In this spellbinding book, Richard Bradley tells the story of what was surely the greatest major league game of our lifetime and perhaps in the history of professional baseball. That game, played at Fenway Park on the afternoon of October 4, 1978, was the culmination of one of the most tense, emotionally wrought seasons ever, between baseball's two most bitter rivals, the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees. Both teams finished this tumultuous season with identical 99-64 records, forcing a one-game playoff. With a one-run lead and two outs, with the tying run in scoring position in the bottom of the ninth, the entire season came down to one at-bat and to one swing of the bat.
It came down, as both men eerily predicted to themselves the night before, to the aging Red Sox legend, Carl Yastrzemski, and the Yankees' free-agent power reliever, Rich "Goose" Gossage.
Anyone who calls himself a baseball fan knows the outcome of that confrontation. And yet such are the literary powers of the author that we are pulled back in time to that late-afternoon moment and become filled anew with all the taut sense of drama that sports has to offer, as if we don't know what happened. As if the thoughts swirling around in the heads of pitcher and hitter are still fresh, both still hopeful of controlling events.
That climactic game occurred thirty seasons ago and yet it still captures our imagination. In this delightful work of sports literature, we watch the game unfold pitch by pitch, inning by inning, but Bradley is up to something more ambitious than just recounting this wonderful game. He also tells us the stories of the participants -- how they got to that moment in their lives and careers, what was at stake for them personally -- including the rivalries within the rivalry, such as catcher Carlton Fisk versus catcher Thurman Munson,and Billy Martin versus everyone. Using a narrative that alternates points of view between the teams, Bradley reacquaints us with a rich roster of characters -- Freddy Lynn, Ron Guidry, Catfish Hunter, Mike Torrez, Jerry Remy, Lou Piniella, George Scott, and Reggie Jackson. And, of course, Bucky Dent, who craved just such a moment in the sun -- a validation he had vainly sought from the father he barely knew.
Not a book intended to celebrate a triumph or lament a loss, The Greatest Game will be embraced in both Boston and New York, with fans of both teams recalling again the talented young men they once gave their hearts to. And fans everywhere will be reminded how utterly gripping a single baseball game can be and that the rewards of being a fan lie not in victory but in caring beyond reason, even decades after the fact.
Major league baseball was vastly different 30 years ago when free agency and the designated hitter were relatively new concepts, and most games were not televised. But one thing was the same: the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox were fierce rivals. In the 1978 season, it all came down to a roller-coaster ride of a pennant race that culminated in one Monday afternoon playoff game to decide the winner of the American League East. Bradley (American Son: Portrait of John F. Kennedy, Jr.) scores a solid hit with his first baseball book, recounting the sudden-death game and the season leading up to it. He deftly staggers chapters, alternating a pitch-by-pitch account of the playoff innings with the backstory of the season and most of the players and coaches. Two of the many compelling plot threads include the dramatics of meddling Yankees owner George Steinbrenner and the feisty, hard-drinking manager Billy Martin, and the touching son-finds-lost-father saga of Bucky Dent, the light-hitting infielder who hit a three-run home run that made him a hero. Many other heavyweight names in baseball lore move across these pages, including Lou Piniella, Don Zimmer, Reggie Jackson, Goose Gossage, Catfish Hunter, Mike Torrez, Ron Guidry and Thurman Munson. The latter chapters of the book are filled with vivid description, particularly of Dent's classic at bat and the slow advance of the evening shadow across the Fenway Park grass. (Mar.)
Copyright (c) Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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March 17, 2008
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Excerpt from The Greatest Game by Richard Bradley
It's going to be Yaz, Goose Gossage thought. In the bottom of the ninth, it's going to be me against Yaz.
The relief pitcher was back in his hotel room after drinking beers with his teammates at Daisy Buchanan's on Newbury Street. The Yankees hung out there when they came to Boston to play the Red Sox. Thurman Munson, Lou Piniella, Sparky Lyle, Reggie Jackson, Bucky Dent -- it felt like the whole team was out drinking. The 1978 Yankees were a tough crew. They liked to party, razz one another, throw back a few -- even if they were playing the biggest game of their lives the next afternoon, which they were. It was better than sitting around at your hotel. Thinking. Getting nervous. Getting tense. You didn't want that much time to think.
But Gossage couldn't shut out thoughts of the next day. After he and his teammates drifted off to their rooms for the night, he tried to sleep, and that's when the game bored into his head and started to buzz around inside his skull. The Yankees versus the Red Sox in a one-game playoff to determine the winner of the American League East Division. The two teams with the best records in either league, and those records happened to be the same -- 99 wins and 63 losses. After 162 games, the regular season had ended in a tie. Baseball hadn't seen such an outcome for thirty years, since 1948, when the Red Sox and the Cleveland Indians took part in the first such playoff. And for almost thirty years after 1978, the sport would not see it again.
A couple of weeks before the last day of the season, when the Red Sox trailed the Yankees in the standings by two games, officials from the two teams had flipped a coin to see, in the event that there were a one-game playoff, which team would be the host. The Red Sox won the toss but didn't expect anything to come of it. Since late July the Yankees had been winning nearly three of every four games they played, and even the Red Sox players doubted that they would catch them. They were wrong. The Sox won 11 of their last 12, including their last seven straight, to stay within one of the Yankees. Then, on October 1, both teams had a game against considerably weaker opponents -- the Yankees against the mediocre Cleveland Indians, the Red Sox against the hapless Toronto Blue Jays. Much to the surprise of both the Red Sox and the Yankees, the Yankees lost. The Red Sox, however, did not.
As a result, baseball's two best teams would be facing each other in a 163rd game. The winner would take on the Kansas City Royals in the league championship series, the prelude to the World Series, but both teams were confident that whoever won this game was the best team in baseball. This game, they felt, was like an entire World Series compressed into one afternoon at Fenway Park. And that was why Richard Michael Gossage, best known as "Goose," had a feeling that, come the ninth inning, he would be on the mound. Closing out games was his specialty.
It's going to be Gator for as hard as he can go for as long as he can can go, Gossage thought. And then...
"Gator" was Ron Guidry, the team's soft-spoken, left-handed ace, who in his second full season had compiled an astonishing record of 24-3, the best in the majors and one of the best in baseball history. Game after game that 1978 season, Guidry had been almost unhittable. He threw a rising fastball in the mid-nineties, setting up a wicked slider that darted in on right-handed hitters. Guidry disguised the pitch somehow; batters couldn't see the spin on it. The slider looked like a straight-up fastball, but then, just as a batter started his swing...it made hitters look silly.
Guidry, however, had pitched just three days before, one day less than his usual rest between starts, and Gossage, the big, strong relief pitcher, suspected that Guidry wouldn't have his best stuff.
Gator for as long as he can go, and then it's going to be me. Against Yaz.
That night, Carl Yastrzemski, successor to the great Ted Williams and Red Sox star since 1961, lay in bed and thought about the game the next day. He tried to picture in his head the pitchers he would be facing -- Guidry and Gossage. He'd faced them plenty of times before. What did they like to throw? What did they like to throw against him? What did they like to throw against him at Fenway? That was what Yastrzemski did before games. He was always thinking, always preparing, so deep inside his head that some of his teammates felt like they barely knew him.