Monday, April 30, 2012


(Adapted from Remembering Fenway Park)

The gang was, literally, all there on April 20, 2012. The 100th birthday bash for venerable Fenway Park was the main event--it even upstaged the game between the Yankees and Red Sox. It was a marker moment in the rivalry between the franchises, a memorable piece of history for Fenway.

Caroline Kennedy threw out the first ball just as her great-grandfafther "Honey Fitz" Kennedy had done on April 20, 1912 when the Yankees (known as the Highlanders then) and the Bostons battled. For the record, back then the BoSox eked out an extra-inning triumph.

Through the decades there have many highs and lows for the team that calls Fenway home. My own personal selection for the most memorable moment (even though it was a down one) took place on October 2, 1978, in the winner-take-all playofff game between the Yanks and Sox.

Through my narrative and the voices of some of those who were there, that amazing rivalry moment comes back to us.

Mike Torrez was the Boston starter while Ron Guidry, the best pitcher in baseball that year, took the ball for the Yanks.

DENNIS ECKERSLEY: It was electric that day. I had pitched Saturday and won #20 and was glad I wasn't pitching that playoff game. I was in the dugout.  I was in the clubhouse.  I was all over the place. I was more nervous watching than pitching. It was 2-0 in the seventh. They were setting up this little stage for the celebration.

STEVE RYDER (a fan): Then all of a sudden:   

BILL WHITE (GAME CALL): "Deep to left! Yastrzemski will not get's a home run! A three-run home run for Bucky Dent and the Yankees now lead...Bucky Dent has just hit his fourth home run of the year and look at that Yankees bench out to greet him!"

CARL YASTRZEMSKI: I've always loved Fenway Park. But that was the one moment I hated the place, the one moment the wall got back at us. I still can't believe it went in the net.

BILL LEE (famed Boston hurler): Torrez threw that horseshit slider that is still sitting there in middle of the plate, and Bucky Dent hit right near the end of the bat. I couldn't believe he hit it out, but he did.

ROGER KAHN(author): My memory is Dent slamming a foul ball into his foot and hobbling around and there was a delay of several minutes. During that whole delay Mike Torrez did not throw a single pitch.  Normally, you just throw to keep loose.  Dent got a new bat from Mickey Rivers.  And the first pitch Torrez threw after the break that may have been five minutes, was that shot to left field.  You could see Yastrzemski thinking he could play the ball and kind of crumpling when the ball went out.

 LEIGH MONTVILLE: (author) It was a ball that everyone thought was going to be caught, a nothing kind of hit.

DON ZIMMER (Red Sox manager): When Bucky hit the ball, I said, "That's an out." And usually you know when the ball hits the bat whether it's short, against the wall, in the net or over the net. I see Yaz backing up, and when he's looking up, I still think he's going to catch it. When I see him turn around, then I know he's going to catch it off the wall. Then the ball wound up in the net.

MIKE TORREZ: I was so damn shocked.I thought maybe it was going to be off the wall. Damn, I did not think it was going to go out.

BUCKY DENT: When I hit the ball, I knew that I had hit it high enough to hit the wall. But there were shadows on the net behind the wall and I didn't see the ball land there. I was running from the plate because I thought I had a chance at a double. I didn't know it was a home run until the second-base umpire signaled it was a home run. It was an eerie feeling because the ballpark was dead silent.

RYDER: It was just a pop fly off Mike Torrez. It just made the netting. The crowd was just absolutely stunned, absolutely stunned.

Don Zimmer changed the Yankee shortstop's name to "Bucky F_____g Dent." Red Sox fans were even more vulgar in their language.

DAN SHAUGHNESSY: I was covering for the Baltimore Eagle Sun in the second or third row. The old press box was down low. I was downstairs later in the stands when Gossage got Yaz to pop up because we were getting ready to go to the locker room and it looked like they were going down and that was interesting how Sox fans in those days had a sense of gloom, anticipating. Whatever happened, it wasn't going to end well.

DICK FLAVIN (Playright, humorist): I was in a box seat right behind the Red Sox dugout. You could put your beer right on the roof. So I had a great look of Yaz coming off the field right after he popped up. He had his head down, anguish.

RYDER: I saw that pop-up up close. It was a fairly high one, you could say it was a home run in a silo. It just ended the game, and the people left in kind of a dejected attitude and demeanor. Whipped.

ZIMMER: Instead of going into the clubhouse, I sat in the dugout and watched their team celebrate.

ECKERSLEY: Yaz was crying in the trainer's room. It was not as crushing for me because when you're 23 you think, well, we'll do it next year. We have such a good team. But if I knew what I know now, I would have been devastated. We never really got there again after that.

WALTER MEARS: (Former AP Columnist) Tip O'Neill went to Rome that fall and saw the Pope. When he came back he was at some function with Yaz and told him the Holy Father had spoken of him. Yaz wanted to know what the Pope had said.

"Tip," he said, "How the heck could Yastrzemski pop out in the last of the ninth with the tying run on third?"

After the game a Bucky Dent buddy called the Red Sox office. He wanted to know if the home-run ball was available. He was told that the net had been littered with balls from batting-practice home runs--the "Bucky Dent ball" could not be identified amidst all the others.

JOE MOONEY: (Head groundskeeper) I got blamed for taking the ball Bucky Dent hit for the home run. I never touched it. I never spoke to Bucky Dent, but later I found out that he was accusing me. I know who took that ball he hit.  But I'd never say nothing.  We'll leave that to history.

Saturday, April 21, 2012


Baseball Books to Cheer For:  "Bill Veeck," "Pinstripe Empire," and "Driving Mr.Yogi"

 There are all kinds of sure signs of the coming of spring: green grass, budded trees, nicer weather, better spirits, the return of the national pastime and the avalanche of new baseball books of all types and quality.

"Bill Veeck," "Pinstripe Empire," and "Driving Mr. Yogi" form a terrific trio of reads. One summons up the tall tale of "Baseball's Greatest Maverick."  Another is billed as the first narrative history of the New York Yankees in a long time. And the third one is a unique story of how Yogi Berra and Ron Guidry truly bonded together in 1999 as designated passenger and designated driver, going to the ballpark for each season's new spring training.

The Veeck book (Bloomsbury, $28.00, 434 pages) by Paul Dickson is a full-fledged and long overdue opus that focuses on the man the tome's subtitle calls "Baseball's Greatest Maverick." And that he was. Veeck went against the grain and loved doing it, and Dickson lovingly writes about it.
A showman with a wooden leg--he lost his leg in WWII--Veeck often used it as an ash tray. He instigated interleague play, the DH and names on the back of uniform jerseys. He signed Larry Doby, who broke the American League's color line, and he signed the first black trainer, scout and public relations person.

He was a handful for players and owners alike. But as author Paul Dickson notes: "He was a transformational figure in the history of baseball." That he was--and he never truly got the recognition he deserved. Now he has.  

"Pinstripe Empire" by Marty Appel (Bloomsbury, $28.00, 620 pages) is the mother of all narrative histories about the team from the Bronx. Appel's masterwork bobs and weaves its way through the history of the New York Yankees. At times serious, funny, insightful, dramatic, sad, inspiring and nostaglic, this is a book to take to the beach, to rummage through, to pick up again and again for all the grand nuggets inside of it. The sweep of Yankee legend and lore, facts and figures is here for all time in the pages of "Pinstripe Empire."

"Driving Mr Yogi," (HMH, $26.00, 212 pages) authored by Harvey Araton of the New York Times, is a book for nowadays. Poignant, perfectly paced and precious stuff, this slim volume about the unique relationship of Yogi Berra and Ron Guidry is a must read. The two, with a big age difference for starters and different cultural backgrounds, blend together in the pages of "Driving Mr Yogi" as they do in real life. Going into a second decade, Yogi and Gator have shared time together in the car, in restaurants and on the baseball field. We are the better for it as we learn what they know about baseball and life. It's all about friendship.  

Other Great Reads

"Damn Yankees" edited by Rob Fleder (Ecco, $27.99, 304 pages) is a collection of 24 writers reflecting on different aspects of the life and times of the Bronx Bombers. Fleder, formerly Executive Editor of Sports Illustrated, has gone to friends from the circle and HarperCollins authors in the main. They ruminate, reflect and tell stories from their vantage points on the good, the bad, the ugly of the NY Yankees. We have Sally Jenkins recalling the Yankee World Series competition just seven weeks after 9/11. There is Jane Leavy interweaving Mickey Mantle and Frank Sullivan of some Red Sox fame. If you are a diehard Yankee fan, this one is for you.

"Jack and Larry" by Barbara Gregorich (Philbar Books, $12.00, 92 pages) is the charming story of Jack Graney and Larry, the Cleveland Baseball Dog." It is a true story. Jack was the first (and only) player to own a dog that was his club's mascot. And Larry got a lot of press, especially when he met President Woodrow Wilson and when his howling had him ejected from Griffith Stadium for distracting home team batters. A WONDERFUL READ.