Karl Lindholm: Meditations on postseason baseball
Don’t you just love this time of year — baseball’s post-season: the best teams playing for high stakes, win or go home, big noisy crowds, performances for the ages.
Don’t you just hate the post-season — all that hoopla, the regular season devalued, mere excellence tantamount to failure, the endless rounds of playoffs extending the season interminably.
If not a love/hate relationship to the postseason in sports, I have a powerful ambivalence, almost always overcome by the games themselves.
The Red Sox won 93 games this year (and last year too), meaning only four of the 30 teams in Major League Baseball performed better. They qualified for the playoffs and lost to the Astros.
That constitutes failure: off with the head of Manager John Farrell! He failed to bring his team to the pinnacle. But he did just that four years ago in 2013! What have you done for me lately?
MLB teams play 162 games in 180 days. Imagine that. Those 162 games are rendered meaningless if they are not followed by success in the postseason.
I have been to one World Series game in my long life: the fourth game of the 1975 Series (the Carleton Fisk-waving-his-home–run-fair-Series) when Luis Tiant threw 163 pitches in a 5-4 win at a damp Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati.
I was a teacher and the baseball coach at a secondary school in Cleveland. The father of one of our players procured five tickets to this game. So I took his son and three of his teammates down I-71 four hours to the Queen City, and a good time was had by all.
My other in-person postseason baseball experience was a playoff game in the American League Championship Series (ALCS) in 1986 in Fenway, an 8-1 loss to the Angels: Clemens pitched so lousy, it was so cold, and the drunks in the bleachers with us so obnoxious that Russ Reilly and I left early for the midnight ride home to Vermont.
(I have hereby broken a promise never to admit that we left a postseason Major League game before it ended.)
That was the year the Red Sox improbably came back to win that playoff round and take on the Mets in the World Series. They came within an out of ending their 68-year Championship drought, and instead made a wonderful player named Bill Buckner an object of derision for decades.
In October 1967, I was in the Army Reserve learning to be a medic at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas, when the Red Sox faced the Cardinals in the World Series. Growing up, I was as avid a Red Sox fan as it was possible to be, and here I was, far from my New England home, in a place where the World Series was barely an afterthought.
That was only the second World Series appearance for the Red Sox in my lifetime and the previous time, 1946 (a loss to the Cards in seven games), I was only one year old, so have little recollection of that event, though I’m sure the radio was on for every inning in our house. Osmosis maybe.
I went AWOL the afternoon of Game Seven in ’67, just didn’t show up for the classes, and went to the PX to watch on TV there Bob Gibson and the Cardinals beat Jim Lonborg (pitching on just two days rest), 7-2.
I was expecting at every moment to be clasped on the shoulder by an MP and dragged off, but no one had missed me. I was disconsolate, but found little sympathy.
That game in 1967, the last game of the baseball season, was played on Oct. 12. By contrast, last year, Game Seven of the Series, the Indians-Cubs thriller, was played on Nov. 2, and if this year’s Series goes the distance, it will also go into November. Lucky the games this year are in warm weather climes.
In 1967, there were 10 teams in either league, American and National, and only the winners played in the post season. One round.
That ’67 season was marvelous. On the last day of the season the Red Sox and Twins were tied for first with 91 wins and 70 losses, and the Tigers were one back at 90-70. On Oct. 1, the Red Sox won their game against the Twins, 5-3, and the Tigers won the first game of their double-header against the Angels.
The Red Sox and all of New England awaited the outcome of the second Tigers-Angels game. When the Angels won 8-5, there was dancing in the streets. The Boston Globe headline read, “The Impossible Dream.”
Carl Yastrzemski won the Triple Crown, playing heroically in August and September, batting .521 in the last 12 games of the season. Just the year before, the Red Sox had finished ninth, 26 games out of first (the only consolation for Boston fans was that the Yankees finished 10th, last place, in 1966!).
That was 50 years ago this month. As journalist Peter Gammons wrote: “It wasn’t always the way it is now, and might never have been but for ’67.”
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