In ’78: The Boston Red Sox, A Historic Game, and A Divided City, Bill Reynolds tells the story of a fragmented city and the baseball team that played there during the middle and late ‘70’s.
The title is ’78 because the centerpiece of the book is the playoff game by which the Yankees broke the hearts of the Red Sox and their fans at the end of that season. The division to which the book’s subtitle refers has to do with the desegregation of Boston’s schools, which actually began in 1974, when Judge Arthur Garrity seized control of the city’s schools because the Boston School Committee had declined to stop rigging the system over which they presided in favor of the children of their white constituents.
Reynolds presents the Red Sox as a phenomenon capable of “bringing everyone together,” which is something of a stretch. By ’78, a lot of the foul-mouthed white residents of South Boston who’d been throwing rocks and bottles at the busses bringing African-American students into the white neighborhoods had given up and gone home. Some of the politicians who’d made careers for themselves by appealing to the bigots were still at it, but even some of them had recognized that slogans like “Better Not To Be Educated Than Not To Be Free” could only take them so far, and that chosen ignorance was even more stupid than so-called “forced busing.”
Still, it was a time of change, and Reynolds is alert to the manifestations of that. Boston was home to the old pols who’d always thrived on promoting conflict between groups of poor and disadvantaged people of different races. It was also home to Ted Kennedy, Mel King and various other leaders whose goals were more lofty than self-aggrandizement and whose methods were more noble than demagoguery. Meanwhile, the Red Sox were managed by Don Zimmer, who’d have been more comfortable if all his players had sported crew cuts rather than afros, Beatle cuts, and love beads.
As Reynolds points out in the epilogue of ’78, much has changed in Boston since Bucky F. Dent’s homerun dribbled over Fenway’s leftfield wall. His book is a worthy chronicle of a decade lots of people who live in Boston would just as soon forget, except, perhaps for the homerun Carlton Fisk hit during the 1975 World Series, and for the early and middle innings of the game with which the Red Sox season ended in 1978.