My Turn: Recalling long, painful road to Red Sox redemption

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By DANIEL A. BROWN

Published: 04-11-2024 4:13 PM

 

Before the coming presidential election drives us all crazy, let’s take a break and read about something we can all (hopefully) agree on, namely, the Boston Red Sox.

This for me is unusual as I grew up in New York City and was 11 years old when the 1961 Yankees fielded perhaps the most dynamic team to ever play the game, their stats the stuff of legend. Besides Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris combining for 115 home runs, the Yankee pitching staff was led by Whitey Ford (25 wins against 4 losses) and augmented by others such as the usually mediocre Ralph Terry, who compiled a stunning 16-3 record, and Luis Arroyo, who won 15 games in relief.

Their battery-mates were Yogi Berra, one of the best catchers in the history of the sport, and Elston Howard, who batted a respectable .348. The Yanks won 109 games that year and went on to defeat the Cincinnati Reds in the World Series.

Back then, there was no Yankees-Red Sox rivalry because the Red Sox were so godawful, no one in New York cared. Led by their manager, the immortal Pinky Higgins, the Sox finished in sixth place in 1961 and answered such giants as Mantle, Maris and Ford with also-rans named Runnels, Malzone and Monbouquette.

Growing up, I knew these guys only from their baseball cards and was shocked that Runnels had actually won the 1960 batting title with a measly .326 average. I had accumulated seven Carl Yastrzemski 1960 Topps rookie cards but traded them all away as inconsequential (yes, I’m crying, too.)

After four decades of dominance, the Yankees started to fade by the mid-1960s, their demise coinciding with the advent of the counter-culture revolution that made baseball irrelevant. In fact, most of my generation checked out of Major League Baseball for an entire decade when Vietnam, civil rights, Woodstock and Watergate replaced the 1969 Miracle Mets, Denny McLain’s 31 wins, Bob Gibson’s ferocity and the 1967 Cardiac Kids in terms of significance.

I consider 1975 “The Year the Hippies Rediscovered Baseball” which, not coincidentally involved the Red Sox. Even at the aloof Renaissance Community, we were all glued to the television hanging from the wall of the Noble Feast restaurant, cheering with delight as Pudge Fisk waved his ball fair in the 12th inning of Game 6. Our silkscreen company stayed up that night printing hundreds of “Red Sox - 1975 World Champs” T-shirts, which were then hustled down to sell at Fenway Park for Game 7, license be damned. Chances are, they’re still rotting somewhere underneath the Shea Theater.

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The Sox lost and lost again. When Bucky Dent hit his devastating home run in 1978, my response was to go to bed at 6 p.m. that evening, too depressed to stay awake. I was now a True Believer of the Sox, that most Buddhist of ball teams, where one learns the lessons of life through suffering and understands that expectation only leads to despair.

The joy of Dave Henderson’s homer in Game 6 of the 1986 playoffs against the Angels only set me up for another Game 6 a few weeks later when a certain ball rolled through a certain pair of legs. My family was watching this debacle and all howled in anguish. When my future wife moved in with me decades later possessing the front page of the New York Daily News gloating about the Mets victory, I demanded she throw it in the wood stove.

Like a fool, at the end of the 7th inning of the 2003 ALCS playoffs, I declared “We have it in the bag!” which led to screaming at the television set an inning later (“Grady, take him OUT!”) And on that fateful Oct. 27, 2004 night when the Sox finally won it all, we were careful not to open the champagne until the last out was safely in the mitt. Can you believe it!

However, I did not go down to the graveyard to tell Gramps that the Sox had finally done it after 86 agonizing years. For one, my grandfather was an Orthodox Jew who wouldn’t know a rosin bag from a matzo ball. Besides, he lived in New York.

But with that itch scratched, I no longer live and die with the team and even forgot who they played in future World Series matchups. Living in New Mexico, the only professional baseball team in the state is the Albuquerque Isotopes (thanks to Los Alamos). 

But I still cherish the memories.

Daniel A. Brown lived in Franklin County for 44 years and is a frequent contributor to the Recorder. He lives outside of Santa Fe, New Mexico with his wife, Lisa and dog, Cody.