Red Sox Blues

Culture Watch

Mr. Catsam is Assistant Professor of History at Minnesota State University, Mankato.

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Here we go again. It's August and the Gods of fate seem to be smiling on that little bandbox of a ballyard in the Fens. I've been through this before. I was only four when the Sox played the Reds in the greatest World Series of all time (Carleton Fisk is from down the road from where I grew up, and he hit some legendary home runs at my high school's baseball field). But ever since then, the Red Sox have been at the forefront of my consciousness and of my passions more than anything else. Surely more than history. More so, even, than girls.

And like girls, the Red Sox always, always, always break my heart. I remember the first time. It was 1978. I was 7 years old. I'd already decided that Jim Rice was the greatest thing ever to stroll the verdant fields of my imagination, though my own ideas about what Ted Williams must have been like, and what Yaz was in 1967 caused lots of internal arguments. And in 1978 Jim Rice was a man. He was THE Man. Yaz still had some juice in the tank, and the oft-injured Freddy Lynn could get it done, and make my mom swoon at the same time (though she also had the hots for Dewey Evans).

The story is common - Sox up by 14 games on the Yankees on July 19th when suddenly the bottom fell out, and the Yankees started rolling. Everyone forgets that the Sox had to have a rally of their own while the hated Yankees choked in the final weeks of the season, setting up one of the greatest games of all time, albeit one that scarred me as surely as any event from my childhood. If I have commitment issues, insecurities, mistrust, latent hostility, half-submerged rage, these things can be directly attributed to two men. One of these men was Mike Torrez, the biggest free agent signing (and from the Yankees no less!) the Red Sox had made in the early years after the reserve clause was declared null and void. The other was Russell Earl "Bucky" Dent (nee O'Dey). Bucky F*****g Dent. A banjo hitting pretty boy nonentity punk shortstop. These two ruined my life.

In any case, it was October 2, 1978. I was watching the game on the living room floor of my grandparents' farm in New Hampshire, where I spent most of my summer and after school afternoons. Typical of a kid, between innings I'd run outside and throw pop flies to myself. I'd pretend that I was making the last catch to win a the World series (I was, of course, Jimmy Rice) The Sox were up 2-0 in the top of the 7th. The Yankees led off with two singles, and Bucky #@$#@!!!! Dent stepped up to the plate. He was 5'9" tall. He had hit .243 for the season and .140 in his last 20 games. The count was one and one after Dent fouled a pitch off his foot, giving him time to realize that his bat was cracked. He swapped bats, getting one from his loopy teammate Mickey Rivers. Then the twirpy shortstop stepped in against the 6'5" Torrez.

The next image is burned into my brain. Dent swung his borrowed bat, and popped a ball up toward left field, where I was sure it would nestle into Yaz's glove, preserving the Sox lead and propelling us closer to victory and a showdown with the Royals. But the ball never landed in Yaz's glove. Instead this harmless little fly ball nestled in the net that loomed over the Green Monster up until this season. I always loved the Monster. It's perhaps Boston's greatest landmark. Indeed, perhaps the west's greatest contribution to global culture. But on that day, I hated the wall with all my heart and soul. And I hated Bucky Dent.

The game did not end after that, of course, and there were more exciting moments - Lou Piniella's unbelievably lucky stabbing of a blooper that he had lost track of in the sun gnaws at me to this very minute - but at that moment, most all of New England and indeed the millions of red Sox fans across the country knew that it did not look good. I cried when Yaz popped up to Craig Nettles in foul territory to end the game. The red Sox had broken my heart for the first time. It would not, however, be the last.

I'm older now. And wiser. I have a career as a historian. Women still perplex me. And so do the Red Sox. I have all of the scar tissue - 1986, of course (the rogues gallery of Rich Gedman and Bob Stanley and Calvin Schiraldi and John MacNamara and poor, ill fated Billy Buckner are like ghosts in my attic), and 1988 and 12990 and 1995 and 1998 and 1999 . . . But this year. Well, look at these guys. They are an offensive juggernaut. They have so much heart. They seem finally to have settled their bullpen problems - and in so doing the boy wonder General Manager Theo Epstein outflanked Steinbrenner and the other denizens of the Death Star. They just went through a losing streak, but they'll right the ship, and they'll score some runs for Pedro, and every day someone else will come through big for them. We have spit and blood and piss and vinegar types, like Trot Nixon and Jason Varitek. We have wily veterans like Tim Wakefield. We have the idiosyncratic but preternatural many. And of course we have Nomar.

And so as I said at the beginning, here we go again. Hope springs eternal not in spring in Red Sox Nation, but rather in the summer when the Sox are competitive. The Yankees (I hate them so very much) look vulnerable. In a short series we get to shorten our staff and anyone we play will have to face Pedro and D-Lowe. The seats on the Monster have exorcised the ghost of Bucky Dent. (Though I am still miffed at my fellow New Englanders, especially the drunk ones, for not throwing him off the Monster when he had the audacity to - and the Sox administration had the callousness to let him - sit in the new Monster seats earlier this season.) Pedro has proclaimed his willingness to resurrect the Babe in order to drill him in the ass and expurgate that sin of our past.

But above all, when the Red Sox are in contention I am once again a little boy, seven years old, sitting on Gram and Papa's floor, believing that this time, really and truly and cross my heart and hope to die, the Red Sox are going to win the World Series.

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More Comments:

Denis Dooley - 10/19/2003


A Reds fan here. Wanted to thank you for the excellent, heart-felt explanation of the "F" in "Bucky 'F.' Dent". I made reference to Mr. Dent when complaining about how the Reds have been one of the worst offenders when it came to feeding the Yankees key players for the playoff stretch, in particular a one Aaron Boone. She was offended at my bestowing the 'F' as a new middle initial for Aaron. I explained it was nothing personal, just sort of a rhetorical hatred.

It's interesting that I have met a number of Boston natives here in Portland, Oregon since moving here from Cincinnati in 1996. The 1975 World Series has to be one of the few where the fans of the respective teams feel something of a bond rather than revulsion towards one another. It was such a noble battle of two classic teams and such a great World Series that I have always enjoyed meeting a good Boston fan. Perhaps it doesn't hurt that the Big Red Machine went on to utterly embarrass the Evil Empire the following year.

As for that Cleveland whiner, he does make a descent point about the success of Boston's other three sports, but it doesn't do you much good if you see yourself primarily as a baseball fan. I attended Ohio State University with far more Clevelanders than I ever care to be in proximity of ever again. Their hatred of the Reds was amazing at the time, considering they never played each other. It was based purely on envy. My Sister, who lives in Central Ohio, made a crack this year that the hospitals in central and northeastern Ohio were full of people who'd injured themselves falling off the Indians' bandwagon. Their attendance was off about 30% this year.

In any case, I'd like to off my condolence and add: Go Fish!

One down, three to go.

Derek Catsam - 8/10/2003

I lived in Ohio for several years and got to see up close (and with occasional relish) the pain of Cleveland fans, who had a much higher opinion of their teams than was warranted, and who thus suffered as a result of their high expectations. At least you had the 1950s Browns. And at least I no longer have to hear what great baseball fans there are in Cleveland now that they are bad and the novelty of the Jake has worn off. In any case, I've lots of Cleveland fan friends, and as long as their interests dn't collide with the Pats, I'm happy to see the Browns do well. And Stadium mustard may be the single greatest foodstuff ever.


Jesse Lamovsky - 8/7/2003

Here we go again. Time to break out the violins and the hankies for those poor, benighted Red Sox and their "long-suffering" fans, who can at least derive solace from all those banners the Celtics and the Bruins have hung over the years, not to mention that big shiny trophy with the football on it, that the Patriots brought back to Foxboro a couple of years ago.

Mr. Catsam's a good writer, but if he really wants to experience the melancholy that comes from being a sports fan, he should move to Cleveland, Ohio.

Ralph E. Luker - 8/5/2003

Ooops, I meant to say that Bill's right about your being a fine writer. I don't share his reservations about you as an historian. But this is a really fine piece. Thanks for sharing it with us.

Ralph E. Luker - 8/5/2003

Bill's right, Derek. I'm not a Red Sox fan, but you almost had me converted.

Derek Catsam - 8/5/2003

It depends on which historian I am reading at the time . . .
Thanks, Bill.

Bill Heuisler - 8/5/2003

You're not a historian, you're a writer. Can you be both?