Ask Johnny Bench what he remembers most about the 1975 World Series between the Cincinnati Reds and the Boston Red Sox, and the answer comes back instantly.
"Bernie Carbo's home run," says the Reds' Hall of Fame catcher. "He was one of my best friends, but I wanted to kill him."
If you're a baseball fan and you're old enough to recall what went on in the Series of '75, surely you remember what Carbo did: 6th game . . . 8th inning . . . 2 outs . . . 2 runners on . . . Sox down, 6-3 . . . Reds about to win the world title.
But then up to the plate walked Carbo, pinch hitting for relief pitcher Roger Moret. He launched a three-run shot into the center-field bleachers at Fenway Park, tying the game at 6-6.
With one swing, he turned what was an ordinary game up to that point into a classic.
Bench and the Reds never did win that night. In the 12th inning, the Sox' Carlton Fisk poled a dramatic home run off the left-field foul pole, forcing a Game 7.
But Bench, the Reds' catcher, will always remember the shot by Carbo, a former Cincinnati player.
"He was my roommate when we broke into the big leagues together," said Bench. "He's a wonderful guy, and he was a bit of a flake. We used to call him 'Rocket' because it always seemed like he was out in space somewhere."
Johnny Bench . . . Bernie Carbo . . . Carlton Fisk . . . the 1975 World Series.
If you want to hear more about the '75 classic, then you should be at Rhodes-on-the-Pawtuxet in Cranston next Tuesday, when Bench will be the featured speaker at the annual dinner and fundraiser for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), sponsored by the R.I. Chapter of the ALS Association.
The fundraiser is entitled "An Evening of Hope," and will include a reception at 5:30 and dinner at 6:30, with both a silent auction and a live auction.
There are many who say the Series of '75 was the greatest World Series ever played, and, in fact, gave baseball a boost that has lasted for 25 years.
"I still hear about it every day," said Bench, speaking from his home in Cincinnati. "I know it's that way in Boston, too, especially since they haven't won one and, frankly, I hope they do win. Those fans have been so supportive for so many years, they deserve a winner."
It's not as if the Sox didn't come close in '75. The Reds already were regarded by many as a great team. The Big Red Machine, they were called. But they hadn't won a World Series, and now here came Bench's former roommate, threatening to upset the apple cart.
"We just wanted to win; we didn't care how, and then Bernie does that to us," Bench remembers. "The next time he came up to the plate, I said to him, 'Bernie, how could you? . . . How could you do this to us?' He just giggled."
Bench remembers other things from that Series, too. He remembers his opposite-field double to right leading off the ninth inning of Game 2 that sparked a two-run rally and lifted the Reds to a come-from-behind, 3-2 victory.
"If we had lost that game, we'd have gone back to Cincinnati down, two games to none, and a lot of people said we would have been finished," said Bench. "I'm not sure about that, but it was a big hit."
He also remembers the four days of rain between Games 5 and 6, when the Reds actually had to take batting practice one day at the Tufts University cage to keep from going stale.
And, of course, he remembers the relief that came with Game 7, which the Reds won, 4-3, on Joe Morgan's bloop single in the ninth inning.
Bench was one of two great catchers in that Series. The other was Fisk.
And it's no small irony that Fisk is being inducted into the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown this summer along with two other members of The Big Red Machine --manager Sparky Anderson and first baseman Tony Perez. Perez also played briefly for the Red Sox.
"Actually, I think that hurt Tony a little when he went to the Sox," said Bench. "He was at the tail end of his career, and that wasn't the real Tony Perez, the Tony Perez who played with us. I think the Hall of Fame voters in the American League who had never seen him play day in and day out weren't impressed, but he was as important a guy on our team as anybody."
"He knew how to get along with players," said Bench. "He listened to what the players had to say. If you were a veteran, he respected your judgment. He took our suggestions, but we always had great respect for him."
The Big Red Machine never did put together a long string of World Series triumphs, like the Oakland A's or the old Yankee teams of the 1950s, but the Reds did manage back-to-back Series victories, over the Red Sox and the Yankees.
Their lineup was dotted with Hall of Famers. There's Bench and Joe Morgan, the second baseman, and now Perez and Anderson. Missing from the roll is Pete Rose, banned from the game for betting on sporting events.
"And the way Bud Selig (baseball comissioner) is talking, it doesn't look too good (for Rose)," said Bench, who takes neither side on the issue.
"It's too bad," I said to him.
"It's awful, it's horrible," said Bench. "I've had to live with it for 11 years.
That's all people want to talk about. They say, 'Congratulations for making the Hall of Fame, John. How about Pete?' "
But this is Johnny Bench's time. He'll be at Rhodes on behalf of ALS. Tickets are priced at $125. All proceeds benefit patients and their families. It's worth the price.