In a city that considers any structure erected after 1776 Art Deco, Fenway Park, circa 1912, scarcely rates as a historical landmark. None of the thick red lines painted on Boston sidewalks to direct summer patriots toward the various cradles of liberty is aimed at the old ball park. And that is an oversight, for last week, at least, history was repeating itself there so faithfully that even such a living monument as Johnny Pesky, circa 1942-52, could remark, "This reminds me of the old days."
What jogged Pesky's memory was a four-game series between the Red Sox and the Yankees that had all the elements of the confrontations of a generation or more ago when he was the Boston shortstop and the two teams were perennial contenders. No matter that it was only late June, less than halfway through the long season. First place was the prize, individual honors were at stake and the fans, red lines or no, were finding their way to Fenway in standing-room numbers. And this intimate little brick stadium, when filled or even half filled, lends itself to more excitement than any of the concrete colossi that pass for ball parks in cities with less regard for tradition. Fenway's fans are so close to the field that their own reactions become a part of the action, inspiring heroes, discouraging foes.
True, there was no DiMaggio in either center field this time, no Ted Williams guarding the left-field wall and breaking down the right, and no Peskys, Rizzutos or Doerrs manning the inner defenses, but these were the best teams the two old rivals had fielded in some years. The Red Sox are especially blessed, having such superb young players as Centerfielder Fred Lynn, 23, the American League's runs-batted-in leader with 54; designated hitter Jim Rice, 22, a .291 batter with 10 home runs; First Baseman Cecil Cooper, 25, who hit .538 for the Yankee series; and shortstop Rick Burleson, 24, a fine fielder and near-.300 hitter.
In one sense, the two teams are defined by their catchers. For New York there is Thurman Munson, squat, roughhewn, aggressive. For Boston there is Carlton Fisk, angular, patrician, vulnerable. Munson is a scrambler, rooting about behind the plate, belly-sliding on the bases, punching out timely, if unspectacular, hits, playing, despite two .300 seasons, in relative anonymity. Fisk is as famous for not playing as Munson is obscure while playing. He is the master of the comeback, who, after an outstanding rookie season three years ago, has been unable to repeat his triumphs because of a succession of improbable injuries. He hurt his knee less than halfway through last season and then, while still recuperating in spring training, broke his throwing arm. He returned to the lineup last week in the grand manner, slugging a home run in the opening 6-1 win over the Yankees Thursday night as Munson, his frustrated rival, quietly seethed.
"Munson and I have been running one-two for the past few years," Fisk said charitably. "Anytime we play against each other, it's a big thing personally. I don't know whether it's contagious with the rest of the players."
"I have no ill feeling toward Carlton," said Munson, although the two came to blows two years ago after a collision at home plate. "I feel sorry for anybody who gets hurt the way he has. The only thing I've ever said detrimental about him is that he seems to get more publicity while I'm having better years. I've played six years, a couple of them pretty good ones. He's really only had one good year. I'm not jealous of anyone. I don't want to take anything away from him. I just don't want anything taken away from me."
Being shortchanged by the media seems an odd complaint from an athlete playing in New York, particularly from one who is hitting .341, but Munson, despite his bulldog skills and his refreshing candor, appears to be about as well received by the big town's press as Mayor Beame's budgets. He also seems to have a flair for the undramatic. On the night Fisk hit his comeback home run, Munson hit a ball nearly as far that was fielded deftly off the high wall by Carl Yastrzemski and fired into second base ahead of the Yankee's frantic slide. Fisk had a homer; Munson had a long single—and an out.
The Yankees do have some glamorous players, such as Catfish Hunter and Bobby Bonds, but for the most part they have become, as Boston Pitcher Bill Lee characterized them, "a team of vagabonds with bad wheels." Only eight of their 25 players were reared in the farm system, and they have played for much of the season with a crazy-quilt lineup, the result of injuries which, at one point, felled the entire starting outfield of Roy White, Elliott Maddox and Bonds, all with bad legs. Maddox is still out and Bonds and White are playing hobbled. Still, entering the Fenway series, the Yankees were in first place in the American League East, 1½ games ahead of the Sox, and had a 19-5 won-lost record for June, testimony to the excellence of a pitching staff bulwarked by the crafty Hunter.
But pitching was their weakness in the first two games of the series and it was the strength of a Red Sox staff that had a collective earned run average of 4.32. On Thursday night, before 34,293, the largest Fenway crowd of the season, the Yankees scored one run in the first and then were blanked the remaining eight innings by paunchy, 34-year-old Luis Tiant, he of the corkscrew windup. Even the lone run cannot be credited to a power attack; paradoxically, it was scored as the result of a sensational Boston fielding play. Walt Williams, the foreshortened outfielder who with some justification is called "No-Neck," led off the game by being hit with a pitch. He advanced to second as the limping White walked. Chris Chambliss then hit a scorching liner to right field that looked to be a three-run homer. But Bernie Carbo made a running one-hand catch before colliding with the fence. Carbo fell backward, stunned, as Williams tagged up at second and continued home before Bernie could regain his feet.
This minuscule advantage was soon dissipated, however, as the Red Sox scored three times in both the fourth and seventh innings. Lynn was responsible for three of the runs with a two-run triple past a flailing Williams and a run-scoring single.
Lynn has become renowned already for explosive production. In a June 18 game at Detroit he drove in 10 runs with a single, triple and three homers, the 16 total bases tying a league record. He is serene in temperament, dark-haired, wide-eyed and both self-effacing and self-assured, a neophyte who laughs off premature comparisons with the immortal Ted Williams or even with Yaz, but who feels his inexperience is not the disadvantage traditionalists would deem it.
"I don't think experience means all that much," he said before Friday's game, flying in the face of all that is sacred in professional sports. "Ability is the main thing. You can get awestruck if you let yourself. I didn't let it happen to me. I'm not some guy just coming off the farm, you know. I went to USC, which is like a training school for professional baseball. I'd played in Japan and South America before I signed. I went to school in a big city and I've been to lots of others. I suppose if I'd come directly from high school, it might be different. I'd probably just sit down at the end of the bench and not say a word to anybody. But I'm not that way."
From the first inning of the first game to the ninth of the second, watched by another season-high crowd—35,489—the Yankees did not score a run against the supposedly generous Boston pitchers. Rick Wise, who started the game with an appalling ERA of 5.15, shut them out until, with two down in the ninth, the ailing Bonds stroked a towering home run over the 37-foot-high "Green Monster" of a fence in left field.
By then, the Sox had already scored nine runs off three equally incompetent Yankee pitchers. Doug Griffin, who platoons at second base with Denny Doyle, was the RBI champion this night with three. The win moved Boston a half game ahead of the Yankees into first place.
Yankee frustration was best exemplified by the fireplug, Williams, who overran a windblown pop-up by Yaz down the left-field line, then fell down attempting to reverse his errant course. The ball dropped for a double. To show which way the wind was blowing, Lynn also slipped after fielding a Chambliss drive to center; then, nearly supine, he made a perfect throw to second to hold the surprised Yankee to a single.
Williams reflected on the vicissitudes of fate the following day. "Everything they did was right. No matter how badly they hit the ball, it was a hit. No matter how hard we hit the ball, it wasn't."
Yankee hits started to fall in the third game on Saturday as they outscored the Bosox 8-6 and regained the division lead, despite Yastrzemski's two homers, a double and four RBIs. Munson outshone Fisk with two hits and three RBIs to none and none. The winning runs were scored in the eighth when Williams drove a double through Rico Petrocelli's legs, scoring Bonds, and Munson hit a sacrifice fly to right, scoring Williams, who had advanced to third on Yaz' belated attempt to catch Bonds.
Ever conscious of fate, Williams had protested in the sixth that Yaz' second homer, a rainbow to center, did not reach the bleachers before a nimble fan in a blue shirt plucked it from the sky.
"It was coming down like a feather," he said after the game. "I doubt whether it would even have hit the fence when this guy reached out and caught it. He ribbed me about it later. I told him to keep the ball and enjoy himself." Williams smiled ironically. "It seems that no matter what you do, the man upstairs has something to say about it." He was advised of the double entendre. "Oh no," he said. "I don't mean the man upstairs in the blue shirt."
The principal Yankee victim in this game was lefthander Lee, an outspoken sort who had not precisely endeared himself to Boston fans earlier in the week when he denounced them as "bigots" unworthy of him, a reference to the school-busing strife in the city. Lee later apologized for the blanket accusation, explaining that he was distressed by his team's three losses to Cleveland and the release of his friend, Catcher Tim McCarver. He was roundly booed, however, when he departed the game in the fifth after a five-run bombardment.
If Lee was discomfited, consider the redoubtable Hunter the next day as the Red Sox recaptured first place. In the series' only pitching duel Roger Moret beat the Catfish 3-2, Burleson doubling Carbo home with the winning run in the eighth.
The crowd at Fenway was not entirely delighted, for, as in the old days, there was a sprinkling of Yankee fans in the brickwork—presumably migrants from Connecticut and college students. "We had a lot of friends out there," commented Munson.
The significance of the series, attended by 136,187, a record for a four-game set at Fenway, remained hazy after the dust of battle had cleared. The Yankees' laconic manager, Bill Virdon, pooh-poohed its import with the colloquial observation that "it doesn't make a sweat one way or the other who wins it." Boston Manager Darrell Johnson, for all of his team's gallantry in action, did not see it as Armageddon, either, although he conceded that since his team began in second place, "There is always more involved when you're playing the team nearest you. We didn't want the Yankees to run off and hide."
The Yankees assuredly did not. And that is important. But what seemed more significant to Bostonians was that a rivalry that had grown a trifle tepid in recent years was revived in full flower during an exciting week.
"It's good to see the Yankees in the thick of things again," said Pesky, now a Red Sox coach. "It reminded me of the times when DiMaggio, Keller and Henrich, all those people, would come into town. The crowds this week have been reacting to every pitch. The blood is flowing again. It's starting to get like the old days."
And in a town like Boston, it cannot get much better than that.