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DAN SHAUGHNESSY

Around here, his middle name is trouble

"Hey Dan, this is B.F. Dent from Florida calling."

That's the message Bucky Dent left on my office voice mail this week. I've played it for about a thousand people. Here's another clue for you all: Bucky's middle name is not Fred. It's Earl. He was born in Savannah, Ga., in 1951 and 25 years ago in Boston he hit the home run that still inspires Red Sox fans to curse his very existence.

Bucky (Bleeping) Dent. He hits a home run for the ages and gets a new middle name out of the deal.

Dent and Mike Torrez are doing a national media conference call today, a charity promotion certain to inflict pain in New England and create excitement for the playoffs. The actual anniversary of Dent's homer is not until a week from tomorrow, but citizens of the Nation are already experiencing hellish flashbacks from that fateful October Monday.

Ever wonder what happened to the baseball? Why is there no Charlie Sheen/freak-show auction for the home run ball that changed the course of Red Sox history?

"When we went up to get it out of the net, it wasn't there," says groundskeeper Joe Mooney, who has been keeping Fenway standing since 1970. "Nobody wanted to go up and get the balls after the game. They were all afraid. There's a lot of weird people around here, especially that day. When we went up there the next day, the ball was gone."

There's nothing mystical or magical about the missing ball, according to Mooney. He says that in the days before Monster Seats, fans sometimes used 40-foot-long hedge clippers to slice the net from behind the wall. A hole in the net would allow baseballs to spill onto the Lansdowne Street sidewalk. In Mooney's opinion, that's how the ball was forever lost.

"That's not the story I heard," says Dent. "I had a friend who worked for `60 Minutes' and he called the next day to ask about the ball and Mooney told him that the ball got mixed in with a bunch of batting practice balls that were hit into the net before the game."

Torrez, the last man to touch the ball before it fell into the net, remains surprisingly affable about the whole deal. This always has infuriated a faction of the Boston fandom. Torrez remains a happy-go-lucky soul, the same guy who was heard screaming, "I'm off the hook!" as he prowled the bowels of Shea Stadium in the minutes after Bill Buckner's Game 6 gaffe.

"I pitched a great game," Torrez reminds us. "You can give me credit or not, but it was a great game to pitch. To hold that club to zero runs with two outs in the seventh. Hey, in today's game, they'd have already called in somebody else for relief. Bob Stanley came in and gave up the RBI double to [Thurman] Munson and the home run to Reggie Jackson. How come he never gets blamed?"

How much of a sport is Torrez about this whole thing? In 1989, he flew to Delray Beach, Fla., and participated in a publicity stunt to christen Dent's baseball academy. Dent built a mini-Fenway and opened the ballpark by hitting another homer off a smiling, gopher-ball-throwing Torrez. The reenactment was a hit. Dent hit Torrez's fifth pitch over the Wall of Little Fenway. It was enough to make any Sox fan reach for a barf bag.

"We sign autographs together now," said Torrez. "It's kept my name in the paper. Other than the Shot Heard 'Round the World, it's probably the most famous home run ever. I pitched my butt off in that game and I have nothing to be ashamed of."

Carl Yastrzemski, who was the man closest to the ball when it sailed over the wall, says, "I didn't think it was going into the net. I thought it would hit the wall, but it kept carrying. When it went into the net, I had a sinking feeling. They were lucky like that all day. [Lou] Piniella made that play when he lost the ball in the sun. The Curse. Everything went in their favor."

These days, Dent is manager of the Yankees' Triple A Columbus team in the International League. He's home in Florida for the offseason and last night watched his 12-year-old twins (a boy and a girl) play football and volleyball.

On the pitch before the homer, Dent fouled a ball off his left foot. He spent considerable time shaking off the injury before getting back into the batter's box. Meanwhile, Mickey Rivers saw that Dent's bat was chipped and gave Dent a Rivers model.

Torrez, who didn't throw any warmups during the delay, says Rivers's bat was corked. Dent was choking up a full 2 inches when he stepped in and hit the next pitch into the net. Dent didn't think his fly ball was going over the wall. He ran hard, rounded first, and saw the umpire's signal. Home run. Dent never saw the ball sail into the net. It was his fifth homer of the season. He hit 40 in his career.

Earlier this season, he sat in the Monster Seats for a game.

"It was a lot of fun," he says. "Guys were telling me they remembered when they were 12 years old and I broke their hearts and ruined their lives. They're just good baseball fans up there."

And the "B.F. Dent" handle?

"That's what they always put above my locker in the visitor's room at Fenway when I came back there."

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