As you know, the Red Sox represent all that is evil and bad in the world. They are also in first place in the American League East, four games ahead of the Yankees. It looks like we’ve got another pennant race brewing this summer. It’s the latest chapter in sports biggest rivalry, one that began decades ago.
“But, Justin, baseball games only last 3 or 4 hours at a time. How will I fill the rest of my summer day with tales of sports most vicious blood feud?”
Well, imaginary personification of SCP readers, that’s a great question. How about a book? Namely, “’78: The Boston Red Sox, a Historic Game, and a Divided City,” by The Providence Journal’s Bill Reynolds.He answered some questions for us.
SCP: Obviously Boston in particular, and New England in general, have had a troubled history with race, and that came to a head with the busing situation. But how were those attitudes reflected in the way Red Sox fans related to black players, like Jim Rice, who won the MVP that year?
BR: Jim Rice was treated very well by the fans then, as he was a great hitter. George Scott had been treated well until the ’78 season when he began too struggle and the fans started to turn on him. Was that race? Probably not. At least not all of it. For fans then, race didn’t seem to matter, but you can make the case that there was less of a cushion of fan support if black players weren’t producing, but this certainly wasn’t etched in stone. Bottom line: fans like players who produce, regardless of race. But one of the great ironies in Boston then was that fans could cheer black players, yet hate the very idea of black children being bused into to their in to their neighborhood schools.
Maybe a woman who was living in South Boston them summed it up the best. The fans loved Jim Rice then, but they loved Freddie Lynn more.
SCP: It seems like the Yankees and Red Sox from that era truly hated each other. Are the late â€˜70’s the true beginning of the blood feud between the two franchises that exists to this day?
BR: The two teams really didn’t like each other then, courtesy of the fact they had been in a brawl in Yankee Stadium two years earlier, the rivalry between Carlton Fisk and Thurman Munson, and the fact that the Yankees didn’t like that Mike Torrez-who had been with them the year before-had several derogatory things about them.
You certainly can make a case that the blood feud that’s become the Sox and Yankees started in that era, although the rivalry certainly already had been going on for decades. But it’s a rivalry that’s always more white-hot when both teams are good.
SCP: Bill “Spaceman” Lee. Let ‘er rip….
BR: You couldn’t make Lee up.
He was baseball’s counter-cultural hero at the time, a fact that drove the Red Sox brass crazy, especially manager Don Zimmer. Lee also loved the attention, and he was the same age and viewed the world the same way as many of the younger sports writers did; they would print everything he said, so he would say things like he sprinkled marijuana on his pancakes every morning, and it would appear in the papers the next morning and you could almost see the steam coming out of Zimmer’s ears.
In retrospect, as funny and colorful as Lee was, you can make a case that he did more to turn the Fenway crowd against Zimmer, as they genuinely didn’t like each other, feelings that exist to this day.
To his credit, Lee was the only Red Sox player to publicly comment on busing that season, saying that Boston was a racist city, and that Judge Garrity-the man who had instituted court-ordered busing-was the only one in Boston with any guts, an incendiary comment at the time.
SCP: The mid to late 70’s also seems like a golden age for sports reporters in the greater Boston area; everyone from Gammons to Will McDonough to Bob Ryan to Leigh Montville. How much of an impact does their presence have in the fact that we remember the ’78 season so vividly 30 years later? In other words, if the sports pages up there were filled with hacks, would this be an event you felt was worthy of re-examination three decades later?
BR: It was a great era of sports writing in Boston, the time when the Globe was arguably turning into the greatest sports section in the country, the rise of such great talents at Peter Gammons, Bob Ryan, Leigh Montville and Will McDonough. The Globe believed in having a great sports page, and spared no expense to have one.
But 11 gun shots were fired into the Boston Globe building in the first two nights of busing, because many people in neighboring South Boston-which was overwhelmingly working-class -felt that both the Irish politicians and the editors of the Globe had sold them out, as the Globe had editorially supported Garrity’s ruling.
And the irony? Many people in the neighborhoods kept ready the Globe anyway for the sports.
SCP: The book “Ladies and Gentleman, the Bronx is Burning” by Jonathan Mahler tied the tumultuous summer of ’77 in NYC with the Yankees run to the World Series that season. Did that book have any impact on your decision to write this one? There seem to be structural similarities. And what is your opinion on the book “Rebound” by Michael Connelly, which links the busing drama to Larry Bird’s ascension to stardom with the Celtics?
BR: I was certainly influenced by “The Bronx Is Burning,” a great book on both the ’77 Yankees and what was happening in New York City, but it wasn’t the only influence. I have long liked books that place sports in a larger social context, and I wrote one in the early â€˜90s on the 1967 Red Sox called “Lost Summer.” The actual inspiration for the idea happened a couple of years ago when I was riding to a Red Sox game with two sports writer colleagues of mine-one in his early 40’s and the other mid 30’s-and I mentioned busing in Boston in the â€˜70s and neither one knew what I was talking about. It was then I knew there was a great story to be told.
I have not yet read “Rebound,” although it’s on my list.
SCP: I was born during the “Boston massacre”, when the Yankees swept a series from the Red Sox at Fenway in early September of 1978. Apparently my father, grandfather and uncle (Yankee fans all) were far more interested in the games then they were the adorable newborn baby sitting with his slightly annoyed mother just feet away. Were they right to ignore me? And what impact, if any, did my birth have on the outcome of the season?
BR: What impact did your birth have on that season? Depends on whom you would have been rooting for