It was 30 years ago today that I joined Red Sox Nation.
It was the final weekend of the 1977 baseball season. The Red Sox were in a three-team dogfight for the AL East crown with the Yankees and Orioles. Earlier that season I had become a disenchanted Mets fan. The team was being run into the ground by a clueless ownership that only cared about the bottom line and little else. They traded away the most popular player the franchise ever had, Tom Seaver, the previous June, and it was clear the Mets would be a terrible team for the forseeable future (and they were). It made me extremely angry, and I made a decision I would not support them again until their skinflint owners had divested themselves from the team.
At the same time I was a Yankee hater, as I had been raised that way. I had begun to look at the AL East race, and hoping one of those clubs could catch the Yankees. I had been following it but wasn't truly a Red Sox fan yet. On September 30, both the Red Sox and Orioles were three back of the Yankees, who had just clinched a tie for the division title. Both the Sox and O's faced each other at Fenway that weekend. One team would have to sweep and New York would have to get swept at home by Detroit in order to force a tie.
The Sox eliminated the Orioles on Friday night with an 11-10 win as the Yankees lost. So if the Red Sox kept winning, they could conceivably reach them and force a playoff (which they ironically did one year to the day later). On that Saturday, I was with my family at the home of some friends in New Jersey, spending the weekend there. The Red Sox-Orioles game was the NBC Game of the Week, and I'll never forget going down into my friends' basement to watch the game.
The Red Sox were a really powerful team in 1977. They hit 213 home runs to lead the majors, and that was a very high total for the time. Jim Rice hit 39 HRs and 114 RBI to lead the team and five players hit 25 HRs and four had at least 100 RBI. The lineup also consisted of Carl Yastrzemski, Fred Lynn, Butch Hobson, George Scott, Carlton Fisk and Dwight Evans. Pitching wasn't the Sox strong suit in '77, and their top winner was reliever Bill Campbell, who won 13. Luis Tiant won 12, and Rick Wise and Reggie Cleveland won 11.
I also remember that was the same day that the immortal soccer legend Pele made his farewell appearance for the New York Cosmos at Giants Stadium, in a downpour. I remember during the game switching over to watch Pele play one half for the Cosmos and the other for his former Brazilian club Santos. (The game ended in a 1-1 tie.)
The game at Fenway was a nailbiter. It was tied into the fifth, when Baltimore scored runs in the fifth and sixth and led, 6-5. I really found myself pulling for the Red Sox to tie it as the game wound down. The Orioles scored two more runs and it was 8-5 in the ninth. Bernie Carbo hit a two-run shot to bring the Sox within one run, but that was a close as they would get, and it would end in an 8-7 Baltimore win. Despite the Yankees losing again to the Tigers, the Red Sox loss gave the title to New York.
I had followed the Red Sox for many years through the Baseball Game of the Week on NBC, as they were on many times because they played only Saturday afternoon games. I'd always liked Fenway Park, and was always a Yaz fan. But for the first time, I had rooted really hard for the Red Sox, and I realized I had a new rooting interest in baseball.
And at time, I had no idea what I was letting myself get into.
Here is the boxscore of the game, courtesy of Baseball Reference:
And so to summarize:
I became a Red Sox fan on a day they lost.
And my first full year as a fan? 1978.
And that's a story for another time. It's now three decades of Red Sox fandom. In the immortal words of the Grateful Dead: What a long, strange trip it's been.
I'd like to wish a very Happy Birthday to Joyce in Heaven. I hope it's a great one. We miss you.