Day 17 of 30 baseball book reviews in 2021: On Patriots’ Day, 35 years later, there’s no way to 86 the ’86 Red Sox

“Two Sides of Glory:
The 1986 Boston Red Sox in Their Own Words”

The author:
Erik Sherman

The publishing info:
University of Nebraska Press
288 pages
Released April 1, 2021

The links:
At the publisher’s website
At the author’s website
At The LastBook Store in L.A.

The review in 90 feet or less

Kiki Hernandez hit a fly ball that barely went over the Green Monster for a lead-off homer and did a dance at home plate with teammate Alex Verdugo, later saw Verdugo hit a solo homer, and the Boston Red Sox used 10 Ks from Nathan Eovaldi to secure an 11-4 victory over the Chicago White Sox on Patriots’ Day this morning/afternoon at Fenway Park, which was not followed by the running of the Boston Marathon. It must also be noted that White Sox Hall of Fame manager Tony LaRussa used two position players to soft toss off the mound to get through the seventh and eighth innings just to get it over with. The paying fans must feel they got extra value. Just brutal.

Time will tell if this is a pivotal point in this season for the 11-6 Red Sox, leading the AL East with the help of the three aforementioned former Dodgers. They are just 5-5 at home and don’t have their first of 19 against the New York Yankees until — seriously? — June 4.

Time, context and a whole lot of forgiveness is also an well-cured formula that works over and over again when determining when it is most prudent to revisit an important moment in history.

Sports, in particular. Baseball, to be specific. Otherwise, too many open wounds and emotional trauma can affect judgment.

In the 35 years since the 1986 MLB season climaxed with a New York Mets-Boston Red Sox World Series – the 95-win Red Sox were on the cusp of their first title in centuries, but it rolled away from them to allow the Mets to claim it instead – much has happened.

One of those things was in spring 2016, when Eric Sherman produced “Kings of Queens: Life Beyond Baseball with the ’86 Mets” (Berkley Books, 352 pages, $29), it was with a rather simplistic but purposeful approach – it’s 30 years later, let’s go out and visit about a dozen members of that team that had the most compelling lives, see how they’re doing and talk about that magical time. Sherman had already done a book with Mookie Wilson a couple years earlier, and had his blessings for this project as well.

Then it was off to track down and interview Dwight Gooden, Darryl Strawberry, Lenny Dykstra, Kevin Mitchell, Ed Hearn, Doug Sisk, Wally Backman, Keith Hernandez, Bob Ojeda, Danny Heep, Howard Johnson, Rafael Santana … and include a chapter on the late Gary Carter, by talking to his wife and teammates.

Once that was done, it kinda begged the question: What about the other team that didn’t win it, but had a quite magical year all to their own – from Roger Clemens’ 20-strike out game, to the incredible ALCS against the Angels, and now, one strike away from claiming their first title since 1918 … it didn’t happen.

A perfect entry point was Sherman attending a live public appearance featuring Wilson with the Red Sox’s Bill Buckner – the two key figures in the Game 6 little roller up along first – and how they’d decided to talk about that moment for those who still cared for their insight.

For all the right reasons, Buckner was the starting point in Sherman’s next quest to do for the Red Sox in what he did for the Mets – find 14 key players to tap into their memory banks and what perspective they’ve gained.

And, perhaps, not a moment too soon. Buckner assumes the leadoff role for “Two Sides of Glory” for bittersweet reasons. His error, of course, was the takeaway from the Mets’ Game 6 miraculous comeback, and Sherman didn’t know that about six months after they sat down for an interview in New York in late 2018, Bucker would be dead at age 69 from Lewy Body Dementia.

Buckner’s perspective of that play that should not define his life is deftly covered and conveyed by Sherman in a sensitive, non-evasive way that still brings out what readers want to discover. Buckner’s dignity is held in tact, and moreso.

From there, Sherman’s journey takes him through the perspectives, as he describes it, of “the indomitable Roger Clemens, the outspoken Oil Can Boyd, the dry-witted Bob Stanley, the eloquent Wade Boggs, the intense Jim Rice, the compassionate Rich Gedman, the upbeat Marty Barrett, the humble Bruce Hurst, the gritty Spike Owen, the spiritual Dwight Evans, the gregarious Steve Lyons, the uber-intelligent Tom Seaver and the persevering Calvin Schiraldi,” as well as an depth look at two others who had passed away some years earlier, Don Baylor and Dave Henderson.

(And if proof it needed that Sherman did indeed talk to those 14, he snaps a photo of each at the time of the interview and it is included in the book).

Sherman said he tried to write this book in 1993, with Barrett as the launching point, but that was only seven years removed and “the publishing industry deemed it ‘too soon’ to appeal to the target audience of Red Sox fans.”

Now, with Red Sox’s titles happening in 2004, ’07, ’13 and ’18, we’re all good. Who’s up for it?

Maybe the two surprise entries here are Lyons and Seaver – easy to forget they were traded for each other late in late June ’86, sending  Lyons to the White Sox and Seaver eventually landing on the Boston DL where the 41-year-old might have missed the playoff roster but could still mentor the young pitchers like Clemens (who was 23), Jeff Sellers (22), Schiraldi (24) and Boyd (26), plus inject new energy in those like Joe Sambito (34), who idolized Seaver while growing up on Long Island, as well as Hurst (28), who, listening to Seaver’s advice, finished the regular season going 5-1 in September and getting his ERA under three.

Lyons spend much of his interview from his condo in Hermosa Beach lamenting his firing as a game analyst from Fox Sports. Seaver, who also died of Lewy Body Dementia (and Covid-19) last August at age 75, was tracked down at his Calistoga vineyard in May, 2017 for his interview.

“The point was, Erik, I was new to the Sox,” Seaver says. “I could have essentially gotten in the way. Even though I was injured, I was asked (to be in uniform and) be there at the World Series. But I stood out of the way and didn’t get in the middle of it … I remember thinking, ‘This isn’t about me; it’s about them.’ … Don’t screw it up for them.”

And with this, Sherman is far from screwing up this whole mission either. It is about them.

How it goes in the scorebook

A Fenway frank discussion about what, why and how it all happened, and a new appreciation for what we remember of that time. And an appreciation for the three years Sherman dedicated to this project.

More to cover

= In an author Q&A with the Pandemic Baseball Book Club, Sherman discusses:

Q: What’s one noteworthy thing you learned while researching?
A: I appreciated Marty Barrett revealing how the Red Sox had a pickoff play on that would have easily nailed Ray Knight at second base just prior to Buckner’s error in Game Six. Unfortunately, Bob Stanley didn’t pick up the sign. The strategy forced Barrett and Buckner closer to second base, making Mookie Wilson’s slow roller along the first base line a tougher play for the hobbling Buckner. The infamous Buckner play that nearly ruined lives might never have happened had Knight been picked off. 

Q: What surprised you?
A: I learned just how intelligent Oil Can Boyd is. Recalling his loose-cannon image from that season (he was suspended for his behavior), I was struck by his grasp of American history and strong, thoughtful opinions. People may not agree with everything he has to say (like his downplaying of Jackie Robinson’s impact on the game), but you have to respect his views. 
I was also surprised by how funny Bob Stanley is, in a Bob Uecker, self-deprecating kind of way. He always seemed to me like the suburban dad on the commuter train, solemn and stone-faced. He’s hysterical.

Q: Who had the biggest influence on this book?
A: As I was in the process of co-writing Mookie Wilson’s autobiography, I became friendly with Buckner. He and I seriously discussed writing his autobiography together, to the point that I drafted a book proposal. He and his wife ultimately decided that it would be too painful for him to talk about the 1986 season on an extensive book tour, and he backed out. Still, Buckner really opened up to me for Two Sides of Glory. I think he trusted me because of my friendship with Mookie, someone he was very close with.

Q: What’s the most memorable interview you conducted?
A: Choosing which interview was most memorable would be like choosing a favorite child—they were all wonderful in different ways. I had seven-hour interviews with Dwight Evans and Roger Clemens, each of which stretched across two days. My most coveted “get” was Bruce Hurst, who wanted nothing to do with the interview until I convinced him that everyone else was on board. At that point he gave me everything he had. It was just so powerful. He let a lot out that day. My time over two days with Rich Gedman was incredibly insightful as well. He’s a pretty sensitive guy for a catcher. 

Q: Did you learn any lessons along the way?
A: I think that a writer should dismiss pre-conceived notions about people. For example, considering his killer instinct on the mound, I couldn’t believe what a friendly and caring person Roger Clemens turned out to be. It seemed just as important to him as it was to me that his chapter went well. He is well received around Fenway by everybody from the parking attendant to the broadcasters. (He talks to everyone.)

== Sherman makes a noteworthy appearance in the first book we reviewed for the ’21 season in Andrew Maraniss’ “Singled Out: The True Story of Glenn Burke.” Sherman helped Burke author his story in 1995 with the self-published, “Out at Home: The True Story of Glenn Burke, Baseball’s First Openly Gay Player,” and Sherman becomes a pivotal character in Maraniss’ telling of the Burke story for young adult readers.

== More from Sherman: “Steve Blass: A Pirate For Life” in 2012 (Triumph Books) and “Davey Johnson: My Wild Ride in Baseball and Beyond” from 2018 (Triumph Books), which we reviewed.

== A 2016 celebration of the 1986 team at Fenway Park:

== From the SABR library, published in 2016: “The 1986 Boston Red Sox: There Was More Than Game Six,” edited by Bill Nowin and Leslie Heaply. One of a two-book set that included the ’86 Mets.

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