Banishing Our Winters of Discontent
1967. 1975. 1978. 1986. 2003. All those years of coming so close made climbing the World Series mountain so much sweeter.
I lived through 1967. It was the greatest fan experience of my life. But when the Cardinals beat the Red Sox in the seventh game of the World Series, there was no local angst. It was "Good try, guys, and thank you for a wonderful season." It had been labeled, after all, "The Impossible Dream," correct?
I lived through 1975. It was another surprise team and gave its fans great pleasure. Freddy Lynn. Jim Rice. The noble Yaz beating the A's almost by himself. Looie, Looie. Pudge hitting the foul pole. All great stuff. Yet, when the vaunted Big Red Machine pulled out a win in Game 7 of the World Series, there was a lot of managerial second-guessing but, again, no real angst. Most rational fans realized they had witnessed a historic World Series and that it was OK to say that perhaps the better team had won.
In other words, life went on.
By the way, no one spoke of a "curse."
I lived through 1978. What a roller coaster of a season! Up by 14 games, then down by a game or two after the Labor Day week-end massacre, the Red Sox fought their way back to the playoff game against the Yankees. Bucky Dent. Bucky Bleepin' Dent. Lou Piniella's lucky stab. Yaz's game-ending pop-up with the tying run on third.
There was a lot of local anguish, more than anything I had ever encountered. But there was still no talk of a "curse." The fandom had not yet descended into abject self-pity.
Life went on. Sort of.
I lived through 1986. It wasn't a particularly memorable regular season, but, oh, that post season. Dave Henderson's home run in Game 5. Roger Clemens shutting down the Angels in Game 7. Going up 2-0 in the World Series. Bruce Hurst pitching the Red Sox into a 3-2 lead in Game 5. Dave Henderson's home run in the 10th inning of Game 7.
One strike away. . . .
Everyone talks about Game 6, but what about Game 7? The Red Sox had a 3-0 lead (just as the '75 team led the Reds, 3-0, in Game 7 and the '78 team led the Yankees, 2-0, in the playoff game). It wasn't good enough. There was also all the talk about who should have pitched Game 7. Should it have been Oil Can Boyd, whose turn it was, or Bruce Hurst, who had already won twice in the Series? A day of rain following Game 6 enabled John McNamara to make a change in favor of Hurst, who could not hold the lead. What if? . . .
But who talks about that? The 1986 World Series is synonymous in these parts with one man: William Joseph Buckner.
And, yes, there was angst. Lots of local angst. It was impossible to escape the fact that no team in the history of North American sport had ever come closer to winning a championship, and then had not done so, than the 1986 Boston Red Sox. It was officially permissible for every last citizen in New England (and a global extended entity soon to be known as Red Sox Nation) to feel very sorry for himself.
I lived through 2003. I was in Yankee Stadium when the Red Sox went up 4-0 in Game 7. I was there to see Pedro Martinez-stagger through a line-drive-laden seventh inning and then come out for a surprising eighth. I was there when he faced four batters too many. I was there when Aaron Boone hit Tim Wakefield's first pitch in the 11th inning into the left-field seats, giving New York yet another American League pennant and once again reducing the Red Sox to footnotes in the great Yankee novel.
Angst? What's beyond angst? Despair? Bewilderment? Confusion? A sense of cosmic betrayal? The people of Red Sox Nation had reached a Tevye state. Just exactly what kind of insidious Vast Eternal Plan was at work to make sure they would never taste of the victory wine, anyway?
And always, The Curse, the damnable curse.
Somewhere between Game 7 in 1967 and Game 7 in 2003, the dialogue had changed. People had been taught to connect the dots. The Red Sox hadn't simply lost, or lost to better teams, in 1946, 1949, 1967, 1975, 1978, 1986, and 2003. They were cursed. Daniel Shaughnessy, what hast thou wrought?
It was amazing. Even Shaughnessy himself couldn't believe what had happened. People believed there was a curse on the Red Sox because Harry Frazee had sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees. At the very least, they believed there was a cosmic plan in which the Red Sox were fated to be eternal losers.
There was an accompanying roster of villains, both for and against. Pesky, Galehouse. Dent, Buckner. McNamara. Little. Boone.
All it took was 11 days to wash it all away, and I mean all of it. From the ninth inning of Yankees 4 to the last out of Cardinals 4, the Red Sox went on the single most dramatic run in the history of post-season baseball. Curse, what curse? Vast eternal plan? Bah! Dent? Buckner? Who cares?
The new names are Schilling, Ortiz, Ramirez, Martinez, Lowe, Damon, Varitek, Foulke, Nixon, among others. And Francona. What Joe McCarthy, Dick Williams, Darrell Johnson, Don Zimmer, John McNamara, and Grady Little couldn't do, Terry Francona did. It's a new story line. Everyone is smiling.
Dan Shaughnessy is writing another book. I'm guessing it will be free of angst.
Life goes on. But it sure feels better.
Bob Ryan is a member of the Globe staff.