Sox, B’s & C’s And The Spring Of 1977


rsz_soxbscsThe Boston Celtics were making one last stand before coming up short and going into a transitional period for the franchise. The Boston Bruins were poised to make a run at the Stanley Cup. The Boston Red Sox were laying the groundwork for what was shaping up to be an exciting three-way AL East race against the New York Yankees and Baltimore Orioles. The spring of 2013, you ask? Yes it is, but those same developments were all underway in the spring of 1977 as well. So let’s take a walk back and try to envision what it was like to be a sports fan in Boston during ’77 through April, May and a bit of June.
If you had to name the best team of the Sox/B’s/C’s trio that year, it would probably have to be the Bruins. They’d gone 49-23-8, third-best in the NHL. With three good scorers at center in Jean Ratelle, Peter McNab and Gregg Shepard, plus one of the game’s best defensemen in Brad Park, the B’s were as good a bet as any to be the team who would challenge defending champ and top-heavy Cup favorite Montreal.
But given the difficulty of beating Montreal in this era, if you were looking for a championship, maybe the best hope was the Red Sox. There were more question marks coming in—a BradParkdisappointing ’76 had followed the pennant drive of 1975, but the Sox had a fearsome lineup with Jim Rice, Fred Lynn, Carlton Fisk, a still-productive Carl Yastrzemski and the newly acquired first baseman George Scott. Though Scott would never prove to be worth the price of trading Cecil Cooper to Milwaukee, the “Boomer” as he was called, did have one of his best years in 1977, and the Sox as a team slugged an MLB-best 213 home runs. The pitching was subpar, but maybe, just maybe, they could recapture the mojo of ’75 and with the Big Red Machine broken up, finally win the World Series.
Maybe the Bruins were the best team and the Red Sox the ones with the best shot at winning it all, but the Celtics were the team that really did hang the banners. They were coming off a 1976 championship, complete with one of the greatest NBA games every played, a Game 5 win over Phoenix that swung the series. It was an older team though—Jo- Jo White hit 30 years old at the point guard spot and John Havlicek was now 36. The C’s ground out a 44-38 record, but were surpassed by the Philadelphia 76ers in the Atlantic Division. Still, the Celts hJohnHavlicekad the veterans and championship know-how and while Philly might have Julius Erving, they had no proven record in the playoffs.
The Red Sox were slow out of the gate, and lost five of their first seven to non-contenders in the Chicago White Sox and Cleveland Indians. They were still working their way back to the .500 level, when the Bruins opened playoff action on April 11 and started a fun sequence of three days at the Garden.
Brad Park was one of the NHL’s best defensemen and a lynchpin of the Bruins’ run to the Finals
The Bruins had the third-best offense in the NHL in 1977 and they unleashed on their quarterfinal opponent, the Los Angeles Kings (the playoffs were seeded without regard to conference). Boston pounded Los Angeles for an 8-3 win. One night later, the Celtics hosted the San Antonio Spurs. Back then, the non-division winners had to meet in a two-of-three “mini-series”. With urgency high, the Celtics beat the Spurs 104-94. Then the B’s took over the arena again and their offense kept churning, to beat the Kings 6-2. Both teams left town with command of their series and gave the Red Sox some media cover to keep their climb back to .500.
Over the weekend, the Bruins won a shootout in Los Angeles 7-6, before dropping Game 4, while the Celtics closed out San Antonio in their second game. Patriots Day dawned on April 18 with no one but the Red Sox in action. On a day where the Marathon introduced its women’s wheelchair division for the first time and Jerome Drayton won the race, the Sox offense got rolling against the Detroit Tigers. Yaz had three hits, the immortal Steve Dillard at second base had three more, and Butch Hobson’s two-run homer in the sixth put the team ahead to stay. No other AL East rivals had gotten off to fast starts, and the Sox had officially survived their stumbled out of the gate. rsz_georgescott
The Bruins made life a little interesting for the fans, losing Game 5 at home as the offense went silent in a 3-1 loss, but they squeezed out a 4-3 win back in Los Angeles. It set up a scenario where both the B’s and C’s would battle the city of Philadelphia. In each case, the Boston team would open on the road.
It was the day before the Marathon that the Celts opened up in Philly, and Boston balance trumped Dr. J’s heroics. The Celtics had four players with 20-plus points, while Havlicek turned back the clock for 19, overcoming Erving’s 36-point explosion for a 113-111 win. Philly grabbed the next two games though, so when April 24 rolled around, and we had both Game 4 of Celtics-Sixers and the opening of Bruins-Flyers there was reason to be on edge.
John Havlicek was on his last legs, but like Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, he went down fighting in 1977.
Sunday the 24th proved to be a great day in Boston sports. The Bruins took the Flyers into overtime and won 4-3. The Celtics got 37 points from Dave Cowens and pulled out a 124-119 win to even up the series and show the world the champs weren’t going anywhere quietly. The Red Sox put the icing on the cake with a 9-0 win at Toronto, a franchise in its first year of existence.
Two nights later, the Bruins went double overtime, but they got the same result—a win, and they were coming back home with two-zip series lead. The Celtics faltered in Game 5, but April 28-29 was again set up for hot times in the Garden, with hockey and hoops going on consecutive nights.
The Bruins still needed revenge against the Flyers for a loss in the 1974 Cup Finals, as well as the previous year’s semi-finals. They moved one step closer to getting it. Gerry Cheevers wasn’t one of the league’s elite goalies, but he played like it in Game 3, delivering his team a 2-1 win. And Jo-Jo White, the MVP of 1976 Finals for the Celtics, woke up the echoes the following night. White went off for 40 points and the C’s had pushed the favored Sixers to the limit.
Oh, and the Red Sox? While the weekend’s Bruin and Celtic games were going on, the Sox were bashing the ball out of Fenway. They scored 21 runs in three nights to sweep the Oakland A’s. Scott had a big series, and Fisk had a pair of three-hit games, including two home runs in Sunday’s finale.
Just like the 2013 Celtics, the ’77 team finally ran out of gas and lost a defensive-oriented Game 7 by an 83-77 count back in Philly. But the same day, Cheevers did it again. This time he spun a 1-0 shutout and the Bruins were going to the Finals.
The damn Canadiens were just loaded at this point in history. From Guy Lafleur to Steve Shutt to Larry Robinson to the great Ken Dryden in goal, the period of 1976-79 was Montreal and everyone else. Boston couldn’t manage a win in the Cup Finals. But they had won the fight to get into the Finals and in the hockey world of 1977 that was the real race.
George “The Boomer” Scott had a great spring in 1977 and his best year as a Red Sox.
By mid-May, the Red Sox would have the field to themselves. On May 16 they moved into a tie for first with an 8-7 win over an Angels team that had Jerry Remy as its second baseman. The Rem-Dawg would be dealt to Boston in the offseason. In the season’s first trip to the Bronx, Bill Lee beat the Yankees and ensured a split of a two-game set. And in a major show of offensive force at the end of May, the Red Sox assaulted Kansas City pitching for 27 runs in two games—this was a Royals’ team in the midst of three straight division titles, with pitching being a big reason why. Yes, the Boston offense was locked in and ready to keep the city alive now that baseball and hockey were finally over.
The summer would be good to the Red Sox, as they had an astonishing run in June where they played seven games against the Yankees and Orioles and won all seven. And contrary to myth, this Sox team did not collapse. But of course, it wasn’t a happy ending. New York got hot and nipped out a close division race, while the Sox and Orioles tied for second. The Celtics would go into rebuilding mode for a couple years until Larry Legend came to town. The Bruins made it back to the Cup Finals the following year and put up an even better fight against Montreal, splitting the first four games and pushing the Game 6 finale to overtime.
All three teams—Sox, B’s and C’s, of whose orbit the Boston fan lives in every spring, came together for an entertaining run in 1977. It has the look of being mimicked in 2013— let’s just make a few plot tweaks, and see a Cup-hoisting party come June.