I moved to Durham, New Hampshire from Bowie, Maryland in 1970. I was seven at the time and a fan of the Orioles. As I’ve said earlier, that was a good time to be an O’s fan. I don’t recall when I became a Sox fan, but I did some looking back at the Red Sox teams in the early 70s to try to figure out when I would have started to follow the Sox.
The O’s lost the World Series in 1971 to the Pittsburgh Pirates. If I recall correctly, that was probably the time I stepped away from the Orioles and began to follow the Sox. It was okay timing because the O’s had a down year in 1972, finishing in third place at 80-74. The Sox finished second, a half game behind the Tigers at 85-70. Here is the odd thing about the 1972 season. The Tigers finished first with an 86-70 record. They played one more game than the Red Sox. How is that possible, you ask?
Well, 1972 was the year of the first baseball strike. I am sure that also helped in pushing me toward my new team – it was a convenient breaking point. The 1972 strike was not a long strike – it lasted a mere thirteen days. But it was an important strike for the newly formed MLB players association. Unlike other unions, where a strike vote is often just seen as posturing or a formality while negotiations continue, for the baseball players of that time a strike vote was a big deal; it was their first ever vote to strike and they did not take it lightly. The years of one sided salary negotiations had stuck in the minds of the players and when they finally had a chance to fight for themselves they rose up. The impasse was over the minor issue of how much money the owners were to provide to a pension fund for ball players. When the players held firm the owners pretty quickly caved. Looking back on it now, you have to think the owners were crazy. It is this 1972 strike that led to the introduction of “salary arbitration” in 1974. And, that is what really shook up the game and led to the rise in player salaries.
Anyway, baseball cancelled the games missed during the player strike. The strike erased the first week and a half of the season, which meant that some teams would have played more than others during that time frame. Baseball owners, because they wanted to punish the players and not pay them for missed games, decided not to make up the lost games. That is how the Sox ended up playing one fewer game than the Tigers in 1972 and were not given a chance to tie the Tigers by making up the one game difference. I’m sure that outraged me and helped push me over to my new hometown team.
Additionally, my best friend moved to Rhode Island from Laurel, Maryland by that time. His beloved Senators decamped from Washington to Arlington, Texas and became the newly minted Texas Rangers. Most likely, we both embraced the Sox around this time. I recall that he still followed the Rangers in conjunction with the Sox but he mainly became a Sox fan.
To put 1972 in some historical perspective, here is some of the stuff that I recall happening:
- Nixon visited China
- George Wallace was shot and paralyzed
- the Watergate scandal erupted
- the summer Olympics and the Munich Massacre of Israeli athletes
- Fischer beats Spassky in the world chess championship
- the first video game I can remember, Pong, was released; and,
- Roberto Clemente died in plane crash
There is other stuff that happened that year (the Godfather was released and the Equal Rights Amendment passed Congress but was never ratified by the states to name two), but I honestly doubt, as a nine year old, I cared about or noticed any thing other than the biggies listed above. All those events I have a memory of happening.
The Red Sox of 1972 had these players: Carlton Fisk, Rico Petrocelli, Yaz, Tommy Harper, Reggie Smith, Rick Miller, Juan Beniquez, Dwight Evans, Cecil Cooper, Sonny Siebert, Luis Tiant, Ray Culp, Roger Moret and Bill Lee. And, I have memories of all of them. So, this must have been the beginning of my Red Sox fandom. I’m also pretty sure that Dwight Evans becoming my favorite player probably had something to do with the fact that his arrival as a rookie to the Sox and my arrival as a Sox fan coincided.
Next post we’ll talk about the 1973 Red Sox.