For '86 Red Sox, reunion bittersweet

For '86 Red Sox, reunion bittersweet

The loss of the 1986 World Series to the New York Mets, a team in its own way as insufferable to Boston faithful as the Yankees, was exquisitely painful for Red Sox fans. The Game 6 defeat, one strike away from their first championship in 68 years? Almost too much for them to bear.

Explainable, perhaps, only by someone who grew up a Red Sox fan.

"I thought it was one of the most tragic losses in World Series history," said Providence, R.I.-born Lou Gorman, the general manager of that star-crossed '86 team and currently an executive consultant for the Red Sox. "We were about to go into the clubhouse. The World Series trophy is there. The cameras are set up. We borrowed all the Mets' champagne and put it in our clubhouse to celebrate.

"Then all of a sudden there was a passed ball, or a wild pitch, the game's tied. We were just about to go into the clubhouse and we stopped and listened and then suddenly -- bang, bang, bang -- and the game's over. It was like being shot dead. I couldn't believe this happened.

"To me, being a New England guy, to have won that would have been a tremendous personal accomplishment. I've been involved in a couple of other World Series, but to win this one in this city when they'd waited at that point almost 70 years, and to be the local kid who helped to win it, that would have been a tremendous personal accomplishment to me. And I felt even looking back on it 20 years later, I felt the regret that I didn't help win the World Series. That would have been a huge difference for me."

For Sox fans, there was plenty of blame to go around: manager John McNamara, for taking out pitcher Roger Clemens and leaving in first baseman Bill Buckner in Game 6; reliever Bob Stanley, who threw the wild pitch allowing the Mets to tie the score in the 10th inning of that game; catcher Rich Gedman, who some say should have been charged with a passed ball when Stanley's ball got away; Calvin Schiraldi, the young reliever who came unraveled in Games 6 and 7. And, of course, there was Buckner, whose error on Mookie Wilson's ground ball is doomed to be replayed for eternity.

But 20 years has a way of shading perception. Gedman, for one, says the passage of time has allowed him to contemplate that defeat with something other than despair.

"I use a lot from that," said Gedman, 46, a native of nearby Worcester, Mass., who now manages the Independent League Tornadoes in that city, with Bobby Ojeda, who won Game 3 for the Mets in that Series, as his pitching coach.

"The things you learned, more from the failure than the success, dealing with losing the World Series is very difficult, because sometimes you only get one chance to do it," Gedman said. "It's going to sound cavalier, like it really didn't matter and as a player that's what you play for, that's what it's all about.

"Every time you get a chance to play, you're playing to finish on top, and then when it comes and you don't finish it off, some of us are too young to give it perspective. So it eats at you. It bothers you. You carry guilt. You get angry. You don't understand. It's tough to stay positive when you feel like you failed. You let a lot of people down, not only your teammates, but the city, your team, the organization.

"I think in some cases I took it too personally, and I think it injured some of my growth in the game. But, that's OK, because that's who I am. I can live with that. I didn't fail because I didn't try. I failed because I made mistakes and made outs and that's what this game's all about. You're going to mess up. Your experiences, good or bad, make you who you are."

Does the sting of losing a World Series ever wear off? Depends on whom you ask.

"I think probably about 10 years later," said second baseman Marty Barrett, 48, who lives near Las Vegas and invests in real estate. "It took about 10 years, really. I remember watching the Marlins, and Tony Fernandez [the Indians' Gold Glove shortstop] had a ball go through his legs, when [the Marlins] won and Cleveland lost [in 1997]. Little things like that and then you couldn't help but be reminded of it. Every year they'd show the Buckner ball. It was just a constant reminder every year.

"But since [the Red Sox] won it in 2004 and the way the won it in 2004, going through the Yankees like that and then going through a Tony LaRussa-coached team (the Cardinals) like that, sweeping them. It was just really sweet for me to watch that."

"I don't know if it's really kind of worn off," said Bruce Hurst, who, if the Sox had won that Series, would have been named MVP, after going 2-0 (1.96 ERA) in three starts, including Game 7. In 23 innings, the left-hander allowed five earned runs on 18 hits and six walks while striking out 17. Hurst, 48, is currently the pitching coach for the Chinese national team, preparing for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.

"It's replayed and lived and thinking like the fans, sometimes I wonder," Hurst continued. "I don't know if the Mets won it as much as we lost it. That's just from my point of view, being on the losing team. I just don't think that they were all that much better than us, if at all better than us. And the little swagger that comes along with it is a little bit annoying. Does that make sense?"

For some players, it makes more sense not to think about that season.

"I remember [outfielder Dave Henderson] hitting a home run. I remember screaming at people in Anaheim when we were getting on the field, getting ready to rush the field, when they thought the game was over with," said Schiraldi, 44, now a physical education teacher and head coach of the baseball team at St. Michael's Catholic Academy, a small, private high school in Austin, Texas.

"I'm not a person who lives in the past," said Schiraldi, whose eight-year career ended in 1991. "For some reason reporters seem to think that athletes, not just me, but athletes [think] it's the only thing we do; It's the only thing we know. It's the only thing that means anything in our lives. And ... this is 20 years ago, and I haven't thought about it in probably 15 years.

"That's past history for me and I'm sure it is for a lot of people, but what happens is people bring it up and it, I mean, it doesn't rejuvenate any bad memories it's just stuff we haven't thought about. I haven't thought about it for 15 years. You're asking questions about what I remember. I don't remember much of anything."

No one from that team has been excoriated more than Buckner. Thirteen years ago he moved from New England to Idaho, telling reporters, "I'm definitely out of there. I don't want to hear it anymore."

Last week, Buckner denied that the pressure was what precipitated the move. One indication that he has resigned himself to the notoriety is his willingness to appear together with Mookie Wilson at autograph shows.

"Good year. We got to the World Series, that's a pretty good year," said Buckner, 56, of his thoughts on the '86 season.

"It took a while [for the pain to wear off]. It's tough, the higher you go, the bigger your fall."

If he had anything to say to Sox fans now?

"There's a lot of good people there. Thanks for the appreciation from the good fans," he said.

"'Billy Buck' [Buckner] had the respect of his teammates," said Gedman. "He had a wonderful career, and is a great guy. Usually, those two don't go together too well. And to be remembered for one thing and have that eclipse the person, there's nobody should be angry at him. Everybody on that team could have done something different, that might have made the difference. And we all know because we've all been in that position."

"There were a lot of things that happened before that [Buckner] play," Hurst said. "I'll take responsibility, too, and it's probably easier for me because I haven't been publicly criticized. I had a three-run lead with one out, nobody on in the sixth inning of Game 7, and I gave up three runs before I could get the next three outs. So I had a hand in this, too. I won a couple games but I also had [a hand] in us ultimately losing the World Series. Somewhere along the line, we all did something good and we all did something we wish we had over again."

Only one member of the '86 Sox is still playing -- Roger Clemens, who turns 44 on Aug. 4, won the first of his seven Cy Young Awards in '86 and was named the AL MVP, but did not escape the stain the Series left, because of his controversial exit from Game 6 because of a blister. McNamara said afterward that Clemens asked out of the game, which The Rocket has vehemently denied.

The Mets return to Fenway on Tuesday, when the Sox will host a reunion and pregame ceremony recognizing the 20th anniversary of the '86 team. Gorman, Hurst, Barrett, and Schiraldi are among those planning to attend, but Gedman will be with his team in Nashua, N.H., and Buckner had prior commitments. While some players have remained in contact with each other, this is the first formal reunion of the team.

"With the Red Sox winning the World Series in '04, I think that opened the door for a lot of things," said Hurst. "I don't know if we'd be having an anniversary for our team had they not won the World Series. I think it would be a little hard to do that. But, ['86] was a great World Series. I've thought about this a lot. If we were going to lose a World Series, if I had to be on a losing team, if that was my lot in life, I don't think there'd be another group of guys that I'd want to go and fight the fight with and try to win with.

"The more I'm away from the game, I don't know if I'm explaining that right, but the chemistry, the group of guys, the type of teammates they were, how hard they played, the whole thing. We had an interesting group of guys. But the more that I'm away from the game and the more that I played on other teams, I just have really grown to really, really appreciate my teammates from that time."

For some players, this will be their first time back to Fenway in years.

"It's going to be very strange," said Barrett, whose Sox career ended in 1990, of once again seeing players in Mets uniforms on the Fenway grass.

At the reunion, there undoubtedly will be plenty of reminiscing, but little talk of wild pitches, passed balls, missed balls, or managerial decisions.

"You have regrets because you wish you could do it over again," said Gedman. "You wish you could rewind, but you can't, and so you live with it. And so the people that love you, it didn't really matter whether you played baseball or you didn't. And the people who want to be angry at you, there's better things in this world to be thinking about than how angry you are at the Red Sox because they disappointed you. [You can't.] Life is too short. It goes by too fast."

Maureen Mullen is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.