The 1975 World Series was the seventy-third year overall, and seventy-second played, of the modern World Series which began in 1903. “Classic” could be the word for this World Series; many remember it as the greatest World Series of all time. It’s certainly in most peoples’ top three or at least top five. If you really think about it, baseball won. It didn’t need to rely on gimmicks or crazy owners or anything like that. All it had to do was be itself, and let the Fall Classic do its job. Everything fell into place that year, except for a Red Sox title.
(The 1975 World Series logo. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.)
1975 World Series
Cincinnati Reds (NL) over Boston Red Sox (AL), 4-3
Managers: Sparky Anderson (Cincinnati); Darrell Johnson (Boston)
Hall of Famers
Cincinnati: Sparky Anderson (manager), Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, Tony Perez
Boston: Tom Yawkey (executive), Carlton Fisk, Jim Rice (dnp)*, Carl Yastrzemski
* Jim Rice didn’t play in the Series due to an injury.
Series MVP: Pete Rose, 3B (Cincinnati)
This is going to be one of my favorite ones to write, even if the outcome wasn’t exactly what I wanted. This series has been revisited by both teams numerous times over the years – Robin Williams’ character Sean Maguire in Good Will Hunting had tickets, but uttered his famous line: “Sorry, I gotta go see about a girl.”
The Baby Boomer generation was starting to come into its own in 1975. Around the time the playoffs began, the sketch comedy show Saturday Night Live premiered with George Carlin as its first host. It was perhaps the first show that was primarily made by and aimed at people under thirty years old. Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band would become household names. In film, the word “blockbuster” was introduced when the Steven Spielberg film Jaws premiered. Other classic films that year included Dog Day Afternoon and Best Picture winner One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. The game show Wheel of Fortune premiered with Chuck Woolery hosting. Bill Gates and Paul Allen founded Microsoft. Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali fought their final of three epic bouts, called the “Thrilla in Manila.” As many said, it was for the championship of not just the world, but of each other. Queen released its biggest single to date, “Bohemian Rhapsody.” David Beckham and Tiger Woods were born.
The fall of Saigon, the capital of South Vietnam, occurred on April 30. Saigon would be renamed Ho Chi Minh City and Vietnam would form one country. It was the first time Americans had tasted major defeat in a war. Thirteen days earlier, in neighboring Cambodia, the Khmer Rouge took the capital city of Phnom Penh under the leadership of Pol Pot. The country would be renamed Democratic Kampuchea, and four years of mass genocide would follow, in a policy dubbed “Year Zero.” Portugal beat its own political dictatorship, but lost both Cape Verde and Angola to independence. In Spain, the Franco regime ended. And numerous Nixon aides were sentenced to jail time for their involvement in Watergate.
Despite three consecutive world championships, attendance lagged in Oakland, due to geography and the numerous antics of outrageous owner Charlie Finley. After the Chicago White Sox threatened to relocate to Seattle, Finley would take Oakland to the Windy City. But a lease agreement forced Finley to stay, and Bill Veeck took ownership of the White Sox for a second time, keeping the White Sox in Chicago. In Cleveland, Frank Robinson would become the first black manager in Major League history, although it probably wasn’t the right city for him. Although he hit a home run on Opening Day against the Yankees, he had difficulties with his temper, and would butt heads with pitcher Gaylord Perry, leading to the latter being traded to Texas. But rookies Dennis Eckersley, Rick Manning, and Duane Kuiper picked up the slack for Cleveland.
Hank Aaron returned to Milwaukee, being traded from the Braves to the Brewers. He would pass another one of Babe Ruth’s records, this time for RBIs (he finished with 2,297). But two teams would soon hog the spotlight in each of their respective leagues.
After several years of earning a reputation as chokers, Sparky Anderson’s Cincinnati Reds would finish 108-54, finishing ahead of the Dodgers by 20 games. Anderson was going through some personal issues (a friend was dying of cancer, and an argument with his son over the latter’s refusal to cut his hair resulted in a year-long estrangement), but on the field, he became known as “Captain Hook” for his brilliant handling of his pitching staff. Second baseman Joe Morgan won the MVP Award, his first of two straight. They had veterans Johnny Bench, Tony Perez, Pete Rose, and Dave Concepcion, and other stars like Ken Griffey, Sr., George Foster, and Cesar Geronimo. It was truly the “Big Red Machine.”
In the NL East, it was a battle of Pennsylvania for much of the year, as the Philadelphia Phillies and Pittsburgh Pirates battled for much of the season. Philadelphia had rising star Mike Schmidt in its lineup, along with dominant lefty Steve Carlton. Still, the Pirates were just a little bit better, led by first baseman Willie Stargell. In a 1-2 finish, Pittsburgh edged Philadelphia by 6.5 games. Philadelphia would have its moment the next year, though.
The NLCS was no contest, with the Reds sweeping the Series and outscoring the Pirates 19-7. The Big Red Machine was living up to its name, and Anderson had his third pennant in six years.
After being in contention for several years, the Boston Red Sox returned to the playoffs for the first time since the “Impossible Dream” season in 1967. Two phenomenal rookies would help the Red Sox to the division title – Fred Lynn and Jim Rice, nicknamed the “Gold Dust Twins.” Lynn would become the first player to win Rookie of the Year and MVP awards in the same season. Rice finished second, but was sidelined late in the season when pitcher Vern Ruhle hit him in the wrist with a fastball. Luis Tiant and Bill Lee anchored the pitching staff, the latter known for his left-leaning views in a job that leaned the other way. Much of Boston had been embroiled in a forced busing controversy as a result of integrating its public schools. The Red Sox winning again helped the city recover.
After the A’s lost Catfish Hunter as the result of an illegal contract, many thought they’d be thrown off their pedestal. And Oakland did have an anemic offense, but still finished with the best record in the AL at 98-64, after acquiring Billy Williams from the Cubs.
But just like in the National League, the ALCS ended in a three-game sweep. Tiant pitched the Sox to a 7-1 win in the first game, and the Red Sox were on their way. The Sox clinched the pennant in Oakland with a 5-3 win by Rick Wise.
(Luis Tiant in his unusual windup. Photo courtesy of Bleacher Report.)
The Series opened in Fenway Park on October 11. Luis Tiant and Don Gullett would wage a pitcher’s duel for the first six innings. In the bottom of the seventh, it was still 0-0. Tiant had escaped a bases loaded jam, which was helped when George Foster was thrown out by Carlton “Pudge” Fisk. Despite not batting once all season, Tiant singled to lead off the seventh.
(Tiant fouls a pitch back before starting the rally. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.)
A fielder’s choice led to first and second, and a single loaded the bases. Carl Yastrzemski opened the scoring with a single. Fisk walked to score another run. After a strikeout, two more singles and a sacrifice fly led to a 6-0 Boston lead. Tiant set down the Reds in order in the eighth and ninth, getting Concepcion to ground out to third baseman Rico Petrocelli to end the game. Boston had struck first.
(The Cincinnati Reds bench looks on as Luis Tiant shuts them down. Photo courtesy of Boston Globe.)
Game 2 featured Bill Lee against Jack Billingham. Boston struck first when Fisk drove Yaz in. Lee pitched eight strong innings, and Dick Drago came in to try and preserve a 2-1 lead. Boston would be up 2-0 heading to Cincinnati. But in the top of the ninth, Johnny Bench led off with a double down the right field line, despite the good arm of right fielder Dwight Evans. After two outs, Concepcion singled to tie the game, then stole second. Ken Griffey (the father of Ken Griffey, Jr.) doubled to give the Reds a 3-2 lead. Boston couldn’t rally against Rawly Eastwick. The Reds had stolen momentum back, tying the Series.
Game 3 at Riverfront Stadium would end controversially. In the top of the second, Fisk homered to give the Red Sox a 1-0 lead. But in the fourth and fifth three home runs from Bench, Concepcion, and Geronimo, combined with a Morgan sacrifice fly gave the Reds a 5-1 lead. Boston rallied, getting a sac fly from Lynn, and home runs from Bernie Carbo and Dwight Evans. The game would finish in the bottom of the tenth. Geronimo singled to right to lead off the inning. Pinch hitter Ed Armbrister came to the plate. On a 1-0 count, Armbrister laid down a bunt in front of the plate. Carlton Fisk attempted to catch it, but Armbrister hesitated, unsure of the ball going foul. Fisk bumped into Armbrister, rushed his throw, and threw it over the head of shortstop Rick Burleson. Geronimo went to third and Armbrister went to second. Boston manager Darrell Johnson attempted to argue it was interference, but was overruled by home plate umpire Larry Barnett.
(The controversial Ed Armbrister play. Photo courtesy of Bleacher Report.)
Roger Moret relieved Jim Willoughby, and issued an intentional walk to load the bases. Merv Rettenmund struck out for the first out. But then, Joe Morgan singled to center, scoring Geronimo. The Reds had won the third game, 6-5, and led in the Series.
The Red Sox evened the Series behind Tiant and his unusual windup, forcing the Series back to Boston. Ken Griffey doubled in a run in the bottom of the first, but was thrown out trying to extend his hit. Bench later drove in Morgan to make it 2-0. But with runners at second and third in the top of the fourth, and one out, Boston broke it open with five runs. Dwight Evans tripled, Burleson doubled, and after an error by Perez, Yaz came through to give Boston a 5-2 lead. Cincinnati made it 5-4 in the bottom of the frame, but neither team scored again. The Reds put two runners on in the bottom of the ninth, but Tiant pitched around it and got Morgan to pop out to first base. Boston won 5-4.
Don Gullett led Cincinnati to the verge of the title in Game 5, winning 6-2. Gullett pitched 8.2 innings to stake Cincinnati. Two Tony Perez home runs gave the Reds the margin of victory they needed. Despite a double from Fred Lynn in the ninth, Rawly Eastwick struck out Petrocelli with two men on to end the game.
(Don Gullett stares in during Game 5. Photo courtesy of http://www.redreporter.com)
Travel days and rain delayed the Series for five days. Finally, on October 21, the sixth game began, arguably the best game in baseball history.
As a result of the delay, Tiant was available to pitch, much to Bill Lee’s consternation. But Johnson’s gamble appeared to pay off as the Red Sox would strike in the bottom of the first. With two out, Yastrzemski and Fisk singled. Fred Lynn rocked a three-run home run to give Boston an early lead. For four innings, Tiant kept the Reds off the board, laboring all the while.
(Fred Lynn’s first inning homer allowed the Sox to strike first. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.)
But in the top of the fifth, the Big Red Machine woke up. Two men were on when Ken Griffey came to bat. He slammed a deep fly to center field. Lynn dove for it, but crashed against the wall. Both runners scored and Griffey ended up at third with a triple. Johnny Bench tied the game with an RBI single. Lynn would stay in the game, but was badly banged up, still resisting efforts by Johnson to be removed. Lynn was conscious but lost a lot of feeling in his body temporarily.
(Fred Lynn and Johnny Bench describe Lynn running into the fence at Fenway Park. Video courtesy of YouTube.)
Both teams had scoring chances, but until the top of the seventh, neither team converted. Finally, with two on and two out, George Foster rocked a double to center that Lynn played off the wall. Griffey and Morgan came around to score, and the Reds led 5-3. Many felt that Tiant was tiring, but Johnson decided to keep him in the game. But the Red Sox were running out of outs, and went down in order in the bottom of the seventh.
Against conventional wisdom, Tiant stayed in the game. On the first pitch of the eighth, Cesar Geronimo turned on a pitch and hit a solo home run to right. Finally, Johnson pulled Tiant and brought in Roger Moret, who set the Reds down. The Red Sox were down by three runs with six outs to go.
Pedro Borbon was on the mound for Cincinnati. Lynn led off with a single, which deflected off the mound slightly. Rico Petrocelli walked. Suddenly, the Red Sox had hope. But Burleson struck out and Burleson hit a line drive out to left field. Boston had four outs to save themselves. It would be up to Bernie Carbo.
Originally, Carbo anticipated Sparky Anderson bringing in lefty Will McEnaney out of the bullpen. In his own head, Anderson told himself to make the move. But he didn’t, and umpire Satch Davidson summoned Carbo to the plate. Carbo took several bad cuts but managed to work the count to 2-2. New pitcher Eastwick threw a pitch that Carbo barely managed to foul off, which he himself described as the “worst swing in the history of baseball.” But the former Cincinnati player, who was battling issues with drugs and alcohol, wasn’t dead yet.
Bench called for Eastwick to give him a low pitch. Instead, Eastwick missed high enough. Carbo jumped on it.
(Bernie Carbo’s home run ties the game at 6-6. Video courtesy of YouTube.)
In center field, Geronimo looked up futilely. Carbo had tied the game with a shocking home run. Sparky felt sick to his stomach. Many claimed it was the loudest they’d heard Fenway Park in over fifty years. Suddenly, the Red Sox were alive.
(Bernie Carbo hits his game-tying home run. Photo courtesy of Boston Globe.)
For all of the euphoria, Johnson was still thinking ahead, telling Carbo he would go into the field. Cecil Cooper struck out to end the inning. Carbo went to left and Yastrzemski moved from left to first base to replace Cooper.
Dick Drago came in from the bullpen in the top of the ninth. The Reds went down in order, and now Boston had a chance to win the series. Second baseman Denny Doyle led off with a walk. Yaz followed with a single. Will McEnaney came in. An intentional walk loaded the bases with nobody out. On the first pitch to Fred Lynn, he lifted a fly ball to left field. George Foster made the catch in short left field. But the crowd was so loud that Doyle misheard third base coach Don Zimmer.
Zimmer called out, “No! No!” But Doyle heard it as “Go! Go!” He broke for the plate. Foster made a throw to the plate. Bench got the ball first, and Doyle was a sitting duck. Double play! The wind was knocked out of Boston’s sails again. Petrocelli grounded out to Rose at third base, and Game 6 was headed to extra innings.
(George Foster nails Denny Doyle at home. Video courtesy of YouTube.)
With one out in the tenth, Concepcion singled and stole second. But Drago pitched around it, and the Reds didn’t score. The Red Sox went down in order in their half.
Heading to bat in the top of the eleventh, Pete Rose came to bat and said to nobody in particular, “This is some kind of game, huh?”
Fisk heard this and responded, “Yeah. Some kind of game.”
For Rose, this was one of his rare shows of his human side. For a man who said that he would walk through Hell in a gasoline suit in order to play (his own words), it was surprising to hear it from him. He led off the inning by being hit by a pitch.
Griffey tried to bunt the runner over, but Rose was forced at second. Runner at first, one out. Joe Morgan came up, and on a 1-1 pitch, he slammed a deep fly to right field.
Right fielder Dwight Evans went back on the ball, and although most thought the ball was gone, Evans reached into the bullpen and made the catch. Not wanting Griffey any more time than needed to get back, he pushed off the wall, threw the ball in Yastrzemski, who relayed the ball to Doyle, covering first base. Griffey wasn’t even around second yet. Another spectacular double play, this one to end the inning.
Dwight Evans’ incredible catch in the 11th inning. Video courtesy of YouTube.)
Unbelievably, the Red Sox were still in it. Pat Darcy came in to pitch for the Reds and set Boston down in order. In the top of the twelfth against Rick Wise, Perez and Foster singled, but were stranded. Geronimo ended the inning by striking out.
Carlton Fisk was due up first in the bottom of the twelfth. Waiting in the on-deck circle was Fred Lynn. Fisk said he would hit the ball off the wall, and wanted Fisk to drive him in. But it didn’t quite work out that way.
Darcy threw ball one high to Fisk. On the next pitch, Fisk hit a high fly ball down the left field line. It looked like it would curve foul. Fisk jumped up and down, trying to wave the ball fair. And he did. The ball ricocheted off the foul pole. At four hours and one minute, at 12:34 in the morning, Game 6 was in the books. Boston 7, Cincinnati 6. The series was tied at three games apiece.
(Fisk waves the ball fair. Photo courtesy of Bleacher Report.)
(The full at-bat of Fisk’s that won the game. Video courtesy of YouTube.)
In order to get the fans off the field, and also caught up in the moment, Fenway Park organist John Kiley broke into Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus.” The series would come down to the wire.
It would be Don Gullett for Cincinnati against Boston’s Bill Lee in the finale. Although not living up to the hype of Game 6, the final game was also tremendously good, but it’s unfortunately forgotten by many people. Neither team scored in the first two innings. Finally, in the bottom of the third, Boston made their move. Carbo had a one-out walk and Doyle singled. Yastrzemski singled to give Boston the lead. Three more walks, one intentional, gave Boston a 3-0 lead. The score stayed that way through five innings. Twelve more outs and the Red Sox would be champions.
In the top of the sixth, Rose singled to lead off the inning. A fly ball and a force out led to two outs, although the Sox had a throwing error by Rick Burleson that could have gotten them out of the inning. Lee threw an “eephus” (i.e. a high-arcing, slow pitch) to Tony Perez for ball one. Perez was anticipating another one. Lee threw it, and Perez hit a two-run home run. Foster flied out to end the inning. But the botched double play would loom large.
(Tony Perez hits a home run to get the Reds in the game. Video courtesy of YouTube.)
In the top of the seventh, Griffey walked with one out. Moret replaced Lee, and later in the inning, Griffey stole second. Ed Armbrister followed with a walk. Rose drove in the tying run with a single, sending Armbrister to third. The game would remain tied. Boston couldn’t get anything going heading into the top of the ninth.
Jim Burton was on the mound for the Red Sox. Ken Griffey led off for the Reds and walked. Geronimo sacrificed him over to second, and pinch hitter Dan Driessen grounded out. Pete Rose walked. With two outs, all Burton needed to do was retire Joe Morgan. On a 1-2 pitch, Morgan hit a looping fly ball. Although Lynn gave chase, it fell in, scoring Griffey and giving the Reds a 4-3 lead. Rose went to third on the throw and Morgan advanced to second. Another walk was followed by a fly ball. The Reds were three outs away from the championship.
Will McEnaney was brought in and got two quick outs. It came down to Yaz. He worked the count to 2-1, then lifted a fly ball to center field. Cesar Geronimo made the catch. Boston had fallen one run short.
(Victorious Reds gather around pitcher Will McEnaney. Photo courtesy of Bleacher Report.)
Still, although the Reds had won, the Red Sox were given tremendous praise. They had one more run (30-29) and hit (60-59) than Cincinnati, but couldn’t quite get it done. But the Series was so classic, I think they can be forgiven. Fisk was remembered as saying, “We won the Series, three games to four.”
According to Bill Lee, Sparky Anderson was interviewed before Game 7, and remarked, “No matter who wins this game, my starting pitcher’s going to the Hall of Fame.” (He was wrong.) Lee then responded with, “No matter who win’s this game, I’m going to the Eliot Lounge,” a notorious Boston watering hole.
Luis Tiant’s father, Luis Sr., was allowed to leave Cuba and threw out the first pitch of Game 6.
Bernie Carbo kept a stuffed gorilla he named “Mighty Joe Young” in his locker, which was then replaced by a statue of the Buddha, which were both embraced as good luck charms.
Carbo grew up in a poor neighborhood in Detroit, and because there was no right fielder most of the time, any ball hit that way was an out. As a result, he could go opposite field better than many left-handed hitters. Because he swung so early on his home run, he actually was able to pull it the other way.
Bernie Carbo tied a record set in 1959 with two pinch-hit home runs.
Reds pitcher Will McEnaney had a twin brother Mike, and they once switched uniforms when McEnaney was with the Pirates, and got away with it.
This was the eleventh straight season without the Yankees in it.
Sparky Anderson played in one MLB season with the Phillies. He was said to have been hitting .400 – for the first two games. He finished at .216 with no home runs.
Both World Series participants had a .275 team average during the regular season.
As famous as his home run was, Fisk had an injury early in the season that kept him out until June.
The only reason that Fisk’s famous image was broadcast was because the cameraman in Fenway Park saw a huge rat coming toward him and was too afraid to make any sudden movements.
The Reds were the last NL team to lose Game 6, then win Game 7 on the road, until 2014. The last AL team to do it was the ’72 Oakland A’s, against Cincinnati.
Fenway Park was once thought to be a crumbling relic. Now it was praised for its charm, particularly in the age of cookie-cutters. The Reds had finally won their title after five years of getting close. It was their first title since 1940. Boston would have to keep their dreams alive in their minds. More tragedy was to come in the World Series.
References and Sources
Boston Globe, October 11-22, 1975.
Baseball: A Film by Ken Burns
Good Will Hunting (Gus Van Sant film- 1997)
100 Years of the World Series (Eric Enders)
The Baseball Hall of Shame: The Best of Blooperstown (Bruce Nash, Allan Zullo)
Big Hair and Plastic Grass: A Funky Ride Through Baseball and America in the Swinging ’70s(Dan Epstein)
Charlie Finley: The Outrageous Story of Baseball’s Super Showman (G. Michael Green, Roger D. Launius)
The Curse of Rocky Colavito (Terry Pluto)
The Seventh Game (Barry Levenson)
Yankees Suck! (Jim Gerard)
Now I Can Die in Peace (Bill Simmons)
The Machine: A Hot Team, a Legendary Season, and a Heart-Stopping World Series: The Story of the 1975 Cincinnati Reds (Joe Posnanski)
Game Six (Mark Frost)
Sports Illustrated. November 3, 1975.