The Greatest World Series Game Ever Played
One More Night
On the muggy night of October 21, 1975, the Cincinnati Reds and the Boston Red Sox played Game Six of the World Series.The Reds were up three games to two and looking to finish it. But the Red Sox had other ideas. Fittingly, a home run ended it. It was a 12 inning masterpiece, featuring 10 pitching changes, 34 players, 24 hits, 4 homers, 2 outfield assists and an even a centerfielder being temporarily knocked out. Seven Hall of Famers participated.
In many ways, it saved Major League Baseball from what many were calling its inevitable decline and ushered in a new era. The broadcast on NBC made history for its innovative camera angles and broadcaster pairings. Careers were made. Legends were born. The game was a seminal event in American history. It changed not only Major League Baseball, but the entire industry of televised sports.
Long Ago, Far Away
A new era in American society dawned in 1975: politics, TV, music, sports, and technology were all changing. Gerald Ford entered his second year as President in August, trying to remain the steady hand guiding America in a post-Watergate era. With inflation at just over 9%, that job was not easy. On TV, a new show debuted, Saturday Night Live on NBC. Bruce Springsteen released Born to Run and embarked on a tour that lasted nearly two years. During the World Series, John Denver held the number one album spot with Windsong. While the music on the radio was mellow, all was not comfortable with Major League Baseball.
The entire season, MLB had been criticized for flagging ratings, declining attendance, and the new paradigm that the NFL was now America’s pastime. Labor strife was also a heavy undercurrent threatening the game. NBC was worried about flagging ratings for their long-running Game of the Week. Trying to hold it all together was Commissioner Bowie Kuhn. The ultimate patrician, Kuhn became Commissioner in 1968, having worked as an attorney for MLB throughout the sixties. He believed in the power of the game and felt protective of its legacy. His decision to reschedule Game 6 would test his resolve to keep MLB in the national spotlight.
There was a touch of the inevitable with the Cincinnati Reds. Over the past five seasons, they had been in two previous Series in ’70 and ’72 as well as winning their Division again in ’73. In ’75, they won 108 games, running away with the NL West by 20 games over the Dodgers; then swept aside the Pirates in three games to win the League Championship Series. The team had lived up to their moniker of the Big Red Machine, finishing third in the League in batting average (.271) and homers (124).
Despite not having a 20-game winner, expectations were high. It was a veteran lineup with the best catcher in baseball, Johnny Bench and Cincy native, Pete Rose. Besides Bench, they also had three other Gold Glove winners: 2B Joe Morgan, SS Dave Concepcion, and centerfielder, Cesar Geronimo. First baseman Tony Perez, rightfielder Ken Griffey and leftfielder George Foster rounded out the lineup. Led by the prematurely gray and very quotable 41 year old Sparky Anderson, everything seemed to be coming together.
Innovative Camera Angles
The Red Sox started the ’75 season trying to recover from their 1974 season. They had blown a seven-game lead in August to eventually finish in third place in the American League East. The addition of Rookie of the Year and AL MVP, centerfielder Fred Lynn was the spark. They led the League in hitting in '75 and added talent to an already packed line-up. Catcher Carlton Fisk was now considered one of the best catchers in baseball. Anchoring the lineup were veterans Carl Yastrzemski and Rico Petrocelli, the only two players left from Boston’s last Series appearance in 1967. The team was skippered by the dour Darrell Johnson. They won 95 games, taking the AL East by 4 ½ games over the Baltimore Orioles and the hated Yankees by 12 games.
But they would be missing one of their key young players in the postseason, left-fielder and Yastrzemski's heir apparent, Jim Rice. He had broken his wrist the last week of the season.
Buckets of Rain
The entire series was marred by torrential rain and unusually warm weather for October, both in New England and the Ohio Valley. In Cincinnati, temps had reached into the 70s throughout the Series. After Game 5, a deluge started in New England that continued for three days. The game had been scheduled for Saturday, October 18th. With somewhat drier weather predicted for Tuesday, the 21st, the game was officially rescheduled. Both teams had to shuffle their pitching staffs several times. Luis Tiant would be going for the Sox while Sparky finally settled on long-time Red, Gary Nolan, bumping Jack Billingham.
What was supposed to have been a day game, became a night game. Commissioner Kuhn was criticized for this move, Hard to believe now, but some of the old sportswriters were scathing in their columns. They called Kuhn a corporate stooge and a money grabber. The Commissioner was faced with a modern reality: TV reigns supreme which meant being on in primetime. MLB had to be successful on television if it was going to compete with the NFL. Pro football had already started overtaking baseball as America’s number one sport. By Monday, Kuhn was hoping for one more day of delay. He did not want to go up against Monday Night Football, the now five-year-old ratings juggernaut.
It was worth the wait. The broadcast on NBC became synonymous with innovation. At the suggestion of color analyst Tony Kubek, a camera was placed inside the famous Green Monster in left field. Then in another fortuitous move, one was placed on top of the roof in left field. Led by veteran Series director Harry Coyle, and Executive Producer Chet Simmons, they would set the standard for years to come.
By game time nobody seemed to care about the weather or the critics. 35,205 fans were crammed into the tiny seats of Fenway. The honorary first pitch was thrown out by 87-year-old Duffy Lewis, the oldest living Red Sox player. He was a three-time World Series Champion with the Sox, so many felt it was a good omen.
Series of Dreams
Luis Tiant took a deep breath as Pete Rose stepped into the box for the top of the 1st. In his exaggerated wind-up, he turned his back to the batter and dealt strike one. Tiant's season had seen triumphs on and off the field. He had won 18 games and struck out 142. But it was the arrival of his parents from Cuba in August that made the season. The 35-year-old Tiant was the son of a former Negro Leaguer, who returned to Cuba after his career was over, having never realized his dream of a Major League career. HIs son had made it; but the price had been steep. Though his mother had been allowed to see the family in Mexico City once in 1968, it had been 15 years since seeing his father. Through the intercession of a judge in Massachusetts, he was able to get in touch with Senator Edward Brooke. A letter was sent from his office to Fidel Castro while an American delegation was visiting the island. To the surprise of everyone in the delegation, Castro relented and allowed the Tiants to visit Boston in August, allowing them to stay as long as they wanted. Luis’ life was now complete.
Rose flied out to left on the next pitch. As a testament of the wet grass, Yaztremski slipped going down to make the catch. Ken Griffey was next up and walked. Tiant got NL MVP Joe Morgan to pop up. With two out, an ailing Johnny Bench came to the plate and Tiant struck him out on three pitches. The crowd let out a roar that could be heard in Maine.
The Sox struck hard in their half of the inning. After Nolan got the first two hitters, he gave up singles to both Yaztremski and Fisk. Then Fred Lynn hit his only homer of the Series deep to right center, landing in the bullpen. 3-0 Sox.
The next three innings were scoreless, though Nolan was taken out in the top of the 3rd for a pinch hitter and replaced with Fred Norman, who would not even finish the inning. After 2/3 of an inning, he was replaced with Jack Billingham, who pitched just one more inning. The pitcher's spot in the lineup was due up in the 5th. . Although the Designated Hitter was instituted by the American League in 1973, it was not applied to the World Series until ’76. So from 1973 to 1975, Series games were played under National League rules, with no DH.
Rollin' and Tumblin'
In the top of the 5th, the Big Red Machine came alive. After getting centerfielder Cesar Geronoimo to fly out, Tiant gave up a walk to pinch hitter Ed Armbrister. Rose then singled to get runners on first and third. Griffey hit a triple to make it 3-2. As the ball neared the centerfield wall, Lynn had made a jump for it, missed and smashed into the wall. It appeared he had been knocked unconscious.
Total silence fell over Fenway. The Boston trainer came running out. Yaz and RF Dwight Evans tried to help. After a long five minutes, Lynn began to come around; eventually trying to stand up and walk around. He looked in pain, flexing his leg over and over. Lynn refused to come out, slowly limped back to the middle of centerfield. A cheer rose up from the stands.
Tiant stayed warm and got Morgan to pop up to Rico Petrocelli. Up stepped Johnny Bench, whose cold was gradually getting worse. But he hit a single, driving Griffey home and tying the game. Tiant redeemed himself by striking out first baseman Tony Perez. The question being asked by nervous Sox fans was when Johnson would take him out. He was looking tired, having just completed his 23rd inning pitched in the Series.
The next inning and a half was scoreless…then the Reds struck again.
Ken Griffey led off the 7th with a single. Morgan came through with another base hit; first and second, none out. Bench and 1B Tony Perez both flew out; Griffey moved to third on Perez out. Then George Foster doubled, driving in both Griffey and Morgan. Tiant would eventually get the last out but Cincy was now up 5-3.
Boston went down 1-2-3 in the bottom of the 7th. The Sox had not scored since the first inning and had only three hits since then.
To the surprise of many, Tiant was allowed to start the 8th, and he paid for it. Ceser Geronimo slammed a homer to deep right. Reds were now up 6-3. Johnson finally took him out and brought in Roger Moret, a Puerto Rican native who got the next three batters. But the air went out of the crowd.
Not Dark Yet
The Sox were down to the last six outs as they came up in the bottom of the eighth. Pedro Bourbon was beginning his third inning of work, having come in at the bottom of the sixth for Clay Carroll. Three innings of work was a long time under Sparky's regime. Regardless of what happened, this would be his last inning.
The battered Fred Lynn led off with a single. Then the veteran Petrocelli walked. Hope sprung in the seats of Fenway. Out came Sparky to bring in his sixth pitcher of the night. He called for Rookie of the Year candidate, Rawly Eastwick, who had 22 saves during the regular season.
Eastwick had gotten the wins in games 2 and 3 as well as the save in Game 5. Of all the arms in the Reds’ bullpen, Sparky had the most confidence in him. The movement on his fastball earned him respect ; it sometimes broke in weird directions. Many felt the right-hander had an air of superiority about him; he once commented that he never felt pressure. Based on his postseason so far, he was right.
Dwight Evans stepped in as the crowd continued to get louder. Eastwick had great stuff. Evans fought off several pitches but eventually struck out. Then Burleson came up and lined out hard to George Foster. Quiet fell as the doubters took over. Former Red Bernie Carbo was sent up to pinch hit. Tony Kubek had already begun setting up early for post-game coverage in the Reds locker room.
Carbo was the 1970 Rookie of the Year, helping the Reds make the World Series against the Orioles. But by ’72, his hitting had slumped permanently, and was traded to the Cardinals. After a lackluster season and a half with the Cards, he was traded to the Red Sox. It was considered a last chance. He got in a 117 games in ’74, playing a mix of DH and outfield. The next season was mostly the same, though his stats dipped a bit. In Game 3, Carbo had hit a game tying home run, though the Sox went on to lose. For Johnson, sending up Carbo was an act of desperation. He needed a lefty hitter to face their best right-hander.
Carbo took strike one. Eastwick worked the inside corner, as Carbo was a classic inside out swinger; rarely pulling the ball. Another fastball for ball one. Bernie eventually worked the count to 2-2, seeing only fastballs. Eastwick’s fourth pitch, a cut fastball on the outside corner, embarrassed Bernie, who took his biggest swing of the night and whiffed. The crowd winced and so did a lot of the Red Sox. Bench called for a cutter, but this time on the inside corner. Carbo barely got his bat on it, appearing to chop down on the ball. By this point, it was a foregone conclusion he could not handle the intimidating Reds fireballer. Carbo looked surprised to still be hanging in there. Then Eastwick came with a fastball right down the middle of the plate and Bernie got all of it. It flew into deepest right-centerfield, over the wall by 10 rows. There was bedlam and shock. It was all tied at 6.
Let's Keep It Between Us
A stunned Reds team came up to bat in the top of the ninth and looked the part. Morgan popped up in foul territory, Bench grounded out to third and Perez also popped up in foul territory for the final out.
Everyone was on their feet for the bottom of the ninth. Denny Doyle walked. Yaz singled, moving Doyle to third. Sparky had seen enough of Eastwick and brought in his other ace closer, lefthander Will McEnaney. None out, first and third. His first job was to intentionally walk Fisk to load the bases. Up stepped the Fred Lynn. The infield moved in; on a ground ball they were going home.
Lynn hit the first pitch off the end of his bat. It curved towards the left field stands. George Foster ran towards the line, everyone figured it was going into the seats. But it hung up, and Foster made the catch in foul territory, which amounted to just a few feet from the wall. Third base coach Don Zimmer claimed to have yelled, "No!," but Doyle only heard, "Go!". As soon as it hit Foster's glove, Doyle took off for home. Bench crouched, ready for the throw, Doyle lowered his head. The ball made it to Bench on one bounce. He snared it and tried to make a swipe tag. The diminutive Doyle dove to his right in a vain attempt to avoid the tag. "Out!" yelled home plate umpire Satch Davidson, who was right on top of the play. The standing Boston crowd seemed frozen in place with their hands thrown up in disgust.
Two men were still on for Rico Petrocelli, but he grounded to third for the last out.
No, Don't Go!
Don't Think Twice, It's Alright
After a scoreless 10th inning, the Reds got a rally going in the 11th. But two more phenomenal plays would stop the rally cold. One would live on as one of the greatest catches in Series history, while the other would go down in the scorecard as just a forceout, 1-6. But the force out by Fisk was an astonishing display of his skills.
Fireballer Dick Drago was still on the mound, having come in for the 9th. He proceeded to hit Rose with his fourth pitch. It barely got his shirt, but Davidson awarded him first. Griffey came up and with the count 2-0, laid down a perfect sacrifice bunt. Fisk leaped to his feet, grabbed the ball and fired a strike to Burleson. Rose was out; there was no argument from Pete. The agility to make that play is not something all catchers possessed at that time. Fisk was able to get out of his crouch, grab the ball and in one motion throw him out.
Morgan, who was 5-22 in the Series at this point, came up next. When the count went to 1-1, Morgan called time and walked over to his third base coach, Alex Grammas. It was not uncommon for the deliberate Morgan to do that. He often stepped out of the batter's box for Grammas to roll through his signs a couple of times. Satisfied, Morgan stepped back in and slammed the next pitch to deep right field. Evans, who had been shading towards right-center, charged for the short fence. The ball was headed right for the first row when Evans jumped, stuck his glove up and snagged it. He seemed shocked. His momentum carried him to the railing but he spun around to throw the ball back to first. Though it ended up foul territory, Yaz gobbled up the throw and tossed it to Rick Burleson to double up Griffey. Inning over.
Dick Stockton put it succinctly before going to commercial: "We’ve seen it all.”
No Time To Think
Going, Going, Gone
Pinch hitter Rick Miller, hitting for Dick Drago, led off the bottom of the 11th. Darcy got him to fly out to leftfield and he got the next batters, Doyle and Yaz, to ground out to short.
A tense Reds team came up in the 12th and got a rally going again. With one out, Perez and Foster both singled. First and second, one out. But new Sox pitcher Rick Wise got Concepcion to fly out and struck out Geronimo. The Red Sox ran off the field and looked as fresh as the first inning.
Due up for the Sox was Fisk, Lynn and Petrocelli. It was now after midnight. Fisk stood at the on deck circle keeping warm as Pat Darcy finished his warm-up pitches. The 28 year old Fisk appeared bigger than his lean 6' 2" frame. His scowl only added to the intimidation factor as he strode to the plate. Whistles and polite applause greeted him.
Fisk went through his routine, first stretching with his bat. As was his habit, Fisk tugged at his left shoulder, then his right. Then he would pull on the left hand sleeve of his warm-up shirt before settling in to the box. Darcy took one last deep breath as Fisk dug in his right heel. First pitch was a ball high. Fisk stepped out and took a look at his bat, nervously flexing his fingers to test his grip. Darcy's next pitch appeared to move inside but then hung out over the plate. Fisk got it with the meat of the bat. The ball curved towards the foul pole, leading Dick Stockton to shout, "If it stays fair...home run!" Pandemonium.
Though the ball bounced off the pole within three seconds, Fisk's posing near the batter's box seemed to last for twice that. The iconic images were captured by Lou Gerard working the left field camera poking from the Green Monster. The cameraman behind home plate was able to capture the ball smacking off the foul pole, while the camera in the left field stands only caught Fisk's back as he began rounding the bases. In the production truck, shots with different angles popped up on the monitors. Everyone began pointing. No one realized they were making history.
Fisk slammed his hands together and ran into first base coach Johnny Pesky rounding the bag. Fans started running onto the field and his only goal now was to touch every base. Dodging crazed fans all the way, he reached home and lept into the arms of his teammates.
There would be a Game 7.
Ain't Gonna Grieve
Despite the storybook ending and surging confidence of the Red Sox, a World Series victory was not to be. In Game 7, it was the Reds who came back again from a three-run deficit to eke out a 4-3 win. The Big Red Machine had secured Cincinnati's first championship since 1940. Pete Rose was named MVP. The Reds would win the Series again in '76, sweeping the Yankees. Bench would be named MVP.
Boston had an awesome lineup and they were young. Fans were expecting years of postseason success. However, the subsequent seasons for the Sox would be nothing but heartbreak, and for many, wasted talent. They would not reach the Series again until 1986. Carlton Fisk went on to a Hall of Fame career with both the Red Sox and Chicago White Sox, elected in 2000 on his second ballot.
The Series would go down as the 8th highest ranked in television history, pulling in an average of nearly 36 million viewers. More than half of the TVs in the country were tuned in during that week. The titanic battle of Game 6, which had nearly 42 million viewers, led to a spike for Game 7. The final game brought in 51 million people, the second-highest rating for a seventh game in history.
The biggest winners were MLB and NBC. The League got a new contract with NBC for Game of the Week rights. In 1976, ABC wanted in on the surge in popularity and took over the Monday Night Baseball franchise from NBC. Harry Coyle and Chet Simmons became legends overnight, mostly because of those images of Carlton Fisk's gyrations being shown on every local newscast in America after the Series.
Baseball was back. For the next 25 years, it would enjoy record TV ratings, rising attendance figures and expansion. It even weathered the start of free agency in the late 70s. History was made in the early morning hours of October 22, 1975. For a nation reeling from Vietnam, Watergate, and a bad economy, it was just what the doctor ordered.
- Harry Coyle directed 36 World Series, 28 All-Star Games, 30 Rose Bowls, along with Super Bowl I, many NFL Championship games and major golf tournaments. One TV executive called him the first "Mr. October." He passed away in 1996.
- Dick Stockton went on to become the primary play by play man for CBS' coverage of the NBA until the early 1990s, while also doing the NFL. In 2001, he was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. At 77, he still does the NFL on Fox.
- Pat Darcy, who had a pretty good year out of the bullpen despite the homer, would struggle the next season and be out of baseball by the end of 1976. He moved back to Tucson and became a real estate executive. Today, he is happily retired.
- Canelas, Nick. “The Forgotten Game: Game 7 of the ’75 World Series leaves many wondering ‘what if?’” SportingNews, October 14, 2015. Sportingnews.com.
- Markusen, Bruce. “Fisk, Eastwick Recall Magical Game 6 in 1975 World Series.” Baseballhall.org, 2015.
- Sandomir, Richard. "Harry Coyle, 74, TV Director; Pioneered Coverage of Baseball." New York Times, February 21, 1996. nytimes.com
- Smith, Curt. "Dick Stockton." Society for American Baseball Research, October 13, 2014. www.sabr.org.
- Verducci, Tom. “Game Changer: How Carlton Fisk’s home run altered baseball and TV.” Sports Illustrated, October 21, 2015. SI.com
- Frost, Mark. Game Six: Cincinnati, Boston and the 1975 World Series - The Triumph of America’s Pastime. Hyperion-Acquired Assets. 2010.