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Hitting the Redo Button

Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports


I imagine that a few of us have a long enough memory and association as a Sox fan to have a wide set of choices on this one -- leaving Jim Willoughby in for the ninth in 1975 Game Seven, or not letting Tony Conigliaro get hit in the face in 1967, all things I remember well.

My call is from the 1975 season. It had been a great season for sure; the Sox were on their way to a Division title. The Gold Dust Twins, Freddie Lynn and Jim Rice were having amazing rookie seasons. Old Yaz was doing Old Yaz things, and the crowds were yelling for Looie, Looie without even invoking the Kingsmen, Jim Lonborg, pre-dental school, was yanking the teeth from batters and giving them a lot of close shaves.

The "redo" would have been the last week of the season, when on September 21, Jim Rice was hit on the wrist by a pitch and lost for the season -- and the postseason.

I couldn't have been any more intimate with that season, even if it was a couple years before my anthem days. I had seats to Games One and Six, and watched the others religiously, even sneaking out of conflicting opera rehearsals to get to a TV. I was driving around town in a '69 MGC-GT with SOX-19 license plates. I really cared. So when I tell you that not having Jim Rice in the World Series lineup made a difference, well ...

You have to play nine guys in the field, so when Rice was hurt someone else had to go and take his field position -- and his at-bats. As it turned out, defensively that was Yaz moving back to left, where he was excellent in the ALCS against Oakland. But that move left first base unmanned, and that meant playing someone who was, well, not Jim Rice at bat.

The at-bats that Jim Ed would have taken -- and remember, 1975 Rice was a .309 hitter with an .841 OPS -- went primarily to Cecil Cooper, the DH that year (and Juan Beniquez). I think it is fair for this exercise to remember that, outside of Don Gullett, the Cincinnati pitchers were not the strength of their team. They were very good, of course, but Jim Rice in 1975 was excellent.

Cooper and Beniquez, who would not have started and certainly would not have played but for a pinch-hit appearance here and there, came to the plate 16 times in the four Sox losses in that Series. Sixteen times, practically all of which would have been taken by Jim Rice. (For those who look at Cooper's 1975 season and think he was really a good option, well, his full season was excellent but his September, a .659 OPS, was putrid.)

In those 16 plate appearances, Cooper was 1-11 (.091), and Beniquez was 0-4 with a walk. Those games, at least three of the four, were one-run games and one of them (the celebrated case of Fisk v. Armbrister) went to extra innings. We can't know "what if" for sure, but you have to know that those games are very different with a Sox lineup with Jim Rice, as opposed to one with an utter sinkhole in the lineup.

The funny thing is that in the aftermath, the tension of the last couple games was so overwhelming that there wasn't a lot of "what if Rice had been playing ..." going on. It was a fabulous Series, sad to have lost but incredible theater. But now, with 46+ years of hindsight, while asking for a single lifelong redo for the Sox would have a lot of choices, I'll take that pitch back in Detroit that took Rice out of the postseason.

I can still hear Ned Martin, by the way. "He is hit on the hand ... Jim Rice ...". Whew.