Friday, October 2, 2009

Happy Bucky Dent Day!

Mr. October 1977, and Mr. October 1978

October 2, 1978. I like to call it the Boston Tie Party. Red Sox fans call it something else.

Russell Earl O'Dey. That was his birth name. Legally, he is Russell Earl Dent. Professionally, he is Bucky Dent. Red Sox fans call him "Bucky Fucking Dent." Sometimes written as "Bucky Bleeping Dent" or "Bucky F. Dent." It's been suggested that his name sounds like a profanity: As comedian and Cambridge, Massachusetts native Lenny Clarke would say, "You buckydent bastard!"

Check it out. A Boston newspaper (I can't seem to track down which one, it might have been one in the suburbs) had the headline, "Destiny 5, Red Sox 4." You fools, don't you know DESTINY ends with NY?


Here's an idea: Let's take Bucky's homer out of the equation. Let's change Bucky's homer to a single, and see what happens:

Top of the 7th, 2 out, Chris Chambliss on 3rd base, Roy White on 1st, Sox lead 2-0, Mike Torrez pitching to Bucky Dent. So far, nothing has changed. Now...

Base hit up the middle for Dent. Chambliss scores. White makes it to 3rd. Dent to 1st. Sox 2, Yanks 1.

Next up, Mickey Rivers. No change: Base hit for Mick the Quick. White scores, Dent scampers to 3rd, Rivers on 1st. Sox 2, Yanks 2.

Since Willie Randolph is hurt, Thurman Munson is moved up from 3rd to 2nd in the Yankee batting order. No change: Double. Dent scores. Rivers scores all the way from 1st. Yanks 4, Sox 2.

Sox manager Don Zimmer has finally seen enough: He pulls Torrez and brings in Bob Stanley. Lou Piniella has been moved up in the order from 5th to 3rd. Stanley gets him out. End of the inning, but the damage is done.

Top of the 8th. Reggie Jackson, still in the 4th spot, leads off. Big blast to dead center. Yanks 5, Sox 2. It's over.

No, it's not. Remember what Yogi Berra said? "It ain't over 'til it's over."

Bottom of the 8th. Sox score 2 runs. Yanks 5, Sox 4.

Bottom of the 9th, 2 out. Rick Burleson on third. Carl Yastrzemski up against Yankee closer Rich Gossage. Yaz vs. the Goose. One of the best fastball hitters ever against one of the fastest pitchers ever. A man who proved his clutch-hitting bona fides long ago against a man who hasn't yet proved his clutch-pitching bona fides, and will have to here. Low and away, ball one. Right over the plate, Yaz swings, but is jammed, popped up to 3rd, Graig Nettles catches it. Ballgame over, American League Eastern Division over, Yankees win, theeeeeeee... Whew!... Yankees win.

Now, what has changed? Nothing, really. Except Bucky's homer is now a single. He didn't start the rally, nor did he finish it. He drove in the 1st run, but not the go-ahead run, or even the run that made the difference. He's just another step in a big Yankee victory. True, it was a clutch hit, one of several he got in his Yankee career -- he wasn't just about that one swing, or even that one beautiful month, October 1978. But with this one small change, he no longer has New Englanders, and Sox Chowdaheads wherever they may be, giving him a new middle name.

Of course, Bucky did hit that home run... and it is the centerpiece of the Yanks-Sox rivalry. If you want to understand the rivalry, you have to understand 1978. Everything that went on. The injuries on both sides. The bickering on both sides. The messes surrounding the managers on both sides. The Boston Massacre. The mad dash both teams made at the end. And the Playoff game. It may still be the greatest game ever played. After all, as great a moment as the Aaron Boone Game was, it didn't lead to the Yankees winning the World Series. The Bucky Dent Game did.

And what the Red Sox did in 2004 doesn't change that. It may have ended talk of a curse -- at least, until we found out this summer that they cheated -- but if it wasn't for 1978, 2004 would have been a very different story.

If the Sox had won that AL East race, they either would have lost the Pennant to Kansas City, or won it and then lost the World Series to L.A., or won the whole thing and ended their drought at 60 years, before starting a new one that lasted 26. But '78 would not have meant as much to the Yankees. It would simply have been the end of a dynasty-that-wasn't-quite.

Now, take it to the other extreme: If the Yanks had won that race going away, or even if they'd won that last regular-season game against Cleveland, or Boston had lost theirs against Toronto, making the Playoff unnecessary, the season wouldn't have the same resonance.

It had to be that way. It just had to.

Someday, I'll chart out how that game would have gone had it been played at Yankee Stadium instead of Fenway Park. Sox fans like to say that Bucky's Bloop would have been an out in The Bronx. Yeah, but what about Yaz's homer around Pesky's Pole? 302 feet is not 310, as the right-field pole was at The House That Ruth Built at the time.

(UPDATE: Through 2016, I still have not done so.)

Is 2009, with its early Sox success and later Yankee surge, a parallel to 1978? Or will it be another 2006, with neither team getting it done? Stay tuned...


October 2, 1895: William Alexander Abbott is born in Asbury Park, New Jersey. As Bud Abbott, he would team with Paterson, New Jersey native Louis Francis Cristillo, a.k.a. Lou Costello, to form one of the greatest comedy teams of all time. Their best-known bit, of course, is "Who's On First?" Someday, I'll post the bit about Abbott and Costello going to a rock concert. Who's the headliner? Yes. (So far, I've also worked into this bit the bands Yes and Chicago, Elvis, and Ray Charles.)

October 2, 1932: Maury Wills is born. With his 104 stolen bases in 1962, he broke a longstanding single-season record of 96 set by Ty Cobb, and, following on the work of Jackie Robinson and Luis Aparicio, brought back the stolen base as a big-time weapon in baseball. His career statistics, aside from his steals, are rather modest, but his contribution to the history of the game is pretty big.

On this same day, the Yankees complete their four-game sweep of the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field, clinching their 4th World Championship. To this day, 77 years later, of the 30 teams currently in the major leagues, 21 teams have not yet won 4 World Series: Anaheim, Arizona, Boston/Milwaukee/Atlanta, St. Louis/Baltimore, both Chicago teams, Cleveland, Colorado, Florida, Houston, Kansas City, Milwaukee, Washington/Minnesota, Philadelphia, San Diego, Seattle, Tampa Bay, Washington/Texas, Toronto, and Montreal/Washington. And, of course, the Mets. The St. Louis Cardinals have won 10, the Boston Red Sox 7, the Los Angeles Dodgers 5 (plus 1 in Brooklyn, making 6), the Cincinnati Reds 5, the Pittsburgh Pirates 5, the San Francisco Giants 5 (but all in New York, none in San Francisco), the Oakland Athletics 4 (plus 5 in Philadelphia, making 9), and the Detroit Tigers 4.

October 2, 1934: Earl Wilson is born. Despite the nasty racial history of the Red Sox, it was Wilson, a Boston pitcher, who became the first black man to pitch a no-hitter in the American League, in 1962. In 1968, he would be overshadowed in the Detroit Tigers' starting rotation by Denny McLain and Mickey Lolich, but the Tigers would not have won that World Series without him.

October 2, 1939, 70 years ago today: If the film The Natural had actually happened, this would have been the day after the 1939 regular season ended, and it would have been the day -- or, more accurately, the night -- the Playoff between the New York Knights and the Pittsburgh Pirates happened. Most likely, it would not have been held at night, as this was the year the Polo Grounds got its lights, Ebbets Field had just gotten them the day before, and Yankee Stadium would have to wait until 1946.

But if the game was played in daylight, we wouldn't have that spectacular ending, with Roy Hobbs (Robert Redford) shorting out the lights with a Mantlesque home run, so different from what happened at the end of the novel. Also, in real life, the Cincinnati Reds won the National League Pennant, and neither the Giants (the team for which the Knights stood in) nor the Pirates were anywhere close to being in the race.

(Someday, I'll see if I can find that "biography" I wrote for Roy Hobbs, which tells of the aftermath, which I thought would have been fascinating to see, considering the gambling recriminations. But then, such things can be messy. After all, in V for Vendetta, we never saw what happened on the 6th of November.)


October 2, 1948: Avery Brooks is born. As Captain Benjamin Sisko on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, the Rutgers University graduate showed that not everything is a utopia in the Trek future. For example, baseball fades away as big-time entertainment by the 2040s. But Sisko helps keep the flame alive in the 24th Century. “There is more to baseball than physical strength," Sisko said. "It’s about courage. And it’s also about faith. And it is also about heart.” Right on.

October 2, 1949, 60 years ago today: See the previous blog entry, I think you'll find it fascinating -- almost a Twilight Zone story. Speaking of which... Well, let me get to this entry first.

October 2, 1950: The comic strip Peanuts by Charles Schulz is first published. So many baseball stories, but my favorite shows Charlie Brown pitching, and saying, "Ah, he hit it to my shortstop, this should be an easy play." Except Snoopy is sitting on 2nd base, with his cap turned around, thinking to himself, "Here's the World War I flying ace, zooming through the air in his Sopwith Camel." And the ball rolls into center field with no play from the Snooper. To which ol' Chuck rolls his eyes and says, "I can't stand it!"

October 2, 1954: The New York Giants beat the Cleveland Indians, 5-2, and complete an upset sweep of the World Series. In the following 55 years, including all 52 seasons of their San Francisco existence, the Giants have never won another World Series -- they'd won 5 in New York: 1905, 1921, 1922, 1933 and 1954. They've won Pennants in 1962, 1989 and 2002, and also reached the postseason in 1971, 1987, 1997, 2000, 2002 and 2003, and had a 103-win season canceled out by a 104-win season by the Atlanta Braves and, as yet, no Wild Card in 1993. But they've never won a World Series in San Francisco.

This was also the only ring for Willie Mays, whose catch in Game 1 set the tone for the Series and may be the greatest, or at least the most famous, defensive play in sports history. (Someday, I've got to get around to doing the Top 10 Greatest Defensive Plays in Sports History.)

October 2, 1959, 50 years ago today: The Twilight Zone premieres, on CBS. This doesn't have anything to do with baseball, but I thought it was worth mentioning. The show had one baseball-themed episode, about a robot named, appropriately enough, Casey (as in " ...At the Bat," not as in Stengel). And there was an episode featuring the late James Whitmore as a spaceship captain marooned 30 years earlier -- the show was set in 1991 -- and his crew is finally found, and one of the crew asks, "What city are the Dodgers in now?"

October 2, 1963: The World Series opens at Yankee Stadium. The 2-time defending World Champion Yankees play the Dodgers for the 1st time since the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles. The game's two premier lefthanded pitchers, Whitey Ford (24-8) and Sandy Koufax (25-5), oppose each other. Ford has already won 10 World Series games, a record that has never been approached -- Bob Gibson will make it 7, but that's as close as anyone's gotten.

But on this day, it is Koufax who is in control. He strikes out 15 batters, a new World Series record (and still a record for lefthanders). The Dodgers win, 5-2. Afterward, Yogi Berra, playing in the last of his record 14 World Series, says of Koufax, "I understand how he won 25 games. What I don't understand is how he lost 5." The answer is that the Dodgers' lineup wasn't all that powerful. More on that on October 6.


October 2, 1973: Scott Schoenweiss is born. Once a pretty good pitcher for the Angels, by the time the Mets got him he was washed up.

October 2, 1979: Pope John Paul II delivers Mass at Yankee Stadium. The next day, he delivers Mass at Shea Stadium. The Pope went to Yankee Stadium first? Maybe he really is infallible! He also delivered a Mass at Madison Square Garden. John Paul II would make 3 other trips to America during his Papacy, including one other to New York, in the fall of 1995, which also included a Mass at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Newark.

October 2, 1984: The Chicago Cubs, having won the National League East, play their first postseason game in 39 years, Game 1 of the NLCS at Wrigley Field. They beat the San Diego Padres, 13-0. They win the next day, too. Once again, the North Siders got their already long-suffering fans' hopes up. This is the last season that the LCS is a best-3-out-of-5. Maybe if it had already been a best 4-out-of-7... such is life with the Cubbies: If they don't win, it's the same.

October 2, 1998: Gene Autry dies at age 91. The legendary entertainer had been the only owner the Angels had ever known, having sought out the broadcast rights for the expansion franchise that was to begin in 1961, and then stepping in and buying the team when its original owners' deal collapsed. 

Frustrated with having to share Dodger Stadium with Walter O'Malley, he built Anaheim Stadium (a.k.a. Edison Field and Angel Stadium) in 1966, spurring the growth of California's Orange County and making the NHL's Ducks possible, as well as being a temporary home for the NFL's Los Angeles Rams. But despite 4 trips to the Playoffs, all of which ended badly, and having future Hall-of-Famers Nolan Ryan, Rod Carew and Reggie Jackson, the Angels never won a Pennant in his lifetime, giving rise to the suggestion of a "Curse of the Cowboy."

They finally won in 2002, under Disney ownership. Today, his widow, Jackie Autry, remains a minority owner of the team, and is the honorary President of the American League -- which, since Commissioner Bud Selig consolidated his power by eliminating the Leagues' offices, is pretty much a ceremonial office now, limiting Mrs. Autry to handing the League Championship trophy to the winning owner.


Big game for EBHS tonight, against Piscataway. Come on, Big Green, chomp those Chiefs!

Update: No such luck. We held Piss... cataway scoreless until the end of the first half, but fell, 13-10. That's 20 straight losses to Piss... cataway, and no chance at the Conference Championship.

No comments: