Wednesday, November 10, 2010

What if the Red Sox Had Won the Bucky Dent Game?

Well, for starters, it wouldn't be remembered as the Bucky Dent Game.

October 2, 1978: Carl Yastrzemski doubles off the Wall, and Rick Burleson and Jerry Remy score. Final score: Boston Red Sox 6, New York Yankees 5.

Do the Red Sox win the Pennant against the Kansas City Royals? Unlikely: If Sox manager Don Zimmer gave his starters 3 days' rest, Dennis Eckersley wouldn't have been available until Game 2 of the American League Championship Series, and Luis Tiant and Mike Torrez not until Game 3 (when Tiant would have had 4 days'). Who starts Game 1? Bob Stanley started a couple of games down the stretch, but relieved in the AL East Playoff, and wouldn't have been available for Game 1.

Would Zim have swallowed his pride and handed the ball to Bill Lee, for whom so many clamored going into the "Boston Massacre" series of September 7-10? As he explained years later, the Spaceman didn't have good stuff most of the year. He wasn't benched because he was insubordinate, he was benched because he was pitching lousy.

But Zim may not have had a choice. So Lee takes the mound at Royals (now Kauffman) Stadium in Game 1, and the Royals smack him around as Dennis Leonard pitches strong. Game 2 would be Eck against Larry Gura, and in RL, that was the only game the Royals won in the series; but the Yankees still scored 4 runs on 12 hits, and it was only because the Royals scored 10 on 16 that they won. Maybe Eck outpitches Gura, and the series is tied going to Fenway. Game 3, George Brett won't have that short right field porch like he had at Yankee Stadium, and Luis Tiant might mix him up; but are the Sox going to hit that nasty lefthander Paul Splittorff? I doubt it. 2-1 Royals. Game 4 is Torrez against Leonard, and the Royals win their first Pennant 2 years early.

For all their courage in overcoming September 1978, and October 2, the Red Sox do not win the Pennant.

I suspect the Royals would have beaten the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series. If Dodger manager Tommy Lasorda was upset by Reggie Jackson's "sacrifice thigh" in RL-Game 4, how would he have felt about Brett punching Ron Cey at third base, or Hal McRae kicking Davey Lopes out into center field? The Royals win their first World Series 7 years early. Maybe this gives them the boost of confidence they need in 1980 to beat the Phillies. Suddenly, as 3-time World Champions, their history looks a bit better.

That is a crushing blow for the Phillies, not just the last of the "Original 16" to win one (as they were in RL), but perhaps they still haven't won one. Maybe their fans, already turned off by 1964 and 1977, are so fed up that they abandon the team. Citizens Bank Park is not approved. They remain stuck at Veterans Stadium. And maybe, just maybe, the Phillies are moved. Where? Maybe they go down Interstate 95 to D.C., and they, rather than the Montreal Expos, become the Washington Nationals.

What happens to the Expos? Hard to say: There are other metro areas that are looking to lure a team, including Charlotte, Nashville, Salt Lake City, and Portland, Oregon. Most likely Charlotte: They can expand the current Triple-A ballpark in Fort Mill, South Carolina to 30,000 or so seats as a stopgap until they build a new one downtown. (Remember, in TTL, the funding might already be there before the September 2008 stock-market crash.)

The Red Sox, one of the AL's strongest teams from 1972 to 1979, were pretty much broken up after 1980 anyway, so their history doesn't deviate much. Or does it? Maybe without that 1978 choke on their record, they don't have that mentality, and they beat the Mets to win the 1986 World Series. And we're talking about the Mets not winning it all since the Miracle of '69, and the Curse of Joe Foy.

Which means the Sox might also win it all in 2003, as well as in 2004 and 2007. Or... do they? Stay tuned.

And the Yankees? Probably very little changes, at least in the short term. George Steinbrenner has a fit, but knew Bob Lemon from his days in Cleveland, and probably doesn't fire him on the spot. But if TTL-1979 turns out like RL-1979 does, then history reasserts itself, and the Yankees don't win for years, and we're talking about no title since 1977, and just the one since 1962, and either the Curse of Mike Torrez (if you want to emphasize '77) or the Curse of Topping & Webb or the Curse of Mel Allen (if you want to emphasize '62).

Maybe Steinbrenner goes too far, and he does something worse than he did in 1990, and gets banned for life, and is forced to sell the team. To whom? My big fear back then was that the only guy who could have bought the Yankees would be Donald Trump, and that, sometime in the 1990s, the old Yankee Stadium would be gone, and they'd be playing in Trump Stadium, an incredibly tacky ballpark looking nothing like the old Stadium or a Camden Yards-style retropark. And maybe, after not winning for a few years, and needing cash (he did lose a billion or so dollars at one point), Trump sells the Yankees to Charles Dolan, and his son James screws them up the way he's screwed up the Knicks and Rangers.

Imagine it:

* Wade Boggs, Tim Raines, Cecil Fielder, Roger Clemens, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira and CC Sabathia really don't want to go to that circus, and each goes to a different team, and each retires without a World Series ring.

* Derek Jeter is drafted not by the Yankees in 1992, but by the team that had the next pick: The San Francisco Giants. They win the World Series in 1997 (over the Cleveland Indians), 2000 (over the Seattle Mariners), 2002 (over the Anaheim Angels), 2003 (over the Red Sox) and 2010 (over the Texas Rangers).

* Mariano Rivera lands with some team that doesn't know how to handle him, and by 2010 is long forgotten.

* The Atlanta Braves really do become the Team of the '90s, winning the World Series in 1995 (over the Indians), 1996 (over the Baltimore Orioles) and 1999 (over the Red Sox).

* The Florida Marlins don't win the World Series in either 1997 or 2003, and they move out of the Miami suburbs. Where? Maybe up the Florida coast to Orlando, allowing them to keep the name.

* The Cleveland Indians win the 1998 World Series, beating the San Diego Padres for their first title in 50 years.

* The Mets lose to the Giants in the 2000 NLCS, but from 1984 onward, they remain the most popular team in New York, even though they haven't won the World Series since 1969.

* The Seattle Mariners win their first Pennant in 2000, but lose the World Series to the Giants.

* The Arizona Diamondbacks beat the Oakland Athletics in the 2001 World Series, remembered throughout history as the Steroid Series after Curt Schilling, Luis Gonzalez and Matt Williams of Arizona; and Jason and Jeremy Giambi of Oakland are all outed by the Mitchell Report.

* The Anaheim Angels lose the 2002 World Series to the Giants, and are still without a World Championship, and the Curse of the Cowboy (Gene Autry) lives.

* The Chicago Cubs lose to the Giants in the 2003 NLCS, as Giant shortstop Derek Jeter's fly ball to left field is prevented from being caught by Moises Alou due to the hands of Steve Bartman.

* Aaron Boone retires without ever hitting a home run that anybody remembers. The Red Sox beat the Yankees to win the 2003 AL Pennant. But they lose the World Series to the Giants.

* The Red Sox beat the Yankees in the 2004 ALCS... in 5 games. They still beat the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series.

* No change for 2005 and 2006: The Chicago White Sox still beat the Houston Astros in '05, and the Cardinals still beat the Detroit Tigers in '06.

* Red Sox reliever Jonathan Papelbon loses Game 2 of the 2007 American League Division Series due to a swarm of midges that hits Jacobs Field, and the Indians go on to win the Pennant, and beat the Colorado Rockies in the World Series.

* The Washington Nationals (RL's Phillies) close their first season at Nationals Park by beating the Tampa Bay Rays win the 2008 World Series, the first World Championship for a Washington baseball team in 84 years. They make it back-to-back titles by beating the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in 2009.

* No change in the 2010 World Series: Giants over Texas Rangers.

* Rich "Goose" Gossage, never having won a World Series ring, is never elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Reggie Jackson is, but has an Oakland A's cap on his plaque. Frank White joins his Royal teammate George Brett in the Hall, their manager Whitey Herzog (who went on to manage the Cardinals) gets in a few years sooner, and Edgar Martinez is elected for the Mariners (as he has not yet been in RL). Mike Schmidt and Steve Carlton of the Phillies still make the Hall of Fame, but, not having won a World Series, neither gets his number retired by the team.

* Joe Torre is remembered as a really good player, a fair manager, and an okay broadcaster, but never manages the Yankees, and is not a serious candidate for the Hall of Fame.

* Davey Johnson, however, having managed a World Championship with the Mets in 1986 and a Pennant with the Orioles in 1996, is elected to the Hall of Fame. So is 1960s & '70s Orioles and '80s Mets general manager Frank Cashen. So is Keith Hernandez, and Gary Carter gets in a little sooner, even though the '80s Mets aren't directly helped by any of this, except maybe due to the perception that, since 1984, they have unequivocally been New York's favorite baseball team.

* George Steinbrenner is remembered as a quirky fluke of baseball history, much like his 1970s contemporaries Charlie Finley and Bill Veeck -- but not Ted Turner, who had 3 rings, one less than George, Charlie O and Sportshirt Bill combined.

So if the Red Sox had won the Boston Tie Party on October 2, 1978, it would have been a very different world.

A world in which the Yankees have "only" 21 titles, and just one in the last 48 years.

This is one of the few times when I like the real world better.

No comments:

Post a Comment