Carlton Fisk

October 31, 2008

Last week, during The Griddle’s coverage of the weather-enlivened World Series, Bob Timmermann noted the tradition, which resurrects itself whenever it gets a little cold or rainy during the Fall Classic, of sportswriters calling for baseball to ape pro football and move the World Series to a neutral site. Bob pointed out that these articles have been appearing for some time:

“One notable article was by longtime AP writer Will Grimsley who, stuck in the cold and rain for two days during one World Series, wondered why the Series couldn’t be moved to the Astrodome. Grimsley’s article was written the day before Game 6 of the 1975 World Series.”

This morning I heard someone on ESPN radio who had been at that famous game, Peter Gammons, adding his highly influential voice to those calling for a movement toward a neutral-site World Series. He said that people ask him (I suppose because he’s from New England) what he would say to Red Sox fans if this idea was put into action. He said he’d tell them that Red Sox fans haven’t celebrated a World Series victory in their own park since 1918.

I was jogging when I heard him say this. I started running faster. As soon as I got back to my apartment, I took a book off the shelf that included some words I memorized a few years ago, as others might memorize a poem by Keats or a Shakespeare soliloquy. I had to read those words again. They are from October 22, 1975.

And all of a sudden the ball was there, like the Mystic River Bridge, suspended out in the black of the morning.

When it finally crashed off the mesh attached to the left field foul pole, the reaction unfurled one step after another—from Carlton Fisk’s convulsive leap to John Kiley’s booming of the “Hallelujah Chorus” to the wearing off of the numbness to the outcry that echoed across the cold New England morning.

At 12:34 A.M., in the 12th inning, Fisk’s histrionic home run brought a 7-6 end to a game that will be the pride of historians in the year 2525, a game won and lost what seemed like a dozen times, and a game that brings back summertime one more day. For the seventh game of the World Series.     

(from Impossible Dreams, p. 280)

Young Peter Gammons wrote those words, among the best ever written about the game of baseball. He was able by some rare lightning bolt of grace to infuse his clear, charged report of the game’s heroics with a deep and powerful sense of place. The pull of that moment, which will last as long as baseball lasts, has everything to do with the fact that it occurred on a cold New England morning with the long dark winter looming. Fisk’s homer occurred, like Joe Carter’s homer, like Kirk Gibson’s homer, like Bill Mazeroski’s homer, like Bobby Thomson’s homer, at home. “The writer operates at a peculiar crossroads,” Flannery O’Connor once wrote, “where time and place and eternity somehow meet. His problem is to find that location.” Young Peter Gammons found that crossroads, that place, as well as anyone ever has. 

Old Peter Gammons seems to want there to be no such thing as place. In the radio interview, after pointing out that Red Sox fans haven’t celebrated a World Series victory in their own park since 1918 (as if the only thing worthy of celebrating or remembering is the winner of the World Series), Gammons said he’d tell Red Sox fans that the Patriots didn’t win their Super Bowls in Foxboro. He’s right. But where did they win them? Granted, I’m not a big football fan, but I happily watched the Patriots win their Super Bowls, and I couldn’t possibly tell you where those wins occurred. With all due respect to the cities in which they did occur, to me they occurred nowhere. No place. On the other hand, even though my knowledge of football history is spotty, I can tell you where the Patriots’ “tuck rule” victory in the snow over the Raiders occurred, and where the Ice Bowl occurred, and where that old rainy championship game in the 1930s occurred in which the winning team went out at halftime and bought sneakers to contend with the muddy field. Without place: no memory. Without memory: what?

It breaks my heart that Peter Gammons, author of my favorite paragraphs ever written about my favorite sport, seems to have lost not only his memory but his awareness of the singular, irreplaceable power of place.


  1. 1.  First off I agree with you that moving the Series to a neutral location would be ridiculous.

    I had never seen that passage before, and even never having visited Boston, it read like the good kind of punch in the gut.

    When you said it was Peter Gammons, I was shocked. It seems so distant from the (still awesome) ESPN Insider Gammons of my lifetime.

    That said, I think the guy deserves a break on these comments -I don’t think he is putting the same thought or romance into them you or your readers might. The man is old, tired, and reacting to yet another Bud Selig fiasco. Also, from what I understand he merely proposed that of one of multiple possible options, along with shortening the season etc.

    Anyway just my two cents.

  2. 2.  There were at least two neutral-site games this year, with the Cubs beating the home team Astros in Milwaukee. One of the games was Carlos Zambrano’s no-hitter. It seems like there was a lot of whining and gnashing of teeth after those games, and that was just for regular season games.

  3. 3.  Old Gammons is about as obsolete post-2004 as Bill Simmons. Josh, on the other hand, just keeps getting better and better…

  4. 4.  I agree with you, Josh, 100%.
    The very idea of an indoor, neutral-site World Series is a revoltin’ development.

    Peter Gammons, on the other hand, deserves to be cut a break, as he clearly and obviously suffered massive brain damage as a result of that aneurysm a couple of years back…

  5. 5.  1 : Thanks for that call for restraint in Gammons-bashing. This may sound weak coming from me, but I agree with you. My goal was to argue against the stance he was taking during the radio interview (I haven’t seen his writing on the subject), not against him. Even if he hadn’t written the piece I quoted from, he’d forever be a hall-of-famer to me for his old Sunday Boston Globe baseball notes, the most enjoyable Sunday reading of all time.

  6. 6.  Indeed-those words are as special as the spectre of the World Series in San Diego is revolting.

    I think they keep turning their back on the obvious answer-reasonable, though chilly, baseball games could have been played at 1pm either Monday OR Wednesday.

    Would it damage ad revenue?

    But would it enhance the quality of the product,perhaps bring in some young fans-“Hey Dad! Guess what I saw?”- , and give a giddy, semi holiday feeling to those days, at least in the host city?


  7. 7.  Great stuff, Josh. And, yes, of course it would be nuts to play the World Series anywhere but in the teams’ home parks.

    It would be tantamount to throwing up the middle finger at the hometown fans who want to attend — which, of course, means Selig will want to try it.

  8. 8.  I’m already outraged that the All-Star Game determines the home team for the World Series; to move it to a neutral site would be absurd.

    Having been at Game 7 in 1986 at Shea and Game 7 in 1994 at the Garden, there’s nothing like winning at home, indoors, outdoors, baseball, basketball, hockey, whatever.

    Neutral sites might work for the Super Bowl but not for baseball.

  9. 9.  I see that Gammons was throwing out music references even back then. I know that Exans was Dewey, but who was Zager?

  10. 10.  Josh, I completely agree with you about the neutral site World Series and was surprised to hear that a thoughtful guy like Peter Gammons would even suggest it. I can just imagine trying to convince my wife to take our kids out of school for a week (beginning of the school year) to travel to Houston or New Orleans without knowing who was going to be playing or whether the series would be more than four games. In addition, there is always the chance that the team from the host city could end up in the series and have all the games at home. If the Dodgers, Padres, or Angels made it, any series in Southern California or Arizona would essentially be a home series.

    This is my first posting on your site. For someone who collected baseball cards during the same time period, this site is incredible.

  11. 11.  8 : I think that means you’ve been at the last two game 7 championships won in New York. I’m trying to think of the last before those two. The Willis Reed game?

    9 : Zager… Zimmer, maybe?

    10 : Good point, Chuck. Thanks for chiming in and for the kind words.

  12. 12.  I’m not surprised the words came from Peter Gammons. Gammons is, and will continue to be, a really excellent read on the pulse of baseball, the Sox, and the region. That being said, I think his overall tone on subjects has changed in the last decade. It seems he’s more inclined to offer his points on things that might’ve otherwise not been even worth ink from his pen. Before this, he had a moderately Shaughnessy-esque critique of Manny Ramirez. It seemed non-Gammons like, and I couldn’t help but think it was a result of his close relations with various parts of baseball operations. I wonder if this is a legit possibility now. Neutral site. Ugh!

    Football would be better if teams played at home, IMO.

  13. 13.  Place is a curious idea. I happen to agree with you – place probably is an element to memory and, without it, the reality of any moment is somehow degraded or lessened or… I dunno. Something. And some of my favorite writers – Hemingway, for example – sometimes used place as much as (or more than) character. But ponder what may or may not be a true rumor: D.H. Lawrence used to write travel stories by renting a car, touring a town, and going directly to a hotel room. Maybe he rolled down the window; maybe not. Either way, he didn’t do much in the way of visiting our touring or engaging with the “place” he was writing about. Whatever. He’d whip out a travel story, send it off to his publisher, and, in theory, go to the bar to wait it out ’till pay day. So maybe we’re wrong. Maybe place is overrated.

  14. 14.  The absurdity of neutral site is too big. For football, it makes some sense because the Super Bowl is just one game, one game on a Sunday, and it is possible to rally around a single day or weekend.

    It is just a lame, lame, lame idea that barely merits the electrons being spent attacking it. It is even lamer than home field advantage in the series being decided by the All-Star game, and that’s saying a lot.

  15. 15.  Can you imagine Mazeroski’s home run anywhere but Forbes Field?

    (Nearly) nuff’ said.

  16. 16.  It will never happen. I do not think any
    owner would vote to have the WS at a neutral location. They sell season tickets
    so that fans can have post season options.
    Too much history and tradition to make a change. Baseball revenues are very good.

  17. 17.  Loved everything about this piece.

  18. 18.  But Josh, isn’t Gammons also a bit of a hack like the rest of the losers on NESPN?

  19. 19.  For what it’s worth, I heard Gammons not long after Josh posted this piece, and he seemed less enthusiastic about the neutral-site idea than when Josh had heard him. He seemed to be discussing it abstractly and I didn’t sense an advocacy for the idea, so maybe he’s just commenting on the (admittedly lousy) idea.

    BTW, this Carlton Fisk card made me fall in love with baseball cards as a 7 year old. You know how Mickey Mantle was the first “chase card”? Carlton Fisk was my own chase card.

  20. Those Patriots Super Bowl wins occurred somewhere: on television, choreographed and meticulously scripted under the iron shield of the NFgoddamnL – the only brand that matters in football.

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