Red Sox host 1986 players' reunion

Red Sox host 20th anniversary players' reunion

BOSTON -- A dozen middle-aged men filed quietly into a Fenway Park conference room on Monday night, their first time together since they all wore the uniform of the Boston Red Sox -- 20 years ago as members of the 1986 American League champions.

Hall of Fame third baseman Wade Boggs led the way, followed by pitchers Dennis 'Oil Can' Boyd, Steve Crawford, Bruce Hurst, Tim Lollar, and Joe Sambito; infielders Marty Barrett, Pat Dodson, Ed Romero, and Dave Stapleton; and outfielders Jim Rice and La Schelle Tarver, for a formal press conference marking the start of a two-day reunion at Fenway Park, honoring the 20th anniversary of that star-crossed team. They were joined by then general manager Lou Gorman, currently an executive consultant for the Sox, and Joe Morgan, the bullpen coach for that '86 team who would become manager midway through the '88 season.

The years have added a few pounds, a few wrinkles, a few gray hairs -- where there still is hair that can be grayed -- but they have not diminished the memories of that season, when they were one strike away from winning the World Series before losing in heart-wrenching fashion to the New York Mets.

As the formality of the event gave way, so did the players' reserve. Their affection for each other has not ebbed.

"We still know what happened," said Hurst, who was 2-0 (1.96 ERA) in three starts in that Series and would have been named the MVP if the Sox had won.

"We know how the whole thing ended, what happened. But 20 years, it's gone past winning and losing for us. Now, it's just great to see old friends. You just remember the affection and how hard you fought, and just what these guys mean to you. You don't realize at the time what you went through."

"Right now it doesn't feel like it's been 20 years. Time's gone by in a hurry," said Stapleton. "It's always hard leaving your home, and I've got a building business [in Alabama] and there's' so much going on. It's hard to leave, but it's worth every bit of it to see the guys again. It's still like family when you're back."

Stapleton is the player many thought Sox manager John McNamara should have substituted as a defensive replacement for the gimp-legged Bill Buckner at first base in the late innings of Game 6, before Buckner's fateful error.

"I wasn't really thinking anything," said Stapleton, of remaining on the bench. "I was just thinking, 'Let's get another out. I want to run on the field and jump on the pile.' I was doing what I'd done every other playoff game. I went into the clubhouse because it was so cold. I loosened up, stretched, ran, did everything. I was just ready to do my job when called upon. I can't say I was in total surprise or anything. That was their decision to make. I was just hoping we could get that out and win the ballgame. However we won, it didn't matter. It's just unfortunate it happened the way it happened. It's not about me, whether I should have been in there. It's just about whether the team won or lost, and, unfortunately, we didn't win."

For Gorman, who came to the Sox having served as the Mets' GM, the '86 season was special because his team exceeded expectations.

"It brings back so many memories to see these guys and it doesn't seem like it was 20 years ago, either," he said. "It was a dramatic year in so many ways. We had finished fifth the year before. Most of the writers, both local and national, picked the club to finish fourth or fifth. And to have the kind of the year we had and to get into the World Series and to come within one pitch, one single pitch of being world champions. It was a great memory, but a very painful memory."

The 1986 season was also marked by personal tragedy for Boggs. His mother, Sue, was killed in a car accident on June 17.

"[That] is the worst day of my life, then Oct. [27, losing Game 7] was the next worst night," he said. "I knew I had to go home and I knew my mom wasn't going to be there. Those two dates are etched in stone that I have to deal with every day of my life. [They] just crush you when you think about it, and when you come back to an event like this, it's inevitable that I'll start crying and remember everything that happened. It's extremely hard. These are things that you try to deal with and get through in your life, and when everyone says, 'Remember when?' [It's hard].

"[But] these guys were behind me the whole way and just made me feel so special. [When I got back, after the funeral,] they said, 'Hey, we'll pull through this.' And I saw them [Monday night] and gave them all the hugs in the world."

For some, what made the '86 team special was the number of homegrown players on the roster, including Hurst, Rice, Crawford, Dodson, Stapleton, Barrett, Boggs, and the mercurial Boyd.

"I enjoyed eight years here with Marty [Barrett], Dave Stapleton, Jim Rice," said Boyd, who was 16-10 (3.78 ERA) that season, and now plays center field in a 35-and-older league in Rhode Island.

"It was real good. I came here as a young kid. I got a chance to be good here, grow up here. I grew up in a Red Sox uniform and there's no [more] special moment than for me, right now, to be with the guys that I came up with in the Minor Leagues and got here and was embraced so well. Right away, they recognized that I had great talent for the game of baseball and they enjoyed my style of playing. I'm kind of old school. It was complemented by the organization and my players, playing behind me. These guys enjoyed my act, so it was real good."

For many, the sting of losing that World Series was diminished when the 2004 Sox were able to accomplish what no other Sox team had done in 86 years.

"Sure it did," Stapleton said. "I got chill bumps. Me and my wife were in a hotel room in Birmingham, Ala., watching my daughter in the volleyball state championship. We got chill bumps. We hugged each other. We cried. I was so proud. It takes the onus off all the former players, 1975, 1986. I was just happy for all the players, all the families, the whole Red Sox nation."

The reunion continues on Tuesday night, with a pregame ceremony on the field before the current edition of Red Sox plays the current edition of Mets. For some, the sight of Mets uniforms on the Fenway grass will bring back additional memories.

"It gives you the desire to win," said Boyd, who would have started Game 7 of the '86 Series, but a rainout and an extra day of rest convinced McNamara to go with Hurst.

"Whether it was 50 years ago, 20 years ago, or today, I wouldn't say the Mets are our rival by being in the other league, but I got a chance to pitch in the National League after the 1989 season. I showed that I could beat the Mets and that made me feel real good, without a doubt," Boyd said.

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