When Carl Yastrzemski's pop up finally came down, silence fell with it. As police horses pranced around the Fenway Park warning track, the public address system began to play an old-fashioned calliope tune, the kind you might hear beside a Ferris wheel on a summer day. The music was sweetly sad, all the more sorrowful because it was so faint. Even as it played, the notes seemed to drift away like the last remnants of the Red Sox season, like the final hours of the greatest sustained pennant race in the history of the American League.
No one knew, on Oct. 2, 1978, that those delicate notes of a calliope were a dirge for one of the most romantic and appealing teams in baseball history. Then the Red Sox seemed a dynasty which, if anything, had not quite reached its apogee. Now, the Bloody Hose are in irrevocable ruin.
Then, the Boston starting lineup was a legend -- the Over The Wall Gang. Now, it is a joke. Of the eight players who took the field that day for the American League East playoff game against New York, only one -- Dwight Evans -- is likely to run on the field to commence the '81 opener.
George Scott has retired. Jerry Remy has lost his starting job. Rick Burleson, Butch Hobson and Fred Lynn all were traded this winter. Yastrzemski is too old for much outfield, switching the DH job with Jim Rice. Some say Yaz ought to retire quietly and stop collecting obscure records and large paychecks. And, now catcher Carlton Fisk, the heart of the team, the noblest Red Sox of them all, is an embittered free agent who, despite all New England's fervent hopes, is ready, willing and able to flee the employers he has grown to hate and fans he has learned to ignore.
The tale of the Red Sox demise is so simple, so irrevocable, so devoid of real villains, that it makes the drawing and quartering of these heroes all the more depressing. Fisk's imminent departure is the last and most symbolic act -- an exhuming of the cornerstone after the building has already been torn down.
When old Tom Yawkey died in '76, he left the Sox to his widow Jean. She, naturally, decided to sell. Wealthy syndicates, including Spalding sporting goods, made offers. But the bidding group closest to Mrs. Yawkey's heart was headed by former Sox catcher (and GM) Haywood Sullivan and former Sox clubhouse man Buddy LeRoux. They were hardly multimillionaires, but they had Red Sox bloodlines and had hustled up an $8 million line of credit.
When the American League turned down Sullivan-LeRoux's first $15-million offer as underfunded, Mrs. Yawkey came forward in the spring of '78 with more financial backing. She even threw in Fenway Park.
On the surface, the sale seemed like story-book stuff: former journeyman catcher, former dirty-towel collector and widow of owner scrape up millions to carry on Red Sox tradition.
No Pollyannaish scenario was ever more totally blasted by reality. Just as the nature of baseball ownership was, of necessity, changing -- from the rich to the ultrarich -- a group was buying the Sox that didn't have two spare millions to rub together.On the outside, with their huge attendance and enormous national legion of worshippers, the Red Sox seemed like a financial juggernaut. In reality, the wealth of previous Sox seasons was not at the disposal of Sullivan and LeRoux. They, basically, had to start from scratch at the very moment players salaries rocketed through the roof.
To Sullivan and LeRoux, the symbol of all their problems was agent Jerry Kapstein, the Harvard grad who represented the young, intelligent and militant nucleus of the ballclub, including Lynn, Fisk and Burleson.
The Red Sox brass could forget their own humble origins, but, to them, Kapstein always looked like that chipmunk who, a few years before, had been keeping stats at Providence College basketball games.
Kapstein was persona non grata at Fenway. Officials were told to keep him out of the park, or eject him if he got in. Kapstein, one of the brightest and fairest of all agents, held meetings with reporters in clandestine crannies of Fenway. Kapstein's clients, by extension, were treated like immature, ungrateful children gone wrong.
As if the war of snubs and public insults between the camps were not enough, the Sox predicament was redoubled by the fact that Yankee owner George Steinbrenner felt no compunction to play hardball as though it were softball. He bought Boston's Luis Tiant and Bob Watson at far above their true market value as much to embarrass and depress the Sox as to improve his Yanks.
Quickly, the Sox's new ownership was seen as bumbling and inept. Not only were player-management relations a war zone, but fan-management affections turned to hostility.
The Sox, a moody; cliquish, fundamentally careless team even in their 99-win glory days of '78, were ripe for the reaper. In '79, they collapsed in September to finish 11 1/2 games behind Baltimore. In '80, the pitching-poor club was 19 games behind the Yankees.
Normally, such a state of affairs would mean it was time to bring in the high-powered fire hose and wash out the clubhouse. Unfortunately, in the Sox case, the four central players who were seen as malcontents -- Burleson, Hobson, Lynn and Fisk -- were, taken as a group, the most hard-nosed, talented and spirited players on a lethargic team. The Sox decided to keep the moaners and back-stabbers, the overpaid free agents who hadn't produced, while getting rid of the nucleus of players who might keep the team a marginal contender for a couple of more years.
For months, New England has been beating its breast about the Fate of Freddy and Carlton, those twin Boston emblems of grace (Lynn) and fortitude (Fisk). Both management and players have continued the PR charade that the athletes don't want to leave and management doesn't want to lose them. t
The height of this sham came when the Sox "forgot" to mail Lynn and Fisk their regulation contracts before the deadline, missing by one day. Massachusetts has been scoured in a search for the flunky who forgot to put those contracts in the mail on a Friday instead of Monday.
The truth is the Red Sox did not miss their deadline by a day, but by a year. That is now long they dawdled and ignored their huge contract problem with their stars. Since '79, Lynn and Fisk have maintained they saw no evidence the Sox could or would meet their market value when the time came. The infamous mailing foulup that precipitated the bargain-basement trade of Lynn to California and which has now made Fisk a free agent has not, as Boston fans think, been a Sox problem. Rather, it has solved a problem.
Lynn is gone and Fisk soon will be. No more acute case of bad blood exists in all of baseball than that between the long-suffering, oft-injured Fisk and Sullivan, the former catcher, who has implied that Fisk would not play hurt. Behind the pose of negotiation, there is pure, distilled hostility on both sides. Mention a possible meeting with Kapstein at his home in San Diego and Sullivan says, "Why should I fly 3,000 miles to talk to him? s
Red Sox broadcaster Ken Harrelson, finally fed up, exploded a few days ago and said all those things that the rest of New England has been muttering for months. "The club is in disrray, confused and chaotic," said the Hawk, forgetting his own self-interest, since the club could hardly be blamed for preventing a fellow with such opinions from announcing its games. "If they don't have the money to pay Lynn and Burleson, they can't afford to own the ballclub . . . Fisk is the symbol of Red Sox baseball and the way management is treating him is beyond me . . . They're operating out of weakness and desperation . . . The heart of the team is gone."
The Sox's vicious cycle is now complete. The club, so rich on the surface, yet so strapped in reality, could not afford to keep its stars unless those stars were good enough to win pennants, go the World Series and haul in all the fiscal perks of a champion. And they weren't that good. So, from the managements viewpoint, the decks had to be cleared, the books balanced. As soon as Fisk decides whether to accept the millions of the TV-revenue-rich Toronto Blue Jays or the under-new-ownership Chicago White Sox, the deracination of the Red Sox will be complete.
Even in the eyes of the staunchest Red Sox worshipper, how can Fisk be blamed? After all, whichever of the current leading candidates he chooses -- the humble White Sox or the lowly Blue Jays -- he will, hard as it is to believe, be going to an organization with a more hopeful future than the fabled franchise he is leaving.