Why did the Boston Red Sox fail to win the 1986 World Series? Did the fact that their franchise had not won a World Series for 68 years in any way contribute to their failure to close the deal? They were one strike away, though I don’t consider that much more significant than just being one out. All it takes is hitting the ball in play, and that’s a strike, too, just a more productive one. Whether or not you believe in the Curse of the Bambino, there just seems to have been (and continues to be)[i] a collective cloud hanging over it. Maybe it’s the Boston media or pressure from the fans themselves, but it was this moment that above all others brought attention to the Red Sox’ plight.
There are a number of things that set the Red Sox far enough back after 1918[ii] that they didn’t even gotten many subsequent chances to take on the best team in the National League. The expansion of the major leagues actually didn’t help, I would have to guess, because the big league talent reached an equilibrium of competitiveness with that number of teams they added through the 60s. That was in part because they added a whole new demographic to the talent pool by breaking the color barrier. And with the Sox being one of the last teams to add black players, it’s not surprising they were behind in their capitalization on that market.
When they found resurgence in ’67, they were already battling about 20 straight years of second-division finishes and had to win one of the most exciting pennant races in history to boot. So winning the World Series would have been icing on the cake, but was probably beside the point. In truth, they didn’t even have as bad a time of it as the Indians, who were finishing in second in the AL for most of these years[iii] and finally made it back to the World Series in ’95. The Red Sox also made it back to the Fall Classic in 1975, but they were doomed to lose to one of the most unstoppable teams of all time, the Big Red Machine. By ’86 their fan base was starting to get impatient.
Another part of the Red Sox history, though, is undoubtedly engrained in their stadium. They were bound to win or lose with that place, but it was going to contribute to their ultimate destiny one way or another. The doubles-friendly layout was a factor in Enos Slaughter’s Mad Dash, and then Bucky Fucking Dent drilled his heart-breaking homer over the Monster. I honestly think the Sox coulda won the Series in ’86 if they had ended it at Fenway. As many times as it had hurt them when they most needed it, they were due for some help from the park. To come that close to a championship, it made me think that they were actually a better team than the Mets, but it could not have helped their chances to have to finish them off in the city of their most hated rival.
The most ignored part of the whole episode is how clutch the Mets themselves were. A large part of winning the whole battle is opening the psychological floodgates by doing just a few things your opponent would not have expected. Even scoring one run with the bases empty and the Red Sox that close to ending the season was 90% of the battle. I don’t know if it was Calvin Schiraldi just trying to make the Mets get themselves out, but simply the fact that they were able to do what the Sox own Ted Williams described as the hardest feat in sports, hitting a baseball- for a clean base hit, three times in a row when they had to, gives them the majority of the credit for the win in my book. Bad things like wild pitches and booted balls are going to happen a certain percentage of the time, but the Mets had put themselves in a position to win well before all that.
They had the entire population (and the 68 years’ torment) of Red Sox Nation pulling for them from several hours away. But in the end, the collective will of a fan base that had only existed for 26 years[iv]- and was present with their team at that time- was able to win the day.
[i] See 2011 Season, End Of
[ii] Besides selling still the greatest (yeah, I said it) baseball player of all time to an as-of-then unsuccessful ballclub from the Bronx, NY.
[iii] …had a rare ten-year run of incompetence around the time the first Major League movies were being made
[iv] Albeit a fan base cobbled together from the remnants of two previously tortured ones, the Dodgers and Giants- both perennial WS losers to the Yankees, and at least one would go on to achieve much greater success in their new home.