Stop the comparisons: This isn't 1978


You're probably going to be hearing a lot about 1978 in the coming days and weeks, especially if the Red Sox (finally) begin to cool off a bit and the Yankees begin righting their ship . . . which they should, since between now and Sept. 3 only 3 of their 26 games will be against teams that currently own winning records.

1978. You have to be in your upper 40s to really remember it. And you have to be older than that to have truly felt the angst.

The angst of blowing a 14 1/2-game lead over the Yankees. The angst of losing the division despite leading by seven games heading into September. The angst of B.F. Dent and a playoff game that became a symbol of Red Sox failure and frustration -- and a symbol of Yankee dominance, the ultimate "you'll never, ever beat us" moment --  that spanned 86 long years.

Those days are long gone. (Hello there, 2004!) But here we are 40 years later and some people are hearing those echoes. There'll probably be more of them if the lead gets down to seven, to six, to five . . . 


Well, there's no one except. There are lots. Starting with, these Red Sox are in far better shape than their cursed predecessors:

  • After the games of August 5 in 1978, the Red Sox had a six-game lead in the A.L. East. After the games of August 5 this year, that lead is 9 1/2.
  • The Yankees weren't the second-place team at this time in 1978; they were actually fourth (behind Milwaukee and Baltimore). Still, they trailed by 8 1/2  . . . which means they were closer then than they are now.
  • The more logical comparison is where things stood after 113 games in '78. (The season started much earlier this year -- the Red Sox opened on April 7 in '78 and on March 29 in '18.) The current Sox are 79-34, eight games better than the old Sox were 40 years ago (71-42).
  • And their lead over the Yankees is bigger at the 113-game mark. It was down to 6 1/2 games at this time in '78, by which point the Yanks, just starting their scorching race down the stretch, had vaulted over the Brewers and Orioles and were in second place.

And beyond that is the biggest difference of all: There was no wild card then. If you didn't win the division, you went home. That live-or-die dynamic doesn't exist today, not with two wild-card positions there for the taking.

The Yankees' focus in the weeks ahead, therefore, won't be on the Red Sox far ahead of them, but on the A's and Mariners closing in behind them. Both Oakland and Seattle are well within striking distance and -- as implausible as it may seem -- could both pass New York and prevent the Yanks from getting back to the postseason. It probably won't happen . . . but it could.

So when you hear that 1978 talk, even if you don't remember much (or anything) about it, relax. Times have changed.

For the better.


Contact Us