It has been said that
those who forget the past will somehow always be
re-living it, or words to that effect. Here we are
in 2009 and it's 1978 all over again on the playing
field of baseball's greatest rivalry -- without some
of the old time sizzle.
In 1976, the New York Yankees
finished the season with a 97-62 record and won the
American League East title. The Red Sox of Boston
finished in third place, 15 1/2games behind. In
1977, the Yankees won 100 of the 162 games they
played and repeated as division title winners.
Boston won 97 games and tied for second place with
Baltimore. Both teams trailed the Yankees by 2 l/2
It was during these two seasons that
more and more Yankee fans began to sport "Red Sox
Suck" tee shirts. And it was during this time that
Yankee principal owner George Steinbrenner kept
wheeling and dealing, embellishing the Yankee image,
his team's skills and the Red Sox failings.
The start of the 1978 season gave
Boston fans hope. Over the winter the team
engineered several key moves to strengthen itself.
Mike Torrez, winner of two World Series games for
the Yankees in 1977, was signed as a free agent.
Dennis Eckersley, just 23, was acquired from the
Cleveland Indians. It was felt that the combination
of the veteran Torrez and the youthful Eckersley
would shore up Sox pitching. Another key Boston
acquisition was Jerry Remy, a sure-handed speedy
second baseman obtained from the California Angels.
Remy's promise was added speed on the base path and
an effective contact hitter near the top of the
Boston batting order.
With Remy at second base and Rick
Burleson at shortstop, Boston fans felt their team
had a double-play combination to rival if not
surpass the Yankee tandem of Bucky Dent and Willie
Randolph. George Scott, the Sox first baseman, had
recorded 33 homers in 1977 -- almost twice the total
of Yankee first baseman Chris Chambliss. Slugging
Butch Hobson was a fixture at third base. Nettles of
New York was peerless with a glove, but Sox fans
argued that Hobson outmatched the Yankee third
baseman when it came to hitting. Hobson had rapped
30 homers and driven in 112 run in 1977.
Both teams boasted top-flight
catchers. Most baseball experts rated Boston's
Carlton Fisk and New York's Thurman Munson among the
two best backstops in all of baseball.
Both teams had powerful
clutch-hitting outfielders, capable of making
crucial defensive plays. Carl Yastrzemski, Dwight
Evans, and Fred Lynn would be Boston's picket line,
augmented by perhaps the best potential designated
hitter in all of baseball -Jim Rice. The Yankees had
steady Roy White, flamboyant Mickey Rivers, and
dramatic Reggie Jackson, buttressed by Paul Blair,
Lou Piniella, and, if needed, Cliff Johnson.
If there was a difference, it was in
pitching. Over the winter George Steinbrenner had
signed Rich Gossage, Rawly Eastwick, and Andy
Messersmith. This trio joined Catfish Hunter, Don
Gullett, Sparky Lyle, and Ed Figueroa, Ken Holtzman,
Dick Tidrow, and Ron Guidry (16-7 in 1977 and
getting better, much better).
Against this array of all types of
pitching talent, Boston had its Latin duo of Luis
Tiant and Mike Torrez, Eckersley, Bill Lee, and Bob
Stanley. Bill Campbell had saved 31 games in 1977,
and it was felt that he could repeat that
performance in 1978.
Seven straight wins at Fenway Park
launched Boston on a fine start as the season got
underway. By May 18th, the Yankees (19-13) trailed
the second-place Sox (23-12) who were a half-game
behind the surprising first-place Detroit Tigers. On
May 24th, the Sox moved into sole possession of
first place. They would remain there for 113 days,
to the delight of their adoring and rabid fans.
At the All-Star break, powered by a
combination of good pitching and power hitting,
Boston had a record of 57 wins against just 26
losses $F6 a .687 winning percentage, the best in
baseball. More enjoyable to some Red Sox fans was
the record of the New York Yankees. The hated rivals
were mired in third place, way back off the pace.
"George came into the clubhouse one
day," Reggie Jackson recalled, "and said 'I'm going
to back up the truck and get rid of all you guys,
everybody, if we don't get it turned around.' It was
an unbelievable tirade. Whether that motivated us or
not, I don't know. I think it made us mad. George
yelled at us. Told us we were terrible, that he was
going to break up the club and nobody was above
Emanating daily from New York was
news of controversy, sore-armed pitchers, bruised
infielders, battered egos, unhappy coaches. In
Boston, for a change, there was relative harmony.
On July 18th, the Sox stretched their
lead over the Yanks to 14 games. "Even Affirmed
couldn't catch the Red Sox now," snapped Reggie
Jackson, referring to the horse that had won the
1978 Triple Crown.
Affirmed is long gone and so are the
motor mouthings of Reggie Jackson. And this last
weekend of September 2009 on a collision course the
Yankees of New York and the Red Sox of Boston meet
at Yankee Stadium - - a lot is on the line.