Friday, September 30, 2011

25 Players 25 Cabs

Sixteen years ago, I was on an international flight -- sitting in business class. The person in the seat next to me was the managing director of the Baltimore Orioles, Peter Angelos.  I chewed his ear off on that flight -- talking baseball and the law as we crossed the Atlantic in the wee hours of the morning. 

At the time (December, 1995), Angelos was in the middle of deciding which free agent to pursue for the upcoming season.  (Two names were mentioned -- Wade Boggs and Roberto Alomar.  He settled on the latter).  It so happened that I was carrying a book recounting the 1967 Impossible Dream Red Sox as my reading material for the trip.  I pointed out to my flying companion that, according to the book, the entire Sox payroll for the 25 man team was less than $500,000 -- and that one player (Carl Yastrzemski) made more than $100,000.  The average salary, therefore, for the remaining 24 players was less $20,000.  This meant that in order to support their families, most of the players on that pennant winning team had to get jobs in the off-season -- as car salesmen or bartenders or whatever -- to supplement the wages they earned as professional ball players.

I make note of the foregoing because of today's announcement that Terry Francona will not be returning to manage the Boston Red Sox in 2012.  Apparently, Terry told Sox ownership that they would be well-served in getting another skipper who could get through to the players.   

In the joint press conference held with GM Theo Epstein on September 29th, the Sox epic collapse was attributed, in part, to the players not being in prime condition.  One wonders whether the lack of pitching depth and the September swoon could have been avoided had the players been in better shape.  Certainly, it would not be a stretch to state that Jacoby Ellsbury's amazingly productive year was the result of his commitment to a strenuous off season conditioning program following his lost year in 2009. 

So now the Red Sox are left to pick up the pieces of a shattered season and members of Red Sox Nation are left to wonder.  Is it too much to expect that the team to which they pledge allegiance should put forth a professional effort whenever they take the field? 

It would appear that the Sox were in cruise control during the last month of the season -- too busy texting when they should have been paying attention to the 16 wheeler they were about to hit head on.  Sounds to me that there was a country club mentality in the clubhouse and that Terry had his fill of it.  All of which leaves me with the following questions:  Who is the 2012 version of Dick Williams?  And is Yaz' trainer still in the Greater Boston area?

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Ted Williams Would Approve

As the Red Sox hang on for dear life and the 2011 season in the balance, this story shows how one baseball fan in Maine can make a difference to his community.

In the face of budgetary shortfalls for kids' programs, a long time Sox fan decides to dispose of his collection of baseball memorabilia and use the proceeds to offset the cutbacks.  Maybe our elected officials can use this as a way to close our gaping budget deficits.  A giant yard sale! 

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Fenway Pilgrimage: Part I

I volunteer as a Big Brother.  Earlier this spring, when my Little Brother turned 9 years old, I asked his family whether it would be okay if, for his birthday present, I arranged to get us tickets to attend a Red Sox game at Fenway Park this summer. It seemed to me that my “Little”, Brad (not his real name) having just completed another year of youth baseball and having been to several Double A Portland Seadogs games, was ready for his first trip to see the major league Boston Red Sox. Besides, it had been a number of years since I had been to a Sox game, and taking Brad provided the perfect rationale for purchasing prime seats behind the Red Sox dugout from a longtime season ticket holder. When Brad’s family said that the idea met with their approval, I purchased the tickets and circled the date at the end of July.

As the time for our trip to Boston approached, I mapped out a plan for getting to the park: leaving Maine in enough time to drive to the subway stop on Route 128 so that we could take the green line directly to Fenway. On the drive down from Maine we made it to the 128-Riverside exit on schedule. Things were looking good, until we ran into bumpah to bumpah traffic from the exit ramp all the way to the subway station. This wouldn’t do. We needed to get to the game.

Over Brad’s objections, I reversed course and returned to 128 and took route 9 east to Brookline, past the hospitals -- making certain to point out to Brad where my eldest daughter was born. I didn’t mention the circumstances of her birth (between the 6th and 7th games of the 1986 World Series when the Mookie dribbler went through Buckner’s legs) as I didn’t want to taint Brad’s experience with an explanation of one of the more painful episodes from a lifetime of Red Sox loyalty.

Once we made it through the Longwood hospital area, it was time to count the number of pedestrians wearing Red Sox gear; to look for the Citgo sign at the other end of Kenmore Square; and to keep a lookout for a parking spot. We passed the lots labeled $60 parking: no blocking -- and settled on one that stated $30 parking: blocking per chance. We took our chance, parked the car, grabbed our gloves and headed to the park. In our matching Youkilis shirts (Brad had red, mine was blue), we blended in with the crowd and made it to Yawkey Way and the mall outside of Fenway in about 10 minutes.

As we got to the security area where bags are checked and tickets are scanned, I did most of the talking. Going through the turnstiles, I mentioned to the ticket-taker that this was my Little’s first trip to Fenway and we had come down all the way from Maine to see the Sox. With that, the usher gave Brad a friendly pat, handed him a couple of baseball cards and then uttered the magic words: “You should go to the special booth inside the park and tell them that same story.” Brad and I looked at one another and off we headed through the catacombs of the oldest park in major league baseball in search of the special booth.

Having just finished a similar expedition through Wrigley Field when I went to my first Cubs game in Chicago, I was prepared for a modest encounter with some well-intentioned Sox summer employees. I decided not to share this with Brad; rather, I figured he needed to experience the quest for the special booth in his own way. Like Dorothy and Toto in their journey to Oz, Brad and I bumped into various characters looking for the special booth.

After several wrong turns deep in the dungeons of Fenway, we found ourselves on the first base side of home plate. As we sifted through the crowd, directly in front of us was “the radio voice” of the Red Sox, Joe Castiglione.

Now I grew up with Curt Gowdy, Ned Martin and Ken Coleman. I must say I was partial to Ned (“Mercy”), but Joe has a real passion for the game. And many times during the past 10 years or so, my family has listened to the Sox game on the radio. New Englanders have been doing this for generations; it's part of our heritage. And so, I felt nothing of introducing Joe Castig to Brad -- in the passing the torch kind of way.

It was obvious that Joe was getting ready to get to the press booth prior to the game. Nonetheless, he made a point of saying something solicitous to Brad. It was a very nice gesture. When I extended my hand to thank Joe for his time, I was shocked by what came out of my mouth: “Thanks Joe and God bless you,” a phrase I cannot remember ever saying at the end of a 30 second introduction. I spent several moments trying to understand my motivation in extending this salutation on my meeting with Joe. I couldn’t come up with an explanation, and besides, I didn’t want to get side tracked from our mission of finding the special booth. We continued on, asking for directions along the way.

Finally, down in the right field area just inside the Gate, we found it. Stationed behind the booth was a very personable young woman. I immediately launched into my monologue. As I presented the story, I began to picture a recent graduate of the Connecticut School of Broadcasting who has been invited to send in a 30 second tape for that job in Missoula, Montana that will ultimately catapult him/her into an anchor slot at CNN.

“Well, last week I was at Wrigley Field in Chicago for my first Cubs game and I got a really nice picture of the field. And now, this is my Little Brother’s very first time at a Red Sox game and we came down all the way from Maine. When I mentioned all of this to the guards out on Yawkey Way, they said that we had to find the special booth inside the gates. So it took us a while, but here we are and we’re really excited about getting something great to mark the day.”

The very personable young woman didn’t disappoint. She gave Brad a goodie bag full of special items: a coupon for a photo to be taken by one of the vendors (we passed on that), more Red Sox baseball cards, a vial of official Fenway dirt (I think it came from the field, though I couldn’t say whether it was from the pitcher’s mound, home plate area, infield, warning track, or the dust bin inside the Green Monster). Then she took down Brad’s name and pointed to the big scoreboard in right field. She said his name would appear on the scoreboard in the 4thinning. We thanked her for exceeding our expectations and hustled to find our seats along the first base line.

Now if you recall the Wizard of Oz and the yellow brick road, it doesn’t hold a candle to the lusciousness of the Fenway Green. The manicured lawn of the field and the 37 foot high left field wall make baseball fanatics swoon. Seeing it for the first time must be pure amazement for a 9 year old. But to compound the experience, Brad had to put up with the aforementioned adult baseball fanatic swoon. I tried to gather myself and find our seats. Sure enough, row GG, seats 1 and 2 provided great sight lines to the field. We could see every nook and cranny of the field, except for the right field corner.

As we got settled into our seats, Brad asked if we could go back downstairs and check out more souvenirs. I dutifully acquiesced. We proceeded to inspect the various Red Sox paraphernalia -- logos on everything imaginable. Brad passed on the paraphernalia and settled for a warm pretzel -- plain, no mustard.

While walking back to our seats, we passed a gregarious usher. This gave me the perfect opportunity to go into my monologue straight out of the Connecticut School of Broadcasting. Inasmuch as it was now my second or third time, the inflections were not quite so forced. The usher seemed to be sincerely interested in the story - at which point I noticed the HUGE ring on his right hand.

“That’s quite a ring you’re wearing. Is that a World Series ring?” I asked. “Sure is,” he answered. Turning to Brad, the usher said: “Would you like to try it on? Put it on your middle finger and make a fist. That will make a great picture!”

Now, meeting Joe Castig was pretty cool and finding the special booth and receiving a vial of Fenway dirt was great too. But getting to wear a Red Sox World Championship ring -- that’s wicked cool! Over the 86 years between championships, how many members of Red Sox nation would have waited in line to have a chance to wear a ring like that? I bet the line would have stretched from Fenway Park to City of Palms Park in Ft. Myers, Florida, where the Sox hold spring training. It took me a while, but I got the picture of Brad making a fist with the Ring.

Back in our seats, we began to get ready for the start of the game. However, there were two more events to relate before then. {To be continued in Fenway Pilgrimage: Part II}

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Wrigley Wins -- There's No Place Like the Ball Park (Home)

While in steamy Chicago last week on business, I wrangled a ticket to the Cubs-Astros game on 7/26.  Despite the uncomfortable temperatures, I had to make the effort to see the ivy covered walls and to witness first hand the home of Ernie Banks, Ron Santo, Billy Williams and Ryan Sandberg. 

I got to the ballpark early (took the red line -- very reminiscent of Boston) and walked the block and a half to the park.  As I went through the turnstyles, I told the usher that this was my first time at Wrigley. He promptly directed me to a booth where I was presented with a souvenir picture of the park -- this is standard fare for first timers.

Finding my seat 15 rows behind home plate, I asked Mary, yet another fan friendly usher, if she would take my picture with the field (scoreboard and ivy) as background.  She dutifully obliged and we engaged in conversation about the merits of Wrigley and Fenway (where I would be the following week).  I also mentioned that I felt bonded to the Cubs -- having seen the story on Undercover Boss -- and, more importantly, because of the connection of the parks (Fenway built in 1912; Wrigley in 1914) and (at least until 2004) the constant struggle for a championship.

Mary wiped down the chair I was about to occupy, told me to keep an eye out for the beer vendor who was featured on Undercover Boss, and told me that she too felt an affinity to the Red Sox.  I thanked her and told her that it would be wicked cool if the Sox and Cubs met in a World Series.

I then settled down to watch the game.  After a few innings, it became apparent that the quality of the game was not the draw to the experience.  Based on the limited sample of the Cubs-Astros game, it will be some time before either team represents the National League in the World Series. (Especially since the Astros just traded the batter in the accompanying picture, All Star rightfielder Hunter Pence).

What struck as more compelling than the game, however, was the way in which the Cubs organization focused on the customer experience.  Now, one could argue that the best way to satisfy the customer (i.e., the fans) is to field a team that consistently plays in the post season.  That would certainly engender a loyal following of fans who would pay to attend games, or follow the team in other ways (i.e., subscribing to games on cable or satellite, buying jerseys, etc.).  Setting that discussion aside, I was most impressed with the fact that the Wrigley experience was purposely designed to make certain that a population that is often overlooked received first class treatment.  Let me explain.

In that my spouse (a rabid baseball fan) is dependent on a power wheelchair for her mobility due to Multiple Sclerosis, I am attuned to how physically challenged people are treated in public accommodations.  I can honestly say that I have never witnessed a more impressive display of sensitivity and caring by a sports enterprise than that exhibited by the Wrigley Field -- Cubs organization.  In sum, the thought and personal attention given to providing seats that are unobstructed, specially designed ramps for wheelchairs and dedicated personnel was extraordinary.  This was not just making adjustments to be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.  This was a comprehensive commitment that makes a difference to real people with real issues.

As I was leaving Wrigley, I commented to the ushers on how impressed I was with the way in which this population was treated in such a thoughtful way.  The usher brought me to a supervisor.  When I again commended the Cubs organization on this demonstration of attention to a group that has often struggled to receive fair treatment in public accommodations, I was told:  "hey, they deserve to enjoy a ballgame just like everyone else." 

After I left the game, I bumped into a fellow Red Sox fan who, like me, was visiting Wrigley for the first time.  I'm not sure how he viewed the experience, but I can honestly say that, were the Sox and Cubs to meet in the World Series, I would definitely root, root, root, for the home team -- where the team that makes you feel most at home wins in all ways imaginable.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Remembering Pumpsie Green

If you're a Red Sox aficionado, you might be aware of the fact that Pumpsie Green and Gene Conley (the only athlete to play for the Boston Celtics, Boston Red Sox and Boston Braves) decided to take a break from the baseball season (circa 1960) and travel to Israel -- just for kicks.  That's part of Sox lore.  What's not so obscure is the fact that Pumpsie Green was the first African American to sign with the Red Sox and that he broke into the bigs in 1959.  For some background on this aspect of Red Sox history, I recommend you read Chris (no relation to Vic) Wertz' article referenced here.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Doing Good Through Baseball

On June 18th, National Public Radio ran a story describing the efforts of a passionate group of historians/baseball fans to recognize players from the Negro Leagues.  In addition to the NPR and NY Times links, their website: details their efforts.  To honor the struggles of prior generations by bringing attention to the injustices and perpetuating the memory of those who carried the burdens of a by-gone era is an inspirational story. 

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Must Read: Baseball and Integration

Rebecca Alpert has penned a well researched account of the effort to integrate major league baseball.  Moreover, she has given an accurate accounting of Izzy Muchnick's role in arranging for 3 members of the Negro Leagues (including Jackie Robinson) to "try out" for the Boston Red Sox in 1945 -- 2 years prior to JR's appearance in a game as a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers.  Check out her book entitled:  "Out of Left Field".

Friday, February 18, 2011

Bill Russell Man of Valor

Bill Russell will always be remembered in Boston sports history as the basketball superstar who was handpicked by Red Auerbach -- first to be the anchor of the Celtics dynasty run as the center on so many wonderful teams; and then to be Red's successor as coach of the Celtics.  Growing up in the Boston area when Havlicek Stole The Ball, I always knew that Russ would outdual Wilt Chamberlain or Nate Thurmond or any other opponent for that matter.  

It will be great to see a permanent representation of Russell's impact on the area in the form of a statue. (Click on link in title to this post). I'd like to see Red's sculpture moved from Quincy Market to be next to Russell's -- near the old Garden. 

The USF Dons team with Russell and KC Jones as teammates must have been something!

Bill Russell's accomplishments are legend.  He is most deserving of the Medal of Honor recognition.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Looking out for family

Great to see that the Celtics alums pulled together to help out a teammate.  Which reminds me.  If you haven't read Teammates by David Halberstam and you really want to get ready for Grapefruit League action find the book asap.  You won't be able to put it down. 

Saturday, January 22, 2011

True Grit

Nice to see one of the most talented and dedicated players to ever wear a Boston uniform return to New England as the manager of the Brockton Rox.  Here's a trivia question:

Who was the left fielder for the LA Dodgers when Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth's career home run record? 

Answer:  Who was NOT the left fielder!  The pitcher was Al Downing and the left fielder for the Dodgers was Bill Buckner!