Sunday, April 20, 2008

Respect Bradley's Gangster

As our feature interview, this post will remain at the top of our page for the rest of the week. Scroll below this post to view our new posts. Keep it gangster!

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 (, 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!


michael kei said...

I think there should be a free beer day for those who show their gangster.

Fernando Alejandro said...

I've been fighting for a free beer day for years now, and the Yankees just don't seem interested in the idea. Apparently, people tend to over indulge in alcohol during sporting events. Drunkenness just isn't me. Real gangsters need to have a sharp mind at all times.

TribeGirl said...

Yeah...some of the fans get a little crazy. I was at the Yankee/Tribe game in the Bronx when the drunks were throwing batteries at Albert Belle in left field. This was like 10 years ago, but still, I can't recommend free beer for ya'll after that!

TribeGirl said...

AWESOME interview by the way!!!! Great questions and I'm getting the book!

Sean said...

Great interview.

Fernando Alejandro said...

Tribe girl, I have to agree. I was at game 3 of the ALDS last year and I had bleacher seats which don't sell alcohol. Well, many a fan did their pregame, and fans were a little out of control.

And I definetely recommend the book!

Fernando Alejandro said...

And thank you Disabled Mess, I'm glad you liked it.

Fred Trigger said...

I thought it was a very insightful interview. It was interesting to see a yankees fan agreee with billy martin being replaced a good thing. people think he was a genius as a manager, but, the guy used to make Reggie Jackson bunt for christs sake!!! I dont quite agree with the munson being better than Fisk. I'm kind of a stat minded guy, so, intangibles dont mean much to me. I think Munson was Jason Varitek before his time. i love tek, but really? Tek is kind of overrated in my book. Everybody talks about his intangibles, but, who says Kevin Cash cant call a good game? In other words, if pitchers dont like what the catcher is calling, shake them off. If your stuff is really that good, then, you can get away with it. if the yankees ever do a free beer givaway, there will be pandamonium. Very interesting point about the free agency. The red sox could have done themselves some good signing catfish hunter. Sounds like Jim rice was AROD before Arod, no? Correct me if I'm wrong, but wasnt goosage facing a very, very, over the hill Yastrzemski? I'm not gonna lie, but I would pay money to see an author fight Jose Canseco. For the record. Didnt Bucky Dent cork his bat? I think he has freely admitted to it. anyways, good job guys, I did enjoy the interview. My comments dont go in any particular order, but, I'm a red sox fan, so, sorry, it happens.

Fernando Alejandro said...

See Trigger, that's what we needed. A little bit of the other perspective.

The way he answered the Canseco question was classic. I just didn't expect that from him.

Fred Trigger said...

do you guys have the ability to see into the future? I see you have this posted under April 20th. I didnt realize being a gangster let's you posess time travel. Anyways, best of luck to your team, and hopefully lugo can catch some gangster, and live up to his contract.

Roberto E. Alejandro said...

we had to get a time machine in order to effectively fight Blogger's spam prevention robots, it's kind of like Terminator.

Fernando Alejandro said...

Correction, its exactly like Terminator.

Anonymous said...


nice blog

just hoping you could add my blog to your blogroll and i will do the same for yours. Thanks

Heres the link



Fernando Alejandro said...

Sure Mike, you'll have to add a section to your blog for Great Yankees Blogs.

Unknown said...

Ya know, i posted this on sliding into home... (greg always does great with game summaries) After we got blanked by KC and stood at 4-5, he listed all the contenders in MLBs records and they were all poor, and i realized many last place teams (save the amazing diamonbacks, whom i think will take it all this year; and the Giants are just terrible) were excelling, so I thought about it and posted this:

"This raises an interesting point...

They say if you shuffle a deck seven times you get the most random order of cards from the point in which you started.. sometimes referred to as a "Perfect Shuffle."

With that said, do you think, that with free agency, and the national attention of actually building good farm systems, talent development, revenue sharing and luxury taxes... weve reached a "perfect shuffle" in baseball?

Looks like all the last place teams have carried great springs into good starts this season, and with the contenders struggling so far, albeit two weeks in, perhaps weve seen a more level playing field take place.

food for thought."

Would love to know what you think about that, even if its just april and it comes full circle, its happened consistently recently but this year was the same across the board.

Fernando Alejandro said...

Derek, I think there are a lot of bad teams that have been greatly improved recently. We did a segment called "Know a crappy team" a while back and we covered the Royals and the Rays. Our conclusion was that those two teams may be competing in the near future based on the moves they made. I feel like the Nationals are a couple, albiet big, moves away from competing in the NL East.

That said, I wouldn't take too much stock in how the season is starting. In the last few years, the Baltimore Orioles have always taken first place in the AL East, only to lose it by June. A lot of the teams that are off to hot starts, won't be able to sustain them. The Orioles lack of pitching will start to show, the Royals lack of credible offense will slow them down, and the Marlins lack of a major league team will stop them in their tracks. If we check back at the all star break, things will look more like you would expect them to.

On a seperate note, I don't believe the hype about the Mariners, Blue Jays, or Tigers. Never did. I think none of those teams have a chance.