Sunday, September 14, 2008

Boats Against the Tide

While it has been 20 years since Morgan Magic, it has been an unbelievable 30 years since the first public statement of "Bucky Bleeping Dent."

Although born in 1967 with the Impossible Dream, and baptized with the 1975 World Series, it was truly 1978 that forged "Red Sox Nation."

A season that began with so much promise (the Sox were ahead by 8.5 games on the second place Brewers and 14 on the Yankees on July 17th), ended with an injury-riddled disaster of the "Boston Massacre" in early September.

But despite allegations of "choking", the '78 Sox came off of the mat and closed with a 13-2 streak that allowed them to crawl into a first-place tie with the Yankees on the last game of the season, thanks to the final win in a storied (Sox) career by all-time gamer Luis Tiant.

Richard Bradley chronicles the season, and the Playoff Game between the two clubs (played in Fenway on October 2, 1978), in the "The Greatest Game."

Bradley does a great job of reaching many of the Game's protagonists, and putting them in the frame-of-mind that they were during that October afternoon. From the night before at latter-day Sox' Derek Lowe's favorite 'local watering hole' -- Daisy Buchanan's -- to the tension between Reggie Jackson and Billy Martin (replaced at mid-season by Bob Lemon.)

The pivotal figure -- as in ESPN's chronicle of the previous season, "The Bronx is Burning" -- is Thurman Munson (played by Erik Jensen in the TV series). Munson reminds one of the role apparent played by Jason Varitek on the current Sox team, with value well in excess of OPS+ or OBP.

Unfortunately, the text is from time-to-time littered with logical or editing inconsistencies, which take away from the overall narrative. For instance, in the chapter on the Second Inning of the Playoff Game (page 99), Bradley writes:
Yaz had pulled a home run off a pitcher who almost never gave up home runs -- just 12 in 269 innings up to that point, and only one of those home runs had been hit by a left-handed hitter. Players on both sides knew what that meant: Guidry's fastball wasn't up to par.
So far, so good. But then, it is followed by this non sequiter:
In right field, Lou Piniella, playing in place of the defensively challenged Reggie Jackson, took note. If Yaz had been able to homer off a Guidry fastball, the Red Sox might all be pulling the ball a little more than usual. He resolved that when left-handers came to the plate, he would play a few steps closer to the left field line than he normally would. (Emphasis added)
While such editing issues are not fatal, they pull away from the general impression of the work; but all-in-all, a good read, at least (for Sox fans) until the final pages.

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