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Living And Dying With The Woe Sox

Nov. 03, 1986
Nov. 03, 1986

Table of Contents
Nov. 3, 1986

The World Series
Pro Basketball '87

Living And Dying With The Woe Sox

How will it feel? For years we had asked ourselves, "How will it feel if the Red Sox ever win?" How will it feel if there are two outs and none on in the bottom of the 10th with a 5-3 lead in Game 6 of the World Series? How, in God's name, will it feel?

This is an article from the Nov. 3, 1986 issue Original Layout

"Warm," my brother Ned had predicted. His relationship with this team dates back to the '30s, and all he knew was that he wouldn't yell or jump up and down or run to a local bar, because it is a private relationship. "It will be a special family matter," Ned said last Saturday afternoon, "and we New Englanders don't share such things with strangers." He thought he would have a glass of champagne, then fall into "a wonderful sleep." That is almost exactly what Ted Williams had said he would do at his house in Citrus Hills, Fla. "I'm going to watch the game with some friends," said Ted, "and if we win, we'll raise our glasses and say a toast. Then I'll go to sleep with a warm feeling."

The story was warm, too: David Henderson, the Seattle exile whose playoff homer two weeks before had saved the day and redeemed so many past sins, broke the 3-3 tie with a home run at 11:59 p.m., reaching the dugout precisely as the Shea Stadium clock read midnight. But reality can never fulfill expectation, and, after all, we all grew up with the Red Sox' annual tide of hope receding into disappointment and rising back to hope. To relinquish that feeling after 68 years might be as much of a loss as a victory. Ron Darling, the Mets pitcher who grew up with the Sox, had wondered before the Series began if a Red Sox victory "might not alter the way New Englanders view the world." When Boston's second lead had been lost in the eighth inning of Game 6, journalist Clark Booth turned to me and said, "Jonathan Edwards, Melville and Ethan Frome are part of us, which is why that part of us loves living this ongoing Calvinistic tragedy."

Gary Carter singled with two outs in the 10th, but that still didn't change the burgeoning conviction that the Red Sox were going to do it, they were going to win the World Series, CONGRATULATIONS BOSTON RED sox momentarily—and mistakenly—flashed on the electronic message board at Shea Stadium as Calvin Schiraldi prepared to pitch to Kevin Mitchell. I thought of the NBC pregame show on which 92-year-old Dick Casey, a chronicler of the '18 series, said, "Every day since, I've prayed to God that the Red Sox would win one more World Series before I die, so now I guess I'm going to die soon."

Mitchell singled. "They're going to do it," a friend said, nudging me. "Just when we thought that we had been freed at last, they're going to create a way to again break our hearts that goes beyond our wildest imagination. Stephen King wouldn't be what he is today if he'd grown up anywhere else." I thought of the New Haven bar owner who, after the 78 playoff, said, "They killed our fathers, and now the sons of bitches are coming to get us."

And when the ball went through Bill Buckner's legs, 41 years of Red Sox baseball flashed in front of my eyes. In that one moment, Johnny Pesky held the ball, Joe McCarthy lifted Ellis Kinder in Yankee Stadium, Luis Aparicio fell down rounding third. Bill Lee delivered his Leephus pitch to Tony Perez, Darrell Johnson hit for Jim Willoughby, Don Zimmer chose Bobby Sprowl over Luis Tiant and Bucky (Bleeping) Dent hit the home run. Booth went downstairs to find Mike Torrez, the man who had given up the homer to Dent, and when he found him, a giddy Torrez shouted, "I'm off the hook!" Then when Booth's TV crew turned off the lights. Torrez unloaded the poltergeist that he had carried for eight years by yelling, "——Boston!"

Bart Giamatti, the new National League president, abandoned his public allegiance and confessed to a feeling of rage. Beside him, a stranger in a Red Sox cap shouted, "McCarthy, Johnson, Zimmer and now McNamara. How could he not hit Baylor for Buckner against Orosco with the bases loaded when all Buckner has done is end innings and strand runners in scoring position? Why wasn't Stapleton at first base in the 10th?" After the fan's diatribe came his lament, "What if Roger Clemens doesn't come up with a blister...." Now I could feel the wounds opening up again. What if Williams hadn't hurt himself before the '46 Series; what if Larry Barnett had called interference on Ed Armbrister in '75; what if the wind hadn't shifted just before Dent came up in '78...what if...what if.... Enough already.

Mike Barnicle, The Boston Globe columnist. Booth and I were in the since-razed Abbey Feare Pub in January of 1976 watching a Bruins game. At the end of the bar, an elderly gentleman washed down 25-cent drafts, staring straight ahead for most of the game. When the Bruins game ended, he turned in our direction. "How the hell could he have taken out Willoughby?" he mumbled, then passed out on the bar.

Last Saturday night, after the clubhouses had cleared out and emotional exhaustion set in, the whole thing seemed to make sense. We in New England dwell on history because we are brought up with the English notion that we are what we are because of who and what came before us. The 10th inning of this sixth game was part of something bizarre and supernatural that is bigger than any of us. "Maybe they are going to win, maybe even Buckner will end up the hero," I told a friend. "But before we could find out what it feels like to win, we have to be made to suffer one last, excruciating time."

Red Sox players and their families don't understand Red Sox fans. They come from places like California and Mississippi. But Sherry Gedman grew up 40 miles from Boston, so she knows. That is why she was the only Red Sox wife who remained seated while Schiraldi pitched to Carter.

"Baseball is not a life and death matter," Barnicle once wrote, "but the Red Sox are." My very first recollection is my mother ironing and listening to the '48 playoff. I still vividly recall my first entrance into Fenway Park on June 28, 1952 (Ike Delock, Ray Scarborough and Dizzy Trout pitched in the 5-1 loss to Washington), and how when first I went up the ramp to the right of home plate the green picture and the dank atmosphere gave me the feeling that I had been placed in a forest after a night of warm rain. I walked up that ramp before every postseason game in 1975 and 1986. At the Groton Elementary School, Opening Day was a legal excuse to leave at 10:30, and my father's desk, on which I did my homework, bore the holes of a compass my brother had driven into it in the ninth inning of the seventh game in '46. I listened to Billy Martin's catch in the '52 World Series in the barber's chair of a Red Sox fan named Billy Sambito, whose nephew Joe now pitches for Boston, and when I got home from school one May day in 1957, my mother, bless her heart, had written down all the names involved in the Dean Stone-Bob Chakales deal with the Senators.

I sat in the traffic jam in '67 when someone refused to enter the Sumner Tunnel until Reggie Smith finished his at bat with the bases loaded, and I was in Fenway the night Tony C was beaned. I found a strong enough radio in my Chapel Hill fraternity to get WTIC in Hartford just in time to hear Yaz hit the homer off Mike Marshall in the ninth in Detroit after we had already used up a car battery listening to the first six innings of the game.

The last time my brother Ned and I spoke to our father before he died in 1981, he said to us, "The Red Sox will win in your lifetime."

PHOTORONALD C. MODRABuckner congratulated Henderson after his homer brought Boston to the golden brink; moments later Buckner would let victory slip through his legs.