As last weekend approached, gloomy New England skies darkened what had been a luminous World Series. It rained and rained on the parade, dousing spirits, dampening enthusiasm. October in Boston had become a persuasive argument for a shorter baseball season. "We may go head to head with the Super Bowl before this is all over," said one baseball functionary as foul weather, no stranger in the Northeast this time of year, lengthened and flattened out a Series that had been all peaks and valleys of excitement.
Nevertheless, it had already become a Series of memorable contrasts. The cities involved represented opposing cultures: Boston, self-proclaimed "Hub" of Eastern sophistication; Cincinnati, hometown of Middle America. The ball parks embodied this striking dissimilarity. Fenway Park is pure Boston: old, compact, eccentric, slightly battered, a relic from a departed and more refined civilization. Riverfront Stadium is new, huge, symmetrical, antiseptic, a monument to modern American get-up-and-go. Fenway has natural grass, naturally; Riverfront has AstroTurf.
Although both managers are Midwestern-born, they, too, were peas from separate pods. The Reds' Sparky Anderson is plain folks. He is likable, self-effacing, sentimental, a spouter of homilies, an espouser of fairness—"Let's don't cheapen this World Series by crucifying anybody." Anderson speckles his speech with humble disclaimers—"To be honest with you, I don't see so good anymore." On his clubhouse wall a poem is posted: "A smile is something nice to see,/ It doesn't cost a cent/ A smile is something all your own,/ It never can be bent."
The Red Sox' Darrell Johnson appeared to the national press as the personification of unsmiling Yankee severity, although he was somewhat more cordial in private conversation. No matter how inoffensive or simpleminded the question put to him at press conferences, he responded as if he were being asked to disclose a particularly embarrassing family secret. He was a hostile witness. This was reflected in his numbing habit of prefacing virtually every response with an aggressive "In the first place" or "Number one...." Once he was guilty of a double singular: "Number one, in the first place, I'm not here to tell you what I put down on my piece of paper." In his discourse there was rarely a second place. On one occasion he said his team had committed three faux pas in a game. He named only two.
It is not known if Johnson preceded his remarks to Plate Umpire Larry Barnett in Tuesday's third game with an "In the first place, you're a scoundrel," but it is certain that any hostility previously unexpressed was given vent to on that balmy, eventful evening in Riverfront.
Before the first game in Cincinnati there had been laborious speculation on how the Red Sox fielders would perform on the artificial surface, just as there had been before the Series opener in Boston on how the Reds' fielders would react to Fenway's famous "green monster" wall in left field. Both the wall and the rug proved to be overrated furnishings, since no fly balls hit the wall in the first two games and the Red Sox swept up most everything on the rug. A human being, Umpire Barnett, not the carpeting, would be the Sox' undoing in the third game, and, as Anderson said afterward, "The guys in the bars will be talking about that play until spring training."
The barroom conversation piece occurred in the 10th inning of a tense and thrilling game in which the Red Sox rallied from a 5-1 deficit to tie the score in the ninth on Dwight Evans' two-run homer. The Reds' Cesar Geronimo began the 10th with a single to center off Sox Reliever Jim Willoughby. Anderson then dispatched the previously obscure Ed Armbrister to hit for his pitcher, Rawly Eastwick. Obviously up to sacrifice, Armbrister would soon become baseball's most famous bunter. He dropped one plop in front of the plate, the ball bouncing high. Red Sox Catcher Carlton Fisk leaped for the ball as Armbrister first started to run, then, for reasons not even clear to him, stopped in his tracks. Catcher and batter collided as Fisk reached for the ball. With some difficulty Fisk fielded it, then, with his mitt hand, shoved Armbrister away and threw to second base in an effort to catch Geronimo and start a double play. His throw to Rick Burleson was high and into center field. Geronimo sped to third, and Armbrister, the late starter, reached second.
Fisk and Johnson argued vehemently but vainly that Armbrister had interfered with Fisk while he was fielding the ball. So now, instead of two outs and no one on base, the Red Sox found themselves with Reds on second and third and no one out. Pete Rose was intentionally walked to load the bases and Joe Morgan singled in the winning run over a drawn-in outfield. The game had ended, 6-5, but not the controversy.
Asked about his decision, Barnett replied, "I ruled that it was simply a collision. It is interference only when the batter intentionally gets in the way of the fielder. I signaled that the ball was fair and in play." The applicable baseball rule would seem to be No. 6.06, which declares that a batter is out if he "interferes with the catcher's fielding or throwing by stepping out of the batter's box or making any other movement that hinders the catcher's play at home base." The catch is that the rule makes no mention of the batter's "intent." Johnson said that in his argument with Barnett the umpire said nothing about intent, explaining only that in his judgment there was no interference. A judgment call cannot be protested, but an interpretation of the rules can be, if the protest is made before the next pitch is thrown. This was not done, since Johnson was unaware that "intent" was an issue.
Intent or no, it is difficult to determine from reviewing films of the play if Armbrister did, in fact, interfere with Fisk. The two did collide before Fisk reached the ball, but in the opinion of Barnett's colleague Dick Stello, who was umpiring at first base, "The batter has as much right to go to first base as the fielder has to go for the ball." A good throw by Fisk would have eliminated any controversy, however, for, even though jostled, he had time to gun down Geronimo. Armbrister, loitering near home plate, would have been an easy second out since Fisk also had time to tag him and throw to second to catch Geronimo. In fact, Fisk suspected that he had tagged Armbrister, although films disclose he touched the runner with an empty mitt. Fisk was still in high dudgeon after the game, flinging magazines about the clubhouse and elaborating on the perfidy of umpires.