All Met and Red Sox fans old enough to remember know where they were on October 25th, 1986. Or more accurately, at 12:32 a.m. on the morning of October 26th when the ball rolled through Bill Buckner’s legs and the Mets won game six of the World Series.
Only 19 days before, Buckner had prophesied the event, telling WBZ-TV’s Don Shane of his hopes and fears for the series:
The dreams are that you’re gonna have a great series and win. The nightmares are that you’re gonna let the winning run score on a ground ball through your legs. Those things happen, you know. I think a lot of it is just fate.
Google Where were you when the ball got by Buckner? and feel the nostalgic glow of Mets’ fans from a grad student lounge at Albany State, a brother’s apartment on the Upper East Side, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the Paramount Bar and Grill in Staten Island to 15 rows off the field between home plate and the Red Sox dugout.
By contrast, in “Thirty years later, the memories are still painful” (Providence Journal), Tim Britton asks Red Sox players to relieve the moment when Buckner’s prophecy came true. Decades later, the disappointment lingers. Then-catcher Rich Gedman says, “I’m trying to make the pain sound like it’s less than it was.”
Or better yet, go back to when the wound was freshest. Written the day after, in “They were just one pitch away” (Boston Globe), Leigh Montville is downright biblical in his litany of sorrow:
In a heartbreak that ranks with all of the heartbreaks ever recorded in the long book of Boston Red Sox heartbreak history, the Olde Towne Team let that world championship bounce away in the red dirt of Shea Stadium last night.
I experienced the loss on the East Side of Providence in the now gone Spat’s on Thayer Street.
When Mookie Wilson’s slow roller slipped past Billy Buck, just across the bar I watched a man break his beer bottle in despair. The shards cut his hand, drawing blood. The bartender silently cleaned off his wound with a towel. The man left, drifting off into the early morning fog on Thayer Street. His look mirrored what we all felt. The Sox would also lose game 7 and the World Series.
The 1986 postseason, an October for the ages, is considered the greatest in baseball history. Its greatness primarily rests on three games: game 6 of the National League Championship Series when the Mets clinched the pennant in a 16 inning victory over the Houston Astros; game five of the American League Championship Series when — one strike away from elimination — the Sox’s Dave Henderson hit a three run home run off California Angel’s reliever Donnie Moore; and game of six of the World Series when the Mets rallied with two outs in the bottom of the eleventh. When the Mets were down to their final out, the Shea Stadium scoreboard ran the message: Congratulations, Red Sox, World Champions.
A short while later, Roger Angell would write a December story for the ages, Not so, Boston (December 8th, 1986, the New Yorker). Excerpts above and below. New Yorker subscribers can read the piece in its entirety.
When the season began, I was working my first post grad job, having finished at Brown University in December, 1985. I ran the elevator at the main school cafeteria, the Ratty. My gusto bringing up and down carts of clean and dirty plates inspired my co-workers to nickname me Rambo. In the elevator, they even installed a life-size poster of Sly Stallone as Rambo. My friend Sarah penned the immortal, “The Elevator” (circa Spring 1986).
The job allowed me to meet local workers, many of whom were Portuguese. Turning the power relationship of town and gown upside down, the Portuguese man who ran one of the conveyor belts tyrannized over the soon-to-be Ivy League graduates. If people fell behind in their work — causing the conveyor belt to stop — the man pelted them with uneaten or half eaten hot dogs laying on the plates. The girls especially were afraid to say anything back, lest harder fruits like apples come their way.
I remember one worker’s dream was to play pro football. A few years before, he made a brief appearance at the New England Patriots training camp. Now the man was working in the cafeteria to make what money he could and to keep in shape by hauling carts up and down the elevator. He never made another training camp, and I worried he would drift through life, maybe on the streets of South Providence.
Sometime in May, I then got a job working in one of the liquor stores, or package stores as they say in New England, near campus, College House (now Spirtus Fermenti).
The store was owned by Jim McCarthy, a pharmacist and raconteur, and co-managed by Constance, his less than thinly disguised mistress. Connie took wine purchasing trips to Europe with her well-heeled East Side customers in mind, forever trying and failing to educate Jim on the niceties of wine connoisseurship. Jim’s more successful policy was to point college students to the Bud Locker — kept preternaturally cold — and rake in the cash on Friday and Saturday nights. Jim and Connie lived in Boston and drove down to Providence.
A witty and acerbic Irishman, Jim was such a character he founded a “Characters Club” in Boston. Before shifting to Providence, Jim was a mini-legend in Harvard Square, owning a pharmacy, a liquor store and a book store. Jim boasted he gave people all they needed: pills, booze and literature.
Jim’s claim to fame in Rhode Island was when — skirting the law — he kept the store open during the 1985 Hurricane Gloria. When the electricity failed, he brought in a generator. Long lines formed on Meeting Street and Jim sold just about every bottle and can of merchandise he had.
Jim knew just about everything about Massachusetts and Rhode Island politics. He was a proud liberal and big union guy. (He paid his employees well. In cash.) The local pols often dropped by as Jim held court in the back office.
Every day at 5:30, RI Senator John Chaffee’s chief of staff came by to chew the political fat, walking from his statehouse office on College Hill, wearing a straw hat, an old-fashioned Yankee suit, and purchasing the same half pint of vodka he and his wife made into Bloody Marys and shared at dinner.
College House was also a little literary salon. Professors, writers and artists frequented the store. The famed novelist and Brown Professor John Hawkes bought jug wine before his sodden English 10 creative writing seminars held at the Graduate Center Bar.
Malcolm Holmes, an African-American gay French Professor at Providence College, came every evening to buy a single bottle from our expensive beer collection. When feeling flush, he would get a Belgium Trappist Orval for 4 dollars.
Brilliant but erratic (maybe a little bipolar), Malcolm had become alienated from academia. In 1969, he formed the Providence College Film Society, but by now he felt misunderstood by his more conventional faculty peers who Malcolm felt were more interested in boating on Narragansett Bay than real scholarship.
Occasionally, Malcolm came to the store with young men apparently attracted to Malcolm’s brilliance as he expounded on all topics literary and political. Malcolm was gay, but appeared to me to be more asexual. When Malcolm and the guys left to wander around Thayer Street, I imagined Rimbaud in Paris in the 1890s, lyricizing to young bourgeois rebels.
Another nightly regular was a dreadlocked street poet from the West Indies. Sometimes carrying a walking stick, the man, in his 50s or early 60s, would pluck down change, buy a shot of gin and show me the poem he had just written. While sketchy and mostly itinerant, the man was rational and articulate. A kind of Providence Bob Marley. Like Malcolm, he had a small following — his were young women. I remember the poet saying that at his age, he discovered one of life’s keenest pleasures was mutually laughing through orgasms
My own literary goal during the 1986 baseball season was to write a novel, titled 72 Meetings. I did not get very far:
As he chips, I type. This novel is supposed to be about him. I have not yet seen it. I have told her I will never. Only imagine it. It must be my head, a stone bust of me, and with his awl he
Nonetheless, I accumulated enough material for a Balzacian human comedy.
All summer at the store we listened to Sox games on the radio. Often, customers would stay for a few minutes to catch the score.
In ’86, Boston had a stacked lineup, led by Buckner, Boggs, Evans, Rice and Baylor. The pitching aces were Roger Clemens and Oil Can Boyd. In his final season, future Hall of Famer Tom Seaver started 16 games.
When not at the store, summer afternoons were spent at Narragansett Town Beach near corpulent beached middle-aged men wearing Red Sox caps with a radio playing the game perched on their oiled bellies.
I watched game five of the American League Championship Series on a small black and white tv in my apartment on 38 Congdon Street right next to Prospect Park, just up the road from College House.
Then rickety, the 19th century house built by a successful whaler was owned by aged Mrs. Schermerhorn. Sweet, a little dotty and sadly not long for this life, Mrs. Schermerhorn’s children wanted her to move into a care facility. Hopefully, her children had her best wishes at heart, rather than the sure windfall the whaler’s house would bring when properly restored to the 20th century. In 2009, the house sold for $925000.
During the game, in the early innings I distinctly remember reading to Sarah on the telephone Harold Pinter’s play Betrayal. As the action — game and play — reached its climax, I hung up to focus on baseball.
One out from victory and winning the series, Dave Henderson hit his two strike three run home run off Donnie Moore. The Angels tied it in the bottom of the ninth. Then Hendu put the Sox ahead with a sacrifice fly in the 11th. The Sox won; the shocked Angles lost games 6 and 7 and the Red Sox were on their way to the Word Series.
I called Sarah back, telling her I had just seen one of the greatest games in history. Sarah thought I was being typically hyperbolic, but in 2011, MLB Network rated the game # 8 on the all time list.
For many years, it was widely assumed that Donnie Moore, who committed suicide in 1989, killed himself because of the Henderson home run. However, on the 25th anniversary of game 5, in The Myth of the Home Run That Drove an Angels Pitcher to Suicide, Atlantic Magazine writer Kevin Baker showed that Moore suffered from demons that went far darker and deeper than one pitch in one game.
I watched game 6 of the National League Championship back at the store, having brought the small black and white tv. It was a slow Saturday afternoon with few customers. But some beer salesman — falling behind their schedule — drew around the tv as the game went 16 innings.
When the count ran full on Bass with the tying run on second and the winning run on first, Mets announcer Bob Murphy said, “Pulsating baseball. … Nobody has sat down for the last four or five innings. … Incredible.” Bass struck out; the salesmen finally left, rushing to make their day’s sales quota.
Game six of the World Series started at the store. Again, many customers stayed to watch a half inning or so. Jim left at about 9:30, a half hour before closing time. Jim was not much of a baseball fan and I had to explain the nuances of the sport. Just as he left, a second baseman bobbled a ball for an error. I remember Jim’s parting words: It’s not baseball anymore. It’s nerves.
Then it was to Spats where I watched a man break his beer bottle in despair, the shards cutting his hand, drawing blood.
I watched game 7 at the GCB. The Sox took a 3-0 lead. But the crowd sensed fate. The Mets won 8-5. Boston had lost a 7th game. Like in ’46, like in ’75 and now in 1986.
Other stuff happened at College House.
As seen in Says who you can’t get rich being a writer., the next year I covered the Pawtucket Red Sox for the Providence Business News and when there were no customers, wrote the stories in Jim’s office .During that summer, Jim unofficially sponsored a Sunday softball league run by LGBTQ Brown students before the term maybe existed. I would bring a donated case of Ortleibs and after the games we went swimming at Lincoln Woods State Park.
At the store I met Amy Carter (Jimmy’s daughter) and had my first and only acid trip at her commune. (see What Millennials think of the Bridge Generation at Lux Lounge )
Once Bob Johnson came in after getting kicked out of the Zen Center in Cumberland. Bob complained that the Zen abbot was running like the Center like a swinger’s colony (included in a Providence Business News article). Bob was on his way to L.A. to start a new life. He sent back to the store a postcard from California. see Says who you can’t get rich being a writer.
I partied a lot with RISD students who were frequent customers. We danced the night away on the tables at the RISD tap rooms. (see Millennials) Once after closing, I joined the artists on an adventure to South County. We snuck into the Dunes Country Club in Narragansett. Eerily, no one was there, but plates in the dining room still had leftover food. Someone tripped an alarm and we thought we heard sirens. We ran to the nearby dunes and hid.
And I met Thilde. see Moon Dress coming to Rochester from L.A. with love
That summer Japanese teachers were studying English at the Brown Summer Institute. Every day after class the guys bought Budweiser.
Once, they asked me about an Asian girl they saw on campus. On one part of campus, they had seen the girl talking to a guy on a motorcycle. Then they saw her talking to another guy on a different spot on campus. What kind of girl was she? And how could they meet girls like her?
Although they were misreading American culture, I got their drift. I canvassed other customer guys. They recommended the Japanese teachers go to the Cahoots Bar in the Marriot Hotel. In the 80s, Cahoots had a reputation as a wild place. Traveling bands stayed in the Marriot and their groupies often joined them at Cahoots after the shows.
I politely declined the Japanese guys invitation to join them. Later they reported having a lot of fun and spending a lot of money. But apparently didn’t meet those kind of girls.
Once an attractive young woman came into the store, lost and holding a map. Her story was elaborate, something about knowing the Hunt brothers who were trying to corner the world market in silver. And something about her feeling she had to get out of Texas. She didn’t have a place to stay. Prudently or not, I offered the spare bedroom at 38 Congdon. Prudently, I stayed in my room.
The next day she wanted to see the ocean. I suggested Moonstone Beach in South Kingston. I’d never been before, but heard Moonstone was a nude beach. Actually, it had been a lively nude scene until 1982 when the state bought the beach. In 1986, nude bathing was still allowed on the Trustom Pond stretch. In 1988 all nude bathing was prohibited.
In Rhode Island’s Secret Coast, Dominque Browning writes of Moonstone in the 80s:
And skinny-dipping. A little further on is Moonstone Beach, which my sister, who escaped Brown as often as she could, told me was a nude beach favored by students. Today the long, sandy stretch is accompanied by signs reminding visitors that this is a family friendly beach where there is to be no nudity. Still, it’s worth the walk.
My new friend ended up being too afraid to skinny dip. I did go in au natural. The water was cold. As the attractive girl involved in a global silver scheme left Providence without even sending a postcard back to the store, I never found out more about why she needed to get out of Texas.
I began my academic career at College House. Although I only had a B.A. in History, Johnson & Wales University hired me to teach undergraduate business students, Reading and Life Skills.
Jim let me grade papers in the back office and even on the front counter top. To say that J & W students were mediocre would be charitable. From what I saw. they treated downtown Providence like a mardi gras or fraternity and sorority row every weekend, and the results were seen in their hung over appearance for Reading and Life Skills.
At the end of the year, J& W — under pressure from accreditation services — determined that instructors must have advanced degrees. So off it was for me to UW-Madison and a fond farewell to College House.
Yet, when I returned to Rhode Island for doctoral studies in the mid 90’s, Jim kindly hired me for occasional weekend shifts. During which time the Red Sox barely sniffed the World Series.And it was at College House where I met Hannah, the RISD girl who went with me to see the organ room in Sayles Hall. see Score one for love at Meliora Weekend
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