It was 30 years ago tonight that Carlton Fisk knocked a pitch off the left field foul pole at Fenway Park, ending one of the greatest baseball games ever played. Shockingly enough, ESPN Classic has devoted most of its daytime programming to the event. First, they aired the game in a slightly condensed version (“We’re skipping ahead to the top of the 8th inning, with Cincinnati leading 6-3…”) followed by a feature on Carlton Fisk and then one about the series as a whole. I’ve had it on while packing, organizing, and whatnot. Some thoughts.
1 – Baseball players were crazy skinny back then. I know we live in the fitness age, where everyone has a personal trainer and is on the best ahem legal supplements available in order to recover quicker, but the difference between then and now is ridiculous. No wonder it was considered outrageous when someone hit 50 home runs back then. I remember there were a lot of hitting coaches back then who were dead-set against weight lifting, thinking it ruined your swing. I wonder what they would think of today’s ballplayers who are muscular yet still hit for mad average.
2 – The game was very different as well, especially hitting. In the four or five innings I watched, players routinely swung at pitches in their eyes. Not sure why, the strike zone wasn’t that much higher. Gamblin’ Pete Rose took a hack at a pitch that was literally over his head at one point. What’s strange is a lot of these swings came very late, as if they were in fact worried they would be called strikes. Or maybe they were so concerned about going the other way, they swung at anything they thought the could shoot opposite-field. Pete wasn’t trying to protect a runner, so maybe in his case he just had money on the game.
3 – Dick Stockton’s call of the home run is great. “There is goes———–If it’s fair it’s gone———–Home run.” Very simple. Almost too simple. With the much more primitive crowd mics, between the muted reaction from the crowd and Stockton’s dry delivery, you’d never guess this was one of the biggest home runs in baseball history at first view.
4 – Tony Kubek interviewed Fisk on the field after the game. I’m not sure what amazed me more, the fact the interview went at least five minutes, or what Tony was wearing. Black turtleneck, sea-blue leather jacket. Viva los 70s!
5 – The Fenway fans refused to leave. The organist played music and people stood in their seats, on the dugouts, and on the edges of the field clapping, singing, dancing, cheering for at least ten minutes after the game was over. They were still carrying on when the NBC coverage ended. I’ve had the good luck to be at a couple games that ended improbably, mostly basketball games that were won on buzzer-beating shots. That has to be one of the greatest feelings as a fan, those moments after the game’s been won when no one wants to leave. Your body is filled with joy. You’re screaming, hugging your friends, on the verge of losing your mind, and it’s a feeling you never want to end. You look around so you remember every face, every element of the moment so you can call on it in the future. Those moments are the reasons that we’re fans and devote so much to games we have no control over.
6 – I had a discussion the other night with my man <a href=”http://storiesofdts.typepad.com/the_stories_of_dts/”>DTS</a> about how Albert Pujols’ epic home run Sunday would be viewed after the Cardinals lost the NLCS. Will it be seen as just a very cool, if insignificant home run like George Brett’s three home run game in 1978 because the Cards and Royals lost their respective series? But the Sox lost the ’75 series in game seven yet Fisk’s home run is still held in high regard. Perhaps if Albert had hit his in the World Series it would live on, but I’m not convinced it’s going into the pantheon for anyone other than Cardinals fans.
7 – Bernie Carbo hit an equally important, three-run home run in the bottom of the 8th to tie the game. NBC didn’t show a replay of his shot until the 9th inning. Today, Fox would have shown us 16 angles before Carbo touched home. Also, the live shot came from the camera behind home plate. At first view, you have no idea where the ball is going or how hard he hit it. Then you see everyone sitting in the centerfield seats going nuts. Man, baseball was hard to watch on TV back then.
8 – Today, it seems like players are either boring and business-like or egotistical pricks. Carbo raced around the bases, struggling to stay upright because of his glee. Fisk’s trot is famous even to people who don’t follow baseball. Free agency was about to hit, so this series really was the last innocent time in baseball, when the childlike joy of the game was still apparent at the highest level.
9 – Greatest series ever. We hear that label bandied about a lot, and I tend to agree with it. Why? I sure as hell didn’t see it live. Maybe that’s the reason. There’s something about baseball that makes all the things that you didn’t see because of your age somehow seem more meaningful. 1991 was fantastic, but I saw every out of that series. 2001 is wildly overrated (New York media bias combined with the post-9/11 patriotism/anger/guilt that consumed the country at the time), but again, a series I saw in total. ’75, on the other hand, is something that I just heard stories about for years, with the occasional grainy video of Fisk’s winner. I’ve seen a couple no-hitters on TV, a few triple plays, and other assorted amazing plays. Yet they never seem to compare to all the events from the pre-TV era that I’ve read about in books like <span style=”text-decoration:underline;”>Baseball’s Greatest Moments</span>.
10 – There was an incredibly controversial call earlier in the series by home plate umpire Larry Barnett. In one of the documentaries today, Peter Gammons told a great story of being in a pub in Cambridge the following winter. An old guy sitting alone at the bar recognized Gammons and some other Boston sports writers he was with and said, “I’ll never watch baseball again as long as Larry Barnett is allowed to umpire.” Then he passed out with his head hitting the bar.