Nothing sums up the prevailing zeitgeist better than the online recap, whereby otherwise respectable writers, toiling for otherwise respectable media outlets, review individual episodes from the various series comprising our so-called Golden Age of Premium Television. These morning-after recaps treat TV shows more like marquee sporting events; they exist so that we might wallow again in their drama, better drink in their plot twists, indulge anew in idle plot speculation, and ultimately rehash it all with likeminded folks in the comments section.
Quite by accident and irrespective of this retrospective TV trend, it occurred to me a couple years back that YouTube might well harbor clips, if not entire game films, of the 1975 World Series — contested 45 years ago this month. As the 2020 Red Sox never approached relevance (and once-proud pitching staffs implode amid an octet of 3-game, must-win playoff series), my mind drifts back to Luis Tiant and the magnificent Game 4 he pitched in Cincinnati to level this epic Series, perhaps the most epic yet contested.
The 21st century is a remarkable thing: Game 4 from 1975 was indeed right there on YouTube, in its entirety (commercials completely excised). I watched it on my iPhone and, over the course of three days, allowed a veritable cloudburst of memories to wash over me like a warm, amniotic shower. This led to YouTube-aided consumption of Games 2 and 3, in that order, as these, I reasoned, were the chapters in this remarkable 7-game saga that I remembered least of all.
What follows is my own recap of this 3-game series within a World Series, indeed one of the greats, which I first watched as an 11-year-old, staying up later than I ever had before, in a suburban living room some 13 miles southwest of Fenway Park.
El Tiante was already a Boston legend before he took the mound in Game 4. After doing his best to thwart Sox hopes in 1967, for Cleveland (one of four teams with legitimate pennant hopes that final weekend of the season), he had come over in 1971 and immediately claimed our hearts. No one knew how old this amiable, almost elfin Cuban really was; I suppose we still don’t know. He was a bit dumpy and could be clownish, though a lot of that was surely ESL-based. But he won and he did it with singular style — 18 games in 1975, despite some back issues. He shut the Reds out in Game 1 at Fenway and, after his virtuoso performance in Game 4 at Riverfront, his place in the Boston Sports Pantheon would prove utterly secure.
The Reds jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the 1st inning of Game 4 but starter Fred Norman surrendered 5 runs in the 4th and that’s all Tiant would need, throwing ONE HUNDRED AND SEVENTY-THREE pitches to level the Series and nail down the complete-game victory, 5-4. But that’s mere box-score fodder. Tiant at his best must be observed to be truly appreciated, and he proved even more immense 45 years on, on digitized tape, bullying and confounding the Big Red Machine by turn — nearly picking the imperious Joe Morgan off first in the 7th, twice running the bases in his little blue jacket, scoring a run, and looking utterly gnomish the entire time. In the 8th, 150 pitches into the biggest game of his long career, he shifted his wind-up into full-on baroque mode. This was something Tiant did with nobody on and only when the moment required — fully turning his back to the plate and bobbing his head mid-windup before wheeling toward the batter and delivering from one of 4 different arm positions.
This was the pitching motion every Bostonian boy mimicked during the summer of 1975. I still have it down pat, every last detail. When the Red Sox finally come calling, looking for some schmuck to throw out that ceremonial first pitch prior to some meaningless June game vs. the Twins, I’ll be ready. The 50somethings in the crowd that day will surely go wild.
- NBC aired the ‘75 series and Game 4 featured the familiar broadcast team of Joe Garagiola and Tony Kubek — joined in the booth by legendary Reds announcer Marty Brennaman, who was consulted on various Cincinnati-centric matters over the first 4 innings before taking over the play-by-play. At one point, the trio noticed that below the 330-foot marker, on the left field wall, it also read 100.58 — as in meters. In explaining that it had been there since Riverfront opened in 1970, Brennaman went on to casually mock the metric system before making some remark about the seating habits of Alex Grammas, Sparky Anderson’s bench coach. Folks of my vintage will recall concerted, school-led efforts to teach us the metric system during the mid-1970s. Its adoption was inevitable, they told us. Repeatedly.
- Down 2 games to 1 and needing a win, Sox Manager Darrell Johnson started the not-quite-immortal Juan Beniquez. He led off and played left field for Boston, moving Carl Yastrzemski to first. By 1975, I was 3 years into serious baseball-card collection and the Sox had been gathering superb young talent all the while. Back then I knew everyone in the league, let alone the Red Sox roster, but I had frankly forgotten that Beniquez played any role in this series. Juan fucking Beniquez! The names, faces and exploits of the 1975 Red Sox are permanently etched onto my cerebral cortex and my first glimpse of Juan via YouTube — his Latin afro bulging out from under his batting helmet — warmed the cockles of my heart all over again. He went 1-4 in Game 4.
- Yaz played first and was his usual playoff self: on base 3 times with an RBI. Such a tragic figure (a topic I’ve touched on before)… He only played in post-season three times over 23 Major League seasons but was magnificent each time — only to make the last out each time. His signature batting stance was the one all my friends and I mimicked (I can still do that one, too). It always looked to me like he was swinging too big a bat, especially late in his career, out of sheer stubbornness.
- After his infamous pinch-hitting episode in Game 3, Reds utility man Ed Armbrister came up and successfully laid down a sacrifice bunt with the score tied in the 9th . I can remember thinking at the time that his reintroduction, some 24 hours after such blatant villainy, was a terrible omen. But with Geronimo now at second base, Tiant intentionally walked Pete Rose, retired Griffey on a liner to left and popped up Joe Morgan to send the Reds fans home annoyed but impressed.
- Riverfront was equipped with the worst sort of 70’s-era AstroTurf, but it never proved an issue in this game nor any of those played in Cincinnati during the series. Indeed, Kubek relayed the fact that Sparky Anderson had been mighty impressed with the ground covered by Sox outfielders over the first three games: Dwight Evans in right, rookie Fred Lynn in center, and Beniquez in left (Yaz played there, too, in Games 1, 2 and 3, replacing injured rookie sensation, Jim Rice). I’d never thought of Boston’s outfield as having great range, certainly not in comparison to the Reds outfield: Geronimo in center, Griffey in right and the relatively plodding George Foster in left. But who am I to argue with Sparky?
- When Rico Petrocelli first came to bat, in the 2nd inning of Game 4, NBC primitively superimposed his stats on the screen: He was already 7 for 12! Rico and Yaz were the only two holdovers from the ’67 Impossible Dream team; I had forgotten what a great series Rico played eight years later. That may have been when I resolved to watch Game 2 via YouTube, as well. The series opener had been a Boston walkover; Game 3 featured the infamous Armbrister Incident, recounted still today, ad nauseum. By contrast, Game 2 was a cypher so many years down the road; I didn’t even remember who started that game for the Sox … though I assumed it had been the one, the only Bill Lee.
Game 2, Fenway Park, Oct. 12, 1975: Reds 3, Red Sox 2
Why does one suppress a memory?
To avoid the pain.
Apart from who won, I had remembered almost nothing of Game 2. Watching it again on my iPhone, I was reminded of just how tantalizingly close the Sox came to taking total command of this World Series — and why I had buried that disappointment so deep in my subconscious.
Bill Lee was indeed the tragic star of Game 2 and the main reason Boston should, by all rites, have won it and taken a 2-0 lead to Cincinnati. A 17-game winner in 1975 (and ’74, and ’73), Lee was mesmerizing against the Reds, brazenly serving up a stupendous assortment of junk — looping eephus curves, standard curves, screwballs, change-ups — accented to great effect by three varieties of fastball. It wasn’t just the “stuff” he had (“He’s throwing everything up there but the rosin bag!” Garagiola mused in the 6th), but his speed and efficiency. Lee worked fast even by 1975 standards and didn’t nibble — he threw all that junk over the plate and basically dared the Reds to hit it. By and large, they could not. Not squarely. I’ve searched high and low for Lee’s Game 2 pitch count — the exact number of deliveries he used to hold Cincinnati to 1 run and 5 hits over 8-plus innings. But they didn’t talk about nor diligently record such things back in 1975, apparently.
There was a rain delay after 8 innings of Game 2, though this piece of tape was removed from the YouTube recording; the announcers mention the delay as Lee bounds out of the dugout to pitch the 9th, a mass of sand/kitty litter mixture spread about the mound and plate areas. (Another online search to determine delay duration also came up empty.) Leading 2-1, Lee got ahead of Johnny Bench but Fisk’s all-world doppelganger doubled to right and the Spaceman was lifted. Dick Drago came on and pitched well, inducing a weakly hit ground-out (Bench to third) and popping up George Foster. But Dave Concepcion beat out an infield hit to tie the game, stole second on a very close play, and scored the winning run on a double off the Monster by Ken Griffey.
Just like that, the game was lost and the series tied.
- Cecil Cooper made the final out in a quiet Sox 9th. He started the game, played first and led off, as he had in Game 1 — or so I was reminded by Ned Martin, who sat in with the NBC broadcast team, as Brennaman had — or would — in Game 4. Cooper hit .311 in 1975 in a limited role; no room with Yaz at first and Rice in left. Coop would go on to be a truly great hitter with the Milwaukee Brewers, after Boston traded him to get the immortal George Scott back. Coop swung at absolutely everything in this series; but then, most everyone did. It was striking to see so few pitches taken, so little “working the count”, as batters so assiduously do today. Lee accentuated the trend by throwing so many strikes, but pitchers back then also worked faster and more often threw the ball over the plate. Of all seven played in this series, none but the extra-inning Game 3 and and epic 12-inning Game 6 extended beyond the 3-hour mark.
- Was reminded by another of NBC’s archaic graphics that Sox manager Darrell Johnson had played for the pennant-winning 1961 Reds, who were summarily crushed by the Yankees in the World Series.
- Dwight Evans didn’t do much in this game but I was struck by how plain and conventional his batting stance was back in 1975, just his third full season in the majors. Dewey would go on to have a long career marked by the deployment of some truly bizarre plate mannerisms — many of them concocted during his tutelage under Sox batting coach/guru Walt Hriniak. Some believe Evans should be in the Hall of Fame (none other than Bill James makes that argument). Having watched his entire 21-year run, and seen him suffer through some long, truly agonizing slumps, that seems to me a stretch. He was clearly one of the finest right-fielders of his era but that particular cohort (Dave Winfield, Dave Parker, Cesar Cedeno) wasn’t so hot.
- I watched this game on my phone, over the course of 2-3 days, and despite the cruel ending I knew was coming, I did manage to luxuriate in the dulcet tones of Ned Martin, who taught me more about baseball than anyone else during the 1970s. It’s all a bit fuzzy now, in retrospect, because Ned would ultimately move to television (Channel 38 in Boston), a transition he may well have made by 1975. But I remember him equally well for his sterling radio work with partner Jim Woods. I had a clock radio in my room growing up with an old-fashioned radial dial; it featured a scratch mark to indicate exactly where I could find Sox games on WHDH 850. Hearing Ned call this game was a transcendent experience that honestly choked me up a couple times. At one stage, I lay down on my bed and set the phone flat on my chest. The pictures rendered utterly secondary, I drifted off to sleep — as I’d done so many times when my Red Sox of the 1970s were playing on the West Coast.
Game 3, Riverfront Stadium, Oct. 14, 1975: Reds 6, Red Sox 5
In my vain attempt to determine how many pitches Bill Lee actually threw in Game 2, I naturally ran across Lee’s recollections of that game and the series. One thing Lee says emphatically: “We were a better team than the Reds, we outscored them [30-29], and we outplayed them. In fact, we should have won that Series in six games.”
Lee was and remains a counter-cultural, benignly psychotic, thoroughly renegade figure who talks a bit too much about sprinkling the chronic on his flapjacks. But the man has a point: Yes, these Reds are commonly held up as one of the best teams of all-time; they won 108 games in 1975, swept the Yankees in 1976, lost two more World Series during this era (1970, 1972), and contended for the NL pennant every year. They exhibited an uncanny resilience in ‘75, coming from behind to win Games 2 and 7 — in the 9th. But Boston was better. Any review of Game 3 on YouTube makes this much clear: The Sox could easily have won the first three games of this series. That they instead trailed 2-1 is something of travesty.
Game 3 is overshadowed by the Armbrister Affair but this tilt had everything: A World Series-record six home runs, another 9th inning comeback (this one by the Sox), a desperate emptying of both bullpens, and one of the most controversial umpiring decisions in Major League Baseball history.
I’ll say this about home-plate umpire Larry Barnett’s decision not to call interference on Armbrister, whose sacrifice bunt in the 10th turned this remarkable contest on its head: First, I had forgotten this notorious non-call took place in extra innings — it really did decide the game; second, NBC’s broadcasting trio (including Reds employee Brennaman) abandoned all objectivity in the ensuing chaos. All three thought it was clearly interference and said so. Here’s the play. Judge it for yourself.
- Gary Nolan and Rick Wise started Game 3. Watching the tape four decades later, I vividly recalled and relived my 11-year-old anxiety re. Johnson’s decision to start the bespectacled Wise, a steady, inning-eating veteran for whom Boston had traded Reggie Smith (and received Bernie Carbo) in 1973. Wise was capable — he won 19 games in ’75 — but he was curiously owlish and a fly-ball pitcher who seemed to benefit unduly from Boston’s hyper-productive line-up that summer. He won a lot of 8-6 decisions. He lost 12 times. Against the Reds, he gave up three hits through four-plus innings — all of them home runs — and by the time DJ lifted him, with nobody out in the 5th, Boston trailed 5-1.
- This was a game of dingers. Fisk opened the scoring with a truly titanic blast to left. Amazing to watch both Fisk and Bench during this series — arguably the two best catchers in baseball history, in their absolute primes. Bench answered with one of his own in the 4th.
- Carbo, who came up with the Reds, closed the gap to 5-3 with a pinch-hit homer in the 7th. It was later revealed that Carbo was high as a kite when he cranked this and his more famous Game 6 home run. Dewey tied the game with a two-run shot in the 9th. The immortal, somewhat doughy Reggie Cleveland had pitched in superb relief of Wise until Carbo pinch-hit for him, to such great effect. Thereafter, Jim Willoughby held the Reds in complete check (he’d finish the series with an ERA of 0.00 over 6-plus innings). Cleveland would start Game 5, probably on the strength of this great relief outing. He got shelled.
- In the 9th, after Evans had leveled things, the Rooster, Sox shortstop Rick Burleson, singled and the Mighty Reds fell into complete disarray. Sparky changed pitchers, again, and Johnson, with 1 out, chose to let Willoughby bunt — instead of leaving advancement of the potential winning run to a seasoned pinch hitter. Well, this obscure American League pitcher, who hadn’t batted all season, laid down a perfect bunt! At that moment in time, DJ had to be thinking that he was pushing ALL the right buttons… Alas, the ever-eager Cooper popped up the first pitch and the inning was over.
- Still, the Sox had all the momentum headed into extra innings. Having watched the arc of the first 9 innings, Game 3 had that unmistakable feel of something Cincinnati had squandered. In the bottom half of the 9th, Willoughby retired the Reds in order and second baseman Denny Doyle singled to lead-off the 10th. By this time, the Sox had outhit Cincinnati 10-5, erased a 5-1 deficit and gutted the Reds bullpen. Yaz hit the next pitch to the wall, where Geronimo made a fine catch. Fisk walked to the plate and again DJ did exactly the right thing — sending Doyle to stay out of the double play. But Fisk scorched one to Morgan, at second, who turned a perfect tag-and-throw, inning-ending double play.
- Had a good chuckle between innings when Fisk, who made the last out of the 10th, was still in the dugout donning his gear. Someone without gear was warming up Willoughby. It was only 2-3 seconds of interstitial airtime, but I realized it was longtime back-up catcher and future Sox announcer Bob Montgomery! Monty had a lone, fruitless at-bat in this series, so these warm-up tosses were arguably his most high-profile contribution.
Here’s what went down in the bottom of that fateful 10th inning: Geronimo led off with a single. Enter Armbrister, whose poor bunt and halting procession to first resulted in Fisk, a Hall of Fame catcher, throwing the ball into center field. Geronimo to third, Armbrister on first, nobody out. Johnson naturally argued the non-call long and hard, even demanding that Barnett consult the second-base umpire. When DJ finally departed, the sheer injustice of his team’s predicament sunk in with Fisk, who ripped Barnett a new one all over again. I mean, he was in the umpire’s face for another 45 seconds — he would surely have been thrown out of any other game. Once again, despite the dire situation, Johnson pushed all the right buttons. Willoughby exited, making way for Rogelio “Roger” Moret, one of my favorite Sox of the early ‘70s and just the strikeout pitcher required in this situation. Pete Rose was intentionally walked, setting up the lefty Moret against the lefty Griffey. But no! Sparky countered with right-handed Merv Rettenmund, whom Moret promptly retired on strikes. The Puerto Rican went a remarkable 15-2 out of the bullpen in 1975, despite being the tallest, thinnest Red Sox ever. Kurt Gowdy, in the booth this night (in place of Garagiola), informed viewers that Moret was 6’4”, 175 pounds, then later described him as “willowy”.
- Joe Morgan, the finest second baseman of all time, forged that reputation in this World Series and cemented it a year later. In Boston, he will always be the man whose dying-quail to center drove home the winning run in the 9th inning of Game 7. Fewer New Englanders remember that it was he who won this game, too — first with his superb, unassisted DP in the top of the 10th, then with the game-winning RBI half an inning later. With the bases juiced and just 1 out, the infield was back and the outfield in (to haul in a dying quail and perhaps cut down a tagging runner at home). Morgan mooted both scenarios with a long drive that Fred Lynn tracked for only a few steps before turning away, slumping his shoulders and jogging head-down through a mass of jubilant Reds to the Red Sox dugout. Lynn was the apple of my eye in 1975. Watching these games after 40 years, countless memories of him, his team and this series were dislodged by the magic of YouTube. But not this one. I remember watching that ball bounce unimpeded and unchased to the wall that long-ago October night like it was yesterday. It has never left me.