A taxicab hurrying along Storrow Memorial Drive toward Boston's Logan Airport the morning after the World Series ended passed beneath a gigantic banner suspended from an overpass that was eerily illuminated in the blue dawn by a red ball of rising sun: "Wilmington Ford Congratulates the Boston Red Sox—1975 World Champions." The driver glanced up and mumbled to himself, "Nineteen seventy-six, dammit, 1976."
Later the same morning another taxi cruised across a bridge over the turbid Ohio River, which had been transformed by the sun into shimmering glass. Riverfront Stadium gleamed on the opposite bank. In the stadium parking lot the red-uniformed East Central High School band from Brookville, Ind. was rehearsing patriotic airs, the drums thumping in the distance like heartbeats. It was a bright, joyous day in Cincinnati, and the streets were already alive with celebrants. Flakes of ticker tape, calendar pads, stationery, toilet paper floated lazily from upper-story windows of downtown buildings. These were merely preparatory offerings, for in an hour a blizzard of paper would fall from these heights on the conquerors.
By noon, townspeople had overflowed Fountain Square. Bob Braun, a local television personality, bawled into a microphone on a podium, "I'd like you to know that the lady in the blue pants suit is the mother of George Foster." The woman was acclaimed as if she had been the mother of George Washington or, at the very least, Stephen Foster. "How many of you didn't get any sleep last night?" Braun called out. Wide-awake cheers. "Well," said Braun, "who cares?" Uncaring cheers.
Now the East Central Band, majorettes stepping out, was threading through the mob on Vine Street. "My Country, Tis of Thee," the band played and the crowd sang. Youngsters scaled trees, statues, fences, lampposts to see the parade, which was unusually short, consisting of the high school tootlers and some convertibles with empty backseats where ballplayers were expected to be.
November 3, 1975
As the Reds arrived via another route, secretaries in office buildings on the square jumped from their desks and waved from behind windows. Manager Sparky Anderson was first to pass in review, white-haired, almost regal despite his rooster's walk and down-home face. Sparky held his arms aloft and, on his arrival at the podium, bent to embrace a startled little boy, a gesture that earned him even more affection from the crowd. And there were the players: Tony Perez, the home run hero, brandishing a smoking stogie. Joe Morgan, all in pink. Johnny Bench in a white golf cap. And finally, the idol of millions, Pete Rose, smiling and waving, an Our Gang character in a Buster Brown haircut. "Take it easy," Rose counseled the adoring masses. "Take it easy. We love you. You're what makes this the baseball capital of the world."
Bowie Kuhn stepped to the microphone. "I came to bring you something," he bellowed. The crowd knew what it was. "I came to bring you something this city deserves and this great team deserves. I bring you the championship of the world trophy!" Pandemonium. Orderly, Middle America pandemonium. Cheerful, Cincinnati pandemonium. But pandemonium. There had been 35 years between championships.
Anderson stood in the background, smiling crookedly as if he were surprised to be in such eminent company. The night before, facing the nation's sporting press in the interview room under the stands at Boston's Fenway Park, he had repeated a familiar boast, "We are the best team in baseball." Only this time he had introduced a modifier: "But not by much." True, save for a bloop hit and a botched double play, he might once again be standing in the shadows, not the limelight. He knew he had been lucky to escape with the trophy that had eluded him in 1970 and '72. "In all sincerity," he had said, "I don't know that there's ever been a better World Series."
He had a point, for even with the tension-dousing three-day rainstorm in Boston, few Series had been the equal of this one for sustained drama. And surely there have been few single games to match the sixth game of this Series. There have been other Series thrillers—the seventh game in 1960 with Bill Mazeroski's triumphant home run; the fifth game in '56 with Don Larsen's perfect pitching; the fourth game in '47, won on Cookie Lavagetto's last-out double that, at the same time, broke up Floyd Bevens' no-hitter; the seventh game of the '26 Series when Grover Cleveland Alexander, old and used up, struck out young Tony Lazzeri with the bases loaded. Terrific games, all of them. But for the 35,205 wedged into misshapen Fenway and the millions who watched on television, the sixth game of the 1975 Series will be the standard by which all future thrillers must be measured.
Surprisingly, it was a warm night, 64° at game time, and the field, inundated for three days, seemed firm if not fast. The rain delay had given the Red Sox' pitching wizard, Luis Tiant, a few days of extra rest. Tiant was to have pitched the seventh game way back on Sunday, if, of course, the Series got that far. Lefthander Bill Lee was Manager Darrell Johnson's original choice for the sixth game. But when the rains came, Johnson altered his strategy. There would be no seventh game, he reasoned, without a win in the sixth, and Tiant had already won the only two games the Sox had taken from the Reds. Johnson's decision did not sit well with the free-spirited Lee. In more sophisticated circles, a man of Lee's garrulity and disorderly intelligence (he is an apostle now of "Pyramid Power") might be regarded as mildly odd; in the closed society of professional sports where any intellectual deviation is treated with wonder, he is thought to be flat out balmy. Lee was, he argued, transcendentally rested, and he was also confident he could extinguish the hot Reds bats with his maddening blooper pitch—the "Leephus Ball," direct descendant of the orbital "Ephus Ball" that Rip Sewell tossed upward to batters in the 1940s. When informed that he must wait a day to try his luck, Lee remarked testily that Johnson "had been falling out of trees all year and landing on his feet."
The sixth game started well for both Tiant and Johnson. In the first inning, Fred Lynn hit a long three-run home run into the right-center-field bleachers to give the Sox early foot. But Tiant was obviously not his usual whirling, mystifying self. His paroxysmal windup seemed less confusing to the Reds, his fastball lacked snap and his own Ephus pitches were no longer mesmerizing. The Reds were hitting him hard.
In the fifth, with one out, Tiant walked the infamous interferer, Ed Armbrister, and Rose followed with a single to center. Ken Griffey then fired a cannon shot to center field that Lynn chased almost through the wall at the 379-foot marker, his hurtling body whacking it with a thump audible in the stands behind home plate. Lynn crumpled to the warning track and remained there propped like a puppet without strings as Armbrister and Rose fled home and Griffey reached third. Lynn, everyone's Rookie of the Year, just sat there, head lolling to one side, looking not so much injured as mortally afflicted. The audience rose in stony, apprehensive silence. Then Lynn was on his feet, miraculously recovered, a Merriwell prepared to continue—"My back, sir? Broken in two, yes. But no matter. One must carry on." There were lively cheers again, but they were short-lived, for Bench slammed one off the wall and Griffey strolled home with the tying run.
The Reds broke the deadlock in the seventh when Griffey and Morgan singled and Foster doubled them home with a drive off the center-field fence that was so well hit not even Lynn tried to intercept it. Cincinnati increased its advantage to 6-3 in the eighth on Cesar Geronimo's leadoff home run down the short right-field line. This was the blow that flattened Tiant. Johnson, who, on the evidence, had been improvidently patient with his ace, removed him for Roger Moret, the cadaverous Puerto Rican lefthander. Anderson, for his part, operated a bullpen shuttle system. By the time of Tiant's tardy departure, Anderson had used five pitchers. He would use three more.
As the Red Sox came to bat in the eighth, the game, the Series, the season seemed at an end in Boston. But no. The indestructible Lynn, leading off, lined a single off Pedro Borbon's leg and Rico Petrocelli followed with a walk, Anderson quickly replaced the offending Borbon with Rawly Eastwick, who, in relief, had been given credit for two of the Reds' three wins. Eastwick dispatched Dwight Evans on a strikeout and Rick Burleson on a fly ball. Johnson then ordered Bernie Carbo to pinch-hit for Moret. The crowd greeted this tactic with unrestrained enthusiasm, for Carbo had pinch-hit a home run in the third game, and if he could repeat, the night might be saved. The count on him went to two balls and two strikes. On the next pitch he swung with all the power and grace of a suburbanite raking leaves, fouling it off. On the following pitch, however, he drove a ball to center that cleared the wall and the bases and, praise be, tied the game. Carbo leaped in joy and wonder at his own feat and danced and clapped his hands as he rounded the bases before plunging into a hysterical mob of teammates at home plate. Johnson contrived to prolong the moment by sending Carbo in to play left field in the ninth, the crowd celebrating his arrival there with another standing ovation.
Carbo's heroic clout seemed a source of inspiration for the Red Sox loaded the bases with no one out in the ninth. Here, they fell victim to impetuosity. Lynn popped a fly ball into short left field that Foster caught at the foul line not far behind third base. Denny Doyle, the potential winning run on third, unaccountably tagged up in an effort to score, although it was obvious the ball had not been hit far enough to accommodate such daring. Foster threw straight and true to Bench, and Doyle was tagged out at the plate.
If Doyle had stayed put, the Sox would still have had the bases loaded and only one out. Now they had two outs and nobody on third. Petrocelli ended the once-promising inning by bouncing out to Rose. What had gotten into Doyle? Third-Base Coach Don Zimmer protested that he had not sent him home. On the contrary, "I started yelling, 'No, no, no.' Doyle came up to me after the game and said, 'I thought you said, "Go, go, go." ' " The play represented a principal failing of our time: a breakdown in communications.
And so the teams battled into extra innings. In the 11th Sox Catcher Carlton Fisk made a fine pickup and throw of Griffey's attempted sacrifice bunt to nail Rose at second base. With Griffey on first by virtue of the fielder's choice, Morgan lined one that seemed destined for home run country in the short portion of right field. Evans took up an apparently futile chase. At the last moment he threw his glove hand into the air and speared the ball, his momentum carrying him nearly into the seats. Somehow he regained his footing in time to throw toward first base. Carl Yastrzemski, who had moved to first after Carbo's belated entry, fielded the throw in foul territory and tossed to Burleson, who had crossed over from shortstop to cover the base. Griffey was caught flat-footed in the middle of the infield. A two-run home run had become a double play.
It was past midnight now. The game had lasted almost four hours. It was the 12th inning and Fisk was leading off for the Red Sox. On the second pitch, a low inside sinker thrown by the eighth and last of the Reds' pitchers, Pat Darcy, Fisk took a mighty cut. The ball described a high arc toward the wall in left, curving as if to spin foul. Fisk stood several feet down the line, frantically urging the ball fair with his hands. It hit the yellow foul pole above the wall, a home run. A game-winning home run. The Red Sox had won this epic struggle 7-6. It was V-J Day at home plate when Fisk arrived, a hero of heroes in one of the finest games ever played, one that may well have attracted multitudes of new fans who had considered baseball a sedentary occupation.
"I don't think I've ever gone through a more emotional game," said Fisk, sweating from his exertions in a humid clubhouse. "I don't think anybody in the world could ask for a better game than this one. Pete Rose came up to me in the 10th and said, 'This is some kind of game, isn't it.' Pete Rose said that to me."
The concluding game was strangely anticlimactic, although, by ordinary standards, it, too, was a thriller. Once again the Red Sox took a 3-0 lead, achieved mainly on the third-inning wildness of Don Gullett, who walked in two runs. The Reds made up two of the three in the sixth when Perez timed a Leephus pitch perfectly and drove it completely out of the ball park with Bench on base. Bench had gotten there because Doyle had thrown away a double-play relay, hindered at least partially by Rose's hard charge into second. Rose singled in the tying run in the seventh and with two out Morgan blooped home the winning run in the ninth on a pitch he hit off the end of his bat. In a Series of such majesty, the climactic blow should have been more consequential, a wall shot or a blast over Lynn's head. But Morgan did the job. As he said afterward, "Now I can go home and say, 'We're the best.' "
And as he spoke, the thousands were already streaming toward Fountain Square to enjoy this slender, sweet victory. It is also possible that at the same time the people down at Wilmington Ford were hurrying to edit the text of their gigantic banner. "Nineteen seventy-six, dammit, 1976."