The earlier, better Boston Massacre

Once upon a time, in a baseball era far, far away, I had the good fortune to be a partial season ticketholder for the 1977 Red Sox. This meant 18 Sunday and holiday games, plus Opening Day, but the bonus was that I lived in a one-bedroom Back Bay apartment that was just a 10-minute walk to my job at the Boston Phoenix and a 20-minute stroll to my $7.50-per-game lower grandstand seat on the third-base side of Fenway Park.

It was an expansion year, and possibly a juiced baseball one. Total major league OPS increased from .681 in ‘76 to .730 in ‘77, and Boston was one of the biggest culprits. A lineup featuring Jim Rice, Fred Lynn, Carl Yastrzemski, Carlton Fisk, George “Boomer” Scott, Dwight Evans and Bernie Carbo knocked out 213 dingers for the season and a remarkable 33 in one 10-game stretch.


The weekend of June 17-19 cpmprised three days of this stretch. On Thursday, Ron Guidry had shut out the Royals 7-0, while Steve Stone and the third-place White Sox bested Luis Tiant, 7-3, at Fenway.

The Yanks and Red Sox had split four pretty uneventful games that season, and New York was rolling into Boston with a half-game lead on them.

Now, these were not the overhyped, five-hour, on-base slogathons the rivalry is famous for today. Boston had won the ’75 pennant, New York the ’76 one. There was no lame wild card spot to fall back on. You won the East or you were humiliated.

To add to the drama, just over a year ago they had staged a full-scale riot on home plate of Yankee Stadium that had seen Graig Nettles and Mickey Rivers “jump” Bill “Spaceman” Lee and separate his shoulder. In the stands of the two cities and certainly on the fields, this was clearly the War Between the Hates.

Perfectly, Lee was on the mound for the Friday night opener against Catfish Hunter. Less perfectly, I was working a late night at the Phoenix, putting our news section to bed. Ned Martin and Jim Woods were calling the game on our production department radio.

I was out of the room when Lee retired the Yanks without a run in the first but did hear Rick Burleson take Catfish into the net atop the Green Monster to lead off the Boston half of the inning. I then heard Lynn put one into the Red Sox bullpen a pitch or two later. Rice and Yaz made outs, but then Fisk homered, Scott followed with a homer, and Billy Martin yanked Catfish for Ken Clay after only six hitters.

The hasty move worked—for a while. Clay gave up only four hits and a run over four and a third innings, while Spaceman got zapped almost immediately. New York racked up seven hits and four runs on him in fewer than three innings to bring on Bob Stanley, who threw scoreless relief for the next three innings.

But the Boston bats re-heated when Dick Tidrow entered the scene. Three singles and a Rivers error made it 6-4 Boston in the sixth before a two-run Yaz smash and another Fisk homer ended the scoring in the 9-4 game. Bill Campbell, a vanished breed of closers who sometimes didn’t just pitch the ninth, went three scoreless frames for his 13th save.

* * *

The second battle would pit Mike Torrez against Reggie Cleveland and be the Saturday Game of the Week on national TV. I had no ticket, but there was no way I was going to be kept out of that place, so I did a fast, huff-puffing walk down Beacon Street to Kenmore Square two hours before game time to scout the possibilities.

I ended up with a standing room ticket for $10 and wedged my skinny frame into a spot behind the top row of the first-base grandstand. The vantage point wasn’t so bad. I couldn’t see balls after they went in the air, but I always saw them land, and the overhang roof gave the entire first base side of the park a kind of letterbox effect. Between innings, I could even rest my feet by sitting down on the cold cement floor between flattened cigarette butts.

Cleveland got touched in the first for three hits and two runs, but then the Crunch Bunch, as they were briefly known, went back to work. Burleson and Lynn singled off Torrez to open the Boston first and Yaz, 37 years young but still lethal, bombed a three-run homer and the Sox were in front.

Cleveland then settled down, but his mates sure didn’t. Carbo put one in the screen to begin the fourth. Hobson singled and Denny Doyle tripled. Lynn’s sac fly made it 6-2, and the crowd around me was having the time of its life—and the sixth inning hadn’t even happened yet.

New York scratched two runs back in the top half of that infamous frame, bringing on Bill Campbell again (Remember? He went three innings less than 24 hours ago.) to get out of the mess.

With one gone in the bottom half, Lynn singled, and Rice plunked a double into right in front of a half-hearted jog by Reggie Jackson. While Sparky Lyle rode in on the little bullpen golf cart to replace Torrez, Paul Blair went out to Reggie Jackson’s spot in right. Reggie put up his hands in this funny “Who, me?” gesture before making his way back to the Yankee dugout.


I sat down on the cement for my break-in-the-action breather and suddenly heard a huge commotion in the crowd. Standing, I caught the tail end of Billy Martin being pulled away from Jackson in the Yankee dugout by coaches Yogi Berra and Elston Howard. The dugout fireworks were over, but not the ones that mattered.

Boomer Scott led the Boston seventh with a homer, and with two aboard in the eighth, Yaz took Sparky into the centerfield bleachers for another three-run crusher and the final 10-4 cushion. Campbell pitched three-and-two-thirds of scoreless relief for his 14th save.

And by the way, despite 14 runs and 29 hits and the Martin/Jackson incident, the game took only two hours and 38 minutes to play.

* * *

My parents and brothers showed up for the Sunday game because I had made a wise decision and bought extra tickets for this one back in February.

We hung out in my apartment for a little while—Steely Dan’s Royal Scam album providing background music—before making the trek to the ball yard.

Ed Figueroa and Fergie Jenkins were on the hill, the New York tabloids down south were going Jaxistic, and Doyle, of all people, began Sunday’s carnage in the fourth inning. With two on base in a 1-1 tie, the Kuiper-esque second baseman roped a liner into the Boston bullpen to shock the entire northeastern seaboard. Carbo homered off Tidrow in the sixth, one of his trademark slices into the net.

In the eighth, Jim Rice hit the longest homer I’ve seen to this day, a rising liner that cleared the back wall of the centerfield bleachers next to the flagpole. Yaz followed with a cruise missle off the right field grandstand roof. Boomer boomed another one an out later. When the smoke had cleared, and the blood washed off the Yankee pitching mound, Jenkins had a complete-game three-hitter, and Boston had outscored their rivals 30-9 in the sweep and outhomered them 16-0.

As you could probably guess, it all meant nothing in the end. Largely due to the Red Sox’ aging, patchwork staff, the Yanks edged out the Sox and scrappy Orioles on the final weekend by a game and a half, got past the more-talented Royals in the playoffs, then took the Dodgers in six for their first World Series title since 1962.

With Reggie mashing three homers in the final game, his fight with Martin back in June became a “turning point” footnote to a far different story. In September of the following year, New York paid Boston back with a four-game obliteration, outscoring them 42-9 in what “officially” became baseball’s Boston Massacre.

Still, for three unforgettable days in June of ‘77, on the 10-year anniversary of Boston’s impossible dream summer, and 27 years before 2004, the first ultimate Red Sox nirvana actually happened.

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  1. Gerard said...

    September of ‘78 was truly the more momentous massacre with so much more riding on it.  Yanks 14.5 back in July, the lead being given up during this series, and it was a 4-gamer in the opposing team’s park (bandbox), not merely 3.  I was at the 7-0 debacle on Saturday when Guidry bested the Eck 7-0 on a 2-hit shutout with that 7 run inning punctuated by the 9 Sox watching helplessly as the windblown popup dropped amidst them all.  True, the Sox made it closer with each game, but, in the end, even the late, great Ray Fitzgerald couldn’t stem the tide with his famous little ditty at the end of his Sunday column in the Globe before Game 4, “Don’t throw in the towel, we’ve still got Bobby Sprowl”  You can look it up…

  2. Steve said...

    Earlier, yeah, better, no way.  This was the middle of the season, the games were really not even blowouts until late, and, ummm, where exactly did your Red Sox finish that year?  That’s right behind the World Championship Yankees.

    The REAL Boston Massacre was, as is famous, Sept., 1978 with a Yankees team almost out of the race by August charging back, and catching the Red Sox with three crushings in Fenway (followed by a 2 out 3 three at YS a week or so later.  And it set up the greatest baseball game ever.  The 1978 one game playoff for the AL East title, better known as the Bucky Dent game.  smile


    A Yankee fan!

  3. Craig Tyle said...

    I remember watching the second game with our high school baseball team.  (Full disclosure—I was the manager, scorekeeper and stat compiler—some things never change.)  There were a couple very rabid Sox fans on the team (I was, and remain, a Yankee fan) and they gave me a great deal of s***.

    But it all turned out well . .

    Side note—Our star pitcher on that team was a first round draft choice of the KC Royals—Mike Jones.  Jones made it to the majors in ‘81, but was hurt in an off-season car accident and was never the same.

  4. Philip said...

    Yes, I remember that weekend well. The Saturday game was on NBC’s nationally televised Game of the Week so the whole nation got to see the drama unfold in the Yankee dugout.

    The Yankees won the division by 2 1/2, with the Red Sox and Orioles taking turns eliminating each other the final weekend, the last game rained out.

    As a Red Sox fan I have to say I never had a problem with Billy Martin. He was a fierce competitor that improved every team he took over.

    It’s unfortunately Reggie didn’t take the more money offered him and reunite with Dick Williams in Montreal for 1977. As for Bucky $%#&@+! Dent? He should have still been playing in Chicago for the White Sox.

    The real villains that stopped what should have been a Red Sox dynasty in the late 70’s weren’t Martin, Jackson, Dent et al. No, not at all.

    The real villains were Gabe Paul, Bowie Kuhn, Joe L. Brown and Harry Dalton.

    Paul resigned as GM of the Indians in January 1973 to become part of George Steinbrenner’s group that bought the Yankees. Six weeks earlier he had traded Graig Nettles and Jerry Moses to the Yankees for John Ellis, Jerry Kenney, Charlie Spikes and Rusty Torres.

    Suspicious about the deal were raised at the time with speculation being that Paul knew he would be buying into Yankee ownership when he made the deal. Paul brushed those accusation aside, telling the UPI after joining the Yankees, ‘‘That deal was a benefit for both clubs. The Yankees strengthened themselves but the Indians made a helluva trade.’‘

    Where was another villain, Bowie Kuhn, at the time? He later didn’t hesitate nixing the sale of Rollie Fingers and Joe Rudi by Charlie Finley to the Red Sox in 1976, thus helping preserve the Yankees lead in the division race.

    Then of course why were the Yankees even a contender in 1976? Because of Pirates GM Joe Brown.

    Brown may be credited as being the architect behind the Pirates 1960 and 1971 world championships. But he was even better at building championships for the Yankees than in Pittsburgh!

    Though Willie Randolph hit .339 in Triple A ball at Charleston as a mere 20-year old, Brown gave him away as an afterthought into a deal with the Yankees on December 11, 1975 that saw the Pirates sending starting pitchers Dock Ellis and Ken Brett to New York for Doc Medich. It didn’t matter that other teams were also interested in acquiring Randolph, including the Dodgers and Kansas City. (The Dodgers were considering moving Davey Lopes to center field and Frank White was yet untested.) Brown threw away Randolph like spare change.

    That deal occurred just a few weeks after Paul made another trade with his former employers in Cleveland, sending a 33-year old, #4 starting pitcher Pat Dobson to the Indians for 25-year old right fielder Oscar Gamble.

    Gamble had hit .261 / .361 / .454 in Cleveland and the deadly left-handed pull hitter would now be playing half of his home games in the remodeled Yankee Stadium with a RF line measuring 310 feet. (Though having more ABs on the road, Gamble would hit 15 of his 17 homeruns in 1976 at Yankee Stadium.)

    Dobson would win just 19 more games the rest of his career – which ended in 1977, the same year Paul shipped Gamble to the White Sox to acquire Becky Dent.

    Why did the Yankees need Gamble? Because the California Angels, masters of a grand total of four winning seasons out of 15 since joining the American League, decided they needed a slugger to help bolster an anemic offense offense that ranked 11th in the AL in runs scored and dead last in the majors with only 55 homeruns.

    Paul knew the Angels would be interested in Bobby Bonds. The right-handed slugger did fine for the Yankees in 1975, smacking 32 homeruns and slugging .512.

    But that was in Shea Stadium. Though not as cavernous as in Joe DiMaggio’s days, even the remodeled Yankee Stadium would put a crick in Bonds’ power numbers.

    Furthermore, both Bonds and center fielder Elliot Maddox suffered freak leg injuries during the 1975 season and neither would ever be 100% healthy again.

    Nonetheless, to acquire Bonds on December 11, 1975 Angels GM Harry Dalton sent not only 25-year old center fielder Mickey Rivers (who had just lead the league in stolen bases with 70 and was the Angels catalyst for what little offense it had) but 26-year old starting pitcher Ed Figueroa. The Puerto Rican native had just gone 16-13 for a team that finished dead last in the AL West.

    Dalton is often rightly praised for helping build the late 60 Orioles and early 80’s Brewers into champions. So how did this fiasco happen?

  5. Philip said...

    One wonders if Angels manager Dick Williams was behind the deal. Mickey Rivers would later say Williams fined him all the time.

    In March 1976, Williams told the Miami News, ‘‘I consider Bobby Bonds one of the six best players in baseball.’‘

    The others he named were Reggie Jackson, Cesar Cedeno of the Astros and Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan and Pete Rose of the Reds. This is Dick Williams! In 1976! Saying he’d pass up on Mike Schmidt, Jim Rice, Fred Lynn, Rod Carew and George Brett in favor of Cedeno or Bonds.

    All the chips merely fell in the right places for the Yankees, 1976-78. The unbelievable lopsided trades, free agency, the 1977 expansion Toronto Blue Jays turning down an offer for aging pitcher Bill Singer (the Yankees offered them Ron Guidry), Tom Yawkey’s passing that created turmoil in Red Sox management, the firing of Darrell Johnson in mid-76 and trusting field management of the defending AL champions with Don Zimmer (who handled the pitching staff as gently as if he were tossing about cans for recycling) and White Sox owner Bill Veeck baiting a drunk Billy Martin into making comments he’d soon regret (’‘One’s a born liar and the other’s convicted.’‘), leading to former Chisox manager Bob Lemon taking over as skipper of the Yankees after Martin resigned (i.e. ‘fired’).

    Yankee fans may remember that sweep and comeback in 1978, but the real massacre occurred off the field.

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