Bad Memories, Great Shots: Putting Bucky Dent ’78 in Focus

October 7, 2018

Bucky Dent hits the plate greeted by Chris Chambliss and Roy White after his famous home run for the Yankees in the October, 1978 playoff game. PHOTO BY MICHAEL MAHER Sun staff photos can be ordered by visiting our SmugMug site.

By Michael Maher

Special to The Sun

It was 40 years ago and I still regret my good fortune at getting perhaps the best celebration photo of Bucky Dent’s famous home run.

Let me explain:

Oct. 2, 1978 was the deciding game of one of the most memorable baseball pennant races ever, the 1978 American League East battle between the Yankees and Red Sox, a one-game showdown at Fenway Park to determine which team would go on to the playoffs. If Boston triumphed, they would end their archrival’s season-long rally from a 14-game deficit, but if New York won, it would be the greatest baseball comeback of all time.

I was a novice newspaper photographer for the Lowell Sun and an avid Sox fan, but when I arrived at Fenway Park to shoot the game, scores of TV and still photographers were already overflowing the sole field-level photographers’ pit adjacent to the Red Sox dugout on the first base side.

Unable to get the normal shooting position, I unhappily relocated to the third base side, at the front of an aisle and behind the Yankees’ on-deck circle. However, I quickly realized this spot had several advantages -- the sun was over my shoulders to provide better lighting, my vantage point was different from nearly every other cameraman, and I was quite comfortable since other photographers weren’t crowding me.

The only risk was I could miss a photo that all the other cameramen got.

In the fateful seventh inning, the Yankees trailed 2-0 but had two runners on base when Bucky Dent, their weakest hitter, came to bat. He fouled a ball off his shin and the trainer came out to check his leg, while a teammate handed Dent a new bat.

Oddly, Red Sox pitcher Mike Torrez didn’t warm up during the long delay. And when Dent stepped back into the batter’s box he jumped on Torrez’s first pitch, lofting a fly ball that became his famous home run, just clearing the Green Monster.

Tuning out my immediate disappointment, I had a perfect angle on the celebration at home plate. Roy White and Chris Chambliss, on base and scoring ahead of Dent, greeted the shortstop at home and the score was now 3-2 Yankees.

My resultant photo told the story of the game from the Yankees’ point of view. And with the sun behind me, I had a clear, well-lit photo of Dent at the plate, while most other photographers on the first base side were shooting into the sun and couldn’t get as good a picture.

The Yankees went further ahead and the Red Sox rallied, but New York won 5-4 as Boston captain Carl Yastrzemski popped up to end the game with the tying and winning runs on base.

The Boston side of the 1978 playoff story could be seen in Yastrzemski’s sad face in the dressing room after what he described as the most disappointing moment of his career.

It is one of life’s ironies that a diehard Red Sox fan like me was in position for this shot of Dent’s homer, a photo used in the HBO documentary “Curse of the Bambino” and published in my own book “Great Shot,” and given as a gift to so many of my Yankee friends.

But our family will never, ever hang it anywhere in our home.

Michael Maher, a former award-winning photographer for The Sun, teaches Digital Marketing Strategy at Syracuse University.

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