The Boston Red Sox is a storied franchise and 108-year-old Fenway Park is the oldest ballpark in Major League Baseball. The 37-foot, 2-inch high wall in left field, called the Green Monster, makes Fenway unique.
The tradition and nostalgia make it like no other venue and enable Red Sox Nation to easily overlook that fact it is, basically, a dump with grossly overpriced tickets and concessions.
A friend told me he and some buddies flew to Camden Yards in Baltimore to watch the Red Sox and the Orioles and it was cheaper to fly to Baltimore and watch a game than it was to drive to Fenway Park for one. And they had better seats in Baltimore!
But no ballpark in any sport creates memories like Fenway.
When I was a youngster in the 1950s and early ’60s, the Red Sox were one of the worst teams in baseball.
The only reason to watch the Red Sox was to see first baseman Pete Runnels, who hit over .300 for five consecutive years. And there was closer extraordinaire Dick Radatz, a flame-throwing, side-arming righty known as “The Monster” for his 6-foot-6, 230-pound frame.
Or free-swinging pitcher Earl Wilson, who hit 35 career homers including seven in one season and six in another, and a young, talented left fielder named Carl Yastrzemski.
Then there were the hilarious Narragansett beer commercials between innings.
In 1967, everything changed for the hapless franchise when the Red Sox had their “Impossible Dream” season. They reached the World Series for the first time since 1946 behind American League Most Valuable Player and Triple Crown winner Yastrzemski (.326, 44 homers, 121 runs batted in) and right-hander Jim Lonborg, who won the AL Cy Young Award.
Coming off a ninth-place finish in 1966, a mere 8,234 fans showed up at Fenway Park for the opener in 1967. But that changed over the course of the season. The Red Sox extended the great Bob Gibson and the St. Louis Cardinals to seven games in the World Series before losing.
Baseball had a rebirth in Boston.
In 1975 the Red Sox, with a dynamic young outfield composed of Jim Rice, Fred Lynn and Dwight Evans returned to the World Series but lost in seven games to Cincinnati. Slugger Rice missed the Series with a broken hand.
Rice said in a recent visit to Bangor that the Red Sox would have won the World Series if he had been able to play.
The 1978 and ’86 seasons are ones passionate Red Sox fans can now forget.
In 1978, the Red Sox led the Yankees by 14 games in July but blew it and lost in a one-game playoff to the Yankees on light-hitting shortstop Bucky Dent’s homer off Mike Torrez.
In 1986, the Red Sox were one pitch away from beating the New York Mets in the World Series, but Calvin Schiraldi and Bob Stanley couldn’t get the final out in Game 6 and Bill Buckner misplayed Mookie Wilson’s ground ball, allowing the winning run to score.
The Mets then won Game 7.
It still irritates me how the late Buckner was abused by Red Sox fans. He played hurt all season long and never complained. He was a gamer and a big reason they made it to the World Series.
When catcher Rich Gedman failed to move his feet and block Stanley’s pitch in the dirt, resulting in a game-tying wild pitch, the game was essentially over.
But the beauty of sports is that loyal fans develop bad short-term memories.
When the 2004 Red Sox — behind Manmy Ramirez, Johnny Damon and Pedro Martinez along with Curt Schilling and his bloody sock — became the first team in history to erase a 3-0 deficit to beat the Yankees in the American League Championship Series before going on to win the franchise’s first World Series in 86 years, all was forgotten and forgiven.
Three more World Series titles have been annexed since that one.
It was so rewarding that long-suffering Red Sox fans like my father, Needham, Massachusetts, native Larry Mahoney, Sr., and my father-in-law, Allan Woodcock Jr., were able to see the Sox win the World Series before they passed on.
BDN sports reporter Larry Mahoney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org