Saturday, July 31, 2010

Legacy


Sometime around 1910, a Boston boy named Joseph Goode (above, left) began work at the Huntington Avenue Grounds. The Grounds, built in 1901 for $35,000, housed the Boston Red Sox baseball team, which had set up shop there in '01 as the Boston Pilgrims. While at work, Joe watched Babe Ruth pitch and Tris Speaker patrol center field and saw such visiting future Hall of Famers as Ty Cobb.

Players were approachable in those days, so Joe didn't think much of it when early in the 1911 season he ventured to ask a member of the Philadelphia Athletics if they had any promising rookies. The player pointed to a rangy 24-year old: "Him. He's going to be good." "Him" was Pete Alexander, who won 94 games from 1915-17 en route to a career record of 373-208 and the third-most wins of all time.

(The Huntington Avenue Grounds)

Joe raised his children to be Red Sox fans, and 10-year old Paul (top, right) caught the fever for good in 1938, twenty years after the Sox won the 1918 World Series -- a feat they wouldn't accomplish again for 86 years. Paul saw Joe DiMaggio, who had earlier signed a $100,000 contract, come off the DL in 1949 to lead the Yankees to a key mid-season win over the Sox in Fenway Park, their home since 1912. The Yankees swept a three-game series; they left Boston at the end of June with a 8-game lead, thus setting the stage for one the early letdowns experienced by Red Sox fans.

The Sox stormed back, and needed to win one of two final games in Yankee Stadium to clinch their first pennant since 1918. They lost both, and then lost a one-game playoff the next afternoon. After that, the Red Sox faded into mediocrity until The Impossible Dream year of 1967 changed the franchise's fortunes for good.

Paul saw Ted Williams -- the Splendid Splinter -- and Professor Dom DiMaggio on many afternoons and, for good measure, also went to Braves Field where he watched Warren Spahn hurl for Boston's National League franchise, and once saw Satchel Paige pitch for the Cleveland Indians.

(The Ted Williams swing was a thing of surpassing elegance and beauty.)

For better or worse, Paul passed the family legacy onto his children. In 1961, the same year that Joe Goode passed away, I went to my first game at Fenway park at age 6. A talented rookie left fielder named Carl Yastrzemski stood guard over the Green Monster, but the team had little else of note.

Nonetheless, I loved Red Sox. My parents would often have to fetch me from Sullivan's grocery store, where I stopped while walking home from school to listen to Curt Gowdy and Ned Martin call afternoon games on the radio. (Parents thought nothing of letting first-graders walk to and from school in those days.) At home, I perched on a kitchen stool and listened to summer games on the AM radio atop our refrigerator.


Ensconced in South Texas, I experienced the heady days of the Sox winning the greatest pennant race ever in 1967 with the happy naivete of youth. Losing the World Series in seven games wasn't so bad because, geez, that Bob Gibson was good. (Ever the Red Sox realist, Dad didn't think they could get past Gibson.) Next came the transcendent peaks Luis Tiant's corkscrew delivery, Dwight Evans' catch, and Carlton Fisk's home run, all of which nearly toppled the mighty Cincinnati Reds in 1975. In the end, these only served as heights from which to be cast after the horrors of 1978, 1986 and 2003. (The less said, the better.)

(The Evans catch and the Fisk homer. Watch Pudge gallop around the bags!)

My father called me after the '78 debacle, asked how much more we could take, then added philosophically that he had been taking it since 1938 and that he guessed he could handle a little more. Little did he know. Mercifully, he was in Italy for Grady Little's meltdown in 2003, and actually defended Little to the incredulous children and grandchildren who had not fled the country.

In 2004, confident Red Sox fans watch in dismay and disbelief as the hated Yankees leapt out to an impregnable three-games-to-none lead in the American League Championship Series. But the Sox did the impossible: Summoning the spirit of 1967, they won three close games to tie the series, then pummeled the Yankees 10-3 in Game 7 to become the only major league baseball team to win a series after being down 3-0.

Slumping center fielder Johnny Damon, sitting on a pitch if anyone ever was, put the seventh game out reach early with a third inning grand slam. Red Sox fans exulted, and the Sox went on to win their first World Series since 1918, when Joe Goode was 24 years old. One of my sons called me from school in London, where he had recruited a number of European Red Sox fans; the other cheered with me -- half in disbelief -- here at home.

(Damon's grand slam.)



A year later, in a move emblematic of the modern game, Johnny Damon signed a long-term contract with the Yankees even though he once said that he'd never play for them. Sox fans reacted angrily; a popular t-shirt said in reference to the hirsute, rag-armed Damon:
Looks like Jesus.
Throws like Mary.
Acts like Judas.
Now a Detroit Tiger, Damon returned to Boston yesterday amidst a debate as to whether he should be booed or cheered now that he's out of a Yankees uniform.

Me, I think of Joe Goode talking to an A's player about Pete Alexander almost a hundred years ago. I think about my father watching the Splendid Splinter in his salad days, when the team was never quite good enough. I think about him taking me to Fenway Park in 1961, and about celebrating my boys' high school graduation by taking them to Fenway for a Yankees series. I think about the fans in the Boston bar pulling together for one night whatever else their differences outside the bar. I think of the kind of joy that came only after 86 seasons of heartbreak. Only one player hit a grand slam to win the biggest game in franchise history, and I'm not going to let money keep me from cheering him.

13 comments:

Shaw Kenawe said...

I loved this!

I had suffered through the years as a Red Sox fan as well and will never forget 2004 and 2007.

I wish my dad had lived long enough to see those championship games. An Italian immigrant, he adopted baseball as his favorite sport, and was a devoted fan.

Great, great post. I'm sending it, via link in email to all the Sox fans in my family.

Roy said...

What a great post! Yeah, the Caveman definitely deserves cheers. The Yankees treated him like crap when he got there, so he's already paid his dues for that trade.

It's never been easy to be a Red Sox fan, but when they do finally manage to put it all together, it's heaven on earth.

K. said...

Thanks to both of you; Shaw, I'm honored that you're passing this on to your family.

A few years ago, a friend who happens to be s Yankees fan (yes, it's possible to have such a friend!) asked me if I wouldn't rather be a Yankees fan:

Me: No.

She: But we have the rings.

Me: So what?

She: We have all this tradition and great players.

Me: Yes, but: I get to root for the Red Sox.

She never did get it. But I'm sure that you two do!

Darlene said...

I only attended one Red Sox game at Fenway Park and, unfortunately, it was the night that Tony Conigliaro was hit in the face with a baseball that virtually ended his career.

My husband had been given tickets to a front row box seat behind third base. I will never forget the sound of a bang when the baseball connected with Tony's face. The game went on but it was a very subdued crowd after that.

K. said...

Ugh. I've heard that fans could hear it all over the park. The batting helmet players wear today -- with the earflap -- came about because of that pitch.

Of course, Tony C. never recovered. He missed the '68 season, had good years in '69 and '70, then lost it. He passed away in 1990 of a heart attack and stroke.

The Red Sox close off small area in the centerfield bleachers during day games because Conigliaro pointed out that pitches were often hidden by white shirts. The area is called Congig's Corner.

Bill said...

Personally I couldn't really bring myself to boo him even when he was on the Yankees. I find it tough to begrudge a guy for taking the best deal he's being offered and he was nothing but classy when leaving Boston. He took out a full page "thank you" ad in the Globe dedicated to the fans and continued to make large donations to Children's Hospital Boston for the holidays every year even after leaving the city.

Also I always chuckled a little bit thinking about the fact that every time he pulled a home run in Yankee Stadium some Yankee fan somewhere was having a flashback to 2004!

Now that he's on the Tigers I see even less reason to boo him.

John Hayes said...

A fine appreciation of the Sox--I was following them in 67 & 75 & 78; later I turned more to the National League & the Giants (who have their own history of being not quite good enough over the past 50 years), but I was very glad to see the 04 comeback & also the 07 World Series. In fact, I even have game 7 of the 04 LCS on videotape somewhere!

Eric S. said...

What a wonderful post, and I'm not even a big fan of sports. You make it interesting and fun. Love the old pictures at the top.

Oh to have those days when you could let your children walk out of the yard, let alone to school and back.

K. said...

Bill: That's the spirit! Re the HRs, I'm with you!

John: The Giants too have their own history of being a dollar short and a day late. Like the Red Sox, great players on strong teams with some fatal flaw. In both '75 and '86 the Sox got to the seventh game of the WS with a less than stellar bullpen. Both times this was exposed and they lost to teams with strong bullpens.

Eric: Thanks for stopping by! I left a comment on one of your blogs.

All: If you didn't watch the fan video of Damon's grand slam, don't miss it. It's less than a minute long.

Editilla~New Orleans Ladder said...

Aw K. That is such a great post!
My daddy fought the Nazis, but Your daddy beat the Yankees!
I've got to go ahead and hang this today due to my own reverence for the Sox, and the Goodes, but we're waiting on our Sunday funnies.
What a fine tribute. No wonder your so cool.

paula said...

Great story, K. Johnny Damon is lucky to have you as a friend. Hope he reads this piece.

As you know, fans genuflect when Nomar comes back, and that's the way it should be. Like you say, the alumns helped build the team and make it what it is today.

I was sad to see Coco Crisp leave and will be heartbroken if Mike Lowell goes elsewhere. We'll see...

Like you say, there's magic at Fenway. I don't know what it is but I've been to other ballparks and didn't find it. Maybe it's the players' involvement with the fans, maybe it's the strength of tradition in families like yours, but it's palpable at a home game. That could be the reason why Sox fans fill stadiums wherever the team goes. I'm always surprised at how empty some stadiums are, when you can barely get a ticket for a Boston home game unless you buy it through a bus company or ticket reseller.

We treated ourselves to a small HD television a few weeks ago, and are glued to it most nights for Sox games and Law and Order reruns in HD.

Go Sox!

K. said...

Editilla: Dad was stationed in Korea the year before the war broke out. He claims that it was no coincidence that this happened only after his tour was up.

Paula: A brother who is a big Cubs fan went to Fenway while in Boston on a business trip. I've never been to Wrigley Field, so I asked to compare the experiences. He said that Wrigley is great, but that in Boston he went to a mid-week early season game against the Royals and the atmosphere was like college homecoming.

Some of the Boston writers were downright churlish about Nomar. I was embarrassed for them. For me, Nomar will never be anything less than one of my most beloved Red Sox, in the same category as Yaz, Fred Lynn, Jim Rice, Dwight Evans, Luis Tiant, Roger, Pedro, and Big Papi.

Peter Tibbles said...

Baseball isn't big here in Australia, but I spent much of 1973 living in (out in the suburbs really) Boston. If there was nothing else on TV I could always rely on there being a baseball game and by osmosis became a Red Socks fan (as that's who they showed in that city). I haven't taken a great deal of interest back here in Oz but I was very pleased when they finally broke through with the pennant.
I seem to be attracted to such teams – my football team here is Footscray (aka the Western Bulldogs) haven't won a premiership since 1954 (and that was their only one). They're round and about this year so I'm hopeful (but then that's often the case).