The World Series of my childhood

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Carlton Fisk of Boston tries to wave his long fly ball to left field fair in the 10th inning of Game 6 in the 1975 World Series at Fenway Park vs Cincinnati

 

For the first time in 15 years, and for just the fourth time in my life, the World Series is coming to Philadelphia.

All this week, I will be turning over my website to my favorite sport, our American ‘National Pastime’, what I like to call ‘The Greatest Game That God Ever Invented’.

For those looking for the usual social and political commentary there are plenty of other outlets. With the election coming those important topics will return next week.

My own experience in enjoying the Fall Classic may be highlighted by the Phillies infrequent appearances, but is not exclusive to the home team. The World Series of my childhood were dominated by dynasties in Oakland, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and New York.

The first Series that I recall was the 1971 victory by Roberto Clemente and the Pittsburgh Pirates over Brooks Robinson and the Baltimore Orioles. As a nine-year old that summer, I had first fallen in love with the game when my hometown Phillies opened Veteran’s Stadium virtually in my backyard in South Philadelphia.

The shame of that 1971 Series for me was that I never really got to appreciate Clemente fully as a ballplayer. It was my first time watching him, and one of the final times. He would be tragically killed in a plane crash the following off-season, and I didn’t learn about just how great he had been until much later.

To me, those Pirates were the rival villains in the Phillies division. They had slugging Willie Stargell, daring Dave Cash, colorful catcher Manny Sanguillen, professional hitters in Al Oliver and Gene Clines, and a pitching staff led by Steve Blass and Dock Ellis.

On September 1st of that year those Pirates had become the first team in MLB history to field an all-black starting lineup. They were good, and as the Phillies emerged in mid-decade as contenders in their own right, it would be those Pirates whom they battled.

I really got into the game of baseball the following season which saw the emergence of the Oakland Athletics dynasty. Known as the Swingin‘ A’s, the team wore colorful uniforms and had even more colorful stars including Reggie Jackson, Vida Blue, Joe Rudi, Sal Bando, Gene Tenace, Catfish Hunter, and Rollie Fingers.

As the sun set on that Oakland dynasty in the mid-70’s, we saw the emergence of the ‘Big Red Machine’, who won back-to-back world championships in 1975-76 with players like Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, Tony Perez, George Foster, and Ken Griffey Sr leading the way.

That 1975 Fall Classic gave us one of the greatest moments in World Series history when the Red Sox won Game 6 in extra innings to tie the series and send it to a seventh game on a dramatic homerun by Carlton Fisk.

The future Hall of Fame catcher has been forever immortalized after he nailed a long fly along the third base line towards the ‘Green Monster’ in Fenway Park’s left field. Fisk was pictured waving the home run fair as he headed toward first base, then leaping for joy as it cleared the wall.

Watching on television as a 14-year old, I was rooting for Boston and screamed for joy when Fisk hit his blast, waking my dad who was a cop and who came running out thinking that something was wrong in our apartment.

That was one of the most dramatic games that I had ever seen to that date, and I have always recalled a game-tying home run by Bernie Carbo of Boston in the late innings of that game almost as well as Fisk’s blast.

The New York Yankees turn came next. Their bombastic owner, George Steinbrenner, used the new free agency system to buy the Bronx Bombers back to the top, signing players such as former A’s stars Jackson and Hunter and winning the ’77-78 Series in back-to-back fashion.

It was during these years that the Phillies began to emerge as serious contenders. The 1975 club was in contention for most of the year before falling short. But then the Phillies won three consecutive National League East Division titles in 1976-77-78, winning 101 games in both the ’77 and ’78 seasons.

Those Phillies always managed to fall short in the playoffs. In 1976 it was pretty much accepted, as the Phillies were newcomers to the post-season and the Big Red Machine who defeated them was in its heyday.

But the ’77 & ’78 teams were arguably better than the LA Dodgers clubs that defeated them. In that ’77 playoff, it was the ‘Black Friday’ game that cost the pennant, a game that was discussed in detail in one of my postings last week.

So the Phillies were contenders for the entirety of the second half of the decade, most of my teenage years, but they just couldn’t seem to reach the World Series.

After that 1978 season, ownership opened its wallets and signed Pete Rose away from the Reds as a free agent. The Phillies bolted out to another division lead with Rose, Mike Schmidt, Steve Carlton, Greg Luzinski, Bob Boone, Garry Maddox, and Larry Bowa leading the way.

But that team faded down the stretch, largely due to injuries, and was passed in the standings by a red-hot ‘We Are Family’ Pittsburgh Pirates team and their ‘killer bee’ uniforms highlighted by flat-top caps.

The Pittsburgh Pirates franchise that won the first World Series which I had ever followed back in 1971 by defeating the Baltimore Orioles would close out the decade by repeating that feat and becoming champions once again.

Would the Phillies, serious contenders now for the previous five years, ever get to the World Series, or had their best opportunities passed them by? The 1980 season would answer the question in dramatic fashion. But that story will wait until tomorrow.