Sports column by Karl Lindholm: Red Sox season ends; wait’ll next year!
Sunday, October 4, last day of baseball’s regular season:
“It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone.” — A. Bartlett Giamatti
I watched the Red Sox play the Indians in Cleveland and drop their fourth in a row, 3-1, ending their season once again in last place in the American League East Division.
The highlight of the final game was the tribute paid popular TV announcer Don Orsillo, who was doing the play-by-play for the last time after 15 years in the booth with partner Jerry Remy.
In the ninth inning, a plane flew over Progressive Field in Cleveland with the message “Red Sox Nation (heart) Don Orsillo.” After the third out to end the game, the Red Sox players emerged from their dugout, waving their caps in salute of Orsillo, a rare gesture of mutual respect.
During the game, I found myself thinking about the 1966 Red Sox season, and speculating.
What? You don’t remember the ’66 season? True, that was a long time ago — it seems now I write most often for the geriatric set, my homies. So listen up, young ’uns, a little Red Sox history coming up. They say history repeats itself.
The Red Sox were really bad in 1966, finishing in ninth place in a 10-team league, before Major League Baseball went to a divisional format in 1969. They lost 90 games, won 72, and finished 26 games behind the first-place Orioles.
But all was not lost. There was a consolation: The Yankees finished tenth, 26½ games out, marking the nadir of the 20th century for the Bronx Bombers. Any time the Sox finished ahead of the Yankees, regardless of standing, there was cause for celebration.
Then the next year, 1967: the Impossible Dream!
The Red Sox went from almost-last to pennant winners, winning 92 this time against 70 losses, knocking off the Tigers and Twins the last day of the season: jubilation in Kenmore Square and throughout New England!
Red Sox attendance went from 811,172 in ’66 to 1,727,832 in ’67. The Sox drew 8,324 fans in Fenway on Opening Day in 1967, so modest were expectations, and 32,849 in ’68 after the Dream season.
As Jerry Remy has observed, “Red Sox Nation” was born in 1967.
Am I suggesting that 2015 bears a relationship to 1966 — and next season for the Red Sox might be as successful as 1967. Yes, that’s exactly what I’m suggesting. Count on it.
The main difference is that the Sox will go all the way, unlike 1967 when they lost in the World Series to Bob Gibson and the Cards in seven games. The Sox will defeat the Chicago Cubs in the 2016 Championship. You heard it here first. Sorry, Cubs fans.
First, understand that the Red Sox weren’t all that bad this year, especially after the All-Star break. Yes, they tied for last in their division, the AL East, but over a third of the 30 teams in MLB had worse records.
The 1967 Red Sox had nearly the same roster as they had in ’66. The key is that they were young, really young: their star, Carl Yastrzemski, was 26 in ’66, heading into his prime. The next year he had a season for the ages, won the Triple Crown, leading the team all summer with his spectacular play.
Shortstop Rico Petrocelli was 23, first baseman George Scott, “Boomer,” was 22, hometown phenom Tony Conigliaro, “Tony C,” was just 21, rookie outfielder Reggie Smith was also 21, and pitcher Jim Lonborg, “Gentleman Jim,” the Cy Young Award winner in ’67, was 24. These players were ready to emerge into stalwarts, and they did the next year.
Consider this year’s Red Sox: outfielder Mookie Betts is 22, shortstop Xander Bogaerts is 23, catcher Blake Swihart is 22, pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez, “E-Rod,” is 23. These guys can play, strength up the middle, and their play has made the second half of this past season reason for optimism.
The ’66 Red Sox only needed a few tweaks, none more important than promoting their Triple A manager, Dick Williams, to the big club. He was a no-nonsense drill sergeant type who provided discipline and direction to his young stars. In spring training, he told George Scott he was “fat.”
Next year’s Sox also need a few tweaks. Maybe John Farrell will tell portly Pablo Sandoval, Kung Fu Panda, to drop a few. They need to get a top-of-the-line starting pitcher, if only to satisfy the fan base, and to figure out what to do with the horrendous contracts of Sandoval (five years, $95 million) and Hanley Ramirez (four years, $88 million).
It’s not my money, but I trust that the Red Sox brain trust can figure out how to dump these big contracts, or get these fat cats to play. After all, Dick Williams called out Boomer.
Pitchers and catchers report in only 127 days. I can’t wait.
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