Writer turns over an old leaf

As I watched the Blue Jays spray champagne over each other, I recalled the first time I witnessed such boys being boys.

On Wednesday, I was in my home office in suburban Toronto, a fan pleased with the cause for celebration.

That first time I was in Boston, a reporter lacking objectivity, loathing every second of the merriment in the visitor’s clubhouse at Fenway Park.

On October 2, 1978, I hailed a cab outside the Sheraton Boston.

“Going to the game?” the driver asked.

“Yeah, it’s my job,” I said. “I’m a writer.”

“Which paper?”

“One in Toronto”

“Tough season for Toronto.”

“Yeah,” I said. “Last place again. Another 100 losses.”

“What do you think of the Sox chances?”

“I’m a Sox fan,” I confided, “so I expect the worst and hope for the best.”

We chuckled about that, falling into one of those conversations between Sox fans: the disappointment of ’67, the anguish of ’75, the shame that Yaz would probably retire without a World Series ring, as Ted Williams and Bobby Doerr did before him.

“I really like Bobby Doerr,” I told the cabbie. “He’s the batting coach for the Jays, you know. One of the nicest men in baseball.”

We pulled up to the press gate at Fenway. I checked the meter and reached for my wallet.

“Forget it,” said the cabbie. “I like you guys from Toronto. It was nice talking to you.”

It was a perfect New England day, blue sky, bright sun, a hint of fall in the air.

There were still a couple of hours before the one-game playoff between the Sox and Yankees to decide the champion of the American League East.

I found my assigned spot in the press box, dumped my typewriter and scorebook on the counter, chatted briefly with Peter Gammons of the Boston Globe, and went to the press dining room.

The menu offered a choice of baked cod or roasted veal. I had the veal, with roasted potatoes and a salad.

The New York writers were there, of course, so the volume in the room was turned up a notch or ten.

By this time, after five years in Canada, I’d lost my New York accent, a mission I’d been on since I left home in 1968. I found it more decorous to be a know-it-all New Yorker without saying caw-fee.

Having covered the pennant race, I’d also been revolted by my hometown fans at Yankee Stadium, especially the big-haired women wearing coats of makeup, painted on designer jeans and tight T-shirts that read: “Boston Sucks” or “Yaz Has VD.”

Fenway was full early for the Monday afternoon game, 33,000 or so stuffed into the ramshackle ballpark.

Ron Guidry, who had won 24 games and lost only three, was the starting pitcher for the Yanks.

But Boston fans, always seeking a clue of karma, knew Guidry’s three losses had all been to opposing pitchers named Mike. And Mike Torrez was starting for the home side.

The Sox took a 2-0 lead into the seventh, when Bucky Dent hit a fly ball toward the Green Monster.

Yaz seemed prepared to make the catch and end the inning. But the baseball gods, ever Yankee fans, lifted the ball over the wall.

That put the Yanks ahead and every Boston fan from Fenway to Fiji knew the game, and the season, was over.

I watched the final half-inning from the stands, sharing the inevitable letdown with my fellow fans as Yaz popped out to end any suspense.

Copies of an extra edition of the Globe, distributed earlier inside the ballpark, littered the aisles, dirty footprints on a six-inning linescore and a front-page headline: SOX AHEAD.

I dutifully took down the quotes from Reggie Jackson to the smiling TV guys in the euphoric, champagne-soaked winner’s clubhouse.

But the beer and gloom of the loser’s locker room washed over my story in the next day’s Toronto Sun:

BOSTON – It wasn’t supposed to end that way. It wasn’t right to break the hearts of the people of New England, just when their spirits were starting to rise, just when their expectations were at their highest.

October in New England offers the promise of two things: The leaves changing colors and the Red Sox playing for the world championship of baseball. Now, one is dead.

The leaves are still changing every shade of red and yellow from the Vermont border to the Atlantic Ocean. But no one here really cares about the leaves. That’s tourist stuff. The Sox are life, an uplifting end to summer, a warm and cozy time before winter throws on its cold blanket.

Hell, New York already has everything: The Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty, Wall Street, Broadway, Central Park, Greenwich Village, Studio 54. But what’s New England got? Bunker Hill and the damn leaves.

But the leaves will have to do for now. The Sox are dead, gone, buried until next spring …

The next day, I flew home to Toronto, quit my job and packed the car.

My wife Linda and I drove to the coast of Maine to look at the damn leaves.


A longer more detailed account of this and many more stories are told in my book: The Expat Files: My Life in Journalism.


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