Posts Tagged ‘Boston Red Sox’

“Autumn Glory”: A Review

June 20, 2015
Cover of "Autumn Glory"

Cover of “Autumn Glory”

Haven’t reviewed a book in a while, so it’s time to do so again. This time I want to look at Louis P. Masur’s Autumn Glory: Baseball’s First World Series.

As the title implies, this is a look at the 1903 World Series between the established National League’s Pittsburgh Pirates and the newly formed American League’s Boston team. Masur goes through each of the eight games (it was a best five of nine series) providing narrative of the game itself and giving us a copy of the box score. The chapters on the games are straightforward with little analysis and more narrative.

In between the chapters on each game are other chapters chronicling baseball in the era. There’s a chapter on the founding of the American League and the subsequent war between the two leagues, a chapter on the way the league’s gained peace, and chapters on each team’s (Pittsburgh and Boston) 1903 season. Again, the chapters are more narrative than analytic, but read well. There are some pictures including shots of ballparks, players, owners, executives, and fans.

All in all it’s a good book for what it does. Don’t expect anything like a deep academic tome. This is a book for fans, not historians. It’s generally well written and explores the 1903 World Series, not American society in the era. I point this out because Masur is a history professor who apparently loves baseball and can leave his academic world to write for the general reader.

The book was published in 2003, in time for a celebration of the 100th anniversary of the first World Series and is available online from several places. Enjoy.

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Sale of the Century

December 26, 2014
The one and only

The one and only

Just a brief note today to remind you that today marks the anniversary of the greatest baseball bargain of the 20th Century. On 26 December 1919, the Boston Red Sox sold their combination pitcher/outfielder Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees. It was both the sale of the Century the steal of the Century. New York won a pennant in 1921 while the Red Sox waited until 1946. The Yankees won the World Series in 1923 (and 26 more since) while Boston waited until the 21st Century.

Wally Schang, Mack’s other Catcher

March 10, 2014
Wally Schang while playing with Philadelphia

Wally Schang while playing with Philadelphia

As I mentioned in the post just below, the Philadelphia Athletics used three catchers during their 1910-1914 dynasty. The other post looked briefly at Jack Lapp and Ira Thomas. This one looks at Wally Schang,easily the best of the three.

Walter Schang was born in South Wales, New York, a town just south of Buffalo, in 1889. His dad caught for the local town team and two of his brothers also played ball, Bobby making it to the Majors (1914 and 1915 with the Pirates and Giants and again in 1927 with the Cardinals). In 1912, Wally caught on with the Buffalo Bisons of the International League (managed by George Stallings, later manager of his opponent in the 1914 World Series). In 1913 he made the Majors with the A’s. He got into 79 games with Philadelphia, then played four games against the Giants in the World Series. He hit .357 in the Series with a home run after hitting just.266 in the regular season.

By 1914, he’d become the Athletics primary catcher. He led all American League catchers with a .287 average and with 45 RBIs. He did terribly in the 1914 World Series (as did the A’s as a team), slumped in 1915, then had a great year (for him) in 1916. The 1916 A’s were one of the worst teams in AL history going 36-117. Schang, switched to the outfield in 1916 (he played a few outfield games in 1915 and again later in his career) led the team with seven home runs, two coming on 8 September when he became the first switch hitter to slug a homer from each side of the plate. By 1917, the A’s, already desperate for money, became even more desperate and Mack traded him to the Red Sox to start the 1918 season.

Schang was with Boston for the 1918 World Series. He hit .444 with an OPS of 990. He remained in Boston through the 1920 season when he was part of the continued dismantling of the Red Sox. Like Babe Ruth (who was traded a year earlier), Schang was traded to the Yankees. For the next four years he served as New York’s primary catcher, playing in three World Series’, including the Yanks first championship in 1923 (He hit .318 with seven hits in the victory). He slumped badly in 1925 and was sent to the St. Louis Browns for 1926.

He stayed at St. Louis four seasons, hitting over .300 twice and setting a career high with eight home runs in 1926. He went back to Philadelphia for 1930 as a backup to Mickey Cochrane. He picked up another ring at the end of the season, but did not play in the Series. His final season was 1931 when he got into 30 games with Detroit. He hit all of  a buck eighty-four and was through at 41.

He played and managed in the minors through 1935, then Cleveland hired him as a coach. His primary job was to teach Bob Feller how to pitch instead of throw. He remained in baseball until he was 52, when he finally retired. He died in Missouri in 1965. He was 75.

For his career Schang’s triple slash line is .284/.393/.401/.794 with an OPS+ of 117 (Baseball Reference.com’s version of WAR gives him 41). He had 1506 hits, 264 for doubles, 90 triples, and 59 home runs for 2127 total bases. He had 711 RBIs and stole 121 bases. He was considered one of the better fielding catchers of his era but he led the AL in passed balls (the Boston staff of 1919 will do that to you) and in errors (1914) once each. He appeared in six World Series’, helping his team to three wins. As mentioned above he was also on the 1930 A’s but did not play in the championship games.

Wally Schang was unquestionably the best of Connie Mack’s catchers prior to Mickey Cochrane. He hit well, fielded well, and helped his team win. He occasionally pops up on lists of players overlooked for the Hall of Fame. Frankly, I don’t think he belongs, but I can see why he makes those lists.

Schang's grave (note the image of a catcher in the center)

Schang’s grave (note the image of a catcher in the center)

Some Thoughts on the 2013 World Series

November 4, 2013

A few random thoughts in no particular order:

1. Congrats to the Red Sox.

2. Both teams had the best record in their league so we finally got to see the two best, not two hottest, teams play each other.

3, Can we knock off with this dynasty stuff? Three wins in 10 years, none of them consecutive, doesn’t make for a dynasty. If you think it does, then the Cards are also a dynasty having two wins in six years (2006 and 2011). It’s a nice team, but not a dynasty.

4. It wasn’t a particularly well-played Series. Lots of errors and bone head plays.

5. Isn’t it interesting that David Ortiz is finally getting his due. The other victories (although Ortiz was instrumental in 2004’s ALCS) seemed to hold up other players as the rock of the Red Sox. There was Schilling, there was Ramirez, there was Damon and Pedroia. There was always someone other than Ortiz getting the most credit for the victories (again leaving aside the 2004 ALCS). Now finally Ortiz gets to step front and center. Having just said all that, I still don’t consider him a Hall of Famer at this point.

6. It will be interesting to see how both teams do in the offseason. The Cards have to decide on Beltran and find out if Chris Carpenter can still pitch. The BoSox have to figure out what to do with Drew and Ellsbury. Wouldn’t it be interesting to see St. Louis go after both? Ellsbury leading off in St. Louis (with current leadoff man Carpenter hitting 2nd) would add a new dimension to the Cards lineup and Drew hits better than Kozma. I have no idea where Ellsbury will go, if anywhere, but Detroit could certainly use an infusion of speed in that lineup. Frankly, I think the loss of Ellsbury and Drew will hurt Boston more than losing Beltran will hurt St. Louis. But then maybe all of them will stay where they are. These things are impossible to predict (Heck, maybe my Dodgers will end up with a couple of them).

7. Finally, I don’t expect to see a repeat next year.

The Flying Foot

April 12, 2013
Amos Strunk

Amos Strunk

They called him “The Flying Foot.” Amos Strunk was fast, very fast. Connie Mack put him in center field and he helped lead the Athletics to four pennants, three World’s Championships, then moved on to Boston to help Babe Ruth win one. He was one of the finest outfielders of his day.

Amos Strunk was born in Philadelphia in 1889. As usual for the era, he played semipro ball, got to the minors, was noticed by someone with big league connections, and ended up in the Majors. For Strunk, it was 1907 for the minors, and in 1908 Connie Mack brought him to Strunk’s hometown team, the Athletics. He got into a handful of games in both 1908 and 1909, but spent most of each season in the minors. At 21 he made it to the Major Leagues to stay. Unfortunately, he suffered a knee injury and only played 16 games that season.

His career took off in 1911. He became the regular center fielder for the A’s, replacing Rube Oldring (who moved to left). He was fast, had a good arm, and was considered a superior outfielder (for the era and equipment available). He was noted for being able to track down balls in deep center field and catch most anything. He led the American League in fielding five times and was never in the top handful in errors (which can happen when a speedy outfielder gets his glove on a ball that other outfielders wouldn’t have gotten near).

As a hitter he was decent, but not spectacular. In years he played in at least 50 games, he hit .300 or better four times. He was mostly a singles hitter, managing 20 or more doubles only three times (his high was 30). Despite his speed, he never stole a lot of bases. His forte was going from first to third on a single and scoring from second on a single. He was used occasionally on a double steal. With Strunk on second and another runner on third, Mack would order a suicide squeeze. Strunk was fast enough to score from second on the bunt. There are a couple of stories of him doing this, but I was unable to determine how frequently he did so.

He stayed with the A’s through 1917, which means he was with the miserable 1916 team that lost 117 games. He was easily their best player. In 1918, Mack sent him to Boston. He took over as the regular center fielder (a position once held by Tris Speaker) and helped the Red Sox to their final World Series win in the 20th Century. In mid-1919 he went back to Philly, stayed into 1920, then went to Chicago where he helped try to rebuild the White Sox in the wake of the Black Sox scandal. He remained in Chicago through 1923. After one game with the ChiSox in 1924, he went back to Philadelphia, where he completed his career.

In 1925, he was player-manager for the Shamokin Shammies (don’t you love that name?) of the New York-Penn League. He retired from baseball in August of that season and went into the insurance business. He died in 1979.

In a 17 year career over 1512 games, Strunk had the following triple slash numbers: .284/,359/.374/.732 with an OPS+ of 112. He scored 696 runs and had 530 RBIs. With 1418 hits, he managed 213 doubles, 96 triples, and 15 home runs, for 1868 total bases. He had 185 stolen bases. The caught stealing numbers are incomplete for his career, but in most years in which they are available, he’s caught more than he’s successful.

If you look at the numbers above closely, you’ll see some of the problem with Strunk’s career. He played 17 years, and played in only 1523 games (an average of 89 games a year). Now some of that is garbage time as a kid and as an old player just hanging on, but Strunk had a lot of injuries over his career, mostly in the legs. He managed 130 or more games three times, peaking at 150 in 1916.

Strunk is one of those players whose stats I keep looking at and thinking, “One heck of a ballplayer.” But when I ask myself if he’s a Hall of Famer, I say no. But, like, Oldring (of a couple of posts ago) he’s the kind of player teams need to win.

This concludes my current look at the 1910-14 A’s. Over the last three years I’ve posted on most of the major players. I’ve still got a couple of outfielders, the catchers, and Mack to go, but I’ll do them later.

“Non-Essential”

March 30, 2012

Harry Hooper during the 19-teens

In April 1917 the United States entered the Great War on the side of the Entente (Britain, France, Russia) and sent men off to “make the world safe for Democracy” (nice try, fellas). The federal government began to mobilize American society to fight a war unlike any the US had ever faced. It would take a million men to fight it and even more to provide the materiel (yep, that’s spelled right. Materiel is a particular military spelling of material whose origins escape me.), goods, services, morale boosting necessary to fight a modern industrial war. The basic government slogan was “fight or work.” Unfortunately, most people didn’t see playing baseball as work so Major League Baseball was declared “non-essential” and the 1918 season was scrapped.

Of course baseball struck back. The leadership of both leagues argued that the sport provided a morale boost for both men on their way to France and to the munitions and shipyard workers who were supporting the troops, so it should be allowed. The government relented and authorized a shortened season that had to end by Labor Day (2 September) except for a World Series that could be held immediately after. That gave the game a shortened season (126 games for the American League champion and 129 for the National League champion) and led to some funny looking numbers.

With a lot of good players off at either war or war work, the Boston Red Sox won the AL pennant by 2.5 games over Cleveland. They failed to lead the AL in any major category in hitting (leading only in sacrifices). They, in fact, finished dead last in hits with 990. Individually Babe Ruth, now splitting time between the outfield and the mound, tied for the league lead with 11 home runs and led the AL with strikeouts with 58. Pitching was a different story. Boston lead the league in complete games, least hits allowed, shutouts, least runs allowed, and was seond in ERA. Both first baseman Stuffy McInnis and third baseman Fred Thomas spent some time away from the team while serving in the military, but were available for the World Series. Dave  Shean (who lead the AL in sacrifices) and Everett Scott rounded out the infield with Hall of Famer Harry Hooper in right field, Amos Strunk in center, and Ruth in left (with George Whiteman spelling Ruth on days he pitched). Sam Agnew and Wally Schang took care of the catching. The staff had Ruth, Carl Mays, Sam Jones, and Joe Bush starting double figures games and Dutch Leonard who also started 16 games but was gone to the military by the end of the season.

They got to face the Chicago Cubs in the Series. Chicago, which hadn’t won since 1910 had put together a good team through trades and won a pennant by 10.5 games. Fred Merkle (of 1908 infamy), Rollie Zeider, Charlie Hollocher, and Charlie Deal were the infield with Max Flack, Dode Paskert, and Les Mann doing the outfield work, while old-time Phillies catcher Bill Killefer did the backstop work. The staff consisted of Hippo Vaughn, Claude Hendrix, Lefty Tyler, and Phil Douglas as the starters with Paul Carter as the man out of the bullpen. Expected ace Grover Cleveland Alexander was off in the army after only three games. As with Boston, the stars were on the mound (although the team lead the NL in runs scored). Chicago led the NL in shutouts, least runs allowed, and in strikeouts.

It was a terrific Series, with Boston winning in six games. No team scored more than three runs in a game, no game was decided by more than three runs (a 3-0 shutout win by Chicago in game five). Four games (1, 3, 4, and 6) were decided by one run. Ruth won two games (Mays the other two for Boston), including game one. In doing so he stretched his consecutive scoreless inning streak. It stayed until game four’s eighth inning when Chicago got two runs (both earned). The record lasted until Whitey Ford slid passed it in 1960. There were no home runs and only Cubs backup second baseman Charlie Pick and Boston’s Schang hit over .300 (Schang led all hitters at .444).

Maybe 1918 was “non-essential” but it produced a good pennant race in the AL. It also produced a fine World Series. All-in-all not a bad way of diverting a wartime populace from the tragedy of World War I.

Home Field Advantage

June 13, 2011

Dome, Sweet, Dome

I’m something of a hockey fan. I watch a little when I get the chance and I’ve really enjoyed this year’s Stanley Cup. So far the home team has won each game. That makes for a real “home field advantage” (or ice in this case). I’ve watched a lot of sports over the years and I’ve noticed that the so-call “home field advantage” is kind of an uneven thing. It seems to me that it holds for hockey pretty well, less well for both football and basketball, and is something of a joke in baseball. I’ve always found  that a little strange. Baseball, after all, is the only one that doesn’t have a standardized playing surface. In every hockey match the ice is the same length and width. Same in football and basketball. But in baseball outfields differ greatly. So you’d  think that would give a team used to the outfield an advantage, wouldn’t you? And that doesn’t even begin to address the idea of a domed stadium versus open-air parks.

I decided to test this just a little, without trying to determine why. I went back to 1961 with the first expansion since 1901 and began looking at who won games at home and away in the World Series. Because the pre-World Series playoffs didn’t begin until 1969, I concentrated strictly on the Series. I also determined I wasn’t going to take the time to go through every team. So I picked five teams that played about the same number of World Series’ in the period: the Giants, Mets, Red Sox, Reds, and Twins. Here are the results.

Giants: The Giants appeared in four World Series (1962 and ’89, and 2002 and 2011) winning one (2011). They played 11 games at home, twelve on the road. Their record was 5-6 at home and 5-7 on the road. No advantage either way for them, they do equally poorly at home and away. And to be fair, there are two parks involved as the Giants home field.

Mets: The Mets appeared in three World Series (1969, 1973, 1986) winning two (’69 and ’86). They played 10 games at home, nine on the road. Their record was 7-3 at home and 4-5 on the road. A definite advantage for the Mets to play at home, but  one game under .500 is not a bad record on the road.

Red Sox: The Red Sox appeared in five World Series (1967, ’75, and ’86, and 2004, ’07) winning two (2004 and 2007). They played 15 games at home, 14 on the road. Their record was 9-6 at home and 8-6 on the road. Both are winning records, but are almost exactly alike. There seems to be no advantage for Boston to play either location.

Reds: The Reds appeared in six World Series (1962, ’70, 72, ’75, ’76, and ’90) winning half (1975, ’76,’ and ’90). They played 15 games at home, 16 on the road. Their record was 7-8 at home and 10-6 on the road. Cincinnati actually benefitted by playing on the road. Like the Giants, the Reds’ World Series games occur in two different parks.

Twins: OK, you knew there would be a kicker didn’t you? This is it. The Twins make three World Series (1967, ’87, ’91) winning two (1987 and 1991). They played 12 games at home and nine away. Their record is an  astonishing 11-1 at home and 0-9 on the road. Tell me the Metrodome didn’t make a difference? And again, there are two parks involved. BTW the lone home loss was game 7 of 1965 when they lost a three-hit shutout to Sandy Koufax. Things like that happen.

The Twins number is so outlandish, I decided to check something else. Between 1901 and 1960 the Twins were the Washington Senators, who just happened to also make it to three World Series’ (1924, ’25, and ’33), winning one (1924). They played 10 games at home, nine on the road, with different results. They were 6-4 at home and 2-7 on the road. For anyone curious, the only Senators/Twins pitchers to win a World Series game on the road were George Mogridge (who?) and Walter Johnson. Bet you had the second one figured.

Now this is  only a partial sample and I’m willing to admit that a fuller look might yield different results. But it seems that “home field” isn’t all that big a deal in the World Series (unless you’re the Twins). So maybe making “home field” reliant on the All Star Game isn’t such a big deal either.

1911: A Flash in the Pan

April 15, 2011

Vean Gregg with Cleveland

When I was researching the 1911 season for the two short posts I did earlier this week, I ran across the pitcher Vean Gregg who won the American League ERA title in 1911. I’d never heard of him, so I did a little looking around. Here’s what I found out about an interesting and truly obscure player.

Sylveanus Gregg was born in Washington Territory (now the state of Washington) in 1885. The nickname “Vean” comes from the middle letters of his first name (and I think is pronounced to rhyme with “peon”, but it could rhyme with “pe-can”, like the nut). His dad was a farmer and plasterer and the son learned both professions, apparently becoming quite adept at the plastering. It strengthened his arm greatly, and he had one of those rare items that baseball loves, a left arm that could control a baseball in flight.

Gregg pitched semi-pro ball, had a stint at South Dakota State, and eventually ended up with the Cleveland Naps (now the Indians). He found he could make more money barnstorming on the weekends and plastering during the week than he could make in professional baseball, so waited until 1908 to take the contract with a minor league team (Can you imagine that kind of salary structure today?). He spent two seasons in the minors, then was picked up by Cleveland. He refused the money and stayed one more year in the local Washington state minors, where he said he could make more money. Finally in 1911 went to Cleveland as a left-handed starter.

Although he was left-handed, he was essentially the replacement for Addie Joss. Gregg did well replacing the Hall of Famer. He went 23-7, won the ERA title as a rookie, struck out 125 men, and had a lot more innings pitched than hits allowed (a league leading WHIP of 1.054). It was his best year. He as 20-13 in both 1912 and 1913 with ERA’s in the twos, then developed a  sore arm. He started 1914 with Cleveland, went 9-3 with an ERA over three, and was traded to the Red Sox. He finished 3-4 in Boston with an ERA of almost four, then managed only 39 games over 1915 and 1916.

He spent 1917 in the minors (Providence), then played 1918 in Philadelphia for the rebuilding Athletics. He went 9-14 and retired to a ranch in Canada he bought with his baseball salary. He stayed there through 1921. He returned to baseball, joining Pacific Coast League Seattle and had three terrific seasons. In 1925, at age 40, he was sold to Washington where he went 2-2 with a 4.12 ERA in 26 games (only five starts). He missed the 1925 World Series (which Washington lost), then left the Major Leagues for good.

He played minor league baseball off and on through 1931, then retired to run an “Emporium” in Hoquiam, Washington. The business had a lunch counter and sold both sporting goods and cigars. He died in July 1964. He was elected to the Pacific Coast League Hall of Fame, the Washington State Sports Hall of Fame, and in 1969 was chosen by fans the greatest Indians left-hander (which may say more about Cleveland pitching than about Gregg).

For his career, Gregg ended up 92-63 (a .594 winning percentage) over 1393 innings and 239 games  (about six innings per game). Struck out 720 batters, walked 552, and gave up 1240 hits (for a WHIP of 1.286). Although three of his teams, the 1915 and 1916 Red Sox and the 1925 Senators went to the World Series, Gregg never appeared in a Series game.

There are a lot of pitchers like Gregg. They are early phenoms who develop arm trouble early and end up with short but flashy careers that end up appearing disappointing. It seems to be especially true of southpaws. Mark Prior, although not a lefty, is a modern version of the type. There are lots of others in the history of the game. With an ERA title in his rookie season, Gregg could easily be a poster child for the type.

One of My All-Time Favorites

November 17, 2010

Larry Gardner in 1917

You know how there are just certain players who reach out and impress you? It’s not there stats exactly. Sometimes it’s just a picture that lingers with you. Sometimes it’s your first baseball card. Sometimes it’s just watching the intensity or the sheer joy with which the guy plays. Sometimes it’s a story about him that gets your attention and you can’t shake it. Sometimes it’s just the memories of others who saw him before your time and remind you that you’ll never see his like. We all have players that touch us like that. SportsPhd talks about Roy Smalley that way. Bill Miller has his own special Met. For me Larry Gardner is one of those.

Gardner was born in Vermont in 1886. He played ball in school and eventually, after some time in the local leagues, ended up at the University of Vermont. He stayed through 1908, majoring in chemistry. After classes ended in 1908 he joined the Red Sox as a  third baseman. He got into two games, hit .500, and drove in a run. In 1909 he split time between third and shortstop, managed to play in 19 games, and hit .297. By 1910 he was the starting second baseman. In 1911 he moved back to third base, where he remained through 1917. In 1912 he hit .315, led the team in triples (18), stole 25 bases, slugged .449, and had 163 hits. Boston won the World Series that season despite Gardner hitting only .167 in the Series. In 1915 and 1916 the Red Sox returned to the World Series, winning both. Gardner was injured in 1915 and managed  to hit only .258 in 127 games. This time he hit .235 in the Series with a triple. In 1916 he was back fulltime and hit .308 with 152 hits and a .387 slugging percentage. He had a strange World Series. He led the team in home runs with two, in RBIs with six, but managed to hit only .176 (3 for 17). Obviously he made his hits count.

In 1918 he was traded to the Philadelphia Athletics. He didn’t have a bad year for the last place A’s, but was traded to Cleveland for the 1919 season. Teaming again with former Red Sox center fielder Tris Speaker, Gardner hit .300 for the second place Indians. In 1920, he made it back to the World Series one last time. He hit .208, after going over .300 during the regular season, and Cleveland won the Series in six games.

Gardner was a player who took advantage of the new “lively ball ” era. He hit over .300 in 1920 and 1921 establishing career highs in hits, runs, RBIs, and total bases. He slipped back in 1922 and even further back in 1923. He was done in 1924. Splitting time between second and third base he hit only .200 in 38 games (only 14 of them in the field). For his career he hit .289, slugged .384, had an OPS of .739 (OPS+ of 109), had 2571 total bases, scored 867 runs, and had 934 RBIs. He’s one of those guys whose numbers really change with the death of the Deadball Era. His fielding percentage was good for his era, but not at the top of the league, but he had a decent range factor. Not a bad career.

With his playing days behind him, Gardner managed for a few years in the minor leagues, ran a garage in his home town, and in 1929 joined the University of Vermont physical education department. In 1932 he became head baseball coach. In 1942 he added Athletic Director to his title. He held both positions until his retirement in 1952. In 1969 he made it into the University Hall of Fame, and SABR acknowledged him as the greatest ballplayer from Vermont in a 1973 poll. After his retirement the university named its baseball MVP award the “Larry Gardner Award.” He died in 1976 at age 89. A University of Vermont man to the end, he donated his body to the university Department of Anatomy.

I’m not sure why Gardner has always been a favorite of mine. There are other third basemen who were better, other members of both the Red Sox and Indians who were greater players, but Gardner was still a very good player. His numbers don’t leap off the page at you, but since I became aware of him back 40 or so years ago, I’ve always liked what I saw and read. I think maybe it’s because he so represents the transition from the Deadball to Livelyball Eras. It’s really obvious that something changed in the early 1920s because Gardner is better at 30 than at 20, a lot better. Not sure that’s it, really, but it’s as good an explanation as any.

So tell me which players are your Larry Gardners?

Bob Gibson Gets Me a Car

October 25, 2010

Viet Nam Military Payment Certificate (MPC), 1967

I got “in-country” Viet Nam in very late September 1967. That’s the way we described Viet Nam. When you were there, you were “in-country.” Everywhere else was “the world.” I recognize the built in bias of that statement, but that’s the way we looked at it then.  When you talked about going anywhere else, you talked about going back to “the world.” R and R (Rest and Recreation, a five day break from the war in some nearby place–in my case Bangkok) was in “the world.” Going home was back to “the world.” But even when you were “in-country” who were never far away from American sports (which were happening back in “the world”). October was the World Series and I was “in-country” with a bunch of other baseball fans.

This was the year of the Boston “Impossible Dream” Red Sox. For the first time since 1946, the BoSox were pennant winners and had home field in the World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals. For some reason that I never quite understood, most of the guys I knew were Red Sox supporters. That’s to say they were rooting for the Sox, not that they were lifelong fans. Only one guy was from New England and a  lifelong fan. The rest were from all over the country and were fans of various teams. But for some reason most of them were pulling for Boston.

Now I grew up in  a home where Stan Musial was something just short of God himself (and the order of precedence got kind of fuzzy sometimes), so I was inclined to root for the Cardinals, and might have been read out of the family if I hadn’t. I’m  a Dodgers fan, but the Cards were my  second choice (as, apparently, Boston was most everyone else’s second choice). So I found myself in a minority around a bunch of  Boston rooters.

I kept telling them Bob Gibson wasn’t going to let Boston win. Their response was that Carl Yastrzemski would crush Gibson and that Boston would win in five. It was almost always five because everyone accepted that Gibson would probably win one. I kept disagreeing, which led finally to that classic American sports rejoiner, “Wanna bet?” Well, it was Viet Nam, there weren’t a lot of places to spend your money  and the money looked funny (MPC replaced dollars “in-country”), and I had some that I’d brought with me, so the answer was “sure.” I ended up putting up about $100 at 2-1 with a number of guys, then went out and agonized every time Boston won a game. I was wrong about Yaz, he hit Gibson and everybody else well. But I was right about Gibson. He won three games, including game 7 (hitting a home run in the process) and the Cards won the World Series. It seems Boston’s “Impossible Dream” really was impossible.

We met the next day at the enlisted club. Being basically honest types, everybody paid up, so I bought a round for all the losers. I sent almost all the rest of the money home and it made a nice start on the purchase of a used car when I got back to “the world.” For years I called the car “Gibby.” Damned thing ran pretty well.