summer of '74 New England man takes his radio or his portable television set with him wherever he goes. Golfers keep radios in their bags or on their carts to check on the Sox score between strokes, improvising still another excuse for a poor shot: "I shanked that ball at the seventh because Yaz had just hit into a double play with the bases loaded." Yaz, not Carl Yastrzemski. If you say Carl Yastrzemski in New England, people know you are from Mississippi or Saskatchewan. One sun addict at Popponesset Beach on Cape Cod watched a Sox game on television while sitting with his feet in the ocean, thanks to what must have been the world's longest outdoor extension cord—to be precise, seven 50-foot wires spliced together and running from a kitchen outlet across the dunes and down to the water's edge.
Despite their flaming love affair with the Sox, the people in New England don't seem to understand them anymore. "These guys are really different," said super fan Henry Berry, sounding almost like a jilted lover. Berry lives in Darien, Conn. and is vice-president/historian of the BLOHARDS. The Benevolent Loyal Order of Honorable and Ancient Red Sox Diehard Sufferers make occasional chartered-bus trips from Connecticut to Fenway Park to see their Sox live, and last week Berry sat there in stunned disbelief as he watched the Sox play the Minnesota Twins. "These aren't the old Sox," he intoned.
O.K., call them the Boston Reds Dodgers. In the old days, like last season, the Sox won games only when they beat down The Wall in left field with line drives, which was not very often. Running? To the pay window, maybe, but not on the field. Defense? That's the position Bobby Orr plays for the Bruins. Spirit? The Sox clubhouse was the scene of so many subversive plots that the CIA, the FBI and the CYO could not have kept track of who was doing what to whom.
The new Sox play daredevil baseball. "We're a National League team," claims Reggie Cleveland, who had pitched for the St. Louis Cardinals the four previous seasons. In a July game against Baltimore, Outfielder Dewey Evans stole home while the Orioles were preoccupied trying to prevent Catcher Bob Montgomery from stealing second base. Montgomery, who lumbers, already has stolen three bases, or two more than he had pilfered in the last eight years. In a game against the Yankees the Sox worked a boldly successful two-strike suicide squeeze with Bernie Carbo at the plate and Rico Petrocelli, no Lou Brock, chugging down the line from third base. And they beat the Athletics 2-1 when Rick Miller scored shortly after stealing second and then Tommy Harper raced around from first with the winning run on a blooper down the left-field line.
"We make things happen now," says Yastrzemski. "We don't wait for the long ball off The Wall anymore." Yastrzemski and Evans gleefully befuddled the Twins last Saturday with base running that produced a score for the Sox. Yastrzemski was at second and Evans was at first, and brash rookie Shortstop Rick Burleson bounced a routine double-play ball to Minnesota Second Baseman Jerry Terrell. Rather than flip the ball to the shortstop for the forceout, Terrell tried to tag Evans. But Evans stopped abruptly, began to backtrack—and the confused Terrell had to throw the ball to first base to retire Burleson. Craig Kusick then tossed the ball to Terrell, who noticed that Yastrzemski had rounded third base and was headed for the plate. Forgetting Evans, he pegged the ball home in an attempt to get Yastrzemski, but Yaz beat the throw easily. Evans smartly continued to second base and then scored on Doug Griffin's single to left field.
For Sox fans still haunted by the memories of such blunderers as Bootsie Buddin and Stonefingers Stuart, the new look is astonishing. It was planned that way. When Darrell Johnson replaced Eddie Kasko as manager, he said the Red Sox would be a go-get-'em team with solid pitching, tight defense and no—repeat no—palace revolts. In rapid order the Sox traded away Reggie Smith and Lynn McGlothen, among others, acquired Pitchers Rick Wise, Diego Segui, Juan Marichal and Cleveland; promoted Burleson, Centerfielder Juan Beniquez and Designated Hitter Cecil Cooper from Pawtucket; and produced a new uniform design that features bright red socks instead of blue socks with red and white stripes. The Red Sox are the red socks at long last.
What Johnson did not know as he planned his order of battle was that Wise would prove to be practically useless because of a variety of arm ailments; that arm troubles would also keep Marichal disabled for 10 weeks; that Cleveland would throw home-run pitches instead of strikes; and that Catcher Carlton Fisk, the player the team could least afford to lose, would suffer crippling groin and knee injuries and end his season in June. "If it were not for our injuries," says Yastrzemski, "I don't think there would be any race to worry about right now."
Marichal has returned with a kicking flourish, winning three games and permitting only one run in his last 26 innings. He admittedly had poor stuff during the six innings he worked against the Twins last Friday night, but he bewildered them with an assortment of off-speed pitches and screwballs that he released from a dozen different positions in his delivery. Marichal is probably the only righthander in the American League who throws a screwball, a pitch that breaks sharply down and in against right-handed batters and down and away from lefthanders. Marichal faced Rod Carew three times, and each time he double kicked and got him out with a screwball that left Carew wondering what that baseball was doing behaving like that.
Marichal's style perfectly complements the tricky deliveries of Luis Tiant, who won his 18th and 19th games for the Sox by shutting out California 3-0 last week and beating the Twins 9-6 on Sunday. During the winter Tiant embraced a new religion in Mexico, and according to the rules of the sect he is supposed to shun public places, make no public utterances and wear only white for an entire year. Fortunately for the Red Sox, Tiant received dispensations that allow him to pitch in major league baseball parks and wear the Red Sox red.
All credit to pitchers pious or profane, but beyond anything else Johnson's Red Sox are notable for the exuberance of their youth. At least four young newcomers play regularly because, as Johnson says, "I managed them at Pawtucket and know they can do the job." When Fisk was injured, Johnson recalled 21-year-old Tim Blackwell from Pawtucket, even though he was hitting only .192, and moved him right into the lineup. Blackwell is near .270 for the Red Sox and has hurt them behind the plate only once.
Rooster Burleson, a 23-year-old graduate of the Pete Rose-Eddie Stanky school of baseball belligerence, is probably the cockiest Boston rookie since another Californian by the name of Ted Williams predicted great things for himself about 35 years ago. Replacing the retired-Luis Aparicio, Burleson is hitting a strong .300 and has taken charge of the infield. "It's got to be that way," he says. "I keep telling myself that I've got to run things out there. I've shown them I can play, so they accept me."
In the field Burleson has better than average range and perhaps the strongest arm in the league. The arm often saves him from embarrassment because he tends to hold the ball too long before firing it to first on routine plays.
Bobby Murcer of the Yankees and Don Baylor of the Orioles have crashed hard into Burleson at second base, testing his desire to stay in the majors. "They won't do it again," Burleson says, "because I'll lowball them. I'll get the ball coming right at them—and that other stuff will end. Like Toby Harrah of the Rangers. He throws so low to first base on double plays, guys start sliding when they're halfway to the bag."
As Johnson anticipated, Burleson's style—cockiness tempered with ability—has infected the Red Sox veterans, most of whom never knew what a rambunctious rookie was like. Yastrzemski, Petrocelli and Second Baseman Dude Griffin have batted close to .300 all season and played with the flair of Jersey Street Prep rather than the Olde Towne Team, while 22-year-old Dwight Evans has matured into a solid .290 hitter and the league's best rightfielder in just his second full season. "Petrocelli has been the steadiest day-to-day player on the club," Johnson says.
Rico was not all that steady the other night, having just finished a pepper steak submarine sandwich with onions, cheese, tomatoes and enough oil to fill a Libyan tanker. "Why does my stomach feel so awful?" he asked unnecessarily. Last season he had said he would quit if he were not traded. His elbow was filled with calcium deposits, bone chips, torn muscles and scar tissue. He had no feeling in two fingers. His bat and his glove both had holes. And the Boston fans were booing him mercilessly. Then Petrocelli, always a brooder, met Pat Jantamaso, a former Las Vegas singer turned evangelist, and adopted a new outlook. "I stopped letting myself be bothered by all the little things that went wrong," he says. "Now when a game's over I just go home."
When Petrocelli and the Red Sox returned to Boston last week after losing two of three games to the Angels, Owner Tom Yawkey visited the clubhouse to try to lift any sagging spirits. Nolan Ryan had struck out a record 19 Red Sox batters in one game and a rookie named Frank Tanana had shut them out in another. "I've seen Tanana pitch," Yawkey said, "and he's tough. He's got a good arm. Maybe he's a little flaky, but he's young, and when he gets his breaking ball over he can beat anybody."
Let no one doubt that Yawkey, at 71, is an active owner and a perceptive baseball man. "Did you see the TV game the other night?" he asked no one in particular. "Gowdy and Kubek kept asking where Rose was on that double that landed just inside the left-field foul line. They said he broke late on the ball, and they kept showing the replay. Hell, don't they know that on those new fields—which I don't like, by the way—the outfielders play closer together to prevent triples and give up the double down the line. The ball was fair by inches."
Yawkey works out daily at Fenway, playing pepper with the clubhouse men or the batboys. He insists that he never interferes with Johnson's decisions. "I manage from my box upstairs," he says.
Yawkey invited the injured Fisk to join him in his private box for the first game of the Minnesota series on Friday night. "Human beings are the most important things in life," Yawkey said. "I like to know the character of my guys, and the only way to do that is by talking to them. Like when I introduced myself to young Blackwell. We talked for 20 minutes, and afterward I told Darrell that Blackwell is one of those 21-year-old kids who acts 27, not 17."
More than 33,000 New Englanders watched the game with Yawkey and Fisk. The Sox lead the American League with an attendance of nearly 1.1 million, and to this game, as to all games played in Fenway, the people came in all sizes and all shapes, wearing everything and (almost) nothing, arriving by chartered bus from Montpelier, Vt., by subway from Charlestown and by car from Marblehead. The high school and college kids came with their girl friends and sat in the bleachers, sipping the beer they had smuggled in. The crowd cheered Marichal when he walked to the bullpen for his pregame warmup and they cheered him when he ran to the mound to start the game. They cheered Bob Veale when he came on in relief to strike out Rod Carew and Tony Oliva. They cheered Burleson when he initiated two fine double plays. And they cheered Juan Beniquez when he singled home the winning run with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth inning.
Oh yes, they booed Yastrzemski when he struck out in his first two at bats.