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The Red Sox have long been the favorite subject of baseball's literati, more for what they haven't accomplished than for what they have. The mystery that shrouds this storied franchise has made for great copy for more than 100 years. But much of the very best writing on the team has often been obscured by romantic tales of legend and destiny, curses and conspiracies - until now. Turning solidly to the bedrock of traditional baseball writing, Glenn Stout has collected the best writing on the Sox that best tells ...
The Red Sox have long been the favorite subject of baseball's literati, more for what they haven't accomplished than for what they have. The mystery that shrouds this storied franchise has made for great copy for more than 100 years. But much of the very best writing on the team has often been obscured by romantic tales of legend and destiny, curses and conspiracies - until now. Turning solidly to the bedrock of traditional baseball writing, Glenn Stout has collected the best writing on the Sox that best tells the story of the franchise. A veritable sourcebook of more than a century of unforgettable baseball, Impossible Dreams is a book no self-respecting Sox fan can afford to miss.
INTRODUCTION For much of their history, the Boston Red Sox have been a team caught between the promise of dreams impossible to reach and reality often too harsh to bear. As Sox fans know too well, they are a team whose early potential, with six pennants and five world championships in their first 18 seasons, has not been fulfilled in more recent history, which is to say since 1918. They have gone from a dynasty to a dynasty-always-in-waiting. And more so than any other team in sports, perhaps, writing about the Red Sox has alternately explored and exploited this gulf, often to excess.
Since 1967, when the Red Sox improbably won the pennant, sparking interest in the moribund franchise for a new generation, and particularly since 1986, when—well you know what happened then—the Sox have become favorites of baseball’s literary intelligentsia. That peculiarly local phenomenon created a new species of writer, one who, upon reaching success in one field, suddenly decides that what he or she really wants to do is write Red Soxinspired baseball romance.
That has its place, I suppose, but not here. Just as the drought of championships is not the whole story of this team, such overtly literary work is not necessarily the best or most memorable writing about the team.
I became aware of this some 20 years ago when I first discovered the old newspapers and microfilm collections held at the Boston Public Library, beginning an exploration that has continued to this day. I think the best writing and reporting about the Red Sox have come primarily from the writers who have played a role in what may well be the oldest and best tradition of baseball writing in the country.
One can make the argument that it was in Boston that the baseball writer was bred and that here the genre has flourished and taken on significance that exists in few other places. The Red Sox have inevitably been a part of that, for they have often provided the writer with near-perfect subject matter—loss—for loss is, inherently, more interesting than victory. Winning simply requires an interesting way to tell the score, but loss demands more of a writer. After all, the reader already knows, and likely detests, the ending. The writer must, therefore, provide a reason to read on, to revisit the pain, and somehow, from that experience, to rise above the intractable result and look forward.
The best writing in any genre transcends both the moment and the game, and that is no less the case here. Apart from a few stories selected for their historicity, such as Arthur McPherson’s account of how the team came to be named the Red Sox, I have selected stories that move me the way any fine writing does—with its ability to take me away from here to over there.
New York might boast that it was there that Henry Chadwick became the first “baseball writer,” plying his trade for the last half of the nineteenth century for the New York Times, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, and the New York Sun, but it was in Boston that the genre came of age. One can, in fact, trace the history of baseball writing in Boston back to just after the Civil War. A weekly newspaper known as the New England Baseballist, one of the earliest baseball periodicals, was published in Boston in 1868. At a time when the Boston Common often had to be cleared of cows before the ball could be put in play, it charted the games and activities of some of the first organized teams in the history of the game—such forgotten nines as the Tremonts and Twin Oaks. And when baseball’s first professional team, the Red Stockings, relocated to Boston in 1870, baseball began elbowing its way into the daily newspapers of the city, which celebrated its early stars like no place else.
The Red Stockings eventually evolved into the Boston team of the National League and in the 1890s became one of the most powerful teams in the league. But it was not until the American League was created in 1901 and an AL team was placed in Boston that Boston baseball writing truly began to flourish. Sparked by early newspaper wars and inspired by a team made up primarily of stars signed away from the NL club, the Boston Americans, as they were popularly known, immediately seized the imagination of the city.
Although it was possible to attend a game for only 25 cents, few working-class fans could afford to attend the late-afternoon contests, except on weekends. Then it was left to the newspapers to provide a fan his or her daily fix of information. Writing about the game became almost as important as the game itself, for it was through the newspapers that most fans came to know their team. That is no less true today. Even though the games are all available on television and discusssed ad nauseam on radio, the writers still provide the context and character of what has happened. For more than a century, Boston’s bbbbbaseball writers have framed and determined the course of the debates as they have tried to answer the age-old question “What’s the matter with the Red Sox?” Tim Murnane of the Boston Globe, a former National League player, was one of the first of these local observers. He cut his journalistic teeth covering the NL team and at the turn of the century was the most respected reporter in the game. Like most other Boston baseball cranks, he soon began following the AL team almost exclusively. Other journalistic pioneers, such as Walter S. Barnes of the Boston American and Frederic P. O’Connell and Paul Shannon of the Boston Post, joined him.
Their task was clear-cut. In essence, it was up to them to re- create the game, to deliver to each reader the experience that just took place at the ballpark. With a flair and style no longer in vogue, they often did a far more thorough job of reporting the actual events than their counterparts do today. One can virtually re-create every game from the newspapers of one hundred years ago. Today, that responsibility lies elsewhere, as the “why” of the result has replaced the nuts and bolts of “how.” Boston, one of the few two-newspaper cities remaining today, has always been journalistically competitive. For the first half of the 1900s, as many as eight daily newspapers grappled for readers, plus an equal number from the other major cities of the region. Yet baseball writing in Boston has never been the sole province of the newspaper reporter, or even of Boston writers alone. Boston was also the birthplace of Baseball Magazine, the first successful baseball monthly. Magazine reportage and, more recently, work from Internet venues have continued to enrich and influence the way Red Sox fans view their team. In addition, the Red Sox have always been seen as a ready subject by writers from elsewhere. I believe this multitude of voices has lifted the Red Sox from a regional phenomenon, with all its inherent parochialism, to one with national, even international, appeal.
From the time I was a kid and before I was even aware of it, I collected writing about baseball as others collected baseball cards. Soon after arriving in Boston more than 20 years ago, I discovered the musty marbled halls of the Boston Public Library and its accompanying collections. It was there, in microfilm and old books, that I began to uncover the great, still evolving tradition of baseball writing in this city. I soon became as familiar with writers such as Murnane, O’Connell, Harold Kaese, Dave Egan, and Bill Cunningham as fans are today with Peter Gammons, Dan Shaughnessy, and Tony Massarotti. While at work on a variety of writing projects—a biography of Ted Williams, hundreds of articles and columns on Red Sox history and more contemporary events, even as series editor of The Best American Sports Writing—I began to uncover, page by page, this incredible legacy.
I’m not much of a note taker—I find the copy machine to be the technological peak of our civilization—so much of what I found was able to make its way into my basement. A few years ago, looking at the piles of paper that threatened to consume me, I realized that my basement had taken on the characteristics of a sort of verbal baseball mine, one I was determined to quarry someday for a book such as this one. In recent months I have become a sort of miner, digging through those cartons of material. Impossible Dreams is the result of that labor, as I’ve sifted through tens of thousands of pages, chipping away the coal and brushing away the dust to reveal diamonds.
The work I have selected to appear in Impossible Dreams is the best baseball writing on the Red Sox that best tells the story of the team. In the end, the result is a sort of a source book of more than a century of Red Sox baseball. It includes not only reportage, features, and columns but also occasional contributions from players and documents from other sources.
Most of the material in this book will, I think, be new to most readers, either never before encountered or perhaps read once years ago and forgotten. I suspect many readers will be delighted to find some old friends here they haven’t heard from for a while, such as Boston Globe columnist Ray Fitzgerald and the Herald’s Tim Horgan. Readers also will find classic tales that haven’t been collected before, such as Peter Gammons’s story on the unforgettable game six of the 1975 World Series, and George Frazier’s extraordinary front-page account of Opening Day, 1973, titled, “Tibialibus Rubris XV, Eboracum Novum V.” Frazier wrote the story entirely in Latin but fortunately provided a translation “in case anyone’s Latin is rusty,” revealing the title in English as the rather pedestrian “Red Sox 15, New York 5.” I also think readers will find it useful to read the work of writers they have only heard of, such as the controversial “Colonel” Dave Egan of the Boston Record, and to read of seminal events, such as the sad and cynical “tryout” of Jackie Robinson and two other Negro Leaguers in 1945. Although a few selections in Impossible Dreams are well known, I have chosen not to reprint stories with which the reader is likely already too familiar. John Updike’s classic “Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu,” though unquestionably a classic, has been so widely reprinted that I saw no need to include it again here. With a few exceptions, I have also chosen to focus on writing more immediate to the event at hand rather than reports written years later. And I have chosen not to use excerpts from the many books that have been written about the Red Sox, for the fact that something is printed between hard covers doesn’t necessarily make it better in quality.
It is, of course, impossible to include everything—everyone’s favorite writer, favorite Red Sox moment, and favorite story—or to cover every event. It is, in short, as impossible to create a perfect book as it is to create a perfect team.
Both are Impossible Dreams. But I believe this book, like the Red Sox franchise itself, demonstrates that the pursuit of a dream is not without value in itself. In fact, it may just be why Red Sox fans care about the team at all.
Glenn Stout October 2002
Copyright © 2003 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Introduction copyright © 2003 by Glenn Stout. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company.
Part I: Glory Days 3 Oddities of Bleacher “Bugs.” 1911. Ring Lardner 8 Rival Baseball Nine for Boston. 1901. Anonymous 11 Americans’ First Game. 1901. W. S. Barnes, Jr.
13 Collins’s Men Lose. 1901. W. S. Barnes, Jr.
18 Boston Americans Are the Champions of the World. 1903. T. H. Murnane 26 The Series That Almost Never Got Played. 1968. Frank Sleeper 32 The Irish in Baseball. 1904. Jimmy Collins 36 With Boston’s World’s Champion Ball Players—Way Down South. 1904. Frederic P. O’connell 41 My Greatest Day in Baseball. 1945. Cy Young, As Told to Francis J. Powers 44 Cy Young’s Baseball Epigrams. 1904. Cy Young 46 Bright Red Stockings for Pilgrims While Playing at Home Next Year. 1907. Arthur Mcpherson 48 Fenway Park Is Formally Opened With Red Sox Win. 1912. Paul H. Shannon 54 Boston Now Supreme in Baseball World. 1912. T. H. Murnane 64 Ruth Leads Red Sox to Victory. 1914. T. H. Murnane 67 Strike! Strike! Strike! 1918. Nick Flatley 70 Red Sox Are Again World Champions. 1918. Paul H. Shannon 76 the Hero of the Series. 1918. F. C. Lane 82 Letter From George Whiteman. 1921. George Whiteman 84 The Fire Brand of the American League. 1919. F. C. Lane 95 New York Club Gives $125,000 for Battering Babe. 1920. Paul H. Shannon
Part II: Yawkey’s Way 105 Starch for the Red Sox. 1933. Bill Cunningham 115 Red Sox Owners Display Courage. 1933. Bill Cunningham 119 You Cannot Buy a Pennant! 1936. Daniel M. Daniel 122 What’s the Matter With the Red Sox? 1946. Harold Kaese 134 Ted’s Longest Homer Pierces Straw Hat on Head 450 Feet Away. 1946. Harold Kaese 136 Won It the Way Cronin Wanted. 1946. Al Hirshberg 140 Sox Locker Room Resembles a Wake. 1946. Joe Mckenney 144 U.S. Baseball Madness Pleasant to Behold in Face of World’s Woes. 1948. Westbrook Pegler 148 What Was Matter With Our Red Sox? 1948. Harold Kaese 153 Sox Apollo. 1955. John Gillooly
Part III: The Tryout 161 Sports Spurts. 1945. Wendell Smith 164 What about Trio Seeking Sox Tryout? 1945. Dave Egan 167 Three Race Baseball Candidates Impress Red Sox Coach Hugh Duffy. 1945. Doc Kountze 169 Red Sox Candidates Waiting to Hear from Management. 1945. Wendell Smith
Part IV: Teddy Ballgame and the Knights of the Keyboard 175 Ted Williams Blasts Boston. 1940. Austen Lake 179 Ted Sets Back Baseball Clock. 1950. Gerry Hern 182 Colonel Sends Word to Williams:Why Wait Til ’54 End?—quit Now. 1954. Dave (the Colonel) Egan 185 Williams Hits Homer, Covers Mouth Before 30,338. 1954. Bob Holbrook 189 Slight to Ted Disgraceful. 1957. Dave (the Colonel) Egan 192 The Kid’s Last Game. 1961. Ed Linn
Part V: Impossible Dreams and Nightmares 221 The Impossible Dream? 1967. Harold Kaese 224 Sox Barely Escape Screaming, Streaming Fans. 1967. Bud Collins 228 It’s a Great Town for Baseball. 1967. Jimmy Breslin 232 The Impossible Dream. 1986. Jim Lonborg 238 Yaz Clutch Streak Has No Parallel. 1967. Harold Kaese 241 1967: The Flowering and Subsequent Deflowering of New England. 1967. Roger Angell 263 A Postcard from My Brother. 1992. Steve Buckley 269 Opening Day at Fenway. 1971. George Kimball 275 Tibialibus Rubris XV, Eboracum Novum V. 1973. George Frazier 280 Fisk’s Home Run in 12th Beats Reds, 76. 1975. Peter Gammons 284 The Best Game Ever! 1975. Ray Fitzgerald 287 To Bill Lee. 1976. Tom Clark 295 The Boston Massacre. 1978. Peter Gammons 302 Gloomsville. 1978. Tim Horgan 305 The Confessions of a Rookie in Pearls. 1980. Marie Brenner 320 Rapt by the Radio. 1986. John Updike 325 Buckner’s Story Is Painfully Familiar. 1986. Leigh Montville 328 Game 6. 1987. Peter Gammons 341 Babe Ruth Curse Strikes Again. 1986. George Vecsey 344 The Mets Take It, 85. 1986. Dan Shaughnessy 347 A Brother’s Keeper. 1989. Mike Lupica
Part VI: Later Innings 357 Blowing ’Em Away. 1998. Charles P. Pierce 364 Batter Up. 1999. Molly O’neill 372 Observers Still Awestruck. 1999. Bob Ryan 375 Time Has Come for Him to Own Up. 2001. Dan Shaughnessy 378 Sox On Cusp of Being Freed. 2001. Bill Ballou 381 Duke’s Last Hurrah? 2001. Tony Massarotti 385 Looking for Ted Williams. 2002. Glenn Stout 389 Credits and Permissions 391 Index
Posted April 18, 2003
Unlike all the other Red Sox books appearing this spring that try to recreate what happened or make it up, this book reprints the great reporting that appeared at the time. So you have actual newspaper reports from the 1903 World Series (1918, too), Peter Gammons on Game Six of the 1975 World Series, columns about Ted Williams when he was still playing, Jim Lonborg on 1967, etc., the entire history of the team told by the writers and people who saw it themselves. The book is arranged chronologically in chapters and there are entire sections on Williams, 1975, 1978, 1967 and 1986. Very little of this was familiar to me, although after reading the book I do remember reading some material from the Globe and Herald when I was younger. In short, in 400 dense pages this book covers the full history of the team, from the moment of their birth to the sale and death of Ted Williams. But it is more than just a history of the team, it is also a history of a great journalistic tradition. I keep reading it over and over and plan on giving this to every Red Sox fan I know. In its own way this is as good as Red Sox Century - alot of bang for your buck in this book.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.