by Neil W. McCabe
Have you tried to explain to younger people that being a Red Sox fan was not always about World Series championships, runs at the playoffs and the swagger of invincibility?
In the summer of 1975, a nine-year-old me wandered into my mother’s kitchen and announced: “Mom, I have decided that I am a Red Sox fan.”
“Don’t do it,” she replied.
“They will only break your heart,” she said. “Every time.”
“But Mom, they have Fred Lynn, Luis Tiant, Jim Rice, Carlton Fisk and Carl Yastrzemski—they are going to when the World Series.”
“Hey, I tried to warn you,” she said. “You’ll see.”
That magical year, the Red Sox were amazing. After winning the American League East, they swept the 98-win Oakland A’s team that not only was going for its fourth straight World Series, it also had a roster chuck full of baseball legends like Reggie Jackson, Vida Blue and Joe Rudi.
That World Series against the 100-win Cincinnati Reds, “The Big Red Machine,” was a blur to me. I have no real district memories of which game was what and there was one game where it really rained. As for the legendary Game 6, I was sent to bed before the Bernie Carbo home run that tied the game or the Fisk home run that won it.
For Game 6, I was sent to bed because it was late. For Game 7, I was sent to bed for my mental health, which my mother explained to me after reading the account of the 4-3 loss in the Boston Record American.
After that I was hooked. It did not make sense to me that a team with so many great players could lose.
But, they did lose, brutally in 1977 two-and-a-half games back and then in 1978 in a one-game playoff to the Yankees. In 1984, there was promise and more promise in 1985, which were ramp ups for a the 1986 loss to the New York Mets in the World Series.
I listened to the star-crossed Game 6 on the radio—and it was literally 15 years before I allowed myself to witness the ball going through Bill Buckner’s legs.
Fast Forward to 2003, and we were once again in the midst of a magical Red Sox season and Pedro Martinez was the greatest living magician.
When the Red Sox played the Yankees in Game 7 of the American League pennant series, I traveled my unusual circuit between establishments in Davis and Teele squares.
As the 12th inning opened, I was in the Joshua Tree.
Despite my baseball team’s track record, despite Red Sox manager Grady Little’s failure to pull a flailing Martinez and despite being in Yankee Stadium, I felt pretty good. In fact, the moment before Yanke Aaron Boone hit the home run to win the game, I was thinking that Tim Wakefield was good for another inning, but there was no way Mariano Rivera was pitching a fourth inning.
First, there was shock. Then, there was furious chaos.
With the game over the house lights came on. But, every TV, like 20 of them, was showing the Yankees jumping up and down and a giant huddle on the field. It was too much. Patrons, who minutes before were a cheerful lot, starting yelling angry foul imperatives and oaths at the TV’s. “Shut the F#ck@ng things off! Shut the F#ck@ng things off!” Frantically, the manager grabbed some remotes and a bartender and a waitress started changing channels—to anything else.
Walking home that night, I questioned whether passing on my love of the Red Sox to my own children was an act of love and tradition, or simply perpetuating the cycle of abuse. The pain was so deep and the next day I called my mother to acknowledge to her that at the beginning of it all, she tried to warn me.
As it turned out that night was not just another in a string of collapses and defeats. It was the end of an era.
By grace, my mother lived to see the Red Sox win it all in 2004, and since then, our baseball team has been both glorious and disgraceful. But, when I left Camden Yards at the end of the 2011 season, I was joking about how the Red Sox blew up the season in a way unthinkable before 2004 or 2007 and now after 2013.
If I take the losses less hard, I still relish the wins younger Red Sox fans cannot understand or appreciate having been through all those years of disappointment.