By Sydney H. Schanberg
New York Newsday, September 30, 1986
It was nice to see the Red Sox clinch the American League East title in Fenway Park on Sunday. There was a civility and a generosity of spirit not always manifest in certain other ball parks that shall go nameless.
I myself wasn’t sitting in the Fenway stands, though from the brief glimpses of the scene that New Yorkers were allowed on network sports television, it seemed such a sweet, crisp day of sunshine and champagne that it was a shame to have missed it in person.
A friend who lives in Connecticut, and who is therefore fortunate enough to receive the Boston telecasts in his home, described the celebration for me yesterday in wistful images that evoked the essence of family photo albums and explained why some of us love baseball.
There are Yankee fans and other grumps in this office, who are complaining even as I write this, that a New York newspaper column should not be used to extend respect to a Boston baseball team. But columnists — especially columnists who are Red Sox fans — are indulged their benign eccentricities and addictions; as a result, I am not being censored, and I am grateful.
Here is what my friend described. As Sunday’s game progressed and the Red Sox lead grew — first to 5-0, then 6-2, and then 10-2 at the end of only the fourth inning — so did the crowd’s fervid anticipation. Still none of the fans were threatening to storm the field.
As a precaution, just before the seventh inning was to begin, the police offered a polite show of force — 13 mounted police took positions in the runways leading to the field. At the top of the ninth, police on foot moved out and lined the railings along the foul lines.
And then the game was over, on a high pop fly to the first baseman, Bill Buckner — and the happiness began. A few of the fans, half a dozen maybe, ran onto the field and jumped up and down, but it was balletic ecstasy they were practicing, not violence to the players or the grass. The rest of the 32,929 celebrants simply stood at their seats and cheered and clapped and waved.
The Boston players danced around for a few minutes, hugging each other and basking in the hurrahs, and shortly they went into the clubhouse for another few minutes of the obligatory champagne and whipped-cream-in-the-face.
Then — and this is the special part — they came back out on the field to enjoy the fans some more. They had taken off their numbered uniformed shirts and were down to the warmup shirts they wear underneath. They walked along the railings of the box seats, leaning over to shake hands and slap high fives with their New England admirers.
The winning pitcher, Dennis (Oil Can) Boyd, kept throwing his hands in the air, unable to stifle his wonderful boisterous energy.
Then the winningest pitcher in the major leagues this year, Roger Clemens (24-4), a Texas boy who knows his way around a ranch, got on a horse behind a mounted policeman and rode around the field, holding aloft a champagne bottle. The horse bucked slightly a couple of times as the sizable Clemens climbed on — but the animal’s temporary unrest was the only objection raised at the party.
All this may seem sloppy and maudlin to outsiders, but to the Red Sox and their family of followers, who were told in the preseason handicapping that they could finish in no better than fifth place and maybe worse, it was a sweet day that reminded people of such old-fashioned ideas as teamwork and making the most of one’s abilities.
This member of the family remembers also, with a spirit of forgiveness, all those put-down columns written earlier in the year by New York pundits, who should know by now that in the punditry trade, one should never predict anything — and one should never chortle or gloat.
Names will not be used here — in the hope that they will soon write columns admitting their error — but one such expert wrote on July 17: “History says the Red Sox cannot hold up in the second half [of the season]. They almost never do…The Bombers [the New York Yankees] are only seven games out. History says there’s plenty of time.”
Another baseball columnist with an archival bent wrote: “Why is it hardly anybody other than Red Sox fanatic Jonathan Schwartz, a New York radio personality, believes that Boston will hang on and win the American League East? History says they won’t…What burlesque will the Red Sox produce this time?”
So as to avoid the necessity for apologies myself, I shall make no forecasts about how the Red Sox will fare in the division playoffs and, if they should win there, in the World Series. Whatever happens from this point forward, they are a classy team — and cleans is an attribute in short supply even in the best of times.
The reason I used this column to write about that sunny Sunday afternoon at Fenway (through the good offices and repertorial eye of my Connecticut friend) was that you didn’t get to read all the warm-hearted details in your New York newspapers. And it was such a nice day.