THE EARLY 1970S WERE A FRACTIOUS TIME, AND FENWAY PARK WAS NOT immune. The '73 Newport New England Jazz Festival was witness to a riot; in the aftermath the Red Sox' brass decreed that Fenway would be exclusively a baseball park.
As a sole attraction, the Sox provided a decade chock full of thrills and some of the most compelling performers in the franchise's history. Boasting the second-best record in the American League (to Baltimore) from 1970 through '79, the Sox never finished worse than third and had a winning record each year. They went 499--306 at Fenway, the decade's best home record in the AL. But there was heartbreak aplenty. First came the near-miss of '72, when Boston dropped two of three in Detroit on the final weekend to finish a half game behind the Tigers. In '74 the Sox held a seven-game lead as late as Aug. 23 only to see it evaporate. The next year Boston finally got over the pennant hump, riding the sensational play of a pair of rookies, centerfielder Fred Lynn and leftfielder Jim Rice, to the World Series. But in arguably the most thrilling Fall Classic ever, the Red Sox fell to the favored Reds in seven games, losing a 3--0 lead in Game 7 at Fenway.
The most bitter disappointment came in 1978, when the Sox led the Yankees by 14 games in July, coughed up the entire margin and more, then rallied to force a one-game playoff at Fenway. The outcome looked hopeful until Yankees shortstop Bucky Dent, batting in the seventh with two outs and two men on base, lofted an innocent-looking fly that plopped into the net above the Green Monster, erasing a 2--0 Boston lead and propelling New York to a 5--4 win. Ever since, Dent's name has literally been cursed in New England—and the denouement seemed more proof that six decades after Babe Ruth left Fenway, the Bambino's Curse was a living, breathing spell.