Time might not heal all wounds, but it can take care of a lot of them. As a Red Sox fan, I can attest there have been plenty of wounds inflicted on us in various Septembers and Octobers. And I can also say that the World Series titles of 2004, 2007 and 2013 have eased a whole lot of pain.
You would think there would be nothing painful left. After claiming to want to see just one World Series title before we die, Red Sox fans can rank the recent championships inGold, Silver and Bronze.
And many clips that have been painful to look at in the past no longer make me cringe.
Some failures seemed to set up a victory as a prelude. Seeing Grady Little leave Pedro in for too long and Aaron Boone homering in extra innings no longer makes me queasy. The 2003 ALCS loss set up the celebration of 2004.
Someone linked me a video clip of Carl Crawford falling down and the winning run scoring during the season finale of 2011 with the caption “Something to make every Red Sox fan cry.” Nope. 2011 is just prologue for the Boston Strong title of 2013.
But despite three titles and Dombrowski putting together a new contender, there are still a pair of games that make me shudder.
Deep to left… Yastrzemski will not get it. It’s a home run! A three run home run by Bucky Dent and the Yankees now lead it by a score of three to two.
And of course…
A little roller along first… BEHIND THE BAG! It gets through Buckner! Here comes Knight and the Mets win it!
1978 and 1986 still hurt. Maybe not as badly as they did before Dave Roberts stole second. But they still sting.
Now before I continue, let me make something perfectly clear. I am simply showing the Buckner error as a shorthand of everything painful about 1986.
Please read the next sentence carefully.
I AM NOT BLAMING BILL BUCKNER FOR THE 1986 WORLD SERIES!
In fact I believe the Buckner error is the single most overrated play in baseball history. If he had made the play, the Red Sox would not have won the World Series then. The game was already tied on the underrated wild pitch.
And the play did not clinch the World Series for the Mets. It tied the series at 3 and the Red Sox took a 3-0 lead in Game 7, which they ultimately lost.
I covered all that in this video…
But why have the scars of 1978 and 1986 not completely healed?
For me, the cringe worthy factors for both years come from not only how close both teams came to becoming THE beloved team of Boston history, but who could have cemented their legacies with a Red Sox championship.
Look at the recent dismantling of the 2013 Champs. Sure there were a few beloved homegrown mainstays who departed, like Jacoby Ellsbury and Jon Lester. But most of the outgoing champion Sox were short timers, like Mike Napoli, Shane Victorino, Jonny Gomes, Stephen Drew or David Ross.
Now take the 1978 team. Had they won the World Series that year, imagine the parade of all time beloved Red Sox who would have been crowned instantly.
Carlton Fisk? Check.
Carl Yastrzemski? The Captain has his title.
Jim Rice, Fred Lynn and Dwight Evans… the best Red Sox outfield in history? Come get your rings.
A pair of future Red Sox broadcasters, Jerry Remy and Bob Montgomery, would be able to tell stories about their title.
Fan favorites like George Scott, Rick Burleson and my personal favorite Butch Hobson would be able to have their crowning achievements.
Luis Tiant and Bill Lee, the most unique pitching tandem in Red Sox history, would have the championship that eluded them in 1975 (and Lee, the last remaining Buffalo Head, would have his vindication.)
And perhaps Dennis Eckersley’s Hall of Fame career would have kicked into full gear before his transformation in Oakland.
That is a galaxy of beloved Red Sox stars, whose legacy would stretch from the 1967 Impossible Dream to Eckersley being teammates with Pedro, Mo and Nomar in 1998. It would take the sting out of 1975 (and make that simply prologue for the glories of 1978) and give so many legends a chance to have their greatest moment.
Also it would have driven George Steinbrenner bananas.
Instead Don Zimmer managed the team like someone who was in mid panic, the Yankees pulled off the four game sweep and then there was the Bucky Dent game.
Remember, the Red Sox rallied and had the winning runs on base in the bottom of the 9th. Jim Rice hit a deep fly which if it went out, the Red Sox would head to the playoffs and probably win it all. Yaz of course popped out. And 1978, instead of being the team that becomes the unquestionably most beloved team in the history of Boston sports, became a crushing reminder of what was not to be.
The frustration over the 1986 squad is less about a beloved team and more about some legacies that were forever tainted by Games 6 and 7 of the World Series.
By all accounts, the 1986 squad was not a cute and cuddly bunch. They were the proverbial “24 players, 24 cabs” crew. But they also could pitch, hit and field and in the 1986 ALCS, they showed they had heart as well.
Down 3-1 in the series and trailing by 3 in the 9th inning of Game 5, the Red Sox looked like they were going to be a forgotten division winner to the Angels. But then Gene Mauch over managed, as only Gene Mauch could do. A Dave Henderson homer and some clutch pitching from Steve Crawford later, the Sox were alive. Then they blew out the Angels in Games 6 and 7. This Red Sox team was different. They stared down defeat and beat it.
Had the last out had been made in World Series Game 6 (if only Carter, Mitchell, Knight or Wilson had popped up, grounded out or something) the team that became synonymous with choking would represent the exact opposite.
If the Red Sox had won, Dave Henderson would have been the out of nowhere hero of the ALCS and World Series, taking the mantle now occupied by another reserve outfielder turned ALCS Red Sox hero named Dave (that would be Dave Roberts.)
But beyond the stigma of losing the series, a reversal of fortune in 1986 would have forever changed the legacy of 7 baseball figures.
Roger Clemens would have eclipsed Larry Bird as the biggest sports figure in Boston. Bird was a legend. But Clemens would have done the impossible. After years and years of seeing all hit, no pitch Red Sox teams fall short, Clemens would be seen as the great leader of the team, the man who delivered what so many other stars could not.
Maybe as a beloved Red Sox champion he does not leave bitter in 1996. Maybe he does not balloon up in the late 1990s. Maybe his legacy isn’t altered. Maybe 21 is retired and the debate of who was the biggest figure in Boston sports of the 1980s would be between Roger and Larry.
All wonderful maybes.
Wade Boggs would have cemented his legacy early as one of the greats in Red Sox history. He still became that, but his number isn’t retired at Fenway and there has been super tension between the best hitter of his generation and the team he came within a strike of leading to the promised land.
Jim Rice ultimately would make it to the Hall of Fame and have his number retired. But only after 15 years of haggling over his numbers and controversy. Had that last out been made, Rice would not have waited until 2009 for his induction. He would have been in in 1995, on the first ballot (and before Sabermetric arguments could even be made.)
Why? Because the narrative would have been simple: Ted Williams and Carl Yastrzemski had better numbers. But they WON with Jim Rice. (And with Rice’s injury keeping him out of the 1975 World Series, the narrative would have extended back to then. They would have won TWO had Rice not broken his hand!)
Dwight Evans, the lone active player who appeared in both the 1975 and 1986 World Series, would be more than just a beloved former Red Sox. With a World Series title, people might examine his career a little more closely and see his Cooperstown case is actually compelling.
His Hall of Fame candidacy was 3 years and out and never made much of a dent. With a World Series title, he might have stuck around on the ballot for a few more years, maybe long enough for the advanced metrics voters to see his combination of power, on base and defense made him more valuable than people may have realized.
Who knows? If Gary Carter, Kevin Mitchell, Ray Knight or Mookie Wilson popped up, Dwight Evans might be in the Hall of Fame.
Bob Stanley threw the wild pitch that tied the game and served up the Mookie Wilson grounder. He had 2 strikes on Mookie before the wild pitch and saw what seemed like 47,000 pitches fouled off.
If one pitch was tipped into the glove or he just missed, Bob Stanley would be the man on the mound when the Red Sox won it all. There would be no memory of Stanley gaining weight and losing his effectiveness after signing a big contract. Stanley would not be thought of as a symbol for Red Sox loserdom, as he was called in Curse of the Bambino (not by me.)
The image on everyone’s wall, locker and poster in every kid’s bedroom would be Bob Stanley jumping in the air, a Red Sox champion. The two time All Star would be a beloved figure, his stockiness adding to his charm instead of fueling people’s frustration.
John McNamara’s legacy in Boston is Grady Little-esque. He is thought of as a manager who dozed off during spring training games and made some boneheaded decisions in big moments. Not replacing Bill Buckner for Dave Stapleton defensively in Game 6 (as he had in every other post season victory) did not crack the the top 10 of strange decisions he made.
Many people, including the author of this post, blamed him more than any player for the World Series loss.
But had that last out been made, it would have been the defining achievement of a baseball lifer who was beloved by many of his players. Reggie Jackson called him his favorite manager after his turns in both Oakland and California. Tom Seaver, who played under McNamara in Cincinnati, swore by him. Mike LaCoss, a guest on my podcast, described him as a calm father figure.
Imagine if a nice Irish Catholic man who spent his life in baseball had won the title in Boston. He would be asked to speak at every Knights of Columbus meeting in New England from now to the end of time.
Even casual fans know who Bill Buckner is. No name ever became a quicker short hand for Red Sox ineptitude than Buckner. And as the years went by, the significance of his error grew with a false narrative.
“If Bill Buckner had made that play, the Red Sox would have won the World Series!” Untrue.
“With that error, the Mets won the World Series!” Untrue.
For years, anyone who saw I was a Red Sox fan felt they could get my goat simply by saying “BUCK-NAH!” Even Red Sox fans, who initially blamed Schraldi and McNamara and Stanley, turned on him. Fenway gave Buckner a standing ovation in 1990 when he returned to the club after stints with the Angels and Royals. But as the memories of 1986 became fuzzier and his blame was erroneously increased, Buckner moved away from New England.
It wasn’t until after the 2007 title that Buckner was brought back to Fenway to a thunderous ovation. (It also resulted in a memorable episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm, but I digress.)
But if that last out was made, what would be Bill Buckner’s legacy?
He would have collected 2,714 hits over his 20 seasons in the majors. Buckner was an All Star and a batting champion. Twice he led the league in doubles. He drove in 102 runs for the Red Sox in 1986 and joined Wade Boggs and Rich Gedman in giving left handed balance to the lineup with the right handed Marty Barrett, Don Baylor, Tony Armas and Jim Rice.
Yes, his ankles were hurt and he was hobbled, but the sight of him playing through the pain would have made him a hero.
With the last out, Bill Buckner would have represented everything great and worth admiring about the 1986 Red Sox.
Bill Buckner would represent heart and being a winner.
Alas, the fan base moves on, hoping to see a fourth World Series title in our lifetimes.
It would have been nice if some of these great names could have been part of a World Series celebration.
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