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For over 40 years, Howard Wilkinson has been covering the campaigns, personalities, scandals, and business of politics on a local, state and national level. He's interviewed mayors, council members, county commissioners, governors, senators, and representatives.With so many years covering so many politicians, there must be stories to tell, right?Look for a new Tales from the Trail column every Friday.

Watching The 1975 World Series With Sen. Sam Ervin

Jim Nolan

If you are what we euphemistically like to call a "veteran" Reds fan, you no doubt remember watching the sixth game of the 1975 World Series between the Big Red Machine and the Boston Red Sox.

You remember, with a tinge of agony, even after all these years, watching Red Sox catcher Carlton Fisk, leading off the 12th inning. You remember the TV image of him leaping up and down and waving the long ball he had just hit off Reds' pitcher Pat Darcy in a desperate attempt to keep it in fair territory for a game-winning home run.

Well, it did stay fair.

And the Red Sox won 7-6, tying the series at three games each and setting up a seventh game showdown the following night in Boston's Fenway Park.

I have friends who are Red Sox fans – bright, intelligent friends – who somehow have it in their heads that the Fisk home run won the World Series for the Red Sox that year.

They choose to forget that there was indeed a game 7 and that it was won by the Big Red Machine, thank you very much, by the score of 4-3 on a Joe Morgan single.

But game 6 was, in fact, one of the great World Series games of all time; and fans of both teams remember where they were watching it on TV or listening on the radio.

OK, Reds fans, raise your hands if you watched game 6 of the 1975 World Series.

That's a lot of hands, I'm guessing.

Credit U.S. Senate
Sen. Sam Ervin

Now, raise your hands if you watched it in the student lounge of Lorain County Community College with Sen. Sam Ervin, the legendary North Carolina Democrat who, in 1973, chaired the Senate Select Committee to Investigate Campaign Practices, better known as the Senate Watergate Committee.

It was a televised drama that turned Ervin, a constitutional strict constructionist into a national icon and a hero to liberals, with his even-handed conduct of the committee and that pitch-perfect syrupy Southern drawl.

Well, I did.

I watched that game – most of it, anyway – with Sam Ervin, on a big old Magnavox TV in a student lounge at Lorain County Community College.

This takes some explaining, obviously.

In the fall of 1975, I was a pup reporter, fresh out of college and working (for a short time) at the Sandusky Register in the Norwalk bureau. Yes, the little Sandusky paper had a two-person bureau in Norwalk, the county seat of Huron County, Ohio.

I did all sorts of general assignment reporting, clanging out my stories on an old-fashioned teletype machine that was hooked directly to the newsroom in Sandusky.

In October, I had heard that Ervin would be a guest speaker at Lorain County Community College. It had only been about 14 months since Richard Nixon resigned the presidency rather than be convicted and removed from office in a Senate trial.

In college, I was a complete, total Watergate junkie. I could not get enough of it. I not only watched the Senate Watergate hearings in their entirety, but I recorded the House Judiciary Committee's impeachment hearings on a little reel-to-reel tape recorder that was a Christmas gift when I was in high school.

I read every word that was written in the national newspapers and the news magazines. I was a walking encyclopedia of the Watergate scandal.

If Sam Ervin was going to be in the vicinity talking about Watergate, there was no power on Earth that could keep me from going.

My editors signed off on it; and, so, on the late afternoon of Tuesday, October 21, I made the short drive to Elyria, where the main campus was located.

Early in the evening, Ervin, who had retired from the Senate the year before and was 79 at the time, gave a long but fascinating speech on the experience of chairing one of the most closely-watched Senate hearings of all time and about how Nixon and his duplicity, his paranoia, and his obsession with getting back at enemies was responsible for his downfall.

It was, in short, brilliant.

Ervin, who was traveling with a former Senate aide, took some time after the speech to give me a short interview; and I could tell he was getting a bit antsy.

I wonder,' he said, in that North Carolina mountain drawl, if there's someplace around here where we could watch the World Series.

By that time, game 6 was well underway. I told him I'd like to see it too; and suggested we head for the student lounge.

Well, let's go, son. Time's a-wastin'

We pulled up comfortable, cushioned seats in the lounge, surrounded by several dozen students and faculty who had gathered to watch the game.

Ervin asked me who I was rooting for. I told him that I was from Dayton, Ohio; and, of course, I was rooting for the Reds.

You're a good man, he said. I've been a Reds fan as long as I can remember.

I asked him how a North Carolina native became a Reds fan. He explained that he grew up in Morganton, North Carolina, in the Appalachian foothills of the western part of the state.

When I was a young man living in those parts, the only radio station we could get with big-league baseball carried the Reds. I became a Reds fan and have been ever since. Always will be.

He told me about how he his favorite Reds club was squad that went to the World Series in back-to-back years – losing to the Yankees in 1939, but beating the Tigers in 1940. He was a big fan of first baseman Frank McCormick, catcher Ernie Lombardi, pitchers Bucky Walters, Paul Derringer and Johnny Vander Meer.

That was my team, Ervin said. But this team they've got right now is pretty darned good.

I think we were the only Reds fans in the room; everybody seemed to be rooting for the Red Sox. And, when we got there, things were not looking good for the Big Red Machine – it was the fourth inning and Boston had a 3-0 lead.

Ervin's mood (and mine) changed quickly in the top of the fifth inning.

Ken Griffey tripled off Red Sox ace Luis Tiant, scoring Ed Armbrister and Pete Rose. Then, Johnny Bench singled in Griffey. Tie game.

We got us a ball game, son, Ervin said, punching me in arm. Got 'em where we want 'em.

Things kept getting better for Sam and me.

In the top of the seventh, George Foster doubled off Tiant, scoring Griffey and Morgan. Score: Reds 5, Red Sox 3.

Top of the 8th: Cesar Geronimo hits a solo home run – the last straw for Tiant, who was lifted for reliever Roger Moret.

Score: Reds 6, Red Sox 3.

Every time something good happened for the Reds, Ervin would give me a punch in the arm. I was getting a little sore.

The Reds went into the bottom of the 8th six outs away from a World Championship.

All up to the bullpen now, the senator said.

But then the wheels fell off.

Bottom of the 8th. Red Sox had two men on base. Reds reliever Rawly Eastwick was on the mound.

Red Sox manager Darrell Johnson sent bench player Bernie Carbo to the plate to hit for Moret.

Carbo was a former Red. In fact, he was the first-round draft pick of the Reds in the 1965 amateur draft – picked ahead of Johnny Bench, whom the Reds took in the second round.

Carbo, of all people, hit a three-run homer and tied the game.

Ervin fumed, muttering under his breath. I just sat there with my head in my hands, not wanting to watch the Fenway Park celebration.

The senator and I both nervously watched as the game went into extra innings, with one great defensive play after another from both teams.

But no runs – not until Fisk stepped to the plate to lead off the bottom of the 12th and hit that never-to-be-forgotten home run.

The room exploded, with Red Sox fans among the student body, jumping up, hollering, high-fiving and acting like their team had just won the World Series.

The hollering continued until Sen. Ervin stood up and addressed the crowd.

Ladies and gentlemen, he said, laying on the full Carolina mountain drawl, I want you to know that there will be a game 7 tomorrow night. And the Cincinnati Reds will win that game and the World Series trophy!

And, with that, my young friends, I bid you a good evening!

And he walked out of the room, to the applause of the students.

Sam Ervin was not a man to be argued with. He called it.