With an injured Jim Rice unable to play and an aging Carl Yastrzemski, the Red Sox seemed to be no match for the daunting Cincinnati Reds which included future Hall-of-Famers Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, Tony Perez and the man who would become baseball’s all-time hits leader, Pete Rose.
With America’s pastime nearly falling by the wayside in popularity during the first half of the decade, baseball needed a moment that would recapture the hopes and dreams of fans all across the United States and beyond. The Red Sox were the sentimental favourites having not won the World Series since 1918, which overshadowed the fact that the powerful Reds, winners of 108 games in 1975, had not won baseball’s ultimate prize since 1940.
With the first two games at Boston’s Fenway Park, the two teams exchanged wins but when the series shifted to Cincinnati’s Riverfront Stadium, the Reds took control winning two of the next three with a chance to close out the series for Game 6 back in Boston. However, thanks to a cold New England rain, the series was postponed for the next three days before resuming on October 21.
For the previous five years, baseball owners would try anything to get fans into their ballparks. They tried with dancers, disco demolitions, exploding scoreboards, even experimental with bright-orange baseballs. Nothing seemed to work. Attendance was faltering. Not even the dynasty Oakland A’s, who had won the previous three World Series, could draw a million fans a season. On this cold, dreary night, though, no one would have suspected how this game would forever go down in baseball lore.
After jumping out to an early 3-0 lead, the Red Sox had Fenway Park buzzing. However, the Reds stormed back tying the game in the fifth and then taking a 6-3 lead into the bottom of the eighth. Fenway was quiet and time was not on the side of the home team’s side. However, the Sox started a rally and had two men on with two outs when the seldom-used, undersized Bernie Carbo came up to pinch-hit. In his first swing, a desperate-looking one to say the least, there may not have been a single fan in the stands who liked Carbo’s chances. To his credit, though, Carbo hung in and then smacked a ball that went deep into center field and over the wall. Suddenly, the darkness of the center field bleachers erupted as the unsung Carbo tied the game with one swing of the bat and rejuvenated Boston’s all-too-hungry World Series hopes.
The game went into extra innings where both teams exchanged gave-saving double-plays. First when Reds’ left-fielder George Foster made a catch and rocketed the throw to catcher Johnny Bench to gun down the hustling Denny Doyle at home plate to end the inning. Then, it was Red Sox right-fielder Dwight Evans who reached up to snag a sure home-run, keeping his balance and throwing to first for the third out of the inning. As amazing and as suspenseful as those plays were, it was only a set-up for the climax of the game, which had now went into the early hours of October 22.
Red Sox catcher Carlton Fisk came up to bat in the bottom of the 12thinning. Born in Bellows Falls, Vermont before moving to Charlestown, New Hampshire and playing his collegiate ball at the University of New Hampshire, Carlton Fisk was a lifelong Red Sox fan, supporting the team that had represented all of New England for so many years. This was his shining moment.
With the count 0-1, pitcher Pat Darcy hurled another one towards the plate and Fisk made contact, sending it airborne right down the left-field line. With the swing of his bat, Fisk leaped towards first while all 35,205 fans anxiously rose to their feet and, with Fisk, willed the ball to stay fair. The ball smacked the foul pole and that was it. Ball game. The Red Sox won 7-6 and forced a seventh and deciding game. Fans broke out onto the field to congratulate their hero. The organist at Fenway Park broke into the “Hallelujah” chorus and in the wee hours of Sunday morning, Boston and all of New England were rejoicing.
Although the Sox went on to lose Game 7, it did not take away from the magnitude of the previous game. Boston may have been disappointed by the overall outcome, but this was more than a World Series matchup between two long-suffering but storied franchises. This was about reminding everyone why baseball was so special and so significant. For a sport which celebrates the likes of Cobb, Ruth and Gehrig and events like DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak, Ted Williams’ .406 batting average and Mantle and Maris’ pursuit of the single-season home run record, baseball has not only showcased the best they had to offer on the field, but also made lasting impressions off it. From Hank Greenberg opening the door for Jewish players everywhere to Jackie Robinson breaking the color-barrier, baseball also had its impact on society.
Unfortunately, as the sixties turned into the seventies, there wasn’t much to cheer about in America. The war in Vietnam was still going on with no end in sight, the turmoil of Watergate left the country forced to see their president to leave office in disgrace and the nation was only a handful of years away from the untimely assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr.
Baseball brings pleasure to the most loyal of fans, an escape, if you will. Until 1975, baseball was in a tailspin in terms of popularity. Then, one night, things changed. On October 21 that year, baseball was born again with one of the greatest games in baseball history. In addition, Carlton Fisk’s willing the ball to stay fair has joined Bobby Orr’s famous 1970 Stanley Cup-winning goal as two of the most iconic images in New England sports history.
From that memorable series in 1975, a new page was turned. The old game had been given new life. Baseball was back and it would be a long time before it would ever be challenged again as America’s Pastime.
I thank Dwight Evans; I thank Bernie Carbo; and I thank Carlton Fisk. As far as I’m concerned, on that cold autumn evening in Boston, Massachusetts, they saved baseball.