Tuesday, October 25, 2011

25 years ago today ... stunned silence


It wasn't always so easy to be a Red Sox fan. I know that's hard to believe what with the recent World Series titles and everyone hating on the team for basically succeeding.

But growing up in a Red Sox family during the 1970s and 1980s was about as pathetic an existence that you could have as a sports fan. The '90s Buffalo Bills weren't around yet (I'm a fan of the Bills, too, thank you very much), so the portrait of the team that places its fingers on the championship trophy only to have it slip from its grasp as it plunges into the abyss in as painful a way as possible, was the baseball franchise from Boston.

I wasn't a Red Sox fan, per se. I was a Red Sox sympathizer. My brother and dad were Red Sox fans while I rooted for the Dodgers. But we were united in our bond of hating all things Yankee. My heart broke for Red Sox fans as I watched Bucky Dent's barely adequate home run inch over the Green Monster in 1978.

By 1986, I was in college. My uncle ran the food service organization at the college and got me a job at the cafeteria. I'm not the most gregarious person when I first meet people, so it took me awhile to warm up to my co-workers. But by the fall of '86, many of us were great friends. The playoffs were going on and one of the workers had a radio back near the salad bar. We would get regular updates and I would think how wonderful it was that I had found people my age who were actually interested in how the Houston Astros were doing against the Mets! I was going out with a girl named Sue at the time. She was from Poughkeepsie and a Mets fan. I was hooked.

I didn't even like the Mets, but she was casual about her baseball rooting, so it didn't matter. The fact was, I couldn't stand the Mets at the time. All of my rooting life, I had to deal with the Yankees as the dominant team in baseball. They seemingly won everything, spawned obnoxious fans, and were the black mark in my favorite diversion. By the mid' 80s, the Yankees were finally on the downswing, but now I had to deal with a suddenly successful Mets team that was almost as unlikable. To make things worse, it seemed like a whole mess of irritating "rub-your-nose-in-it" Yankee fans had suddenly become Mets fans. The bandwagon was packed.

Oooooh, I wanted them to lose.

That's the background to set up one of the most crushing blows I have ever absorbed in 30-plus years of sports viewing.

Twenty-five years ago tonight was Game 6 of the 1986 World Series.

I was at my uncle's house in Buffalo. My uncle wanted the Red Sox to win. He wasn't a big baseball fan. I think he just had an issue with Long Island students who tried to nickel-and-dime him on their food service cards. My brother was there. I don't know why. He lived in Boston at the time. He definitely wanted the Red Sox to win.

I was there. I definitely wanted the Red Sox to win.

There we sat in the comfort of my uncle's living room, sprawled in recliners, beer bottles on the table and snack crumbs on the couch, watching Game 6.

Although it was a tight game, the Red Sox seemed to have things pretty well in hand, so much so that one of the lasting memories that I have of that day is myself thinking, "this is it. The Red Sox are going to actually win. It's like the end of the world. What are we going to talk about after this?"

Then Mookie Wilson's grounder went between Bill Buckner's legs and the Mets somehow pulled off a victory. My brother has nothing good to say about Calvin Schiraldi to this day.

I know that when you see highlights of Game 6 now, it's very celebratory. I've seen more than a few retrospectives where Mets or Mets fans are interviewed and how everyone was partying in New York and what a miraculous, wonderful day it was.

They never interviewed the three of us in that living room. As we sat there. Slouched. In stunned silence.

I couldn't comprehend what I was seeing. And when I finally did, I thought, "well, of course. The Red Sox could never actually win anything. It's not in their DNA."

After that, I knew the Red Sox would lose Game 7. And after that, I figured, there was no way that the Red Sox will win anything ever. They were destined to fail. Forever.

Of course, after a couple of decades, things change.

The Mets haven't won a title since then. The Red Sox have won two. Something has happened that in 1986 I  could never believe  -- almost as many people dislike the Red Sox as dislike the Yankees.

My uncle is retired now. My brother lives all the way on the other side of the country. We've never talked about that moment since then. It was just a game really. We're not a family that throws things around or yells anyway. Move on.

But I'll always remember that scene in the living room. And how I felt. It's one of the lasting moments of my baseball rooting life.

Stupid Mookie.

7 comments:

  1. Argh! I sneaked listening to the game on my walkman that night when I was supposed to be asleep and was PISSED the Sox didn't win. That was 25 years ago?!? DOUBLE ARGH I'M OLD

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  2. I was watching that game at my grandparents' place. I can still see that ball rolling right on through. Good practice for Manny Lee in 1987, albeit a bit of a lesser stage.

    The next season, Buckner had shaved off his moustache. A sign at Fenway read "We still know who you are."

    Package is sitting there ready to go. Each time I hit the post office, it has been closed. Tomorrow (he said with great hope).

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  3. I want to say I remember seeing it live, but I've seen the replay so many times, I'm not sure if the memory is real. While I read and enjoyed your post, all I could think about was Bill Buckner being one hairy dude. At least on that 86 Topps card.

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  4. Seeing as how the Red Sox had just eliminated my beloved Angels a few days prior - I wasn't feeling any love for them.
    I relished their embarrassing loss with a great smile on my face.

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  5. The Red Sox drive me nuts, so I don't know why I always defend Buckner here. As I'm sure you remember but a lot of people don't know: The Sox were leading that game 5-3 in the bottom of the tenth. The Sox bullpen had the Mets down to their final strike *twice* in the bottom of the tenth and couldn't put it away. The Mets tied the game on a wild pitch which also allowed Knight to move to third.

    Then Buckner.

    The game was blown long before that. Even if bucker fields it cleanly, they're going to the 11th tied up.

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  6. Gary - Buckner shouldn't even have been in the game at that point. Dave Stapleton should have been in at first for defensive purposes. The manager and bullpen are a lot more responsible for that loss than Buckner was. It's nice to see that Red Sox Nation has finally accepted him back into the fold.

    I still remember this night. I was sleeping over a friend's house and were just about to call it a night. Marty Barrett was the World Series MVP (don't forget the commentator's role in this) and we'd be celebrating the next day. The wild pitch happened while we were heading upstairs and we got back down just in time to see the infamous Buckner error.

    As a fairly new sports fan, I had seen the Patriots get crushed by the Bears and then the Red Sox choked away a World Series. Why was I doing this to myself again? Even the mighty Celtics would win just one more championship before a long drought and the heartbreaking death of Reggie Lewis.

    The past ten years have been great and unprecedented for any city in sports history, but things sure got off to a bumpy start for me.

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