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BOSTON RED SOX
Essential Games of Fenway Park

Review by Mark Wiechman

Stars:  Carlton Fisk, Pedro Martinez, Roger Clemens, Ted Williams, Carl Yastrezemski
Directors: Various
Audio:  Dolby Stereo
Video:  Full Frame 1.33:1
Studio:  A&E Home Video
Features:  See Review
Length:  991 Minutes
Release Date:  June 3, 2008 

Film ***1/2

Living in a city facing budget problems but also being home to a professional NFL team, I often hear complaints that the money “spent” on a sporting even should be spent on schools, the poor, etc.  This of course ignores the simple fact that sports generates money, but these other things do not.  Baseball is full of extremely well-paid men doing what they love.  There’s nothing wrong with that, but with the constant labor disputes, legal issues, and no salary cap, it is honestly difficult to care about baseball in view of all of the other problems in the world.  It is difficult to sympathize with millionaires who play games.

On the other hand, hatred is a strong emotion, and I have grown to adore the Red Sox because of my disdain for their rivals. Am I wrong to find more joy rooting against the Yankees than rooting for one of my Florida teams?  I am sure all Boston fans would say no; that is a sign of class, like unfolding my napkin before dinner and drinking quality imported beer. 

It is easy to forget that while the Red Sox went decades without a championship, they were a very good team that played many outstanding seasons before and between their two championships.  It is not as if they were perennially in last place, then suddenly come from nowhere to win two championships, and decline terminally in the years in between.  That would be the Florida Marlins, with the Detroit Tigers doing an imitation of that cycle. 

The first thing you notice about the set is that it is a metal package, and each game is on its own disc.  Simple and durable.

There has already been some criticism of this set because the introduction says these games are available for the first time on DVD but some have actually been released previously, and die-hard fans want other games then these.  Since I haven’t seen every moment of footage every released for the Red Sox I cannot confirm nor deny which ones have or have not been previously released, and re-packaging some previously released material with new things is so common as to not warrant much whining.  It’s not like they re-mastered the whole package and added a few minutes to it, then charged twice as much, which happens every day to music CD’s and many “special edition” movie releases.

DISC 1: Sept. 30, 1967 Regular Season vs. Minnesota Twins--Carl Yastrzemski hit his 44th home run as the Sox tied for the lead in a four-team American League pennant race.  The legendary Rod Carew also plays at 2nd base.  The picture quality is not great, with some discoloration on the left side for almost the entire broadcast, but the picture does not jump that often and there are few artifacts, it probably looks slightly better than it did on TV sets at the time.  In other words it is not gorgeous but it works, there is one big glitch right in the middle of the game (which probably resulted from the broadcast and not the source tape) but then that’s the way it was in 1967.  In fact at one point the screen goes dark and we are told there were technical difficulties, but we are told what we missed in text.  It is funny to hear the serious and nasal tone broadcast style, sometimes sounding more like an episode of Dragnet than a baseball game, though they provide a plethora of baseball information.  We get to hear a pitch about a filling station that cleans your windshield every time.  Wow, I’m old enough to remember that!

DISC 2: 1975 World Series Game 6 vs. the Cincinnati Reds--This is the famous Carlton Fisk hitting the 12th inning game-ending home run.  I recommend going right to this one, he is the first batter of the inning, and you can choose what inning you want as with the other discs.  He furiously waves the ball over the wall, one of the most famous world series home runs ever.

DISC 3: Apr. 29, 1986 Regular Season vs. Seattle Mariners--23-year-old Roger Clemens set the Major League record with 20 strikeouts in this hallmark game, including at least one against every Mariner.   This is the first time I had ever seen Clemens in a Red Sox uniform and he is scary.  He is so thin, I did not recognize him at first!  He makes being the best pitcher of his time look so easy.

DISC 4: 1999 Major League Baseball All-Star Game and MLB All-Century Team celebration, when Fenway Park was selected to house the final Mid-Summer Classic of the 20th Century and the festivities riveted the world.   Fans of any time will find some favorites here.

DISC 5: 1999 American League Championship Series Game 3 vs. New York Yankees--Red Sox ace Pedro Martinez shutdown the vaunted Yankees and former Boston pitcher Roger Clemens with 12 strikeouts over 7 innings.   I watched this one first, with current Yankee skipper Joe Girardi catching for the Yankees and former Red Sox pitcher Roger Clemens, the Brett Favre of baseball, pitching to him.   This game was indicative of the decline of the Yankees, still with Jeter, O’Neill, and Bernie Williams and many other talented players from their championship teams.  We see the Yankees make some fundamental mistakes in throwing and the Red Sox…well, they just don’t know how to mess up this time.   Being broadcast on Fox, with no commercials, the game is fun from beginning to end.  Martinez makes it look so easy, barely breaking a sweat, one strikeout after another, a man on a mission.  Curse?  What curse? 

DISC 6: Apr. 22, 2007 Regular Season vs. New York Yankees.  In this game Boston whipped the Yankees in large part thanks to four consecutive home runs.   Not something you see very often in any modern games.

Audio and Video  **1/2 

The quality of the audio and video varies widely since some of the footage is from years ago.  It is easy to forget how much better television broadcasting is today in the digital age.  As noted in the individual game reviews, there are many broadcast anomalies which tape quality or restoration cannot fix, but all of them are worthy of DVD release.  It is baseball, after all, not Gone with the Wind.  As long as you can understand the announcers and see the player’s name, you are fine.

Features ****

This is basically an “everything but the kitchen sink” situation where every good BoSox documentary is together in one place, other than ones released on other sets.  There are also some highlights which were too short to warrant inclusion of the entire game.  They include: The Origins of Fenway Park, Ted Williams: Fenway's Hometown Hero, Ted Williams Throws out First Pitch at 1999 All-Star Game, Vintage Film: Yaz 1968 World Series Highlights at Fenway, Yaz 400th HR and 3000th hit, Red Sox Clinch 1986 ALCS in Fenway, Brunansky's amazing catch clinches 1990 AL East Crown, Last inning of Derek Lowe's No-Hitter (4/27/02), Red Sox score 10 runs before making their first out (6/27/03), Bill Mueller walk-off HR vs. Mariano Rivera (7/24/04), Dave Roberts: "The Steal" 2004 ALCS Game 4,Big Papi's 2004 Postseason Walk-off Hits, and the Last inning of Clay Buchholz's No-Hitter (9/1/07).

Summary:

Imagine a world without the Yankees...it’s easy if you try.  Begin your journey toward inner peace with a beer, a hot dog, and this great DVD set. 

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