To new Englanders, The Boston Red Sox are more than just a baseball club. People throughout the region lovingly call them the Olde Towne Teame, and the Sox are woven into the fabric of life, like, say, the paper mill in Jay, Maine, or the village common in Charlestown, N.H. Well, the week was a glorious one for New Englanders. A Fenway Park neighbor was nominated for the U.S. presidency, and Boston won its 11th game in a row for its new manager.
A season that had begun with high hopes and then turned sour took a remarkable turn on July 14, the day owner Jean Yawkey ignored her "baseball men" and fired manager John McNamara. She turned the team over to Joe Morgan. No, not that Joe Morgan, Walpole's Joe Morgan, Boston College Class of '53. It seemed hard to believe, but for the first time since 1932, the Olde Towne Teame would be managed by someone who had once regularly paid his way into Fenway, an independent New Engender who, until last winter, earned extra money to pay his winter fuel oil bills by driving a snowplow for the state.
In no time at all people everywhere were talking about this guy named Joe. During a telecast of the Democratic National Convention on Thursday night, a network commentator said that presidential nominee and Massachusetts Governor Michael S. Dukakis "should have chosen Joe Morgan as his running mate." That way, of course, Dukakis could not lose.
The Red Sox made Morgan the first manager in at least 38 years to win his first 11 games, and they did it by coming back from deficits like 0-6 and 1-5 with kids named Jody Reed, Ellis Burks, Todd Benzinger and Mike Greenwell. "This is the greatest personality change in baseball history," said Greenwell—the heir to Bosox leftfielders Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski and Jim Rice—who celebrated his 25th birthday during the streak. Said 34-year-old Larry Parrish, who had been released by the Texas Rangers and picked up by Boston just as the streak began, "No team could ever have gone from so far out of it to the thick of the pennant race as fast."
For the record, the Sox went from nine games out of first place to 1½ out in 11 days. The change Boston has undergone is as much an indication of how negative McNamara's administration had become as it is a testament to Morgan's managing. "There was a cloud hanging over the team," says Benzinger, who, like many players, thought McNamara catered to certain veterans and treated the youngsters harshly. "The young guys felt they couldn't make a mistake. Mac was a good baseball man, but he didn't talk to a lot of us." Adds the enthusiastic Greenwell, who painted stripes in his hair and launched model rockets from the motel pool during spring training, "We just lost our zest."
Morgan's debut was postponed by rain, so he had the good fortune to begin his managerial career on July 15 at Fenway, with Roger Clemens pitching against the Kansas City Royals. Sixteen strikeouts later, Clemens had his 13th win and Morgan had his first. Four hours after that, Morgan's Sox had swept a doubleheader, 3-1 and 7-4.
The next afternoon came the first of Boston's dramatic comebacks under Morgan. Trailing Kansas City 6-0, the Sox got four runs in the sixth and then tied the game on Dwight Evans's two-run homer in the eighth. Boston won it 7-6 in the ninth on outfielder Kevin Ro-mine's first major league home run. "Guys like Romine and Reed weren't allowed to play under Mac," says Benzinger. "So Romine's homer was a symbol of the change in regimes."
The Sox completed a four-game sweep of the Royals with a 10-8 victory on July 17. Then came a 6-5 win over the Minnesota Twins. That game turned in Boston's favor when Reed, a rookie shortstop, responded to a brush back pitch by Bert Blyleven with a drive off the leftfield wall. Second baseman Marty Barrett followed that with his first homer of the season. The next night Mike Smithson, who signed with the Red Sox after being released by Minnesota in December, gained revenge on his old club by taking a no-hitter into the seventh. Bob Stanley finished a 5-0 victory in which Parrish had three hits, including a home run.
Wednesday, July 20, won't soon be forgotten in New England, and not just because that was the night Dukakis was nominated. In Fenway, Clemens had a 5-0 lead over the Twins, but then he gave up three runs and left the game after 6‚Äö√Ñ√∂‚àö√±‚àö¬® innings. By the bottom of the eighth, Boston's lead had shrunk to 5-4. As centerfielder Burks stepped in against righthander Jeff Reardon, Morgan told the righthanded-hitting Rice, who was to bat next, "If Burks gets on, I'm going to send Spike Owen [a switch-hitter] up to hit-and-run or bunt."
Barrett, who overheard Morgan's instructions to Rice, later said, "I could tell Jimmy didn't hear [Joe] right." Burks walked on four pitches, and Rice stepped toward home plate to take his turn at bat. Owen, sent out to pinch-hit, had to call Rice back to the dugout. Rice stormed back, threw down his helmet, slammed his bat into the rack and, according to several players, hollered "That's [expletive], Joe." Rice then started toward the clubhouse. As he went, he grabbed Morgan by a shoulder and pulled him down the stairway in the back of the dugout. Rice told the Boston Herald's Joe Giuliotti, "I was trying to get his attention to tell him, 'I can do the job.' "
But other players said that Rice was out of control, yelling at Morgan, "You and me gotta go [at it]." Players poured into the runway to break up the fracas. Says Greenwell, "The amazing thing was that Joe didn't back down. If Jimmy wanted to fight, Joe was willing to fight." There were no fisticuffs. By all accounts, Morgan's final words to Rice were. "I'm the manager of this nine."
When calm was restored, Owen laid down a sacrifice bunt, but the Sox failed to score and reliever Lee Smith failed to hold the lead. Not only did he let Minnesota tie the game in the ninth, but he also surrendered two more runs in the 10th. So in the bottom of the inning, Boston trailed 7-5 with one out and two on when Reed doubled off the wall to make the score 7-6. Next up was Ben-zinger, who had entered the game in the seventh as a defensive replacement for Parrish at first base. A 25-year-old switch-hitter, Benzinger drilled a towering three-run homer into the rightfield seats to give the Sox a 9-7 victory. When he reached home plate, Parrish was among those waiting, hand outstretched. Morgan's comment: "Parrish stayed and watched his teammates. He's a winner. 'Nuf said."
Rice arrived at the park for Thursday's game only to learn that Morgan had suspended him, without pay, for three days. He would forfeit some $30,000 of his $2.4 million salary. A 13-year veteran who had only four homers and 40 RBIs, Rice told Giuliotti that he was frustrated after losing his leftfield job, becoming a DH and dropping from "third to fourth to fifth to sixth to seventh in the batting order. I'm ashamed. I wish I could change things, but I can't. I never had problems with a manager before, and I never will again."
While Rice drove home on Thursday, Morgan's good fortune continued. McNamara's downfall had been caused in part by the difficulties suffered by three-fourths of what Mac had thought would be a superb pitching rotation: Bruce Hurst was placed on the disabled list on July 8 with a viral infection, Jeff Sellers was 0-6 when he went on the disabled list with a broken hand on June 21, and Oil Can Boyd was 2-5 with a 6.10 ERA in his last 11 starts. Boyd was Morgan's Thursday night starter against the Chicago White Sox, and he had a perfect game going for 6‚Äö√Ñ√∂‚àö√±‚àö¬® innings. "Finally, I let it all go, and everything came together," said Boyd, who had surgery on his right shoulder last August. "The old Can is back."
His 6-1 win was followed on Friday by Morgan victory No. 9, another come-from-behind special. Boston beat Chicago 4-3 as converted reliever Wes Gardner got his fourth straight win. In the ninth inning a fan bounded out of the stands, ran to second base and dropped his pants to reveal the words JIM RICE painted on his derriere. "It wasn't like this in Texas," said Parrish.
Win No. 10 on Saturday featured Smithson on the mound for the fourth time in nine days. This time he came out of the bullpen to throw 6⅖ shutout innings for his sixth victory. Smithson allowed one hit while his teammates rapped 20 of them, including four by Burks, in an 11-5 rout of the White Sox. The pitching was improving, but the hitting was as good as it gets. At week's end, seven members of the lineup that pounded out those 20 hits were batting a combined .323: Wade Boggs (.363), Greenwell (.345), Burks (.323), Evans (.307), Rick Cerone (.305), Reed (.306) and Barrett (.297). The team average of .293 was the highest in the majors since 1950, when Boston batted .302. In Fenway, the Sox were hitting .312.
Win No. 11 on Sunday closed out the perfect homestand. Hurst returned and went five-plus solid innings against Chicago, Parrish knocked in his eighth run in seven Red Sox appearances, and Smith saved the 3-2 win, striking out the side in the ninth. "Having Boyd, Gardner, Smithson and Hurst pitching-so well the last four games is more important than the winning streak," said Morgan.
Before embarking on a three-game trip to Texas, he said, "The important thing is that we're back in the race. I've been around too long to get giddy about 11 wins." How long? After graduating from Boston College, where he was an outstanding hockey player, Morgan bounced around for six years as the property of the Milwaukee Braves, Kansas City A's, Philadelphia Phillies, Cleveland Indians and St. Louis Cardinals. His lifetime average in 88 big league games was .193. He got his first manager's job in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization in 1966 and moved over to the Triple A Pawtucket Red Sox in 1974. When the big club bypassed him in favor of Ralph Houk in 1980, Morgan settled in for a quiet organizational life.
He scouted for two years before becoming a Red Sox coach in 1985, and his World Series share in 1986 allowed him to quit his winter job driving a snowplow for the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority. "The side benefit was the money you'd find in snowbanks," he says. "But about all I got was cat food, mayonnaise and salad dressing."
Morgan still lives in the small town of Walpole, two blocks from the house in which he grew up. He bowls every Monday, and his old friend Richie Hebner, the former Pirates third baseman, keeps his score. For years Morgan has received mail intended for the Joe Morgan who stole 689 bases and batted .271 in a 22-year major league career. "I learned his signature, so I sign bubblegum cards people send, and I send them back," says Walpole Joe.
Mrs. Yawkey, who ignored the advice of minority owner Haywood Sullivan and general manager Lou Gorman, who both thought she should stick with McNamara, certainly looks smart now. After Morgan's first eight days, she said, "Look at the enthusiasm of the players; look at the fans. Everyone's having fun. It should be fun, because it's the greatest franchise in sports."
"She understands what others didn't," says Dr. Arthur Pappas, a Red Sox limited partner. "She understands that New Englanders think of this as their team." These fans are from places like Mechanic Falls, Woonsocket and Walpole, and they grew up paying their way into Fenway Park to see the Olde Towne Teame. Just like Joe Morgan.
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