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Catching up with Bruce Hurst, the Series MVP who wasn’t

Bruce Hurst (center) sat with dejected Red Sox teammates Wade Boggs and Al Nipper as the 1986 World Series slipped away. Hurst would have been named MVP of the Series had the Sox held on to win.
Bruce Hurst (center) sat with dejected Red Sox teammates Wade Boggs and Al Nipper as the 1986 World Series slipped away. Hurst would have been named MVP of the Series had the Sox held on to win.Stan Grossfeld/Globe staff/File

All those Red Sox players who came close, but never won a championship . . . you know the list . . . Ted Williams, Johnny Pesky, Carl Yastrzemski, Carlton Fisk, Luis Tiant . . .

Bruce Hurst is right there with them. And he came closer than any of them.

It'll be 30 years next October.

Perhaps you've seen the video? Little roller to first baseman Bill Buckner? Vin Scully exclaiming, "Behind the bag and the Mets win!''

That wasn't even Game 7 of the World Series. It was Game 6. And before that play happened, Bruce Hurst had already been voted Most Valuable Player of the 1986 World Series.

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That's right, boys and girls. Hurst, the mild-mannered lefty from St. George, Utah, was going to be MVP of the Red Sox' first World Series victory in 68 years. The Curse of the Bambino was about to end, and Hurst was the MVP.

He'd beaten the Mets, 1-0 in Game 1 and 4-2 in a critical Game 5. Hurst held the Mets to two runs in his first 22 World Series innings. He was prematurely named Series MVP before all the bad stuff happened in the bottom of the 10th in Game 6 at Shea Stadium.

I caught up with him over the phone last week while he was traveling with his family in Seattle, and Hurst said, "Maybe I'm just an idiot, but I can't not think of our '86 team as not world champions.''

OK. That's a triple negative right there. But it makes sense. And it tells you what a mind-bending event the 1986 World Series was for everyone involved.

"You can't come closer and lose,'' said Hurst. "So it's hard for me to not say we didn't in some way do it. If that makes any sense.

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"We just didn't close the deal out. Those guys were champions for me. How much different would people have viewed people like Jimmy Rice and Dewey Evans if we had won?"

Hurst is back in Boston this week as part of The Tradition, the annual celebration of Boston sports that will be held Wednesday night at the Garden. Hurst will be here to introduce his longtime friend, Danny Ainge, one of six honorees at The Tradition.

The other honorees are Roger Clemens (presented by Joe Castiglione), Gerry Cheevers (Harry Sinden), Joan Benoit Samuelson (Bill Rodgers), Richard Seymour (Ty Law), and Don Rodman (Rob Gronkowski).

Bruce Hurst was inducted into the Red Sox Hall of Fame in 2004, shortly after the Red Sox won their first World Series in 86 years.
Bruce Hurst was inducted into the Red Sox Hall of Fame in 2004, shortly after the Red Sox won their first World Series in 86 years.Globe Staff/File 2004

Hurst doesn't get back to Boston very often. He pitched for the Sox for nine seasons before playing out his contract and signing with the San Diego Padres after going 18-6 in 1988. He pitched in the majors until 1994, and has been living in Arizona for the last 16 years. Bruce and Holly Hurst have four children and two grandchildren.

"Life is good,'' he said. "It's a really great life.''

Hurst worked in the international department of the Dodgers front office last season, but lost his job along with 40 other people as part of a massive restructuring of LA's baseball operations in August. The Dodgers, like many baseball teams in 2015, are all about college degrees and analytics.

"I think I'm kind of done with baseball,'' said Hurst. "I've kind of soured on it. It's a different world than it used to be. I guess I'm not a good fit anymore.''

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He looks forward to a reunion with former teammate Clemens this week. Clemens and Hurst gave the Red Sox a dominant 1-2, righty-lefty punch from 1986-88, and the two were close, on and off the field. It was in defense of Hurst in 1988 that Clemens got himself into hot water in a regrettable television interview in which he talked about players having to "carry our own bags.'' The comment was the first of many that buried Clemens in the eyes of many Sox fans.

Like the rest of baseball America, Hurst squirmed in his chair when Clemens's named surfaced in the Mitchell Report and when the Rocket went through a lengthy trial vs. his former trainer.

"It was hard for me to watch,'' said Hurst. "For me, Roger was the greatest teammate ever. On a human level. He knew all the kids. He knew every wife, parents, siblings. When things were tough, there'd be a pat on the back, or something said, or a gift on your chair. Those are things the public doesn't know about.

"If he did that stuff [steroids], which I don't think he did, it's not the Roger I knew. I'd have a hard time believing it, because I just saw all of the things he did to prepare. Good dude. Good guy.''

Hurst was even closer to Ainge. Their families are close. They were neighbors in Arizona when Ainge was with the Phoenix Suns, and their friendship traces back to the 1980s when Ainge (a former big league infielder) was a starting guard on the Celtics and Hurst was a starting pitcher for the Red Sox. It was not unusual for Hurst to sneak out of Fenway and go over to the Celtics practice site at Hellenic College in Brookline.

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"Those were great times,'' said Hurst. "They'd let me shoot around with them before practice. Larry. Kevin. Scott Wedman, Chief, DJ, all of them. It was because of Danny. I've always considered him my best friend.''

Does Hurst wish he'd never left the Red Sox?

"Absolutely,'' he answered. "My years in San Diego were good, but professionally, there's nothing like Boston. It's the place to play baseball. Fenway Park is the mecca. I loved the guys I played with there, I really did. I missed them when I was gone. I'm glad I had a few moments there.''

He gets another moment tonight. Tickets are still available for The Tradition and can be procured by calling 617-624-1231.


Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at dshaughnessy@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Dan_Shaughnessy.