Saturday, August 25, 2012

Massive Fire Sale at Fenway: Sixties Swamp Time Looming


            In a spectacular and almost unheard of salary dump, the powers that be with the Red Sox have decided 2012, the 100th anniversary year, is a lost season.
       Jettisoned to the Dodgers  - -Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett and along with this talent Los Angeles takes on almost $250-million in salary.   
        It is not exactly the 1960s at Fenway, but it could be  -  -soon.
            In 1963, Johnny Pesky, on the scene as manager since the end of the ’62 season, got his “country club” group off to a hopeful  start. At the end it would be the same sad story - - a 76-85 record, a seventh place finish, 28 games off the pace.
Dick Stuart and Dick Radatz  were two “cult figures” who performed in the sixties for the Sox. Richard Lee Stuart was with the team in 1963 and 1964. Richard Raymond Radatz had a longer tenure, 1962-1966.
On June 23, 1963 first baseman Stuart, known as "Dr. Strange Glove" for his challenged ways as a fielder, established a major league fielding record, grabbing three first inning grounders and tossing them to pitcher Bob Heffner for putouts. The Yankees, unfortunately, bombed the Sox, 8-0.
 Sox fans delighted in giving Stuart the mock cheer. There was a game when wind was whipping about Fenway as was customary at times.  Stuart, known also in some circles as “Cement Glove,” without losing a step, deftly snatched up a piece of paper that had blown his way.  That effort provoked the crowd into rising up and giving him a standing ovation.
Radatz was a top relief pitcher and a powerful presence on the mound. In 1963, he entered a game against the Yankees with the bases loaded. Reaching back for a little extra, he struck out Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, and Elston Howard -- all American League MVPs at one time -- on a total of 10 pitches. Mantle afterwards, as the story goes, complained about what it was like to hit against that “monster." Dick Radatz became “Monster” Radatz. 
            STEVE FOLVEN:  I went with my friend Billy Brooks and his uncles by car.   We drove down Commonwealth Ave, parked on a side street across from BU (Boston University)and walked to the park.
The Yankees were winning 1-0 in the last of the ninth.  Stottlemyre was still pitching.  And Yastrzemski led off that inning with a triple.    And then the Sox filled the bases with one out.  And I said, “They’re finally going to win. “ 
Malzone hit like a line drive to third. Clete Boyer, the vacuum cleaner,  just scooped and made an incredible play, threw to second  - the ball went to first, double-play. They lost 1-0.
Leaving, you just went under the bleachers.  It was like the solemn march.  Nobody said too much.  I just remember Billy Brooks’ uncles, as we would go back from these games,  saying, “Yeah and every time we go, we lose.  Every time we go they lose.”  These guys are like 50 or 60 years old and I’m going like, “Don’t take it so seriously, will ya?”   
            Many fans took it seriously. Johnny Pesky was sacked as manager with two games left in the season.  The Sox finished 1964 in 8th place in a 10 team league and drew 883,276 to Fenway.
SAM MELE: I came into Fenway a lot when I managed Minnesota from 1961 to 1967. My home was still in Quincy, Mass. So I slept in my  own bed.  It was funny. I was managing against the team that I loved.
In 1965, we beat Boston 17 out of 18 times, 8 out of the 9 at Fenway.  It actually hurt me, to beat them.  I felt sorry because in my heart I was a Red Sox fan.  I had played for them, I had scouted for them.  Tom Yawkey would come in my office. And we would talk a lot.  Oh yeah, geez, he had me in his will. 
Tony C, (Conigliaro) also put together a “day” for himself on the 27th of  July 1965 at Fenway. He stroked three home runs, two in the opener of a doubleheader and a grand slam in the nightcap.  Boston, however, was a loser in both games to Kansas City.
            The losing, the miserable attendance, the doom and gloom that pervaded Fenway was on parade big time on the 16th of September. The tiniest crowd of the season made its way into Fenway Park  - - just 1,247 paid and 1,123 in on passes. Dave Morehead opposed Luis Tiant of the Cleveland Indians.  A no-hitter for Morehead!
After the game the news came out that Tom Yawkey, as was his practice, would rewrite Morehead’s contract and give the 22-year-old a $1,000 bonus. That was the good news - the bad news was for General Manager Pinky Higgins. He was let go and replaced by Dick O’Connell.
Fenway was a ghost town of a ball park in 1965 when the team drew but 652,201, an average of 8,052 a game . The worst came late in the season. On September 28th against California only 461 showed to watch the sad Sox. The next day was even worse against the same team – just 409 in the house.  Finishing 9th in the ten-team American League, the Sox lost 100 games and won 62. The nadir had been breached.
Managers kept coming and going. Top prospects somehow never made it for one reason or another. Billy Herman was in place as the 1966 season started.   Early on Dave Morehead, just 24, regarded as a brilliant future star, suffered an injury to his arm and was never the same. Posting a 1-2 record in a dozen appearances, he symbolized the Red Sox of that era - promise but pathos.  Sound familiar?

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Harvey Frommer Remembers Johnny Pesky

          It was some years ago when I was at Fenway park doing research and interviewing for one of my baseball books. My son Fred was then a teenager and he accompanied me to the park dressed in a red sweater and packing his baseball glove -- just in case.
     We arrived at the legendary park quite a few hours before game time as is my practice when I am working. Fenway was empty. There was no one in the stands but my son anxious to catch a ball.
         I interviewed one player and then another and then interrupted Johnny Pesky who was hitting fungoes and interviewed him. Gracious, enthusiastic, informed, the man they call "Mr. Red Sox" gave me more than the time of day.
       So I figured I could impose.
       "See that kid in the outfield stands with the red sweater. Could you hit a ball out to him?"
     "And if I hit him on the noggin, then what! We are all in trouble."   
     "You are right," I said, and walked away to interview others.
     Minutes later through the empty ballpark I heard my son's voice and saw him running through the stands to the home plate area. He was shouting: "I got it. I got it." And he had a ball in his hand.
      Pesky was near me and yelled. "Get me that ball. The kid isn't supposed to have it."
    I  went over to my son and got the baseball and brought it to Pesky.
    "What's your son's name?"
     I told him. He autographed the ball "To Fred. Great catch. Johnny Pesky"
       That was my first meeting with Pesky and immediately I knew I had come into contact with a mensch,  good guy.
      But since I am an oral historian and know there are various remembrances of things past, equal time now for my son who today is an AP correspondent based in Washington, D.C.   
    FRED FROMMER: My first time at Fenway Park was September 6, 1981. I'd come along very early with my father who was down on the field interviewing players during batting practice for a book he was writing. I was a huge baseball fan, and I had never been in a stadium that seated fewer than 50,000. Now, I had this 34,000-seat ballpark virtually to myself; it felt like a backyard.
        From the first row behind the short right field wall by the foul pole, I could see balls careening all over the field like pinballs and my dad talking to Red Sox coach Johnny Pesky, who was hitting fungoes.
        "That's my son out there, by the foul pole," I heard him say. "Can you hit a ball to him?"
        "No way," said Pesky. "What if it hits him in the head?"
        "He’ll catch it," my dad assured him. He was confident the endless evenings he had spent hitting me fly balls would pay off.
        But Pesky shook his head. "Sorry, I can't do it."    
        A few minutes later, I heard a crack and a bunch of Red Sox players in right field yell, "Heads-up!"
        I looked up, and there in the blue New England sky was a perfect white sphere. I camped under it. With Pesky's incredible aim, I didn't have to move. The ball just landed in my mitt.
        "Hey, nice catch," one of the Red Sox shouted up at me. “We could use you out here, the way we're playing."
        Just before the game started, Pesky found my dad and told him to get the ball from me. He autographed it: "To Freddy, Nice Catch. Best Wishes, Johnny Pesky."
        I still have the ball.        
    Flash forward to the 21st century and my getting a contract to write what has been called the definitive book on Fenway Park.  My first thought was to try and get Johnny Pesky to write the foreword and to also agree to be one of the 140 oral history voices in the book. I scored on both accounts. 
   What follows in the marvelous and self effacing foreword by the Red Sox legend: 

They call me “Mr. Red Sox.” And that is a special honor considering all the great stars and personalities who have been with the franchise through all the years.
It’s been a wonderful ride for the kid out of Portland, Oregon who signed for a five hundred dollar bonus. I first showed up at Fenway Park in 1942 and never believed that when 2010 rolled around, I would still be on the scene, still be coming to the ballpark, still be putting on the Red Sox uniform, still having my own locker in the clubhouse.
                The organization has honored me by naming the right field foul pole after me, putting me in the Red Sox Hall of Fame, retiring my number.
        As author Harvey Frommer, in this book, brings the great story of Fenway Park to all of us in tremendous detail,  I think back to all the greats I have known, those I played with or saw play at Fenway Park, a kind of who’s who in Sox history - - Mr. Tom Yawkey, Joe Cronin, Ted Williams, Dom DiMaggio, Bobby Doerr, Tex Hughson, Mel Parnell, Boo Ferriss, Dick Radatz , Reggie Smith, Carlton Fisk, Fred Lynn, Tony Conigliaro,  Jimmy Rice, Jim Lonborg, Carl Yastrzemski, Luis Tiant, Dwight Evans, Dennis Eckersley, Roger Clemens,  Wade Boggs, Mo Vaughn, Nomar Garciaparra, Dustin Pedroia, Curt Schilling, Jacoby Ellsbury . . .
        I think back to so many moments at Fenway, good and bad – our winning the 1946 pennant, Ted Williams hitting a home run in his final at bat, the Impossible Dream season, the Carlton Fisk home run, that 1975 team that battled the Reds in the World Series, the Bucky Dent homer, the heartbreak loss of the 1986 World Series to the Mets, the great changes in the old ballpark and the exciting work done by the new ownership, the thrill of “breaking the Curse of the Bambino” and winning world championships in 2004, 2007.
I have played for, coached, managed the Sox. I have been in the front office, a television and radio announcer, even an ad salesman. I have probably seen more Red Sox games, hit more fungoes, put in more time at Fenway Park than anyone else in Red Sox history.
As I said, it has been some ride. Seven decades-worth and counting, and I have enjoyed every moment of it. Many of these moments are captured in this book through Harvey Frommer’s riveting narrative, through great photos, and most importantly though the words of those who lived it.
 And as a voice in my book and a person to interview, Pesky was honest, on target, full of BoSox pride, not full of himself. Just a few of his comments from Remembering Fenway Park  follow:
JOHNNY PESKY: Manager Joe Cronin let me play. That was how it all started in 1942 when we went up against the old Boston Braves, an exhibition  City Series,  one game at Fenway and one at Braves Field.
 I made four errors in the exhibition game and felt just terrible about it. I thought Cronin was going to send me down to either Scranton or Louisville. But he didn't say anything to me.
The first time I saw Fenway Park, it was dark and dreary. I was mainly concerned about playing as well as I could and keeping warm.
Opening Day was Tuesday April 14th  . I was 22 years old. I came up the runway, up the three steps and looked out from the dugout. It was an old park even then. But it was very well kept, clean and nice. And right in the middle of the city.    I thought it was beautiful.
 We lived on Bay State road just across from Kenmore Square and could walk across to the ballpark.  I batted leadoff ahead of Dom and Ted.
JOHNNY PESKY: Ted and I  lockered next to one another.  We always talked  baseball. When you’re talking to the greatest hitter, it was  like talking to the Holy Father. 
He said: “Johnny, you’ve got to hit strikes. Don’t’ be afraid to take a pitch. And you’ve got to keep that bat on the level.”  He’d stand up and show me his approach to hitting.  And it stayed with me. 
     JOHNNY PESKY: Coming back from the Navy in 1946, I was impressed with how beautiful the ballpark still was.  Mr. Yawkey came down and talked to us. He said he felt good about the team.  He loved Ted Williams, Dom DiMaggio and Bobby Doerr. He was very nice to me, too. 
     Fenway Park was my comfort zone. Very homey.  Fans  were close, liking their ball. After the war, we had great crowds.  The club now got going pretty good. There was much interest in Red Sox baseball and being in Fenway Park.
JOHNNY PESKY:  A big left handed pitcher was going against us. Piersall was going up for his first at bat.  “Goddamn this guy’s awful wild, God damn it, I’m afraid,” Jimmy said.
“If you’re afraid,” I told him, “you better get a lunch pail and go home.” 
   JOHNNY PESKY:  I think Yaz was as good as any outfielder that ever played there, and I’m not taking anything away from Ted.  Yaz was  like an infielder from the outfield.  He threw well; they couldn’t run on him.  And he knew how to play that Monster.
The bio featured in Remembering Fenway Park reads:
         JOHNNY PESKY is MR. RED SOX. A member of the Red Sox Hall of Fame whose number has been retired by the team, he has been a player, manager, coach and goodwill ambassador for the Red Sox since the 1940s.
         That bio tells just half the story. He was also beloved, respected, and honored  - -all for the right reasons.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Boston Red Sox (Sort Of) Ultimate Quiz for Diehard Fans (II)

       For all of you out there who think you know your baseball especially Boston Red Sox baseball—this is the quiz for you. With a tip of the BoSox cap to John Quinn and Dave Martin who know the score.
        Fifteen questions. Answers follow the questions, so no peeking. A score of nine or more correct makes you a major leaguer. Below that you are in the minors but on your way up.
        Warning: there is one trick question.
        Have fun.
        And if you want to really participate, there will be Red Sox Quiz III - send in some questions and answers and perhaps they will make it into print.
1. Five Red Sox players have won the batting title two or more times. Four of them are Ted Williams, Wade Boggs, Pete Runnels and Nomar Garciaparra. Who is the fifth?
a. Dom DiMaggio  b. Jim Rice c. Carl Yastrzemski d. Fred Lynn
2. Who was the first Red Sox player to officially have his number retired?  a. Babe Ruth  b. Ted Williams c. Joe Cronin d. Bobby Doerr
3. Which onetime Red Sox player is 1 of 2 players to play for a record six different playoff teams?
a. David Wells b. Bill Mueller c. Dennis Eckersley d. Rickey Henderson
4. Which Red Sox pitcher holds the record for most home runs allowed in a season, with 38?
a. Roger Clemens b. Tim Wakefield c. Josh Beckett d. Mel Parnell
5. Who is the only Red Sox player to have two 20 home run/20 stolen base seasons?
a. Nomar Garciaparra b. Dom DiMaggio c. Jackie Jensen
d. Jim Rice
6. Who was the first man to manage both the Pawtucket Red Sox and Boston Red Sox?
a. Dick Williams b. Butch Hobson c. Jimy Williams d. Darrell Johnson
7. Who was Harry Frazee?
a. third baseman in the 1920s  b. manager in the 40s
c. pitcher in the 60s d. owner in the teens of 20th century
8. What was the highest uniform number ever worn by a Red Sox player?
a. 40  b.56    c. 82    d. 100
9.  Whose retired number is 6?
a. Johnny Pesky b. Bobby Doerr c. Dom DiMaggio d. Walt Dropo
10.Who was an eight-time gold glove outfielder who played 19 of his 20 Major League seasons with the Boston Red Sox.
a. Ted Williams b. Jackie Jensen c. Sam Mele d. Jimmy Piersall
11  Who pitched the First no-hitter in Red Sox history?
a. Lefty Grove  b. Rube Foster  c. Boo Ferris d. Smoky Joe Wood
12    Who were the “Golden Outfielders”?
13  Who was the “Golden Greek” ?
14  Who were the “Gold Dust” twins?
15  Who were the “Gold Sox” ?
1  c
2  b
3  a
4  b
5 c
6 d
7 d
8 c  (worn by Johnny Lazor)
9 a
10 d
11  a Rube Foster vs. NY, 2-0, 6/21/1916.
12  Duffy Lewis, Tris Speaker and Harry Hooper
13 Harry Agganis
14  Jim Rice and Fred Lynn
15  In the 1950s, Tom Yawkey spent a lot to create a winner.