By Dick Flavin
Boston Red Sox Poet Laureate
and New York Times Best Selling Author
A TIME FOR HEROES AND FOR GOATS
At last, the baseball season has begun. The games really count for something, as opposed
to the 162 game schedule when the teams fight it out to see which ones will gain home
field advantage, an advantage that could be wiped out after a single contest should the
visitors happen to win it.
The post-season is, in the final analysis, the real season. It’s that time of year when, for
better or for worse, reputations are made and legacies established. Who, for example
would even remember Russell Earl Dent if he hadn’t hit a fly ball that snuck over the the
wall in Fenway Park’s left field forty years ago? It is because of that he is famous, or
infamous, depending on your outlook; he will always be remembered by Red Sox fans,
not by his given name, but as Bucky “Bleeping” Dent.
Carlton Fisk is recognized as one the greatest catchers in baseball history; he caught
2,226 games over 24 seasons, but when people think of him they picture him waving fair
his dramatic home run in Game 6 of the 1975 World Series.
David Ortiz hit 541 regular season home runs but he will forever be lionized for his post-
season dramatics; the two walk-off, game winning hits, one of them a home run, in the
Red Sox miraculous rise from the dead in the 2004 American League Championship
Series; and the epic grand slam that sent Tigers’ right fielder Torii Hunter tumbling into
the Red Sox bullpen and the Tigers tumbling to defeat in the 2013 ALCS.
Curt Schilling was a terrific big-game pitcher. He has made headlines since his baseball
days with his outspoken and controversial right-wing political views and for the high-
profile flame-out of 38 Studios, his video game company, but his baseball legacy is
unquestioned. It is rooted in the famous “Bloody Sock” game, when he battled through
the pain of an injured ankle to win Game 6 of the 2004 ALCS.
Another legend came to fruition in that historic 2004 Red Sox-Yankees playoff series. It
had all started back on July 31 st of that year, the trading deadline. The baseball world was
rocked that day by news of the Red Sox trade of Nomar Garciaparra, the face of the
team’s franchise, so no one paid much attention to another deal the Red Sox made that
same day. They traded Henri Stanton, a lifetime minor leaguer, for a utility outfielder
whose outstanding characteristic was that he could run, which is what the Sox were
looking for. His name was Dave Roberts.
So it was that in the ninth inning of game 4 of the ALCS, with the Red Sox down, 3
games to 0 and trailing in the game, 4 to 3, on the precipice of being swept by their arch-
enemies, Roberts was sent in as a pinch runner for Kevin Millar, who had walked.
Everyone in the park and at home watching on television knew that Roberts was in the
game for only one reason: to steal second. Yankees closer Mariano Rivera threw over to
first three times before delivering a first pitch to the batter, Bill Mueller. On his second
throw, he nearly picked off Roberts. Finally, Rivera pitched to the batter, and, as
everyone expected, Roberts took off for second. Catcher Jorge Posada gunned a perfect
throw to shortstop Derek Jeter who applied the tag – a millisecond too late. “Safe!” ruled
umpire Joe West.
We all know what happened next. Mueller hit a sharp single up the middle and Roberts
came around to score, tying the game. Three innings later, Ortiz won it with a homer to
right, and the Red Sox were on their way to a championship.
Roberts never made a single plate appearance in that entire post-season run, and he never
played in another game for the Red Sox after 2004. He was off to San Diego the
following year with a lucrative contract, and his baseball travels would eventually land
him as manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers, a potential 2018 World Series opponent of
the Red Sox. But he will never have to buy another drink in Boston because he came
through on the big stage when all eyes were upon him.
It doesn’t always end that way.
Bill Buckner was an admirable player. He had a well-earned reputation as a clutch
performer; he played hurt; he always put his team first; he was a former batting
champion; he had a total of 2,715 base-hits, more than Ted Williams or Joe DiMaggio or
Mickey Mantle; and yet…..
Mistakes happen. Sometimes, not often, but sometimes, a control pitcher will unleash a
wild pitch, or a gold glove outfielder will drop a fly ball, or an infielder will let a routine
grounder go between his legs. There’s no explaining it, it just happens.
It happened to Bill Buckner at the worst possible time in 1986 when the spotlight was at
its brightest and most unforgiving. The Red Sox had been only a strike away from
winning their first World Series since 1918 when a ground ball went between Bill
Buckner’s legs and in that instant his baseball legacy was changed for all time.
Technically it did not cost the Red Sox the championship, there was still a seventh game
to be played, but that’s not how the story line goes. For all his accomplishments, when
Buckner’s obituary is written it will say, “Bill Buckner, the man who let a ground ball go
through his legs in the 1986 World Series…….”
Is that fair? No, but that’s how high the stakes are at this time of year. Not every post-
season has the drama of a 1986 or a 2004; not all of them have such identifiable heroes or
goats. What they have in common is that they’re for all the marbles. Either you win or
you go home. This year, as in every year, every team except one will end up going home.
The team that’s left will go on tour with the World Series trophy.