His name is Russell Earl “Bucky” Dent. He was re-named Bucky (Bleeping) Dent in these parts after his pop-fly home run vaulted the Yankees over the Red Sox in the 1978 one-game playoff at Fenway Park exactly 43 years ago this week.
So when the 2021 Red Sox and Yankees finished play Sunday evening, assuring there would be another winner-take-all, one-game joust at Fenway for the right to advance in the American League playoffs, I had to call and text.
Within an hour of the final pitch of the 2021 Major League Baseball regular season, I sent two messages to Bucky F. Dent.
Hey, Bucky. Hope you are well. Dan Shaughnessy in Boston calling here. You know why. Please call.
And he did.
Before Tom Brady emerged from Gillette’s underbelly for kickoff, BF Dent was on the phone, waxing poetic about Sox-Yanks, Fenway Park, and a long-ago moment that changed the course of Boston baseball history.
“You were my first call,” Dent said after eating his pre-Brady game meal at his home in Bradenton, Fla. “But I knew these calls were coming after I saw how things ended today.
“Everybody’s been asking me if I’ve been invited to Boston, but I haven’t been yet,” he said, chuckling. “I thought maybe they’d invite me and Mike Torrez to throw out the first pitch. Mike and I were just together at an event in New York a couple of weeks ago.”
Haha. Good old Mike Torrez. He and Bucky have been together on the speaking circuit for decades since Torrez threw the ill-fated gopher ball in the seventh inning of Boston’s epic defeat. The Sox led, 2-0, after six, but BFD’s pop fly into the screen (before there were Monster Seats) gave the Yankees a 3-2 lead and New York won it, 5-4, when Hall of Famer Rich Gossage got Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemski to pop up with two runners aboard in the bottom of the ninth.
Torrez is such a good sport about that moment that he agreed to re-enact the meatball serve when Dent built a Fenway replica and opened a baseball school in Delray Beach in 1989.
The 69-year-old Dent retired after running the baseball school for 33 years and recently had back surgery. A 5-foot-10-inch, 170-pound shortstop, he hit .247 in his 12-year big league career. He hit five home runs in 1978, 40 over his entire career. He has never forgotten the one that changed his life.
“I remember we lost Sunday in New York and Boston won at home so we were tied,” said Dent. “We’d lost the [home field] coin toss so we knew we had to go to Boston. We all went to Daisy Buchanan’s on Sunday night when we got to Boston. Nothing fazed the guys on that team. We had a bunch of characters. We’d been through it in ‘77 and won the World Series and then we came back (14-game July deficit) in ‘78. Nothing really bothered those guys.
“I remember on that Monday, before batting practice at Fenway, it was a little bit different. You could sense more concentration. We were loose and could joke around, but you could feel a little different atmosphere before that one.
“It’s the most pressure game I ever had to play in my life. One game. Boston. Two great teams. The atmosphere was electric and the day was gorgeous. The game built. The pressure got more and more.’’
Dent was choking up three inches on the bat (borrowed from Mickey Rivers) when he hit the fateful fly to left. Everyone in the park thought it was an out, but the ball kept carrying. The great Yaz crumpled against the Wall when the ball feathered into the net atop the Monster.
“It was just an empty feeling,” Yaz said years later. “We had the lead and we blew it.”
“One of my best friends, who worked for ‘60 Minutes’ called me when that game was over and he said, ‘You know, Bucky. That home run is going to change your life.’ I was like, ‘What are you talkin’ about?’ And he said, ‘I’m tellin’ ya, it’s going to change your life.’ And it did,” Dent said.
“Sports is a game of moments. There’s big moments and I just happened to be a part of it in one of the greatest games ever played. I got a great middle initial from it, and wear that as a great badge of honor. How much better can it be?”
It never goes away here in Boston. When Dent returned as a visiting player in the years after ′78, Red Sox equipment staff — responsible for taping names of visiting players to the tops of lockers — regularly scribbled “BF Dent’’ to the stall assigned to Dent.
Imagine being Bucky Dent and trying to book a Back Bay hotel room or restaurant reservation.
“The last time I was there my friend called for a table for us at the Union Oyster House,’’ said Dent. “When they asked what name to hold it under, my friend said, ‘Bucky Dent’ and the guy said, ‘Oh, no. We can’t let him in here.’ He was only joking around. We had a good dinner there and we loved it.
“It’s always fun to go back to Boston and watch the Yankees play at Fenway. It brings back so many memories. I sat up in those Monster Seats on the 25th anniversary of our playoff game. It’s a great seat.”
Dent was not a good luck charm for the Yankees when George Steinbrenner summoned him in the 2004 American League Championship Series. After the Red Sox won three straight to force Game 7, BFD threw a ceremonial first pitch before Game 7 at Yankee Stadium.
The stunt failed. The glory-bound Red Sox routed Kevin Brown, took a 6-0 lead in the second inning on Johnny Damon’s grand slam, and won easily.
“I was upstairs in a suite for the beginning of the game and when Boston hit all those homers, Billy Crystal looked at me and said, ‘Geez, you threw the best pitch for the Yankees all night.’‘’ Dent recalled.
“That was ugly . . . but here we go again.”
BFD has a prediction.
“I think Gerrit Cole will pitch a great game and I think the Yankees will beat ‘em.”
Who is the Yankees’ Bucky Dent of 2021?
“I was just sitting here with my wife and my son, saying, ‘OK, who’s got a name with the letter B who can keep this thing going. Boone . . . Buckner. . . Me . . . I’ll go with Brett Gardner. We’ve got to keep the B’s going. Brett Gardner. I love the way he plays and think he’s going to do something big.”