SI Vault
Mark Mulvoy
August 26, 1974
The front-running Red Sox have put all New England on Elysian pins and needles, but they are so venturesome, so different from their predecessors, that they seem to be men from another league
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August 26, 1974

Strangers In Paradise

The front-running Red Sox have put all New England on Elysian pins and needles, but they are so venturesome, so different from their predecessors, that they seem to be men from another league

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Marichal's style perfectly complements the tricky deliveries of Luis Tiant, who won his 18th and 19th games for the Sox by shutting out California 3-0 last week and beating the Twins 9-6 on Sunday. During the winter Tiant embraced a new religion in Mexico, and according to the rules of the sect he is supposed to shun public places, make no public utterances and wear only white for an entire year. Fortunately for the Red Sox, Tiant received dispensations that allow him to pitch in major league baseball parks and wear the Red Sox red.

All credit to pitchers pious or profane, but beyond anything else Johnson's Red Sox are notable for the exuberance of their youth. At least four young newcomers play regularly because, as Johnson says, "I managed them at Pawtucket and know they can do the job." When Fisk was injured, Johnson recalled 21-year-old Tim Blackwell from Pawtucket, even though he was hitting only .192, and moved him right into the lineup. Blackwell is near .270 for the Red Sox and has hurt them behind the plate only once.

Rooster Burleson, a 23-year-old graduate of the Pete Rose- Eddie Stanky school of baseball belligerence, is probably the cockiest Boston rookie since another Californian by the name of Ted Williams predicted great things for himself about 35 years ago. Replacing the retired- Luis Aparicio, Burleson is hitting a strong .300 and has taken charge of the infield. "It's got to be that way," he says. "I keep telling myself that I've got to run things out there. I've shown them I can play, so they accept me."

In the field Burleson has better than average range and perhaps the strongest arm in the league. The arm often saves him from embarrassment because he tends to hold the ball too long before firing it to first on routine plays.

Bobby Murcer of the Yankees and Don Baylor of the Orioles have crashed hard into Burleson at second base, testing his desire to stay in the majors. "They won't do it again," Burleson says, "because I'll lowball them. I'll get the ball coming right at them—and that other stuff will end. Like Toby Harrah of the Rangers. He throws so low to first base on double plays, guys start sliding when they're halfway to the bag."

As Johnson anticipated, Burleson's style—cockiness tempered with ability—has infected the Red Sox veterans, most of whom never knew what a rambunctious rookie was like. Yastrzemski, Petrocelli and Second Baseman Dude Griffin have batted close to .300 all season and played with the flair of Jersey Street Prep rather than the Olde Towne Team, while 22-year-old Dwight Evans has matured into a solid .290 hitter and the league's best rightfielder in just his second full season. "Petrocelli has been the steadiest day-to-day player on the club," Johnson says.

Rico was not all that steady the other night, having just finished a pepper steak submarine sandwich with onions, cheese, tomatoes and enough oil to fill a Libyan tanker. "Why does my stomach feel so awful?" he asked unnecessarily. Last season he had said he would quit if he were not traded. His elbow was filled with calcium deposits, bone chips, torn muscles and scar tissue. He had no feeling in two fingers. His bat and his glove both had holes. And the Boston fans were booing him mercilessly. Then Petrocelli, always a brooder, met Pat Jantamaso, a former Las Vegas singer turned evangelist, and adopted a new outlook. "I stopped letting myself be bothered by all the little things that went wrong," he says. "Now when a game's over I just go home."

When Petrocelli and the Red Sox returned to Boston last week after losing two of three games to the Angels, Owner Tom Yawkey visited the clubhouse to try to lift any sagging spirits. Nolan Ryan had struck out a record 19 Red Sox batters in one game and a rookie named Frank Tanana had shut them out in another. "I've seen Tanana pitch," Yawkey said, "and he's tough. He's got a good arm. Maybe he's a little flaky, but he's young, and when he gets his breaking ball over he can beat anybody."

Let no one doubt that Yawkey, at 71, is an active owner and a perceptive baseball man. "Did you see the TV game the other night?" he asked no one in particular. "Gowdy and Kubek kept asking where Rose was on that double that landed just inside the left-field foul line. They said he broke late on the ball, and they kept showing the replay. Hell, don't they know that on those new fields—which I don't like, by the way—the outfielders play closer together to prevent triples and give up the double down the line. The ball was fair by inches."

Yawkey works out daily at Fenway, playing pepper with the clubhouse men or the batboys. He insists that he never interferes with Johnson's decisions. "I manage from my box upstairs," he says.

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