I get lost in baseball box scores, stats, and career synopses. While I used to rely on sources like the Information Please Sports Almanac (which I worked on for a couple of years), now everything is on the Internet. The definitive source is Baseball-Reference.com, where I can spend a few minutes doing things like reviewing the perfectly mediocre 1985 Red Sox, who finished the season at 81-81 (thanks in part to a five-game losing streak to end the season).
On the last game of that season, October 6, the Milwaukee Brewers and Danny Darwin beat the Sox and Bruce Hurst, 9-6 (a score only a football fan could love). Wade Boggs reached 240 hits after going 3 for 4, and finished the season with a .368 average to win the batting title. The season ended with a whimper though when Mike Easler grounded out to second to end it.
I studied the full box score and then played one of my Baseball Reference games, where I marched through the Red Sox roster year by year. I am especially interested in the lesser players. I challenge myself to remember each player each year. I can identify every player on the 1985, 1986, 1987, and 1988 rosters. I stumble, though, over Jeff Stone in 1989, but I forgive myself. He had 3 hits in 15 at bats. Should anyone remember a player who hit the Mendoza Line unless his name happens to be, you know, Mario Mendoza?
Besides, I got married that year. I was distracted.
I nailed it again in 1990, despite the Red Sox having 43 players pass through their roster, including lesser names but New England natives Billy Jo Robidoux and Rick Lancellotti. I vaguely remembered Lancellotti having a long minor league career, and then Baseball Reference tells me that he had the quirky career arc of appearing in major league games in the years 1982, 1986, and 1990, and only the years 1982, 1986, and 1990. He finished his career 11 for 65, good for a career .169 batting average, with two home runs and eleven RBI. He went 0 for 8 for the Red Sox in that last year, striking out once. His last at-bat came against the Angels on August 18th of that year. In the bottom of the seventh inning, with the Sox down, 4-2, Lancellotti hit a sacrifice fly to deep right field, scoring Tom Brunansky. Lancellotti trotted off the field, never to appear on a major league field again.
That didn’t stop him from chasing that dream. By that point Lancellotti was 34 and had already played eleven seasons in the minors and two in Japan. He played one more season in the minors (for the Sox’ AAA affiliate in Pawtucket). He had a solid year, batting only .209 but hitting 21 homers with 64 RBI; still the Sox released him. After that, he apparently lied about being older than he actually was to play in a senior professional baseball league then took 1992 to play in Italy before finally, as the saying goes, hanging up his spikes.
Rick runs a baseball school outside of Buffalo now.
The movie Field of Dreams is built around a few baseball tropes including the one that a man who loves baseball might do just about anything to play one more time or to have played well even once. I believe this trope. I was a terrible baseball player but I loved it. I can still remember the two home runs I hit in little league. I can still remember a brutally hot summer day when I caught all six innings of a game on a dirt diamond. I can still remember the one time I caught a foul ball as a catcher, throwing off my mask and lurching at the last second to catch the ball and then belly flop. I can still remember the one inning I pitched and the one boy I struck out.
Rick Lancellotti had some fine seasons in the minors. In 1979, when he was 22, he hit 41 home runs with 107 RBI for AA Buffalo. He was too good a player to remember all of those home runs, but I bet he remembers a few.
Something tells me, though, that Lancellotti remembers that last at bat for the Red Sox. Standing in the left-handed batter’s box at Fenway, he worked the count to 3 and 2 off Willie Fraser. Weather Underground tells us it was 90 degrees and muggy when Lancellotti swung at the sixth pitch and drove the ball deep to right field. I am certain he would have watched the ball carry, watched Dave Winfield catch it, and watched Tom Brunansky tag and score. Then he would have turned right, trotted into the Sox dugout. I am sure some of the guys got up to pat him on the back and on the head. Dwight Evans, Tony Pena for sure, maybe even the quiet Ellis Burks.
Lancellotti would have taken off his batting helmet and put his cap back on. I bet he looked back out on that brilliant Fenway grass. He just had a good at bat in a game in a year when the Red Sox won their division. We was living that dream.