I covered the Boston Red Sox for one full season, 1977.
It was a bit unusual, in that I both succeeded and preceded the one and only Peter Gammons, who I can safely say was the best baseball writer this newspaper has ever had. He had left the Globe for a gig at Sports Illustrated in the summer of 1976 and he returned to the Globe in the winter of 1977-78. That made me a baseball-writing one-and-done.
I still have my “Official Scorer’s Book,” provided to members of the Baseball Writers Association of America by one J.M. Crowley. That was the first of seven such books in my possession, as I have endeavored to keep score at every subsequent baseball game I attend, at any level, college and Olympics included. That makes this Year 40. Yeah, I’m a little weird. But better that obsession than, oh, let’s say, pornography.
Let’s have a little fun and peek back at that season. I was so excited about becoming a baseball writer after seven years of covering the Celtics and the NBA that I kept score for all nine innings at each of the 20 exhibition games I attended that season (I didn’t arrive in Winter Haven, Fla., until March 14, with the exhibition games already under way). Let me assure you that nobody other than the official scorer keeps score for nine innings at any exhibition game, and I never did anything like that again. But I was juiced for baseball and simply could not get enough. Covering baseball every day was new and exciting for me.
Good things were expected for the 1977 Red Sox. Don Zimmer was starting his first full season as manager. The big personnel move in the offseason was the free agent acquisition of star Minnesota reliever Bill Campbell, who had signed a record-setting $1 million contract. That’s $1 million for four years. Yes, it was a very different world.
He did not get off to a good start. Summoned by Zim with two outs in the eighth inning of the opener with Cleveland, he gave up a tying two-run homer to Buddy Bell in the ninth and eventually lost it on a fluky run in the 11th. The next day a sign appeared at the ballpark: “Sell Campbell. Bring back $1.50 bleachers.”
Things got better. At season’s end, Campbell had definitely earned his $250,000. He had appeared in 69 games. He had 31 saves. But what would seem incomprehensible to the modern baseball fan is that he also had 22 decisions. He pitched 140 innings and led the staff with a 13-9 record. What about Luis Tiant, you might ask? Looie did not have a banner year. He was 12-8 with a 4.53 ERA.
When people say nowadays that it’s a vastly different game, they aren’t kidding. I covered 132 games in 1977. In those 132 games, the Red Sox and the opponents tossed 32 complete games apiece. But just as big a testimony as to how differently managers utilized their pitching staffs was the fact that Zimmer used just two pitchers in a game 50 additional times. Thus, in well over half the 162 games Don Zimmer managed (I do not have the breakdown of the 30 games I did not cover), he employed just two pitchers. There was a short man, a fireman, called Bill Campbell — the term “closer” was not yet in vogue — and that was it. No seventh-inning man. No eighth-inning man. No situational southpaw.
The same was true of the opposition, of course. Rival managers used just two pitchers in a game during my 132 covered on 45 occasions. So the same will be true of the opposition: more than half the time a manager used either one or two pitchers in a game.
Another term not yet in vogue was “rake.” Oh, boy, did this Red Sox team rake. They hit 213 homers, led by Jim Rice’s 39. George “Boomer” Scott had returned to the team after spending several fruitful seasons in Milwaukee. Boomer hit 33 homers, drove in 95 runs, and slugged .500. Rice led the team with 114 RBIs, but in the slugging category the astonishing story was the third baseman, Butch Hobson.
Hobson finished with 30 home runs and 112 runs batted in. What’s interesting about this is that he spent all but a handful of games in the bottom third of the order. In the games I covered, he batted eighth 75 times and seventh 45 times. There was an odd little stretch in late August when Zimmer inserted Butch into the third spot for five games. He went 6 for 19 with one homer and one RBI, and that was that.
It is my belief that he had actually had 32 homers and 114 RBIs. He lost one home run that seemed quite clearly to have cleared the wall in left-center, hit the stanchion, and bounced back. He lost another when his blast to dead center hit a pole on the little enclosure around the old TV camera and similarly bounced back. Today’s replay would have settled the matter.
At any rate, it was as great a power display from the far end of the batting order as anyone could ever imagine.
The highlight off the season came on the weekend of June 17-19. The Red Sox had just won six of seven and here came the Yankees. Those who saw it will never forget the first inning on Friday, June 17. After Bill Lee retired the Yankees in the first, Catfish Hunter went to the mound. Rick Burleson led off with a homer. Fred Lynn made it back-to-back. Rice fanned and Carl Yastrzemski popped to short. But Carlton Fisk hit one over the wall. And so did Boomer. Billy Martin decided he had seen enough. I will never forget the odd sight of Catfish, head held high, walking off the mound that evening.
The final score was 9-4. Yaz and Fisk would go back-to-back off Dick Tidrow in the seventh.
Saturday afternoon was the famous Billy Martin-Reggie Jackson dugout tussle. Yaz hit two more. Bernie Carbo hit two. Scott hit one. You keeping count? 10-4, Sox.
By Sunday things were getting ridiculous. Or scary. Or something. The Yankees actually had a 1-0 lead in the second. But before the afternoon was over, Denny Doyle, Carbo, Rice, Yaz, and Boomer had all gone deep. Rice and Yaz went back-to-back off Tidrow in the eighth, with Yaz’s monster clout hitting the right-field facade and thus coming inches from being the only ball ever to leave the park in right field. Boomer hit the team’s 16th home run of the three-game series to dead center.
From there the Sox went to Baltimore and a four-game sweep that began with Rick Wise and Tiant throwing successive two-hit shutouts (hard to fathom, right?). But that was the season’s peak.
On Friday, June 24, the Red Sox met up with the Yankees in Yankee Stadium. Campbell, who had come in to start the sixth — that’s correct — was holding a 5-3 lead with two away in the ninth. But Willie Randolph hit one in the left-center gap and Yaz somehow overran it. Triple. Roy White then popped one into the upper deck. New York won it in the 11th when Ramon Hernandez went as follows: walk, balk, walk, and game-winning single by Jackson.
New York won the next two and the Red Sox went into a monster spiral, losing nine straight. Roller coaster, anyone?
The Sox straightened themselves out, finishing with 97 wins and ending up in a tie for second with Baltimore as the Yankees won the pennant and World Series, concluding with the three-homer “Reggie! Reggie! Reggie!” game in a World Series I was fortunate enough to cover. (I have Reggie’s signature on the page of my book.)
There were two pitching performances of note. On June 4, Bill Lee had a 5-2 complete game victory over the Twins, throwing 78 pitches. He had no three-ball counts and was saved by a) a sensational Fred Lynn robbery of a Danny Ford bomb and b) a bizarre 6-2-5-3-6 double play in the second. Said Twins skipper Gene Mauch: “A stylish game.”
But my favorite pitching effort came in the final road game, Sept. 25 in Detroit. That’s when Reggie Cleveland went the distance in a 12-5 Sox victory, deftly scattering 18 hits. He walked no one and had only two three-ball counts. He threw 145 pitches. Said Reggie, “The way I was throwing, I could have stayed in for 27 innings and given up 84 hits as long as we kept ahead of them.” Zim did contemplate lifting him in the ninth. But Reggie stayed in and Phil Mankowski lined out hard to Burleson for out No. 27.
Reggie never won another game for the Red Sox. And when that season was over the best baseball writer we’ve ever had came back where he belonged.
It was one-and-done for me, but I sure had fun.