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Baseball and the Red Sox ain't what they used to be -By- By Bruce Allen

Beyond the Sixth Game, by Peter Gammons. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. Illustrated. 280 pp. $15.95. The title refers to that well-remembered (by fans) overtime game, the penultimate one of the great 1975 World Series between the Cincinnati Reds and Boston Red Sox, won by Boston catcher Carlton Fisk's dramatic homer.

It is the view of Peter Gammons (who covers the Red Sox for the Boston Globe) that this watershed World Series marked an Olympian height from which baseball has in recent years been steadily declining.

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In this book, written for the baseball aficionado, he analyzes changes brought about by the termination of baseball's reserve clause (which had bound a player to the team that originally signed him); the rise of the system of free agency, whereby players could market their own skills; and the resulting embattled relationships between franchises and their personnel at all levels.

Specifically, Gammons traces the recent history of the Red Sox: A deep and talented team in 1975, seemingly on the verge of years of success, was ruined by unwise trades and other managerial blunders, he says, and condemned to a decade of, at best, near-misses; at worst, mediocrity.

Though it will surely interest baseball fans of all persuasions, this is primarily a book for Red Sox die-hards (who are legion, and crop up everywhere).

Gammons's inside revelations about Red Sox heroes and goats (and scapegoats), coaches, owners, and broadcasters offer needed aid and comfort to the suffering millions for whom this star-crossed team remains -- for all its false promises and inexplicable collapses -- the only one worth giving your heart to.

Bruce Allen reviews books regularly for the Monitor.

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