Roger Kahn’s best-selling 1972 book “The Boys of Summer” was a tribute to the Brooklyn Dodgers of the early 1950s. Think Pee Wee Reese, Carl Furillo, Gil Hodges, Roy Campanella, Duke Snider, Jackie Robinson and company. Kahn’s poignant paean captured how a baseball team became part of his—and Brooklyn’s—identity.
Many New Englanders—including me—have our own Boys of Summer. The Red Sox of the late 1960s revived baseball in Boston. Their names included Carl Yastrzemski, Jim Lonborg, Reggie Smith, George Scott … and Rico Petrocelli.
Brooklyn-born Rico was the All-Star shortstop for the Impossible Dream 1967 Red Sox, who had to win the last two games of the season at Fenway Park against the Minnesota Twins to advance to their first World Series in decades. Led by Yaz, the Red Sox came from behind in both games to win an improbable pennant.
Sportscaster Ned Martin’s call of the final out that October 1 will forever resonate.
“The pitch … is looped towards shortstop … Petrocelli’s back …he’s got it! The Red Sox win! And there’s pandemonium on the field.”
Seemingly every television and radio in New England was tuned in to the game. That Boston victory, almost 50 years ago, created our modern Red Sox Nation.
Petrocelli and Company lost a seven-game World Series to the St. Louis Cardinals, although Rico helped force the deciding game with two homers in Game 6.
In 1969 Rico hit 40 home runs and fielded almost flawlessly while finishing 7th in the MVP voting.
After the Red Sox acquired Luis Aparicio to play shortstop, Rico moved to third base. He batted .308 in the classic seven-game 1975 World Series, won by the Cincinnati Reds. He retired after the 1976 season.
I write of Rico because, improbably, I was invited to be a Leadership Development Conference panelist with the Red Sox great last week in Salem, hosted by Methuen Construction Company. The other two panelists included former State Supreme Court Chief Justice John Broderick and Fahim Fazli, with whom I co-authored a book following our military service in Afghanistan.
We all talked about leadership experiences, traits, principles, approaches and personalities. And of course we talked about sports.
Rico: “I looked so bad trying to hit against Bob Gibson in the ’67 Series that my own father called me a bum!”
Rico: “Dick Williams was what we needed as a manger in 1967. But he later alienated almost everyone.”
Rico: “Yes, we should have left Willoughby on the mound” (concerning the ninth inning pitching change during Game 7 of the 1975 World Series).
Knowing that Rico caught that final out of the Impossible Dream season, I had to ask him what happened to the ball.
Rico: “I gave it to [pitcher Jim] Lonborg.”
Moffett: “You realize that ball would be worth many millions of dollars today if you’d have just hung on to it.”
Rico: “We didn’t think about that stuff in those days. I think Lonborg lost the ball.”
At the end of the session I signed books and Rico signed baseballs. It occurred to me that Roger Kahn met many of his Boys of Summer because he wrote a book. And to have Rico Petrocelli ask me to sign my book for him represented another Impossible Dream of sorts, at least for someone who as a 12 year-old kid watched his hero hit those home runs in the 1967 World Series.
Boston Bruin Bobby Bauer won the NHL’s Lady Byng Trophy three times, in 1940, 1941, and 1947, for exhibiting “sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability.” In the last 50 years, what three other Bruins have also won the award? (Answer follows)
Born Today …
That is to say, sports standouts born on May 19 include NBA greats Dolph Shayes (1928) and Kevin Garnett (1976).
“All literary men are Red Sox fans. To be a Yankee fan in a literate society is to endanger your life.” –John Cheever
Johnny Bucyk (1971), Jean Ratelle (1976) and Rick Middleton (1982) have also won the Lady Byng Trophy.
Michael Moffett is a Professor of Sports Management for Plymouth State University and NHTI-Concord. He recently co-authored the critically-acclaimed and award-winning “FAHIM SPEAKS: A Warrior-Actor’s Odyssey from Afghanistan to Hollywood and Back” (with the Marines)—which is available through Amazon.com. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.