For some reason my dad really disliked Johnny Bench. I’m not sure why, but he still doesn’t like the Hall of Fame catcher of the Big Red Machine.
|(AP Photo/Harry Cabluck)|
That, I believe, is the reason I am a Red Sox fan. Sometime in the mid-1970s, my dad, who grew up cheering for Mickey Mantle, abandoned the Yankees for the Sox. I suspect it was so he could cheer for a team to beat Bench and the Cincinnati Reds.
I turned 1 during the ’75 season, and I later followed my dad to the Red Sox, a move that proved to be a curse for many years before it became a blessing.
Watching the members of those 1975 Red Sox honored at Fenway Park Tuesday night reminded me of the reason I was basically born into being a Red Sox fan, even while growing up 2,400 miles away in Montana. It also made me think of how much different the times were when the Red Sox lost that incredible seven-game World Series.
Like when the Impossible Dream ended with a Game 7 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals in 1967, Red Sox fans were not bitter about falling short on the game’s biggest stage.
They truly seemed to appreciate of the heroic effort and the magical moments the team gave the Fenway faithful along the way.
That is evident in the fact that 40 years later, Red Sox fans still love that 1975 squad. Even before the Curse was broken in 2004, Sox fans cherished that team. This wasn’t a reconciliation like when Bill Buckner threw out the first pitch before the 2008 home opener.
Before Big Papi came along, we celebrated Carlton Fisk’s home run in the 12th inning of Game 6 as perhaps the greatest moment in Red Sox history, even when we knew that it led to a loss in Game 7.
Fisk played his last 13 years in a White Sox uniform, yet his No. 27 was retired in Boston. The foul pole in left field was named in honor of the great catcher and his iconic home run that we treated almost like it won the World Series instead of extending it by a game.
After the loss in Game 6 (and then Game 7) of the 1986 World Series, it was clear that Red Sox Nation had changed drastically just 11 years later.
Buckner was run out of New England because of an error that was largely misunderstood by people who blamed the warrior of a first baseman for 86 years of losing. Teachers taunted his children.
John McNamara, Bob Stanley and Calvin Schiraldi were vilified and mocked.
The great moments of the 1986 season — and there were a lot of them — were not remembered like the moments of 1975. Even Dave Henderson’s home run, which was as dramatic as it gets, never got the play it should have.
While we reminisced about ’75, we were never happy to see our team in ’86 take the 108-win New York Mets to the limit. We never celebrate that 95-win season or the improbable comeback against the Angels in the American League Championship Series.
Instead, that team was treated as a punchline in the joke that was the Curse of the Bambino. We remember that team for a dejected Bucker walking off the field and for Wade Boggs crying in the dugout, not Henderson bouncing victoriously to first base.
Grady Little, who managed the Red Sox to within an eyelash (and a hanging knuckleball) of beating the Yankees in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS, was also treated as a joke. He still is.
Can you ever imagine Little being paraded in front of Sox fans at Fenway to celebrate the Cowboy Up Red Sox? Not even the magic of 2004 could ease Little’s pain.
Still, 40 years later we love the 1975 Red Sox, who also failed to win the World Series. And we should. Hopefully in 2026 we’ll fell the same way about the 1986 team.
Seeing those white-haired members of the ’75 Sox on the field Tuesday night reminds of not only of a great World Series buy of a much different time.
Seeing Mookie Betts round the bases — twice — in the 1975 uniform took me back to the reason why I am a Red Sox fan in the first place. It reminded me of the highs of ’04, ’07 and ’13 and lows ’86 and ’03.
It reminded me how great it was to identify as a Red Sox fan though it all, thanks to a team I was too young to remember.
I’m so lucky that, for some reason, my dad really dislikes Johnny Bench.