Today’s trip down baseball’s memory lane are two Sports Illustrated covers, from this week in time, 50 years apart.
The first is from the first week of November 1975, following the thrilling victory of “The Big Red Machine” over the Boston Red Sox.
I don’t need to recount once more, but will of course, how the 1970s Cincinnati Reds were my inspiration for what a winning baseball team *could* be. That series was so important in our family’s life. Our Father bought a new television just so we could watch it.
It was on that fresh, new television set that we watched Carton Fisk’s “walk off” home run in the sixth game…still one of the most iconic walk offs in the entire history of baseball.
I was thirteen-years-old, the pinnacle of a boy’s fascination with baseball. I was completely captivated by the heartbreak, struggle, and eventual joy that series gave me.
This week, *my* family went to YouTube and watched Fisk’s walk off all over again, just after Garcia’s glorious walk off against Houston the other night…because they felt similar to me.
But the Cincinnati Reds came back in game seven and cemented their place as the late 1970s baseball dynasty and as one of the greatest teams to play the game.
That series is still to this day considered one of the greatest of all-time.
As you can see, I detached this SI cover from my subscription copy. I taped it up to my boyhood room wall. Apparently, I also saved the magazine because…well, it told the whole marvelous story!
The magazine cover eventually came down from the wall, and went into a closet box, which has remained unopened for almost fifty years…until this week.
I loved those Reds teams. And despite the fact that they were our nemesis that year, I always loved the Red Sox too. I was so grateful that the Red Sox eventually broke their own curse in 2004, because unless you’re a Yankees fan, how can you hate the Red Sox?
Our family took a special sojourn up to Boston during an East Coast vacation —on a vacation really meant to center on New York and Philly— specifically so we could tour Fenway.
Which we did.
This was just a two years removed from Boston’s curse being lifted, and you could still feel the joy in the park. You could feel the history.
I bought a hat from the Fenway Park swag store that day, and I took it back to NYC. A few days later, I was at a game, squarely behind home plate at Yankee Stadium, with my Red Sox cap on.
(I did hide it on my subway ride to/from the ballpark, though. I’m not *that* crazy…)
I understand that Boston’s curse was a few years longer than ours.
Ok, twenty-five years longer.
What I’m trying to say here is, though, we are experiencing a similar joy out of a longterm pain too. It’s the kind of story you tell, again and again. (In case you’re beginning to worry about all these posts from me…)
For example, Farrelly brothers made a movie about that 2004 season, starring Jimmy Fallon and Drew Barrymore.
Originally, they just set out to make a film about a fan’s obsessive love for the Red Sox. But what they ended up with, in a way they couldn’t have foreseen, was a narrative of that storybook season which turned the Red Sox’s Hollywood ending into a celluloid one too.
(Two thumbs up. Check it out…)
A decade after THIS –ten years after 2004– James Taylor wrote his song, “Angels of Fenway.”
I’s a beautiful ode to long suffering baseball fans.
“Oh my God, it was beyond belief
Down three, needing four in a row
Holding on by the skin of our teeth
Like a hungry dog on a bone
Angels of Fenway
Give them peace
They have been patient
Red Sox Nation”
The primary character of the song is a grandmother, a generational lover of the game, who was born in 1918, the last year the Red Sox won, and who finally gets to see Boston’s 2004 win, just as she’s about to take her last breath.
“Praying to heaven for hell to freeze
Nanna watched from her hospital bed
She was there ’til the end of the race
I couldn’t hear the last words she said
But she was lying there with a smile on her face
Just a little smile on her face
It doesn’t feel like a long time ago”
My point in noting this is that James Taylor and Boston were still talking about this a decade LATER. Just in case you’re getting worried about me and these posts…
It’s a beautiful baseball song. As I understand, it’s become a classic all over Boston now. But I can’t help but note this….at the time of its release a Boston Globe reviewer called it a “hate-able, unfailingly mediocre song about the Red Sox…”
You gotta love those Boston fans.
Again, I’m not comparing us to them directly. But it’s a similar story, for sure. Like Boston fans, and as I’ve already noted, generations of Rangers fans are now gone, and only watching on as our angels.
This explains why I’m still writing this post, days later, and why I can’t give you a date-certain when these posts will stop.
But, I’m clear on this…I don’t imagine that any Hollywood movies will be made about the Rangers improbable World Series victory this year.
I don’t guess any major recording artists will write a rapturous ballad about it.
Despite DFW’s status as the fifth largest media market, the Rangers’ eleven straight road wins as a feat never before seen, and half a million fans at the celebration on Friday…
We must admit that our pure joy and excitement in this moment is being ignore by much of the nation. The series was among the least watched in history. I attribute much of this to the snobbery of the traditional markets, the newness of baseball’s generational love in DFW and Arizona, and the final fact that there is truly horrible news in the world that pulls our focus.
But here is what I know deep in my bones…
Here in North Texas, we will speak of 2023 the way Red Sox fans speak of 2004.
We got so much from this year.
We got ourselves a bona fide intrastate rivalry with the Houston Astros.
We completed a cinderella climb to the championship.
And this week, somewhere here in North Texas, some boy or girl —perhaps hundreds of them— are printing out this second Sports Illustrated cover; one from just *this* week.
They are taping it up to their bedroom wall.
Maybe, like me, they’ll find it fifty years from now, in some box their Mother saved for them.
And knowing this, gives me a deep, deep joy in the hope for the continuing generational joy of baseball.