To new Englanders, The Boston Red Sox are more than just a baseball club. People throughout the region lovingly call them the Olde Towne Teame, and the Sox are woven into the fabric of life, like, say, the paper mill in Jay, Maine, or the village common in Charlestown, N.H. Well, the week was a glorious one for New Englanders. A Fenway Park neighbor was nominated for the U.S. presidency, and Boston won its 11th game in a row for its new manager.
A season that had begun with high hopes and then turned sour took a remarkable turn on July 14, the day owner Jean Yawkey ignored her "baseball men" and fired manager John McNamara. She turned the team over to Joe Morgan. No, not that Joe Morgan, Walpole's Joe Morgan, Boston College Class of '53. It seemed hard to believe, but for the first time since 1932, the Olde Towne Teame would be managed by someone who had once regularly paid his way into Fenway, an independent New Engender who, until last winter, earned extra money to pay his winter fuel oil bills by driving a snowplow for the state.
In no time at all people everywhere were talking about this guy named Joe. During a telecast of the Democratic National Convention on Thursday night, a network commentator said that presidential nominee and Massachusetts Governor Michael S. Dukakis "should have chosen Joe Morgan as his running mate." That way, of course, Dukakis could not lose.
The Red Sox made Morgan the first manager in at least 38 years to win his first 11 games, and they did it by coming back from deficits like 0-6 and 1-5 with kids named Jody Reed, Ellis Burks, Todd Benzinger and Mike Greenwell. "This is the greatest personality change in baseball history," said Greenwell—the heir to Bosox leftfielders Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski and Jim Rice—who celebrated his 25th birthday during the streak. Said 34-year-old Larry Parrish, who had been released by the Texas Rangers and picked up by Boston just as the streak began, "No team could ever have gone from so far out of it to the thick of the pennant race as fast."
For the record, the Sox went from nine games out of first place to 1� out in 11 days. The change Boston has undergone is as much an indication of how negative McNamara's administration had become as it is a testament to Morgan's managing. "There was a cloud hanging over the team," says Benzinger, who, like many players, thought McNamara catered to certain veterans and treated the youngsters harshly. "The young guys felt they couldn't make a mistake. Mac was a good baseball man, but he didn't talk to a lot of us." Adds the enthusiastic Greenwell, who painted stripes in his hair and launched model rockets from the motel pool during spring training, "We just lost our zest."
Morgan's debut was postponed by rain, so he had the good fortune to begin his managerial career on July 15 at Fenway, with Roger Clemens pitching against the Kansas City Royals. Sixteen strikeouts later, Clemens had his 13th win and Morgan had his first. Four hours after that, Morgan's Sox had swept a doubleheader, 3-1 and 7-4.
The next afternoon came the first of Boston's dramatic comebacks under Morgan. Trailing Kansas City 6-0, the Sox got four runs in the sixth and then tied the game on Dwight Evans's two-run homer in the eighth. Boston won it 7-6 in the ninth on outfielder Kevin Ro-mine's first major league home run. "Guys like Romine and Reed weren't allowed to play under Mac," says Benzinger. "So Romine's homer was a symbol of the change in regimes."
The Sox completed a four-game sweep of the Royals with a 10-8 victory on July 17. Then came a 6-5 win over the Minnesota Twins. That game turned in Boston's favor when Reed, a rookie shortstop, responded to a brush back pitch by Bert Blyleven with a drive off the leftfield wall. Second baseman Marty Barrett followed that with his first homer of the season. The next night Mike Smithson, who signed with the Red Sox after being released by Minnesota in December, gained revenge on his old club by taking a no-hitter into the seventh. Bob Stanley finished a 5-0 victory in which Parrish had three hits, including a home run.
Wednesday, July 20, won't soon be forgotten in New England, and not just because that was the night Dukakis was nominated. In Fenway, Clemens had a 5-0 lead over the Twins, but then he gave up three runs and left the game after 6? innings. By the bottom of the eighth, Boston's lead had shrunk to 5-4. As centerfielder Burks stepped in against righthander Jeff Reardon, Morgan told the righthanded-hitting Rice, who was to bat next, "If Burks gets on, I'm going to send Spike Owen [a switch-hitter] up to hit-and-run or bunt."
Barrett, who overheard Morgan's instructions to Rice, later said, "I could tell Jimmy didn't hear [Joe] right." Burks walked on four pitches, and Rice stepped toward home plate to take his turn at bat. Owen, sent out to pinch-hit, had to call Rice back to the dugout. Rice stormed back, threw down his helmet, slammed his bat into the rack and, according to several players, hollered "That's [expletive], Joe." Rice then started toward the clubhouse. As he went, he grabbed Morgan by a shoulder and pulled him down the stairway in the back of the dugout. Rice told the
Boston Herald's Joe Giuliotti, "I was trying to get his attention to tell him, 'I can do the job.' "