Finishing with a Flourish (Or, When Not to Make an Error)

On October 25, 1986, the Boston Red Sox played the New York Mets in the old Shea Stadium in New York for Game 6 of the World Series.  The Red Sox, without a championship since 1918, and trying to overcome years of “almost-but-not-quite” futility, along with the legendary “Curse of the Bambino” (referring to their trading away of Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees after the 1919 season), were on the brink of winning it all.  They were up, 3 games to 2, in the series.  An upset was in the making.  The Red Sox were a good team in 1986, but the Mets had just completed their best regular season in franchise history, winning 108 games.  But that didn’t matter now.  If they lost either of the next two games, they would finish in second place, and the Boston Red Sox would be world champions for 1986.

I remember Game 6 of that Series very well.  It was a crisp, autumnal Saturday night, and I had already finished my homework for the weekend.  I didn’t want anything to get in the way of the big game.  Fourteen years old and a freshman in high school that fall of 1986, I was a die-hard Mets fan.  I watched most of their games, from spring training on, and knew the team inside out.  That night, I wanted to watch the game alone, out in the family room of the home I grew up in, the home where, to this day, my parents still live.  I popped some popcorn, extra butter, of course, and settled in.  Shea Stadium was rocking–the atmosphere was electric.

Adding to the madhouse of the stadium that night, a parachutist swooped down into the field of play in the top of the first inning.

parachute

 

When security escorted him off the field, he led the crowd in a chant of “Let’s go, Mets, let’s go, Mets!”  Watching on television, I could feel the energy streaming through the set, as if by magic.

parachute2

 

The Red Sox forged a 2–0 lead in the early innings, and for a while, that looked like all the runs they would need.  Twenty-four-year-old fireballer Roger Clemens was on the mound, the best pitcher in the league in 1986.  Through four innings, the Mets could not generate a single base hit off him.

But in the fifth inning, they scratched and clawed, tying the game at 2 apiece.  In the 7th, the Sox took a 3–2 lead, but the Mets tied the game at 3 an inning later.  Ultimately, the game would go into extra innings.

In the top of the 10th, it looked as if the Red Sox would finally get over the hump and win their first World Series since World War I.  They scored two runs, taking a 5–3 lead into the bottom half of the inning.  The Mets needed to score two runs to tie, three to win, or else their season would be over.

Their first two batters failed to deliver.  Two quick outs, and nobody on base.  The Red Sox were now one out, one out, away from the championship.  In the Sox dugout, players yelled out to the field, taunting the Mets and their fans.  The champagne was ready in the clubhouse, the celebration about to begin, sixty-eight long years of frustration about to be overcome and victory realized.

But then a funny thing happened.  Gary Carter, the Mets catcher, singled to left field.  Then pinch-hitter Kevin Mitchell singled to center.  And then Ray Knight, the third baseman, singled to center, too, driving in Carter.  Suddenly, it was 5–4, with runners on first and third.  The Sox still needed just that last out, but now it was getting tight, the tension filtering throughout Shea Stadium like a living, breathing, tentacled thing.  The taunting ceased.  The champagne remained uncorked backstage.

Red Sox manager John McNamara changed pitchers, hoping that would douse the fire.  And Mookie Wilson, a Shea Stadium fan favorite, stepped up to the plate.

mookie

 

Vin Scully, the masterful play-by-play announcer, rightfully described that tenth inning for the ages as “delirious.”  But the craziness had, remarkably, only just begun.

Wilson fell behind in the count, and the Red Sox were one strike away from the championship.  But Mookie battled, fouling off several tough pitches.  Finally, pitcher Bob Stanley delivered a wild pitch that got past the catcher, allowing the tying run from third base to score.  Now it was 5–5.  But the Mets weren’t finished.

Three pitches later, Wilson hit a ground ball to first base.  Watching the game, in Rochester, three hundred and fifty miles to the west of Shea Stadium that night, I was sure the inning was about to end, and it would be 5–5 to start the 11th.  That’s not how it happened.

The ball took a tricky hop and skipped underneath Red Sox first baseman Bill Buckner’s glove.

bucknererror

 

Ray Knight, who had delivered the clutch single just a few minutes ago, scored on the play, and the Mets, miraculously, had come through.  From two runs down, two outs and nobody on base in the bottom of the 10th inning, they had found a way to win.

metswin

 

They would come back to win Game 7 as well, taking the series.  Sox fans would need to wait another eighteen years for The Curse of the Bambino to finally end.

But even as a Mets fan that Saturday night, twenty-seven Octobers ago, I felt bad for Bill Buckner.

buckneraftermath

 

Then thirty-six years old, Buckner had enjoyed a long and distinguished career.  And he was a key player for the 1986 Red Sox, driving in more than 100 runs that year.  But almost overnight, he became Public Enemy Number One in Boston.  Unfairly singled out as the scapegoat for the Series loss, he even received death threats from disgruntled fans.  When the 1987 season opened, he was booed mercilessly by the home crowd.  The Red Sox released him halfway through the  season.

**************

No piece of writing is perfect.  The greatest short stories and essays and novels all have mistakes in them, somewhere–a paragraph here that perhaps could have been sharper, more emotionally engaging, a scene there that doesn’t quite hold up to the brilliance that surrounds it.  There is no such thing as literary perfection.  But if the story as a whole captivates us; if the writing, in its entirety, enthralls us; if the overall excellence of the piece fills us with a kind of wonder, then we are quick to overlook any small errors or less-than-inspired sentences that seep through every now and again.  After all, what’s the big deal if the writer fails to wow us on page 107, if he or she takes our breath away for the remainder of the story?

But if an otherwise great story ends poorly?  If you enjoy the first 350 pages, but then, as you read the last chapter, you shake your head and feel an urge to toss the book straight into the hearth fire?

badending

 

This will leave its mark.  It may even negate the richness and excellence of the first 99% of the story.  While readers can easily overlook a mediocre chapter 6, we are not so ready, or able, to forgive an ending that shatters the very foundation the author has spent so many pages to construct.  Or, to put it another way, if Bill Buckner had made his error on a nondescript Monday night in late May, in front of a half-empty stadium somewhere in the Midwest, nobody would have remembered for long.   But allow the winning run to score in extra innings of the World Series, ruining your team’s chance to win its first championship in seventy years?  That will be remembered . . .

Before I even began writing The Eye-Dancers, I had an ending in mind.  But as I delved in deeper, finishing chapter after chapter, the nature of the ending shifted, taking on different colors, different nuances.  I worried about it.  I stressed over it.  I rewrote the Epilogue, or portions of it, truly, dozens of times.  I had spent so much effort, so much time, writing the novel as a whole.  I didn’t want to toss it all away in the end.  I hope I didn’t.

theend

 

*****************

As a footnote, it should be pointed out that when Bill Buckner was re-signed by the Red Sox in 1990, he received a standing ovation from the Boston fans upon his return.  And in 2008, after the Sox had since twice won that elusive World Series title, he threw out the first pitch for the home opener at Boston’s Fenway Park.

buckerfirstpitch

 

He received a four-minute standing ovation from the sellout crowd.

buckerovation

 

So, when it was all said and done, Bill Buckner’s Red Sox story had a pretty good ending, after all.

Thanks so much for reading!

–Mike

41 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. eemoxam
    Sep 20, 2013 @ 20:12:45

    Great, and timely for myself, post! I have 8 chapters of my manuscript left to edit and I know and have always known that the ending would change and need some reworking. I don’t think you can help that when you’re editing. Now that I’m getting close though, I’m getting scared! Hopefully, it will all work out, I guess I’ll find out soon enough.

    Reply

    • The Eye-Dancers
      Sep 23, 2013 @ 18:48:21

      I’m sure it will work out.:) But I understand the feeling of being scared! I am sure all the hard work you’re putting in will pay off, though. Congratulations on almost being finished!

      Reply

  2. ptero9
    Sep 20, 2013 @ 21:03:15

    Hey Mike, Love this baseball memory. I grew up on LI and my dad had access to box seats so we were able to go to a few games each season back in the 70’s. Time has passed and the family has since moved away from NY. My sister, more than anyone else, still has the love of baseball in her heart. She is here with me now, visiting from Atlanta, where she has become a huge Braves fan (who can blame her?). She’s out here in Oregon visiting for awhile and we’re watching the Braves/Cubbies play right now.
    We both remember that Mets/Re Sox series fondly. Thanks for bringing back such great memories!
    Debra

    Reply

  3. Christy Birmingham
    Sep 20, 2013 @ 21:22:24

    Thanks for the reminder of the importance of the book’s ending. Also, I almost felt like I was right there with you cheering for the Mets!

    Reply

  4. sonya solomonovich
    Sep 20, 2013 @ 21:40:09

    I like your rendition of that famous baseball game! And the thoughts about writing at the end are very timely for me as I’m just working on the last couple of chapters of my novel. I can’t seem to find the perfect ending yet. No pressure! lol

    Reply

  5. jjspina
    Sep 20, 2013 @ 22:17:01

    Good job on this post. Brought back memories but all ended well for Buckner, poor guy! Thanks for sharing.

    Reply

  6. tonyroberts64
    Sep 21, 2013 @ 01:21:00

    I really appreciated re-living that classic game and your reflection on good endings. I recently did a baseball post you might want to check out – http://awaywithwordsblog.com/2013/09/18/a-perfect-night-at-the-ballpark-september-16-1988/

    Reply

  7. mcwoman
    Sep 21, 2013 @ 13:09:25

    What a great account of an exciting game! It’s too bad fans don’t remember that baseball is a TEAM sport. I’m sure there were other iffy plays during the previous nine innings that could have made a difference. Why is it that we have to put the blame on one person? I was mad at Buckner for leaving the Cubs!

    Reply

    • The Eye-Dancers
      Sep 23, 2013 @ 18:55:36

      Great points! There were indeed many chances for the Red Sox to win that game and more than enough blame to go around among the entire team . . . but in the end, the Mets had a certain aura that year. They almost seemed destined to win . . .

      Reply

  8. Freda Moya
    Sep 21, 2013 @ 16:07:43

    Love this Michael. Love the analogy with the baseball game. People keep asking me: “You know where your book is going don’t you? You do know how it’s going to end?” Well as it’s a trilogy I don’t have an exact plan. I simply have an idea. It’s the start point after all. It’s how the whole book came into being in the first place. I like that though. I like that it is only a vague notion rather than a set in stone plan. It reflects real life. None of us know how life’s going to pan out. Why should it be any different with a story? Part of the rush is letting the characters and the incidents in the plot carry you in new directions. I hope my endings to each book don’t disappoint. I am all too aware how frustrating it is to read a dissatisfying ending to a story. In literature we have the power to create the perfect ending. Life, on the other hand, is sadly not so easy to carve to the the perfect, planned ending.

    Reply

    • The Eye-Dancers
      Sep 23, 2013 @ 18:58:10

      Great comments, and I completely agree! I also usually have an idea of the ending, but I don’t usually have it set in stone. In fact, I never do.:) Because, just as you point out, as you delve deeper into the story, things change, your characters act in ways you never thought they would, and . . . that ending you thought you had in mind at the beginning of it all no longer seems to work. It is definitely a good idea to be fluid during the process!

      Reply

  9. WordsFallFromMyEyes
    Sep 21, 2013 @ 22:37:19

    Very interesting baseball tales. The guy who parachuted down, I wonder what charge was laid against him. Law is so funny like that – you have to find a rule/a law for everything “people might do”. It’s funny!

    Great read, and tied up well, Mike. Cheers 🙂

    Reply

  10. Bruce Thiesen
    Sep 22, 2013 @ 02:24:20

    Well done!

    I watched Buckner when he played with the Cubs. He was easy to cheer for and earned our respect. He was not the player you’d expect to make an error like that.

    Reply

  11. kaytisweetlandrasmussen83
    Sep 22, 2013 @ 19:59:58

    What a rich vein of information. Great story Mike.

    Reply

  12. Jilanne Hoffmann
    Sep 23, 2013 @ 05:47:06

    Does it say anything about my writing if I admit to being a diehard Cubs fan?

    Reply

  13. laurie27wsmith
    Sep 23, 2013 @ 23:39:13

    I don’t follow sports but that was a great rundown on the baseball. Endings are worse than the opening paragraph sometimes. Even though one has an idea in mind for the ending I tend to leave it open, comes in handy when you are writing a series.
    Laurie.

    Reply

    • The Eye-Dancers
      Sep 24, 2013 @ 14:52:15

      Thanks! And I agree–it’s probably best not to lock in too much on the ending ahead of time. Because even if you do, it always has a way of changing and turning into something you didn’t quite envision . . .

      Reply

      • laurie27wsmith
        Sep 24, 2013 @ 19:57:39

        Oh so true and then when a new character pops up and you fight against it. Then realise after a couple of days that he/she belongs there. I love writing. 🙂

  14. likeitiz
    Sep 24, 2013 @ 02:21:36

    Hey, Mike. I think I’ll forward this to my sister’s new boyfriend who’s mad about baseball. Even she has been infected with the fever!

    Reply

  15. Fashion Mayann
    Sep 24, 2013 @ 14:42:42

    It’s such a relief to read that Bill Buckner was somehow “forgiven” ! Although your posts are greatly written from the beginning to the end, I always find that your endings are perfect, and for that, I thank you !

    Reply

  16. Sheryl Wright Stinchcum
    Sep 25, 2013 @ 05:33:02

    Hi Mike. I got sidetracked and haven’t finished reading your novel, but I’m intrigued by what you said about the ending in this post–how you started out with an ending in mind and then modified it. I’m writing a short story, and I’m going nuts trying to decide on the ending. What a dilemma! I had an ending in mind early on but changed my mind midway. Thank you sharing your insights. I always enjoy reading your posts.

    Reply

  17. Charron's Chatter
    Sep 25, 2013 @ 20:11:06

    well played, Mikey. Well played. And so true. If the ending sux–like the sox sometimes (had to go there, my punning self) the reader feels robbed. It is so important.

    Cool parachuting trick! I woulda chanted.

    Reply

  18. stormy1812
    Sep 27, 2013 @ 02:31:33

    I can’t think of all the times I’ve heard that from someone… great story but horrible ending. I remember thinking when I saw that movie “The Ring” I was totally into, totally had me scared… until the end. The end of that movie ruined the whole thing for me. It wasn’t even scary anymore. It was tragic (okay not really but sorta haha). It is nice to read the Buckner was given some redemption because that would have been a very unfair ending. I remember seeing that play via “I Love the 80s” on VH1 lol. I think it was Rich Eisen said he took a lot of blame but there was still a game 7 for the Red Sox to play (lose). Good point, but somehow people forget that. That was an instance where technically the story wasn’t over, but because it wasn’t the ending hoped for, the rest was forgotten.

    Reply

    • The Eye-Dancers
      Sep 27, 2013 @ 19:00:07

      Yes, there are many instances where the ending ruins the story, aren’t there? TV series can be that way, too. You enjoy a number of episodes and the story line, and then the ending almost ruins the whole thing!

      Reply

  19. Michael Lane
    Sep 30, 2013 @ 05:09:24

    Heh, took a while to develop, but I love the metaphor. I am a Red Sox fan so obviously I am well aware of what you are talking about. And for the record, even then I didn’t personally blame Buckner… there were definitely people like me who appreciated that he was one of the key people who helped get us to the World Series in the first place. But I watched that 1st pitch that he threw out that you spoke of… it made me cry. The poor guy. God forbid anyone would treat someone’s novel or book the same way as they did Buckner just for a lousy ending.

    Reply

    • The Eye-Dancers
      Sep 30, 2013 @ 19:16:47

      You’re very right about Buckner–he was an unfortunate scapegoat–and it wasn’t fair. He didn’t play the best Series in ’86, but as you point out, if it weren’t for him, the Sox probably wouldn’t have made it that far to begin with.

      Reply

  20. FreeRangeCow
    Sep 30, 2013 @ 14:21:07

    Errors in my writing have lead me down some interesting paths; ones I might not have ever discovered. Excellent reading!!!

    Reply

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