One of my favorite romantic comedies in the last 20 years—and certainly one of the most unheralded clever screenplays ever—was writer/director Peter Howitt’s Sliding Doors.
Gwyneth Paltrow plays a young British PR exec who gets fired from her job in the opening scene and rushes to board a London subway. The story suddenly divides onto two parallel tracks. In one she makes the train and arrives at her flat in time to catch her boyfriend in bed with another woman. In the other she just misses the train, does not catch or suspect her boyfriend, and her romantic and career paths take decidedly different directions to produce an entirely different fate.
The film is a brilliant exploration of the way our lives can turn on the smallest of occurrences, and when I think of the 1967 Impossible Dream Red Sox now, I think of Tony Conigliaro’s sliding door. What if Angels right-hander Jack Hamilton had tripped on a pebble before he delivered that season-ending fastball to Tony C.’s noggin leading off the last of the 4th at Fenway on August 18? What if Tony had guzzled down a Coke between innings, sped up his reflexes and been able to duck out of the way?
Obviously, he didn’t. A powerful force in the center of Boston’s attack was gone for a year and a half, and despite returning heroically in 1969 (20 homers, 82 RBIs and a .748 OPS) and 1970 (36 homers, 116 RBIs and an .822 OPS), he was plagued with vision problems and shipped to the Angels (of all teams) for 1971. The move was a disaster, and after just 57 at bats back with the Sox in 1975, he retired, suffered a heart attack only two days after learning he was hired as the Red Sox color man in January 1982, and lived with brain damage eight more years before dying at the young age of 45.
As some of you might know, I am a Strat-O-Matic fanatic, and one of the joys of the tabletop game is being able to replay baseball history, or slices of it you feel deserve another look. Years ago I finished off the ruined 1994 season, playing out the schedule from the second weekend in August (Houston outlasted Cleveland in the World Series), and a few years ago, concocted a 60-game season by inserting a 1941 squad of white all-stars into a fictitious black major league (the whites did not win).
For what I’ve called the Tony C. Project, I simply replayed the remaining 45 Red Sox games from August 18th to October 1st in ’67, with Conigliaro never leaving the lineup. How much difference would his presence have made? Would it remain the most thrilling pennant race I’ve seen to this date?
I began each game with the actual lineups and pitchers used, and whatever happened in the other American League games on those days still happened. As the replay begins, Boston is in fourth place behind Minnesota, Chicago, and Detroit at 63-54, just three games out. Into the dice-and-cards way-back machine we go!
8/19 vs. Angels: LOSE 3-2 (11 inn.)
Things don’t start out too great, as the Sox leave 15 men on base, with Yaz going 0-for-6 and hitting the ball out of the infield just once. Eerily, Tony leads off the 4th and this time hits one out of the park off Rickey Clark to tie the game 2-2.
8/20 vs. Angels Game 1: WIN 6-5 (13 inn.)
Yaz goes 5-for-7 with two homers, the second one a walkoff. Tony 4-for-6 with another homer.
8/20 vs. Angels Game 2: WIN 9-5
Tony 2-for-4 with a homer, triple and four RBIs. It’s almost as if he’s pissed they threw at him on Friday night.
8/22 vs. Senators Game 1: WIN 6-2
Tony with game-deciding double in a three-run 1st.
8/22 vs. Senators Game 2: WIN 4-1
8/23 vs. Senators: WIN 8-7
Another miracle comeback, this time scoring three in the 8th and 9th. Six wins in a row but everyone else keeps winning. All four clubs within a game and a half.
8/24 vs. Senators: WIN 10-8
Nats score three in the 1st but Sox score four off Coleman, highlighted by back-to-back Yaz and Tony jacks, then score six more in the 3rd.
8/27 at Chicago Game 1: LOSE 3-2 (11 inn.)
Pete Ward ties it in 9th with homer, wins it in 11th with triple. Tony with a homer and single, but top of Boston lineup goes 0-for-15.
8/27 at Chicago Game 2: WIN 3-2
Boomer Scott with a homer, Petrocelli with winning double.
8/28 at New York: WIN 6-0
Yaz homers in 1st, and combined shutout by Morehead, Wyatt, and Lyle.
8/29 at New York Game 1: WIN 6-2
Lonborg’s first win of the project, though he still gives up 10 hits. Yaz with two bombs.
8/29 at New York Game 2: LOSE 4-1
Lee Stange doesn’t have it, Bill Monboquette does
8/30 at New York: WIN 5-0
Scott with a tater, Brandon, Lyle and Wyatt with combined shutout
Boston inches into first place at 75-59, 12-5 since Tony ducked that fastball. All four contenders within ½ game.
8/31 vs. Chicago: WIN 4-3
Back home, Sox survive single, triple and homer by Pete Ward
9/1 vs. Chicago: WIN 4-2
Yaz with dinger off Peters in the 1st, Tony in a mini-slump
9/2 vs. Chicago: WIN 8-3
Tony out of slump with game-winning grand slam off Horlen.
9/3 vs. Chicago: WIN 3-1
Stange with 4-hitter. Tommy John plunks Tony in the 7th but no damage done.
Boston 80-59, two and a half games better than real 9/3 mark
9/4 at Washington Game 1: LOSE 6-3
Pascual again. Yaz and Tony both homer
9/4 at Washington Game 2: WIN 5-4 (12 inn.)
Dalton Jones with triple, homer, game-winning sac fly for Labor Day split
9/5 at Washington: LOSE 5-4
Five Senator runs off Gary Ding-Dong Bell in the 1st
9/7 vs. New York: WIN 4-1
Lonborg beats Stottlemyre
9/8 vs. New York: WIN 5-4
Stange all the way, Yaz 3-for-4 with homer
9/9 vs. New York: WIN 12-0
Their first laugher. Tony goes nuts with two doubles, a single and homer and then gets hit.
9/10 vs. New York: WIN 8-4
Tony with a double and homer off Al Downing. He has the rage virus.
9/12 vs. Kansas City: WIN 9-0
Lonborg. Two more Yaz homers, one off the young and bad Catfish Hunter
9/13 vs. Kansas City: WIN 8-4
Holy hearthrob, Batman. Tony with a double, single and two homers. This is going better than I anticipated.
9/15 vs. Baltimore: WIN 5-1
Tony homers in first at bat, finally cools down. Boston now 24-7 since project launched
9/16 vs. Baltimore: LOSE 6-1
Jim Hardin snuffs them out, except for Tony’s solo homer
9/18 at Detroit: LOSE 6-3
This was the huge two-game series real Boston swept, but McLain gets the better of Darrell Brandon in the opener as Freehan doubles and homers.
9/19 at Detroit: WIN 11-6
Yaz 5-for-5, Tony with double and homer, Petrocelli with two dingers. Late Horton grand slam can’t get Tigers close enough.
9/20 at Cleveland: WIN 4-0
Lonborg with 4-hit shutout. Foy, Andrews and Elston Howard homer
9/21 at Cleveland: WIN 7-6
Sox come back from 4-0, Osinski and Wyatt hold the Tribe at bay
9/22 at Baltimore Game 1: WIN 8-2
Yaz with double, triple and four RBIs
9/23 at Baltimore: LOSE 3-1
Blefary with two homers, Tony with one
9/24 at Baltimore: WIN 9-5
Shaky Lonborg still wins. Balanced Boston attack; 14 hits and everyone gets at least one.
9/26 vs. Cleveland: WIN 3-2
Sox clinch a tie for the pennant most dramatically. Bamboozled by Luis Tiant for eight innings, they score two in the 9th to walk it off on two walks and three singles off Looie and Orlando Pena.
9/27 vs. Cleveland: WIN 6-1
Lonborg puts away the Tribe, Yaz, Tony, Boomer and Reggie Smith all go deep and Boston wins the pennant! It happens two games earlier than they actually did it.
9/30 vs. Minnesota: LOSE 5-2
The famous last two games with the Twins are rendered meaningless. Jim Kaat doesn’t get hurt this time.
10/1 vs. Minnesota: WIN 5-4
On the last day, Tony doubles in a run in the 1st off Dean Chance, singles home the winner in the 8th.
So that’s it, time twisters! The Red Sox finish the replay at 96-66, four games better than their actual mark, going a phenomenal 33-12 for the project. Tony C. with his added stats from August 18 on batted .303 for the year, with 36 homers, 111 RBIs and a .939 OPS. (abbreviated numbers were .287, 20, 67, .850). Carl Yastrzemski hit .333, with 14 homers, 39 RBIs and a 1.028 OPS in the replay (his final 42 homers, 124 RBIs remarkably close to his real-life 44 and 121), so having Tony still behind him in the lineup certainly helped. George Scott was also solid, with a .901 mark.
In the 45 replayed games, Boston scored 234 runs and gave up 150. In reality, the marks were 206 and 166, meaning with Conigliaro in the lineup they enjoyed a +44 increase in run differential.
Naturally, I also had to keep Tony going and replayed the ’67 World Series against the Cardinals. The games were close but Boston was fortunate enough to sweep them all, 5-3, 1-0 (3-hit shutout for Lonborg), 5-4 and 6-3. Tony went 4-for-13, three of his hits in the deciding game off Bob Gibson.
I’m telling ya, the kid has a bright future ahead of him.