Thirty Years Ago—Reliving The 1975 World Series
We continue our 30th anniversary look back at arguably the greatest World Series of all-time with a recap of a memorable and controversial Game One between the Boston Red Sox and Cincinnati Reds:
The Boston Red Sox faced an imposing World Series task: attempting to shut down the game’s most dynamic offense since the days of Mantle, Maris and Co. during their glorious run of the early 1960s. They would also have to match the imposing run-scoring ability of the Cincinnati Reds, while playing without one of their best offensive players of 1975: rookie outfielder-designated hitter Jim Rice. Rice had suffered a broken arm in late September, forcing him to miss the playoffs against the Oakland A’s while chained to the disabled list. Although Rice’s arm was healed now, a technicality in the rules prevented him from being activated for the World Series. “I cut my cast up,” Rice recalled, “because I wanted to play. I did something I shouldn’t have done. It didn’t bother me [at the time]. I took my cast. I cut it off myself, but I still couldn’t play. The way they had the rules, I was on the disabled list, I couldn’t play and I learned to accept that.”
With House Majority leader Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill and hockey legend Bobby Orr comprising just part of the capacity crowd of 35,205 at Fenway Park for Game One, attention quickly turned to the mound, where Luis Tiant had been awarded the task of facing the “Big Red Machine.” Tiant handled the job with ease over the first three and a third innings. He retired the first 10 Reds’ batters he faced before yielding a single to Joe Morgan in the fourth. With Morgan having stolen 67 bases over the course of the regular season, Tiant knew that he had to keep him close to the bag. He threw to first base repeatedly, almost nailing the Cincinnati speedster with his third attempt. The Fenway faithful felt that Tiant had successfully picked off Morgan, but first base umpire Nick Colosi (who passed away earlier this year) disagreed with the Beantown consensus. Television replays, which showed Cecil Cooper’s mitt hitting the dirt before placing a “high” tag on Morgan, supported Colosi’s decision. As Tiant prepared to make his fourth attempt on Morgan, Colosi made an even more unpopular call. He signaled a balk, something that Red manager Sparky Anderson had accused Tiant of doing with regularity prior to the Series.
According to Colosi, the call was an obvious one. “It was an automatic balk,” Colosi explained to The Sporting News. “Tiant was drawing the ball down. Then he flexed his legs, stopped, and flexed them again. Once a pitcher flexes his leg or legs, he must throw to first base or the plate. He did neither.” For his part, Tiant argued that he had been using such a pickoff move throughout his career. In fact, no American League umpires had called any balks on Tiant during the 1975 regular season or Championship Series.
With Morgan now at second, Tiant prepared to face the meaty middle of the Cincinnati order: Johnny Bench and Tony “Doggie” Perez. For 13 pitches, Tiant battled Bench, who had wowed a few Red Sox fans with a seven-home run display during pre-game batting practice. On the 13th pitch, Tiant challenged the Reds’ cleanup hitter with a fastball, which Bench lofted into the air behind home plate. Bench’s counterpart, Carlton Fisk, latched on to the foul pop-up for the inning’s second out. Tiant then struck out Perez, ending the controversy-marred uprising.
Tiant remained effective, in part because of his ability to contradict the expectations of the Reds. “We got a scouting report that 80 per cent of all his pitches were fastballs,” Pete Rose told Clif Keane of the Boston Globe. “He was blowing them by [Sal] Bando and [Reggie] Jackson in the first game [of the playoffs] with Oakland. We didn’t see many fastballs today.” Instead, with his fastball lacking the requisite crackle, Tiant and Carlton Fisk opted for a game plan that emphasized his assortment of breaking pitches—and the varying degrees of spinning and hesitating that came with his whirling dervish motion. “I just threw [the fastball] when I needed it,” Tiant explained. “I have my control the whole game. Slider. Curve. Change-up. Knuckleball. Hesitation. And then…the motion.”
And his bat. With the game remaining scoreless and the Red Sox coming to bat in the seventh, Tiant stepped in as the leadoff man against an equally effective Don Gullett. Expecting to see nothing but fastballs from the flame-throwing Gullett, Tiant received an unanticipated gift. “He throw the fastball by me three or four times already,” Tiant told sportswriter John Powers. “But now… I don’t know why… [He throws] the high change-up.” Tiant swung forcefully and bounced the hanging change-of-pace to the left side of the infield, just hard enough to elude the reach of Pete Rose at third base. It was in Tiant’s words a “lucky hit,” and his first hit since 1972, when he had batted .107 (6-for-56) in the American League’s final season without the designated hitter.
Opting to play for one run, Sox manager Darrell Johnson instructed Dwight Evans to lay down a sacrifice. Evans bunted toward the right of the mound, but not too far from Gullett. Fully aware of Tiant’s lack of speed at first base, Johnny Bench directed Gullett to throw toward second base. Gullett spun to make a throw, but slipped momentarily. As Tiant began an awkward slide into second base, Gullett’s toss dovetailed into the pitcher’s ample body. The ball bounced away, Tiant reaching second safely. With runners on first and second and still no one out, Johnson called for another bunt. Denny Doyle tried once, but fouled Gullett’s pitch off. He tried a second time, this time completely missing the pitch. Now in the hole at 0-and-2, Doyle smacked the next pitch into left field. A failed sacrifice had turned into a bases-jamming, opposite-field single.
With the bases now loaded, Gullett faced Carl Yastrzemski, the Red Sox’ elder statesman and most legendary player. Yaz lined a ball in the air toward right, but well in front of Ken Griffey. Thinking that the ball might be caught, Tiant retreated to third and tagged up, before finally heading home. Griffey, who had assumed that Tiant had run from the start and was now concerned with the destinations of the other runners, fired the ball to Tony Perez, the cut-off man. Yet, the run almost didn’t count, because Tiant missed home plate (by about a half-inch) on his plunge from third base. Both Johnny Bench and Dave Concepcion screamed for Perez to throw the ball home, but the Reds’ first baseman couldn’t hear their pleas amidst the shouting of the crowd. As Perez held onto the ball, Tiant retraced his steps and stomped on home plate, completing his madly uneven dash around the bases.
Tiant’s run also chased Gullett from the mound. The Red Sox’ rampage continued as veteran reliever Clay Carroll promptly walked Carlton Fisk, forcing in a second run and resulting in his own hasty removal from the game. Young left-hander Will McEnaney fared slightly better, fanning Fred Lynn, before surrendering run-scoring singles to Rico Petrocelli and Rick Burleson, and a sacrifice fly to Cecil Cooper. The inning finally came to a symmetrical end when Tiant—the man who had started the rally—came to bat and struck out.
Given Tiant’s effectiveness, the Red Sox probably needed only one run to win the game. They now had six. As Fenway’s fans repeatedly chanted “LOOO-EEE,” Tiant continued to baffle the Reds with his assortment of motions and breaking pitches. He held the Reds to five hits and allowed no runners to reach as far as third base, thanks in part to three line drives that found the able gloves of Cecil Cooper, Denny Doyle, and Carl Yastrzemski. Tiant’s complete game effort, the first in a World Series since Steve Blass’ seventh game masterpiece for the Pirates in 1971, highlighted a 6-0 victory in Game One.
Curiously, the opinions expressed by Cincinnati’s hitters provided no consensus as to how effective Tiant’s varied windups and deliveries had been in keeping the Reds at bay. “You really have to concentrate on him with all that motion,” George Foster explained to Bob Ryan of the Boston Globe. “He uses that off-speed stuff so well and gets you off balance.” Tony Perez seconded Foster’s vote. In contrast, Johnny Bench and Pete Rose claimed that they had paid little attention to Tiant’s mound machinations. “It wasn’t that difficult,” said Bench of his efforts to follow Tiant’s hesitated delivery. “We’ve seen Juan Marichal.” The former San Francisco Giants’ star had used an unusually high leg kick throughout his career, helping him hide the ball from opposing batters.
Several members of the Reds’ contingent seemed especially unimpressed by Tiant’s work, which they felt had benefited from several doses of Cincinnati’s own bad fortune. “We must have had 15 line drives,” Pete Rose informed the Boston Globe, “but everything was right at somebody. I couldn’t have hit the ball any harder.” Rose’s 0-for-4 batting line against Tiant included a quartet of well-struck, but poorly placed, line drives.
“That’s the weakest five-hitter I’ve seen,” a candid and frustrated Sparky Anderson told Francis Rosa of the Boston Globe. “I don’t know how many shots we hit right at people, shots that were caught or turned into outs. I’ll give him credit, though. He put nine zeroes up there on the scoreboard and I don’t know how much better you can do.”
Joe Morgan offered a deeper, more profound explanation for the number of drives that landed in the gloves of Red Sox’ defenders. “It was the way they played the outfield [versus] the way we did,” Morgan told the Globe, while noting that Fenway Park’s odd dimensions mandated a different kind of outfield alignment. “They played shallow and they could catch a lot of shots we hit at them.” In contrast, Cincinnati outfielders had positioned themselves much deeper than their Boston counterparts. Only two members of the Reds, Terry Crowley and Merv Rettenmund, had ever played at Fenway prior to Game One, but neither of the backup outfielders figured to see much playing time in the Series. Still, Morgan predicted the Reds would emulate Boston’s Fenway strategy in Game Two.