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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Of Stanley Cups and Ray Culp

With the Bruins on the verge of doing something they have not accomplished in 39 years, I thought it would be fun to see what the Red Sox were up to the last time a Boston team was one win away from capturing hockey's grandest prize.
On Thursday, May 11, 1972, while Orr, Espo, and Co. faced the New York Rangers in Game Six at Madison Square Garden, the Red Sox and California Angels got under way in Anaheim. The baseball season had started late due to a player strike, and the Sox had largely sleepwalked through the first month with a 5-11 record. The Angels were an equally unimpressive 8-11, and just 5,262 showed up at the “Big A” to see right-handers Ray Culp and Andy Messersmith do battle.
Although both pitchers were considered the aces of their staff – at least until unseated by Luis Tiant and Nolan Ryan that summer – the game was a one-sided affair. Culp nearly matched the shutout turned in by goalie Gerry Cheevers during the Bruins’ Cup-clinching, 3-0 victory back East, scattering nine hits in a complete-game, 8-1 win. Offensive heroes for Boston included leadoff man Tommy Harper (three hits, three RBI), his outfield mate Reggie Smith (a two-run homer), and catcher Bob Montgomery (three hits, two runs scored). Monty’s output left him with a gaudy .700 batting average on the young season, but this hot start would not be enough to save his starting job once a brash young rookie named Carlton Fisk got his shot behind the plate.
I was in kindergarten at the time, but it didn’t take my golden-laced Bobby Orr skates and black winter jacket with the spoked “B” emblem to figure out that in 1972, Boston was Bruins country. “Jesus Saves, Espo Scores on the Rebound” stickers adorned car bumpers throughout the city, and two Stanley Cup wins from the Bruins in three years left the Red Sox – five years removed from their franchise-saving “Impossible Dream” pennant – a clear notch below their cold-weather brothers in popularity. There were often plenty of empty seats at Fenway Park, and a three-day weekend series with the Twins earlier in May had failed to draw any crowd over 15,000. Though it held half the capacity, the old Garden often had bigger turnouts than Fenway -- regardless of how well the Bruins were doing.
The Sox would make major headway later in ’72 behind the brilliant performances of Tiant and Fisk, packing their ballpark to the brim throughout September in a late, close-but-no-cigar push for the AL East title. Still, it wouldn’t be until the arrival of “Gold Dust Twins” Lynn and Rice and the thrilling World Series of 1975 that the Boys of Summer became the Top Dogs in town. Not coincidentally, that was precisely when Orr’s chronic knee injuries forced him from the Bruins lineup for nearly an entire season after a decade of brilliance.
 Now we’re in the age of Gonzo, Youk, and Lester at Fenway, but there appears to be plenty of room atop the Boston sports mantle for Thomas, Krejci, and Chara as well. Champions on both Causeway Street and Yawkey Way the same season? It’s never happened before, but this could be the year.

1 comment:

  1. Wow the Stanley Cup finals ended in May?

    Think about that! I bet when the Bruins won that last Stanley cup on May 11th, no one would have guessed they would win their next one on JUNE 15th?

    Also in 1972 the World Series was won in game 7 on October 22nd. The past two years the World Series has gone into NOVEMBER, neither of those years did they even make it to a game 7.

    And Football? Super Bowls VII and VIII were held on Jan 13th and 14th. XLIV and XLV? Feb. 6th and 7th...

    Course there are reasons for this: The addition of the Wild Card in Baseball. 20 additional games in Hockey. (I don't care enough about football, to know what is up with the super bowl. Though I'm sure my sister knows.)

    This is all wonderful for television stations and advertising revenue. But I think it's weird watching Hockey in June.