A taxicab hurrying along Storrow Memorial Drive toward Boston's Logan Airport the morning after the World Series ended passed beneath a gigantic banner suspended from an overpass that was eerily illuminated in the blue dawn by a red ball of rising sun: " Wilmington Ford Congratulates the Boston Red Sox—1975 World Champions." The driver glanced up and mumbled to himself, "Nineteen seventy-six, dammit, 1976."
Later the same morning another taxi cruised across a bridge over the turbid Ohio River, which had been transformed by the sun into shimmering glass. Riverfront Stadium gleamed on the opposite bank. In the stadium parking lot the red-uniformed East Central High School band from Brookville, Ind. was rehearsing patriotic airs, the drums thumping in the distance like heartbeats. It was a bright, joyous day in Cincinnati, and the streets were already alive with celebrants. Flakes of ticker tape, calendar pads, stationery, toilet paper floated lazily from upper-story windows of downtown buildings. These were merely preparatory offerings, for in an hour a blizzard of paper would fall from these heights on the conquerors.
By noon, townspeople had overflowed Fountain Square. Bob Braun, a local television personality, bawled into a microphone on a podium, "I'd like you to know that the lady in the blue pants suit is the mother of George Foster." The woman was acclaimed as if she had been the mother of George Washington or, at the very least, Stephen Foster. "How many of you didn't get any sleep last night?" Braun called out. Wide-awake cheers. "Well," said Braun, "who cares?" Uncaring cheers.
Now the East Central Band, majorettes stepping out, was threading through the mob on Vine Street. "My Country, Tis of Thee," the band played and the crowd sang. Youngsters scaled trees, statues, fences, lampposts to see the parade, which was unusually short, consisting of the high school tootlers and some convertibles with empty backseats where ballplayers were expected to be.
As the Reds arrived via another route, secretaries in office buildings on the square jumped from their desks and waved from behind windows. Manager Sparky Anderson was first to pass in review, white-haired, almost regal despite his rooster's walk and down-home face. Sparky held his arms aloft and, on his arrival at the podium, bent to embrace a startled little boy, a gesture that earned him even more affection from the crowd. And there were the players: Tony Perez, the home run hero, brandishing a smoking stogie. Joe Morgan, all in pink. Johnny Bench in a white golf cap. And finally, the idol of millions, Pete Rose, smiling and waving, an Our Gang character in a Buster Brown haircut. "Take it easy," Rose counseled the adoring masses. "Take it easy. We love you. You're what makes this the baseball capital of the world."
Bowie Kuhn stepped to the microphone. "I came to bring you something," he bellowed. The crowd knew what it was. "I came to bring you something this city deserves and this great team deserves. I bring you the championship of the world trophy!" Pandemonium. Orderly, Middle America pandemonium. Cheerful, Cincinnati pandemonium. But pandemonium. There had been 35 years between championships.
Anderson stood in the background, smiling crookedly as if he were surprised to be in such eminent company. The night before, facing the nation's sporting press in the interview room under the stands at Boston's Fenway Park, he had repeated a familiar boast, "We are the best team in baseball." Only this time he had introduced a modifier: "But not by much." True, save for a bloop hit and a botched double play, he might once again be standing in the shadows, not the limelight. He knew he had been lucky to escape with the trophy that had eluded him in 1970 and '72. "In all sincerity," he had said, "I don't know that there's ever been a better World Series."
He had a point, for even with the tension-dousing three-day rainstorm in Boston, few Series had been the equal of this one for sustained drama. And surely there have been few single games to match the sixth game of this Series. There have been other Series thrillers—the seventh game in 1960 with Bill Mazeroski's triumphant home run; the fifth game in '56 with Don Larsen's perfect pitching; the fourth game in '47, won on Cookie Lavagetto's last-out double that, at the same time, broke up Floyd Bevens' no-hitter; the seventh game of the '26 Series when Grover Cleveland Alexander, old and used up, struck out young Tony Lazzeri with the bases loaded. Terrific games, all of them. But for the 35,205 wedged into misshapen Fenway and the millions who watched on television, the sixth game of the 1975 Series will be the standard by which all future thrillers must be measured.
Surprisingly, it was a warm night, 64� at game time, and the field, inundated for three days, seemed firm if not fast. The rain delay had given the Red Sox' pitching wizard, Luis Tiant, a few days of extra rest. Tiant was to have pitched the seventh game way back on Sunday, if, of course, the Series got that far. Lefthander Bill Lee was Manager Darrell Johnson's original choice for the sixth game. But when the rains came, Johnson altered his strategy. There would be no seventh game, he reasoned, without a win in the sixth, and Tiant had already won the only two games the Sox had taken from the Reds. Johnson's decision did not sit well with the free-spirited Lee. In more sophisticated circles, a man of Lee's garrulity and disorderly intelligence (he is an apostle now of "Pyramid Power") might be regarded as mildly odd; in the closed society of professional sports where any intellectual deviation is treated with wonder, he is thought to be flat out balmy. Lee was, he argued, transcendentally rested, and he was also confident he could extinguish the hot Reds bats with his maddening blooper pitch—the "Leephus Ball," direct descendant of the orbital "Ephus Ball" that Rip Sewell tossed upward to batters in the 1940s. When informed that he must wait a day to try his luck, Lee remarked testily that Johnson "had been falling out of trees all year and landing on his feet."
The sixth game started well for both Tiant and Johnson. In the first inning, Fred Lynn hit a long three-run home run into the right-center-field bleachers to give the Sox early foot. But Tiant was obviously not his usual whirling, mystifying self. His paroxysmal windup seemed less confusing to the Reds, his fastball lacked snap and his own Ephus pitches were no longer mesmerizing. The Reds were hitting him hard.