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Recently, our reporters here at the "Respect Jeter's Gangster" blog had the pleasure of interviewing author Richard Bradley. Bradley wrote the New York Times best seller "American Son: A Portrait of John F. Kennedy Jr.", but has placed politics aside to write a book about baseball. Specifically about the 1978 playoff game between the Yankees and Red Sox.
"The Greatest Game: The Yankees, The Red Sox, and the Playoff of '78" is a thorough account of the one game playoff between the two teams. I don't read many books, but this one had me pulled in. Bradley covers the story of the playoff game from the perspective of both teams, and provides a ton of background. One thing to note, the rivalry in '78 meant much more than it does now.
Besides being a great author, Richard Bradley is a good guy. He answered 17 questions for us, and some of those questions would have been scoffed at by most academics. He also flashed some gangster (See answer to question 14), which earned immediate respect in our camp.
I highly recommend this book for fans from both sides of the rivalry. It is well researched and well written. Not convinced? Read the interview.
1) This is your first baseball book. What made you want to write about this topic?
Well, if you're a guy and a writer, baseball is kind of like why you climb Mt. Everest: Because it's there. You just have to write about it. Plus, as a kid I was a Yankees fan—still am—and doing this book gave me an opportunity to interview almost all of those guys I'd hero-worshipped when I was a boy.
2) Why is this game important to you?
I was 13 when this playoff happened, but I never got to see it; I was stuck in school. So I really wanted to go back and examine this game that had become such a part of baseball history. But really, all the Yankee teams of that era were important to me. I grew up with two parents who had a bad marriage and fought a lot, and baseball—specifically, the Yankees—was one of the few things that brought our family together.
3) In your book, you go into quite a bit of detail describing the rivalry between the Red Sox and the Yankees. How do you feel the rivalry between the '78 teams compares to the rivalry now?
I think it was even more intense and personal then than it is now. Plus, on a personal note, it was more fun when the Yankees always won in the end. 2004 was rough.
4) How did you come up with the format of your book where your chapters go back and forth between each inning of the playoff game, and the progression of the regular season?
I wanted to tell readers what was happening on every pitch in a way that can't happen watching a game live, so I interviewed players, coaches, umpires, everyone I could. But I also wanted to show just why this game mattered so much—even at the time, everyone felt that it did—and to do that, I had to use flashbacks not just to the season, but to the very beginning of the Yankee-Red Sox rivalry in the early 1900s.
5) How important do you think it was for the Yankees to replace manager Billy Martin in the middle of that season?
Absolutely crucial. There wasn't a single Yankee player I interviewed who thought that the Yankees would ever have come back if Billy Martin had stayed as manager. Goose Gosssage and Bucky Dent were both adamant about that.
6a) Do you think the Yankees will have another free candy bar give away ever again?
(Note: Favorite quote "People are starving all over the world, and there's thirty billion calories laying on the field" (p.80).)
I wish they would. I mean, how much fun must it have been to be one of thousands of people tossing those awful Reggie! bars—which looked kind of like cow flop, and didn't taste much better—onto the field? And you're right--that was a great quote. I also liked Catfish Hunter, who was a hilarious guy, saying, "When you unwrap a Reggie! bar, it tells you how good it is."
6b) Do you think the Yankees will ever consider doing a free beer day at the stadium?
That is such a good idea. But, um, no.
7) The '78 Yankee team was clearly an embattled group of guys, and often times the controversy was as much between themselves as it was from outside of the team. Many people would consider team chemistry a crucial characteristic of a championship team. Why do you think this team was as successful as it was, without the cohesion that some championship teams have?
In a strange way, I think, that Yankees team did have cohesion, and it came from the feeling that they were all part of this bizarre, sometimes uncomfortable, sometimes painful, but ultimately bonding experience. This was a team that knew how to handle pressure, and I'm not sure you could say the same of the Red Sox. The one part the Yankees needed was Bob Lemon, who put the whole team at ease with his laid-back style.
8) How much of an effect did free agency have on these two teams?
More on the Yankees than on the Sox, I think. Their big free agents were Reggie, of course, Catfish Hunter, and Gossage. The Sox's free agents—Torrez, mainly—had a lesser impact on the team. At the same time, the cores of both teams at that point were still players either developed in the minor leagues or acquired through trades. On the Yankees, for example, that meant Munson, Chambliss, Randolph, Dent, Nettles, Roy White, Mickey Rivers, and Lou Piniella.
9) Who do you think was the better catcher, Thurmon Munson or Carlton Fisk? Why?
Munson. Just because. He was my hero when I was a kid, and so I have to say that. Here's the more serious case for Munson: Though it wasn't Fisk's fault, he did miss a lot of games with injuries. Also, every Yankee I spoke with, asked to name the team leader, immediately said "Munson." No question in their minds. That wasn't really true with the Sox. Carlton Fisk was a great catcher and an intense guy, but he didn't seem to have that leadership effect that Munson did. Also, I think Munson was funnier. There are some stories in the book of things he used to do to his teammates that are hilarious. I think also the pitchers really liked working with Munson; they felt he adjusted his style to work with them. But Mike Torrez, whom I interviewed, expressed some irritation at Carlton Fisk's painstakingly slow style, and I got the sense that pitchers had to adapt to Fisk rather than the other way around.
10) Jim Rice was an important piece of that Red Sox offense, in how many ways was Rice inferior to Reggie Jackson?
That season, not many. He was a better fielder than Jackson and his offensive numbers were much better. If there was one shortfall for him that year, it was that he didn't seem to come up as big in crucial moments. Reggie Jackson hit what proved to be the game-winning home run; Jim Rice could have won the game in the bottom of the ninth, but flied out.
11) What was the significance of the "Boston Massacre"?
Well, the four-game sweep of the Sox at Fenway completed the Yankees' comeback from 14 games back in late July. But in a weird way, I think, it helped the Sox. They'd been losing ground for weeks, and it was psyching them out. With the Massacre, they hit rock bottom, and it seemed to take the pressure off them. With their lead gone, they actually started playing better.
12) Who was the favorite going into that game and why?
Excellent question. The answer is, there really was none. That's partly why it was such a great game: You could argue that Guidry was better than Torrez, but then, Guidry was only pitching on three days' rest, and the only other time he did that in 1978 he got beat; the Sox had home field advantage, but the Yanks had destroyed 'em in the Massacre. I could go on, but you take the point: the game was just too close to call. If you really forced me to choose, though, I'd say the Yanks had a slight edge, in that they really believed that they were going to win. They were just a tough, hardened bunch, and nothing seemed to scare them. The Red Sox, on the other hand, thought that they *could* win, and that's an important difference.
13) You put a lot of emphasis on the matchup between Carl Yastrzemski and Goose Gossage in the 9th inning of this game. How important was that moment for Gossage considering the season he had?
Huge. Career-defining, I'd almost say. It'd been a very tough, emotional season for Gossage, joining the Yankees as a free agent, losing a bunch of games early, and getting booed by Yankee fans in New York. He'd eventually gotten into his groove--he was too good not to--but who knows how it would have turned out for him if he'd blown that game? As it was, he gave up two runs in three innings of work, which showed that he wasn't particularly sharp that day.
14) I see your publisher is Simon & Schuster. How do you intend to compete with other Simon & Schuster sports authors, namely Jose Canseco?
I plan to take him out with a one-two combination to the head and stomach. Seriously: I challenge Jose to an ultimate fighting match any time, any place. And then I'm taking his wife to dinner.
15) What do you think today's Yankees can learn from that '78 team?
I think that team had heart. In the end, they willed themselves to victory; as Dent told me, "We just were not going to lose to the Boston Red Sox." That's a spirit I'd like not just current Yankee fans, but Yankee teams, to internalize as their ethos.
16) You have a blog (http://www.richardbradley.net/index.php), which you update regularly. How many times a day do you frequent the "Respect Jeter's Gangster" blog, and why is it your favorite blog?
Too many times to count. I can't get enough of its intelligence, wit, and expertise. And those t-shirts make great presents for the whole family!
17) Lastly, what do you respect most about Jeter's gangster?
Probably the fact that he dated Jessica Alba. That is what you meant, right?
Yes it was Richard, yes it was. So there you have it! The book is great, and Canseco does not stand a chance. Get your copy of "The Greatest Game" at a book store near you. Many thanks to Richard Bradley for taking the time to answer all our questions. Good luck on the book tour!