Sunday, June 28, 2015

Oh, How Different Things Might Have Been: Jim Rice and the 1975 Red Sox

History is fixed.  It is unchangeable.  Nothing can change the past.  You can watch Carlton Fisk hop down the line a million times and he will still waive the ball fair.  No matter how many times Todd Worrell touches that bag, Don Denkinger is still going to call Jorge Orta safe.  Bill Buckner is never going to field that little roller behind the bag and Mitch Williams will not look back over his shoulder to see Joe Carter's fly ball being caught.

The winners and losers in the history of the game will always be winners or losers.  But this series will explore some "what if's".  What if a player who missed the World Series hadn't gotten injured?  What if a play that turned a World Series had been completed differently?

We have already looked at  the 1905 Philadelphia Athletics, the 1910 Cubs, the 1962 Dodgers and last week the 1968 Tigers.  This week we look at how the loss of a rookie outfielder might have changed World Series for the 1975 Red Sox:

No one had predicted this.  Anyone who had would have been sent for evaluation.  Imagine it.  The Orioles had won the division every year (except 1973) since the division format had been invented.  Only the Tigers had been able to claw the birds out of the top perch.  Although Baltimore had sent Frank Robinson and Boog Powell to the Indians (suddenly the Indians looked improved) the O’s still had Brooks Robinson and that great pitching.  The Yankees had added Catfish Hunter and Bobby Bonds to a roster that already included Thurman Munson and Graig Nettles.  Even the young Brewers were improving with Robin Yount and Darrell Porter mixing with veterans George Scott and Hank Aaron.

So what did the Red Sox have?  They had arguably the best Catcher in baseball (Freehan, Munson and Bench were certainly in the discussion) but he was out of the lineup for god knows how long.  They had an aging legend in Carl Yastrzemski whose knees were shot and would be moved to First Base to save his body.  They had a pitcher that was rejected by Cleveland and Minnesota with a wind up so ridiculous it almost baffled the mind that the pitches made it to the catcher at all.  They had another pitcher that would have been rejected by Monty Python as a character too unbelievable to be part of their sketches and called himself “Spaceman”.

They also had a ton of young, unproven players.  No one was dumb enough to believe Boston had a shot at this.  Still, at the end of the first month the Sox stood at the top of the division at 7-5.  Any hope of a Boston miracle began to fade as the Sox dropped 4 straight and fell to 4th.  A quick rally in the form of an 8-2 stretch actually put the Red Sox four games up by mid May and the focus was on the excitement of Luis Tiant and the young players.
There were three main youngsters that became the focus of the team: Fred Lynn, Dwight Evans  and Jim Rice. 

The opening day lineup was honestly a bit of a mess. Yaz, the man who had written the textbook on how to play the Green Monster, was at First Base.  In Left Field was Juan Beniquez with Lynn in Center Field and Evans in Right.  Catching was Bob Montgomery in place of an injured Fisk.

Friday April 18th was a big day.  Though few saw it at the time, it would be a great day in the story of the franchise.  Facing off against the favored Orioles, Reggie Cleveland gave up 2 quick first inning runs.  Boston went in order (Beniquez, Rick Burleson, Yaz) in the first.  The O’s got another base runner in the second but Dave Duncan remained at first and the Sox came up for the second inning.
Dwight Evans grounded to Brooks Robinson at third to start the inning and Rico Petrocelli  walked.  Walking to the plate, in his first starting assignment of the year, was Jim Rice.  In the days before baseball players used weights, Jim Rice was a giant.  The theory at the time was that weights and baseball didn’t mix.  It was thought that larger muscles would interfere with the fluidity of the swing.  Rice was a challenge to that theory.  He was a football player on the baseball diamond.  He was so strong that he once broke his bat on a check swing.  Think about the physics of that moment.  His arms were so powerful that when they stopped their momentum a wooden bat continued moving, putting enough pressure to crack a solid object in two.  He demonstrated his power here with a two run game tying Home Run.  The next batter was Fred Lynn who walked.

In the third, Dwight Evans doubled giving the Sox the lead.  In the 4th Rice stepped to the plate and hit his second Home Run of the day putting Boston up 4-2.  By the end of the inning Boston led 6-2.  In the 7th Fred Lynn hit a solo Home Run.  The three youngsters (Evans, Rice and Lynn) would be 6-13, scored 3 runs, 5 RBI, a walk, a double and three Home Runs.  It was the first time all three had started together.  But try telling the Red Sox fans it was a great day as they filed out of Fenway.  Lee May, the Orioles First Baseman, had gone 2-3, with 2 runs, 7 RBI, 2 Home Runs (both with two men on).  The Sox lost 9-7, at home to a division rival.

The rookies took over the season.  It seemed that every time you looked up Fred Lynn was sliding face first on the grass or crashing into a wall to make a catch and Rice was trotting around the bases.  They were dubbed the “Gold Dust Twins” and they carried the team to win after win.  By July 28th they were 9 games up.  The lead shrunk to 5 ½ by September 1 but they recovered and continued to win.  Lynn, Rice and Evans were everywhere.  Evans was the least successful of the three somehow.  Rice and Lynn were similar in numbers.  At the end of the year their numbers looked like this:
                                Hits        Runs      RBI         2B/3B/HR            Avg.       BB/K      SB/CS
Jim Rice                  174         92           102         29/4/22                .309        36/122  10/5
Fred Lynn               175         103         105         47/7/21                .331        62/90     10/5

It should be obvious why they were called twins.  It definitely was not because they looked alike.  Things were great.  Fisk was back in the lineup by the end of June, the kids were tearing it up and the combination of Tiant and Lee was consistently winning.  The Sox fans started seeing rings.
It was an unusual feeling.  The Boston Globe asked “What’s Right with the Red Sox”.  But this was still the era of the Curse of the Bambino.  It struck on September 21.  Facing Detroit, the Tigers had taken a 1-0 lead in the first, although with the Gold Dust Twins a one run lead was nothing.  Leading off the second inning was  Jim Rice.  The pitch came in tight on Rice.  It was too far inside and Rice did not react quickly enough.  It hit Rice on the hand, crushing the powerful hand between the ball and the bat, breaking the hand.  Rice would stay in the game and came around to score.  He walked in his next plate appearance and flew out in the 6th.  With the Sox ahead heading into the 7th, Evans replaced Rice in right field.    Rice was sent for x-rays and it was found that a bone was broken.  The Sox clinched their division but they would be without Jim Rice in the playoffs.

Their first opponent would be a difficult challenge.  The A’s were the World Series Champions three times running.  They had lost Catfish Hunter since last year but they still had names like Bert Campaneris, Sal Bando, Joe Rudi, Gene Tennace, Vida Blue, Ken Holtzman, Rollie Fingers and the biggest of all, Reggie Jackson.  It did not appear to be an easy task and without Rice many thought the Red Sox didn’t stand a chance.

The Sox scored twice in the first inning of Game 1 thanks to two Oakland errors.  It remained 2-0 entering the bottom of the 7th.  Boston exploded for five runs, three of those unearned, and cruised to a 7-1 lead.

Game 2 was a bit more tense.  Reggie Jackson put the A’s out to a 2-0 lead with a 2 run Home Run and the A’s young outfielder Claudell Washington added to the lead with an RBI double in the third.  Yaz answered in the bottom of the third with a 2 run Home Run of his own and Rico Petrocelli grounded into a double play that allowed Carlton Fisk to score from third.  Tie game headed into the 4th.  From there it seemed to be all Red Sox.  Fisk drove in Yaz with an RBI single in the 6th.  Petrocelli homered in the 7th and Lynn drove in Juan Beniquez in the 9th for a 6-3 win and a 2-0 lead in the series.

We can only imagine the mood in the A’s locker room after the second straight loss. Often volatile, even when winning, we can at least be confident that it wasn’t quiet.   Without Catfish as an option, the A’s went back to their ace Ken Holtzman to try and save their season.  He had  been victimized by 4 A’s errors in Game 1 and had to work out of trouble n the 1st inning of Game 3 but he seemed to settle down.  The game was scoreless entering the 4th.  After 2 quick outs  Fred Lynn hit a fly ball that looked like it would get the A’s to the plate but Claudell Washington misplayed the ball and Lynn ended up on second base.  Petrocelli made them pay with a single scoring Lynn.  The A’s went in order in the 4th and Holtzman returned to the mound.  Holtzman struck out Cecil Cooper to start the inning but Rick Burleson singled.  Juan Beniquez (Rice’s replacement) flew out for out number 2.  Denny Doyle singled to score Burleson and Yaz followed with a single. Holtzman’s day was done but the Red Sox were not.  Relief Pitcher Jim Todd gave up an RBI single to Fisk, scoring Doyle and was replaced.  Paul Lindblad came in and allowed Yaz to score on a Wild Pitch making it 5-0 Sox.  Down 6-1 in the 8th, the A’s made one last rally when they bunched three singles and an error to score 2 but  Dick Drago came in to relieve Rick Wise and got a double play to end the inning.  The Sox had advanced to the World Series for the first time since 1967 and only the third time (1946 being the other) since 1918.

The Sox were able to win relatively easily without Rice in the ALCS but that was mostly thanks to A’s poor fielding.  Juan Beniquez, Rice’s replacement, had gone 3-12 with only one extra base hit, a double.  They would need more than that if they were going to beat the Reds of Bench, Morgan, Rose and Perez.

The Reds were heavily favored entering the World Series based on their dominant regular season and collection of future Hall of Famers.  The 1975 World Series is one of the greatest of all time with each game seemingly more surprising and exciting than the next.  Game 1 saw Luis Tiant pitch an emotional dominating game.  Tiant had been reunited with his parents for the first time since leaving Cuba.  Fidel Castro had allowed them a temporary visa to see their son pitch in the World Series. 
Boston led Game 2 heading into the 9th inning and were on the verge of taking a 2 games to none lead until the Reds got 2 doubles, a stolen base and two runs to take the lead.  The Sox went in order in the bottom of the 9th.

Game 3 saw a controversial end to a 10 inning game.  After trailing 5-1 the Sox fought back to tie the game only to lose on a non-call of batter/runner interference by Ed Armbrister. 

Game 4  was another win for Tiant, who was not as sharp as he had been in Game 1.  He allowed 4 runs but with a 5 run inning in the 4th the Sox tied the series at 2 games each. 

Game 5 saw Tony Perez break out of his slump with a solo Home Run and a three run Home Run to give the Reds a 3 games to 2 lead in the series.

Game 6 was arguably the greatest game ever played.

Game 7 saw the Red Sox take a 3-0 lead and hold a 3-2 lead heading into the 7th.  But Bill Lee had to leave when a blister formed on a finger on his pitching hand and Joe Morgan drove in Ken Griffey in the top of the 9th to win the World Series.

Of course it is easy to say that Jim Rice would have made the difference but we can’t know that he would have made the difference.  Knowing that the series went 7 games and each game was close, Rice certainly could have made a difference.  It is not fair to say “things would definitely have happened differently if… “  There is never an absolute.  If a fielder doesn’t throw wild, our team will win.  If a runner doesn’t lose his footing turning a bag, our team will win.  It certainly would improve the team's chances of winning but it doesn’t automatically mean they will win.  So simply saying that the Red Sox would have won in 1975 if Jim Rice was in the lineup is not entirely accurate, but he certainly could have helped their chances greatly.

With that being said, let’s look at how Rice could have changed things had he been in the four losses in the World Series.  When the Red Sox were healthy and playing at their best in 1975 their lineup looked like this:
C    Carlton Fisk
1B  Carl Yastrzemski
2B  Denny Doyle
SS  Rick Burleson
3B Rico Petrocelli
RF  Dwight Evans
CF Fred Lynn
LF Jim Rice
DH Juan Beniquez/Cecil Cooper/Rick Miller/Bernie Carbo

The DH was not used in the World Series so two bats were essentially taken out of the lineup: Jim Rice and the DH.

The first loss for the Red Sox, Game 2, saw Yaz playing in place of Rice in Left Field but since Yaz was part of the regular lineup,First Baseman Cecil Cooper would have been considered the Rice replacement.  In Game 2 Cooper would go 1-5 with a double.  In fact he led off the game with the 2 base hit.  He was erased on a double play.So in his other 4 plate appearances could he have effected the game the way Rice could have?  Of course there is always the argument  that a healthy Rice could show his power at any time. so of course Rice could have changed the game in that way.  Cooper led off the third with a ground ball to Joe Morgan.  In the 5th, he was the third out in a 1-2-3 inning.  In the 7th, he was out number 2 in a 1-2-3 inning.  In the 9th Cooper made the final out with a pop out to short, again part of a 1-2-3 inning.  There was no point in this game that Cooper left runners on base or killed a rally.

Game 3 had the same lineup.  Cooper was hitting in the lead off spot (Rice would normally be 4th or 5th in the lineup).  Cooper went 0-5 and twice he came to bat with a runner on base. In the bottom of the 5th with two out and Burleson on first, Cooper grounded out.   The second time could be a situation where we could see Rice making a difference.  The Red Sox trailed entering the top of the 9th.  Fred Lynn struck out to start the inning.  Rico followed with a single and after a pitching change Dwight Evans tied it with a Home Run.  Burleson followed with a single and suddenly the pressure was on.  Pitcher Jim Willoughby sacrificed Burleson to second and up came Cecil Cooper.  Imagine the pressure on the Reds had Jim Rice walked to the plate with a runner in scoring position instead of Cecil Cooper but the intimidation that could have been applied by Rice could have changed the way that game went.  Instead Cooper flew out easily to Center Field and the game remained tied into the 10th.  Of course, you can also do the “what if” game with Ed Armbrister’s bunt in the 10th inning as well, as in what if the umpire called him out.

Game 5 was the next loss and the lineup got juggled a little.  Yaz moved to First Base and batted third.  Taking over in Left Field was Juan Beniquez.  Beniquez would go 0-3 with a walk and a strikeout.  But were any of his plate appearances in situations where Rice could have made a difference?  Beniquez led off the game by grounding to third.  That was followed by a Denny Doyle triple.  So had Rice been in the game he was more likely to get on base, although Rice normally batted in the middle of the lineup so we can give Beniquez a pass on the lead off spot.  In the third, Beniquez was the third out in a 1-2-3 inning.  In the 6th, with the Reds ahead 2-1 Beniquez got a 2 out walk and was stranded there.  By the time he came up to the plate again to lead off the 9th  the Reds were ahead 6-1.  Beniquez struck out looking. 

Finally, Game 7.  Could Rice have changed things? Again the answer is that he could flex his power at any given moment but the real question is: did his replacement miss any opportunities to change the game? Yaz again played First Base but in Left Field to start the game was Bernie Carbo.  Carbo had hit a pinch hit Home Run the night before.  That Home Run tied him with Chuck Essegian of the 1959 Dodgers for most pinch hit Home Runs in a World Series with 2.  Carbo led off the game with a double to left field.  When Denny Doyle followed with a fly ball to right, Carbo failed to advance.  It was a lack of aggressiveness on the base paths that Red Sox fans would point to as a missed opportunity.  Yaz grounded to the right side of the infield, advancing Carbo to third, although he might have scored had he advanced to third on Doyle’s fly ball out.  Burleson flew out to end the inning.  Rice was not a tremendous runner.  He stole 10 bases in  1975 but would never again break double digits in that category.  So it is unclear whether this would have differed with him on the base paths.  With only one out and Yaz coming up, Don Zimmer, coaching 3rd base, might have held Rice at second anyways.  Carbo next came up in the 3rd with the game still scoreless.  He worked a one out walk, moved to third on a Doyle single and scored the game’s first run on a Yaz single.  Carbo came to bat again in the 4th.  Bill Lee singled to start the inning and moved to second on a wild pitch.  Carbo grounded to second to advance Lee to third, so although it wasn’t a base hit, it was a productive out.  Doyle and Yaz left Lee at third.   Carbo’s final at bat of the game came leading off the 6th.  With Boston ahead 3-2 Carbo was the first out of a 1-2-3 inning.  Rick Miller replaced Carbo in left field to start the 7th.  By the time Carbo’s spot came up in the order again the Sox were down 4-3.  Leading off the bottom of the 9th, Juan Beniquez pinch hit for Rick Miller.  He flew out to right for the first out of a 1-2-3 inning.  Certainly the Boston approach to the game might have been different had Rice been in the game.  Rice would not have been replaced defensively by Miller in the 7th and his presence at the plate would have made Sparky Anderson much more nervous than Juan Beniquez.  Following Beniquez’s fly ball out to start the 9th, Boston went to the bench again and sent up Catcher Bob Montgomery to pinch hit for Denny Doyle.  Had Rice been in the game, Darrel Johnson would have had other options for pinch hitters (like Bernie Carbo) in that situation.

But the question still remains, would Rice have made the difference?  Comparing numbers is always helpful.  So as a final review to allow you to make your decision, let’s compare the numbers of Rice’s replacements to Rice’s numbers in the other post seasons he played in his career:
                                                AB/Hits Runs      RBI         2B/3B/HR            BB/K             AVG
Cecil Cooper (1975*)              1-18       0              1              1/0/0                     0/3              .056
Juan Beniquez (1975*)              1-8       0              1              0/0/0                     1/1              .125
Bernie Carbo (1975*)                2-5      2               3              1/0/1                     1/1              .200
Jim Rice (Career Postseason+)18-76   15              8              2/1/2                    9/22             .237
*-numbers used are only in situations where player was considered Rice’s replacement

+- Rice played in the 1978 playoff game to decide the AL East division as well as 1986 ALCS, 1986 World Series and 1988 ALCS.  The 1978 AL East division deciding game is technically not post season but was included as it added weight to viewing Rice’s performance in playoff situations.

Joe Morgan was named the MVP of the 1975 World Series.  Morgan went 7-27,  including a double, for a  259 average. He also scored 4 runs, drove in 3, including the series winner, walked 5 times and stole 2 bases.

There was another major piece of the Big Red Machine who had great numbers and could have been considered for the Series MVP.  This Red went 10-27 (.370) including a double and a triple, scored 3, drove in 2 and walked 5 times. Although many feel this Red should be in the Naitonal Baseball Hall of Fame he has not been enshrined in Cooperstown yet. Who is he?

Answer to Last Week's Trivia Question:
The Cardinals and Tigers first faced each other in the World Series in 1934.  It was the Gashouse Gang vs. Hank Greenberg, Charlie Gehringer and SchoolboyRowe.  In a great, tightly contested seven game series the Cardinals  came out on top.

The 1934 World Series was Detroit's fourth World Series appearance (they had lost to the Cubs in 1907 and 1908 and the Pirates in 1909).  It was the Cardinals 5th appearance (they had beaten the Yankess in 1926 and lost to the Yankees in 1928.  They had also lost to the Athletics in 1930 but beaten the Athletics in 1931)

By the time the two faced off again in 1968 the Cardinals had won the 1942, 1944, 1946, 1964 and 1967 and had lost the 1943 World Series. The Tigers had won the 1935, 1945 World Series and had lost the 1940 World Series.

After the 1968 season both teams fell off drastically.  The Cardinals would not reach the World Series again until the Whitey Herzog era of the 1980s.  They won the 1982 World Series but lost the 1985 and 1987 World Series.  The Tigers, following the 1968 World Series, would not return to the Fall Classic until 1984.

The 1990s were a terrible era for the Tigers but saw a rebirth for the Caridnals, although no World Series appearances.

The early 2000s started poorly for the Tigers but they surprised everyone with a dramatic 2006 turn around and run through the playoffs to the World Series.  The Cardinals continued their rebirth with a 2004 World Series appearance where they faced the Red Sox.  In 2006 tehy returned to the World Series and faced the Tigers (the third time they faced off) and won their first World Series since 1982.

The Cardinals returned to the World Series in 2011 and 2013 while the Tigers returned in 2012.  Any one of those seasons could have seen a rematch as the oposing team lost in the LCS round of their respective leagues.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Have questions about something in this or a former post? Have a suggestion for a future post? Want more information on a specific team, player, season or game? I welcome the feedback, so feel free to leave a comment in the box or email me at baseballeras (at) gmail (dot) com.