Summer of '73: Brawl Ignited Yankee-Red Sox Rivalry

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Summer of  '73: Brawl Ignited Yankee-Red Sox Rivalry

Carlton Fisk, left, and Red Sox mates mix it up with Yankees Thurman Munson.

August 1, 1973, dawned hot and sunny, and the events that took place later that day sparked a long dormant rivalry, much like the shots at Lexington and Concord  ignited the Revolutionary War in April of 1775. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

The Yankees-Red Sox rivalry wasn’t always as scrutinized, as popular and as intense as we know it today. For most of the past hundred plus years, it was hardly a rivalry at all –  at least beyond the New York vs. Boston thing. With a few exceptions over the course of nearly four decades, whenever one team was up the other was down.

The Yankees (then known as the Highlanders) and the Red Sox (then known as the Americans or Pilgrims) staged a close pennant race in 1904, one that wasn’t decided until last day of the season when New York pitcher Jack Chesbro, trying for his 42nd win of the year, threw a wild pitch to give Boston the American League pennant.

And in the late 40s the teams had a few memorable showdowns, most notably in 1949 when the Yankees, needing to win both games, beat the Red Sox twice at Yankee Stadium to win the AL flag by a single game. That season is well chronicled in David Halberstam’s “Summer of 49.”

But those showdowns were the exception rather than the rule. The Red Sox dominated the first 20 years of baseball, winning five World Series, before foolishly peddling Babe Ruth to the Yankees prior to the 1920 season.

Then the Yankees took over, winning 29 pennants and 20 World Series between 1921 and 1964, the greatest dynasty in the history of sports.

The Yanks went into a fast decline following the 1964 World Series; meanwhile the Red Sox surged to the front in 1967 with their Impossible Dream pennant run.

Contenders Together, At Last
Finally, in the early 70s, the Yankees and the Sox found themselves on the same plane, building towards playoff berths in a revamped MLB format.

It all shook loose on an August afternoon in 1973. And a bunch of recently graduated hippies, aka the Bats, the name of their softball team, were at Fenway Park to witness it.

That summer, the long hairs were living in a communal type setting in a house in the suburbs of Worcester, Mass. Many of them worked nights in the composing room at the Worcester Telegram, proofreading, running the soon-to-be extinct linotype machines, and occasionally suggesting headlines for the Telegram sports staff.

(My favorite was “Yanks Knock on Wood for Doubleheader Sweep” after the Yankees beat White Sox knuckleballer Wilbur Wood in both ends of a doubleheader at Yankee Stadium.)

On the Fourth of July in 1973, a bunch of the Bats visited the old, original Yankee Stadium to see the Yankees and the Red Sox battle for first place in the American League East. The Sox rallied with two runs in the ninth inning to win the first game 2-1, then took the nightcap 1-0.

A month later, in early August — days after Summer Jam, the famed rock concert in Watkins Glen, N.Y., shown above,  that drew 600,000 people — the Yanks invaded Fenway for a four-game series with first place on the line. And the Bats went into Fenway en masse for the third game of that series, an afternoon contest.

Munson Meets Fisk at Home Plate
It turned out to be the game that rekindled the greatest rivalry in sports and carried it to a fever pitch . And it began with a collision of catchers and team leaders, Thurman Munson of the Yankees and Carlton Fisk of the Red Sox.

With the game tied 2-2 in the top of the ninth, Munson led off with a double and was sacrificed to third. With Gene Michael at the plate the Yankees attempted a suicide squeeze. Michael missed the pitch and Munson, a dead duck at home, tried to dislodge Fisk from the ball, only to have Fisk flip Munson aside.

That set off a bench-clearing brawl, a glimpse into the battles that would come in the years ahead. The Red Sox went on to win that game 3-2, but more importantly the Yankee-Red Sox rivalry blossomed.

The teams battled throughout the 70s, Boston winning the pennant in 1975, and the Yanks taking the flag in 1976, 1977 and again in 1978, when Bucky Dent’s home run sank the Sox.

In the years since they have had many memorable showdowns, especially the back-to-back seven-game series for the ALCS in 2003 and 2004. Aaron Boone’s home run won the 2003 pennant for the Yankees, while the Red Sox overcame a 3-0 deficit to shock the Yankees the following year in the greatest playoff comeback in baseball history. And of course there were more than a few brawls mixed in over the years.

Prepare to hear more about the rivalry leading up to Easter Sunday, when the Red Sox entertain the Yankees in baseball’s season opener at Fenway.

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