Wednesday, January 9, 2019

SCREWED IN SAN DIEGO... How the Pats Blew the 1963 AFL championship game


This Sunday won't be the first time the Chargers and the Patriots have met with a potential championship on the line - they played for the 1963 AFL Championship. If you're a Pats fan, you better hope that this time the Chargers aren't on PEDs, there's no spying and a reporter and a coach don't spill the beans ahead of time... because in 1963, the Pats didn't have a chance.
Excerpted​ from THE PATS: An Illustrated​ History of the​ New England Patriots. Copyright © 2018 by Glenn Stout and Richard​​ A. Johnson. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

 
South Boston native and Boston Globe football writer Will McDonough, a graduate of Northeastern University, covered prep sports for the Globe before moving to the Patriots beat in the summer of 1962 as backup to John Ahern. Like Patriots owner Billy Sullivan, McDonough made a career aligning with those in power. His reporting, both with the Globe and later as a television analyst for CBS and NBC, focused less on the players and what took place on the field than on what went on behind the scenes, in the locker room and front office, covering the inside power struggles among the men who owned and coached the Patriots and those who ran professional football.

 In quintessential McDonough fashion, he later liked to tell a story — which he never wrote — about the 1963 AFL championship game in San Diego, the kind of story that enhanced his reputation as someone who knew what was really happening. After the Pats beat Buffalo in a playoff to take the AFL's Eastern Division and earn the right to the Chargers in San Diego for the championship, the Chargers arranged for Boston to practice at a nearby Navy base, a presumably secure facility that would allow them to work out in private. Yet, according to McDonough, “the Chargers had several people dressed as Navy guys watching practice all week long,” although, as a reporter who bragged he never took notes, he never provided a source for that information. According to McDonough, the Chargers thereby learned exactly what the Patriots planned to do during the game and adjusted accordingly. The Patriots were beaten before they ever took the field. Receiver and kicker Gino Cappelletti later remarked, “You know, the way the Chargers played, especially on offense, it was as if they knew just what we wanted to do.”
They did, but if the Chargers had spies at the Patriots’ practice, anything they learned was confirmed before the game. The fault for that lay with Pats’ coach Mike Holovak. . . and perhaps Will McDonough.
In two earlier meetings that season, the Chargers and Patriots had played to a virtual standoff, the Chargers narrowly winning both, 17–13 and 7–6, even as the Patriots shut down the potent San Diego offense, particularly the running game led by backs Paul Lowe and Keith Lincoln. In fact, the Patriots had angered the Chargers before the game at Fenway Park when the home team “accidentally” forgot to cover the outfield during a rainstorm. The resulting quagmire left Lincoln and Lowe running in place. Fortunately for the Chargers, flanker Lance Alworth caught 13 passes, including the winning score. But San Diego coach Sid Gillman did not forget.

He did not just want to beat the Patriots—he wanted revenge, a victory so complete and thorough that the NFL would agree to an interleague championship game. With two weeks to prepare for Boston, Gillman, considered one of the most creative offensive coaches in the history of professional football, installed what he referred to as a “Feast or Famine” game plan, a scheme he felt would either work to perfection or fail miserably. If it failed, well, there was also the “East Formation,” which put both Alworth and split end Don Norton on the strong side of the field, another wrinkle the Pats hadn’t encountered. Today the schemes seem simple. In 1963 championship, they were a revelation.
Over the course of the season, the Patriots’ defense earned a reputation for what Boston defensive end Larry Eisenhauer called their “Ban the Bomb” defense — a gambling, near-all-out blitzing attack keyed by linebacker Nick Buoniconti and safety Ron Hall. It worked because their linemen, Bob Dee, Jim Lee Hunt, and Houston Antwine, were quick in pursuit, able to tie up runners at the line or in the backfield before they could reach the secondary and exploit any gaps abandoned by the blitzing defenders or in between the Pats’ slow-footed defensive backs, whom Gillman derisively referred to as “old ladies.”

The new scheme was designed to exploit the Patriots’ defensive strengths. Based on men in motion, traps, misdirection, and surprise, the new plays, some of which weren’t put in place until a day or two before the game, were calculated to thwart what the Patriots planned to do and free up Lincoln and Lowe.
It wasn’t the first time the surprise use of the “man-in-motion” had been used effectively in a championship game. In 1940, Chicago and Washington met for the NFL championship. Three weeks before, Washington had defeated the Bears 7–3. But in the championship game, the Bears surprised Washington by unveiling the T-formation — something that hadn’t been used in decades — and putting backs in motion. Chicago rolled to a record 73–0 victory as the Washington defense spent the whole game reversing field.

 As game time approached, if Gillman was wondering whether the Chargers would enjoy a scoring feast or famine, or if the Patriots would plan some changes of their own, his questions may well have been answered. A few days before the game, McDonough had interviewed Holovak about Boston’s game strategy and presented it in a story with a subhead “What to Look for on TV.”
Holovak may as well have handed McDonough his playbook. In a series of extensive quotes, the Patriot coach revealed his entire game plan in detail. On offense, Holovak said, the Patriots were confident they could run on San Diego, and he described one play in detail, “what we call ‘a pick,’” adding, “We’ll be running it all day.” He noted that one San Diego defender “tips the defense,” so the Pats had plans for quarterback Babe Parilli to check off to alternative plays at the line. Thanks, Coach.


But on defense Holovak really gave away the store. He revealed that he planned to use the Patriots’ blitzing reputation as a ruse, faking safety blitzes with Hall, then having him drop back to double-cover Alworth. He said that the Patriots had drilled the defensive front to focus on pursuit and follow the flow of the play, using their speed to contain Lowe and Lincoln and then shut down Alworth deep. A confident Holovak was almost giddy with excitement.

It was as if Muhammad Ali had told Howard Cosell before “the Rumble in the Jungle” that he planned to lie against the ropes until George Foreman punched himself out. Although the Globe wasn’t widely available in San Diego, it’s hard to believe that Gillman didn’t learn about the story — there were telephones, after all, and Gillman was well connected in the football world. Whether Holovak knew McDonough was planning to run with the story or whether the information was given on background is uncertain, but at that point any trepidation Gillman had over his feast-or-famine approach would have evaporated.
Yet perhaps it wouldn’t have mattered anyway. As ESPN’s T. J. Quinn reported in 2009, the 1963 Chargers were the first pro football team known to supply players with steroids. After the Chargers’ 4-10 finish in 1962, Gillman hired pro football’s first strength coach, Alvin Roy, a man the New York Times later called “the guru and godfather of the weight-training field.” Roy had trained US Olympians and learned about anabolic steroids from his Russian counterparts. During camp before the 1963 season, players were ordered to lift weights and, for at least five weeks, provided with Dianabol, the first steroid developed solely to impact athletic performance, and still one of the most effective. They were given 5 milligrams of the drug three times a day, a dosage that experts agree is more than enough to impact performance. It remains the standard starting dose to this day.

The players did as they were told, and didn’t know any better anyway. Neither did Gillman or Roy. No one really knew about the long-term effects of the drugs, nor did they worry much about their health impact or even whether their use was fair — US Olympians were using it too. One Charger estimated that all but 5 percent of the Chargers took the drug. As lineman Walt Sweeney told Quinn, “It was like the wild, wild West. Everything went. There was speed, painkillers, steroids.” Half the league was jacked up on something, but only the Chargers had the magic steroid pills. Ron Mix recalled that “they showed up on our training table in cereal bowls.” They worked too. Quarterback John Hadl said the Chargers linemen “started looking like Popeye.”
Mix and a few other players eventually complained, but even though the “mandatory” program was discontinued in 1964, the drug remained available to any player who wanted it throughout the 1963 season. One thing is certain: the 4-10 Chargers of 1962 went 11-3 in 1963. And as the season went on, as other teams seemed to lag, the Chargers seemed to get stronger. Including the championship contest, they’d score a total of more than 100 points in their final two games. And let’s not forget that because of the Eastern Division playoff between the Patriots and Buffalo Bills, the Chargers had an extra week before the championship to heal and “prepare.”

Or maybe the Patriots had just simply left it all on the field in the playoff versus Buffalo the week before. . . and then left a little more behind during a week of partying. After all, they hadn’t really expected to reach the championship game, and when fans had greeted them on their return to Boston, they had suddenly found themselves popular overnight in a city that had been searching for a champion.
They continued the celebration under the warm California sun in San Diego, where the players stayed at the Stardust Inn, a “Mad Men”–era hotel that allowed patrons of the Mermaid Bar to gaze through an enormous window at bathing beauties cavorting underwater. In one famous incident, several Patriots—among them Larry Eisenhauer and Ron Hall — entered the pool themselves. Eisenhauer mooned his teammates. . . and everyone else in the bar. Suffice to say that the team’s focus entering the game was not particularly sharp. Most observers installed the Chargers as narrow favorites.

Even before kickoff, the game was already something of a letdown. Despite the 71-degree temperature, Balboa Stadium, with a capacity of 34,000, looked barely half full. Though official attendance was announced to be 30,127, thousands of empty seats said otherwise. That was understandable. The uncomfortable stands featured concrete bleacher step seats and half of San Diego could pull in the TV feed from Los Angeles. It was easier to watch from the couch. Since the players’ bonuses were based on attendance, by the start the Patriots knew that, win or lose, their bonus would be far less than they expected. A lot of mink coats turned to chinchilla.
 The Chargers received the opening kickoff and got right to work. On the first play, San Diego quarterback Tobin Rote read an attempted blitz, then faked a toss to Lincoln and a handoff to halfback Paul Lowe. The Pats bit on both, and Rote tossed a short pass to a wide-open Lincoln for a 12-yard gain. The Patriots were playing just as expected.

The next play set the game in stone. Ron Hall faked a blitz, but Lowe went in motion. Bob Dee jumped offside, and then jumped back. As Gillman later noted, that one small change caused every Patriot player to “reset.” Suddenly caught leaning, the Patriots backfield had to scramble, overloading one side of the field. Rote took the snap, the blockers went one way, the Patriots overpursued, and then Rote handed the ball off to Lincoln on an inside trap. The running back burst through the line. . . and there was no one. Fifty-six yards later, the Chargers had the ball at the 2-yard line. Rote snuck in for a touchdown.
The game was effectively over; as the Boston Herald’s Joe Looney later noted, the Chargers “simply out everything-ed” Boston and the Patriots couldn’t adjust. Time after time Lowe went into motion, Buoniconti shifted, Hall either backed off to double-team Alworth or burst through a hole into the backfield and tackled a phantom, while Rote either pitched to Lincoln, sent him inside in the opposite direction, or found him on a swing pass. Every so often, as if bored, Rote got the ball to Lowe, who was just as effective. The Chargers quickly scored a second touchdown on a 67-yard pitch to Lincoln, and after the Patriots came back to score on a seven-yard run by Garron after a long pass to Cappelletti, Lowe scored again on a 56-yard run.

Fullback Garron then went out with a concussion, star halfback Ron Burton was hobbled, and that was the ball game. Five minutes after kickoff, the Patriots were as ineffective as a punched-out George Foreman. Forced to throw, Parilli spent most of the game retreating from the San Diego defense. By the end of the first quarter, the Chargers led 21–7 and Lincoln already had more than 200 yards rushing and receiving. As the Globe’s Bud Collins later wrote, “Every time San Diego scored, a platoon of young things in barebacked costumes threw them around in a triumphant dance. . . this kept the touchdowns from getting tedious.” With a 31–10 halftime lead, Gillman was so confident that he left the locker room early to catch the end of the Grambling College band’s halftime show.

The Chargers never let up in the second half, even trying a couple of onside kicks in the eventual 51–10 rout. Eisenhauer noted that “from the very first play, they were in high speed and we were in slow motion.” The Globe’s Harold Kaese wrote that “it was the sorriest breaching of a vaunted defense since the Maginot line.” Parilli said it was like “they wanted to kill us.”

Gillman and the Chargers gloated after the game, and with 610 yards of offense, they deserved to. On the way back to Boston, some Pats joked about wishing their plane would be shot down, a better fate than facing Patriots fans after the loss. But when asked if the defeat—which had dropped Boston’s record to 8-7-1 for the season—would inspire wholesale changes on the team, Holovak indicated otherwise.

“We need a touch here and a touch there,” he said. “Nothing major.”

Friday, December 14, 2018

Why Go on Book Tour?


I recently completed a somewhat grueling book tour for The Pats, a heavily illustrated (200 plus images selected by my collaborator Richard Johnson) but equally comprehensive narrative history (150,000 words) that treats the history of a team and sport as a real subject, rather than writing an extended valentine intended to pander to sycophants. Over the course of about two weeks, I drove some 2,200 miles all over New England, signed nearly 2,000 books in libraries, bookstores and historical societies, did a couple dozen radio interviews and spoke before or met hundreds and hundreds of readers.  It was exhausting – you have to be “on” far more than is comfortable, and soon fall into the same patter at each appearance, even delivering the same laugh lines. There were times, in between sleepovers at Comfort Inns and spare beds in the homes of relatives and friends, that itallrantogether and I occasionally lost track of where I was (Hello, Detroit!).

I am not complaining.  Book tours are sometimes a necessary part of the deal, one that has made the book a regional bestseller behind Michelle Obama, currently wedged between Lin-Manuel Miranda and Nathaniel Philbrick on the hardback nonfiction list. Come Christmas morning, and the book is finally read, I’m reasonably confident it will also enjoy some surprising success outside New England. But the real takeaway, the one I can’t stop thinking about, was a total surprise.

Along the way I made guerilla stops at more than a dozen Barnes and Nobles, offering to sign books, which each was eager to have me do. I stop at the customer service desk, pull out my Sharpie, explain who I am, and, since they’re doing me a favor,  ask that they steer me toward the stacks of my books so I can sign them in place so they don’t have to lug them all over the store. I even offer to place the “signed copy” sticker in the upper corner, telling them “I’m a full service writer.”

In one store in Rhode Island on a Saturday morning, as I sat on the floor at the end of an aisle before a pile of some 40 books, I noticed someone to my side. I turned and saw a young girl about age 10, long brown hair and cute, black-framed, nerd girl glasses, staring at me furtively, serious beyond her years. I smiled, said “Hello,” and explained what I was doing. Then her father, standing nearby, said she wanted to ask me a question.  She looked panicked at first, and looked at him as if to say “Noooo, Dad, don’t…” but I smiled and told her to go ahead, she could ask me anything. I assumed she’d want to know if Tom Brady was my favorite player (he’s not) or what Gronk is really like (I suspect he’s well aware of how lucrative his shtick really is).

Wrong.  She was interested in me. I was something she’d never seen before, but dreamed of.  I was an “author” with a book in a bookstore, and it didn’t matter what it was about.

She set aside her shyness, looked down at me, her eyes peeking out over the top of her glasses and asked a question I suspect has been keeping her up at night and occupying her ten-year old dreams for quite some time.

“How can I become an author?”

This is a question both easy to answer and hard to explain, but I did my best, and for the next ten minutes we had an increasingly breezy conversation as I first told her to ReadReadRead  EverythingEverythingEverything, and she asked more questions of me, and I of her, and I told her she reminded me of me, and soon I was making her laugh, and she told me she had just finished the “million word reading challenge” at her school, and I told her I hadn’t read that much at age ten, that she was WAY ahead of me, and that even though this book is about sports, I write about all sorts of other things, that I studied poetry in college, and that I even have a book that looks like it will be made into a move (Young Woman & the Sea, a biography of Trudy Ederle) and I even whispered the name of the famous actress who will play her, and told her she had to promise not to tell anyone because it was a big, big secret, which it is. 

So by the end she wasn’t shy and was laughing and bubbly and talking a mile a minute and her eyes were shining behind those nerd girl glasses and then I could see it click: authors weren’t “other” people to her anymore, faceless names on the spine of a book, as far away as Mars. They were someone who, when they were ten years old, was a lot like her.

I wrote another book, sure, but sitting on the floor of that bookstore, I’m pretty sure I helped make another writer.

And that makes it all worthwhile.
 
The Pats: An Illustrated History of the New England Patriots, Text by Glenn Stout with Illustrations curated by Richard Johnson, is available at booksellers everywhere, with signed copies at store all over New England.
 

Friday, September 28, 2018


The Other Team
(originally appeared in Boston baseball July 2018)
 
Has a women ever hit a ball over the Green Monster? 

Someone asked me that the other day, and I had to say “I have no idea.”  As far as I can tell, the answer is “No,” but I think it’s high time someone receive that opportunity (You’re welcome, Sox PR Department. Think that would raise some money for charity and get some attention???). The Coors-sponsored, all-female Colorado Silver Bullets did play at Fenway in 1994 and had the opportunity, but were shut out 6-0 by the Boston Park League All-Stars. But as Linda Pizzuti takes on an ownership stake, it got me thinking that women have not been widely recognized for their role in the history of this team.

Oh, they’re there.  In fact they’ve been here all along.  Here’s just a start:

Lizzie Murphy didn’t play for the Red Sox, but she is likely the first woman known to play in Fenway Park, appearing in a charity All-Star game in 1922, playing first base and helping her team beat the Red Sox 3-2.  Credited by some as the first professional woman ballplayer, Murphy, a Rhode Islander, had a long career playing semi-pro ball throughout New England.

Isabella Stewart Gardiner was one of Boston’s grand dames, a philanthropist and art collector who smoked cigarettes, drove too fast and didn’t give a damn what anyone thought.  After husband Jack died in 1898, Gardiner beat the Red Sox to the Fenway by nine years, building the house-turned-museum that bears her name.  She also became a frequent and very recognizable visitor to both the Huntington Avenue Grounds and Fenway Park. After the Sox won the 1912 World Series, she created a scandal when she attended a Symphony Hall concert wearing ''a white band around her head and on it the words, 'Oh you Red Sox' in red letters.''

Marie Brenner made history in 1979, covering the Red Sox for the Boston Herald, the first woman to do so on a regular basis. Given the assignment by editor Don Forst to take an “anthropological approach” to her task and told “For God’s sake, don’t write about the game,” Brenner fulfilled her assignment, capturing the “25 cabs” atmosphere of the club as well as any male reporter at the time. Her 1980 Esquire story “Confessions of a Rookie in Pearls,” appears in my Red Sox anthology “Impossible Dreams.”

Lib Dooley taught Phys. Ed. and Health in Boston city schools for nearly four decades and was mainstay in the box seats at Fenway Park for 55 years, watching more than 4,000 games. A self-described “friend of the Red Sox,” she passed out cookies and candies to her favorite players.  Her father was famously a member of Nuf Ced McGreevey’s Royal Rooters and Dooley herself was a member of the BoSox club. She was also known to be a special friend of Ted Williams.

Speaking of Ted, he’s the reason I’ve chosen to include only one player’s wife, Ted’s first partner, Doris Soule. In January of 1954 she filed for divorce, alleging among other things that Ted had struck her.  When the couple failed to settle over the next year, Ted decided to retire from baseball after the 1954 season rather than share a new contract with his Ex. Two days after the divorce became final, on May 13, 1955, Ted unretired and signed a contract for $98,000, stiffing Doris out of the new contract and the Red Sox out of a month of play. All because of money.  I wonder if this story will make that “American Masters” documentary that’s in the works?

Red Sox pitcher Bill Lee, aka “The Spaceman” always credited his aunt, Annabelle Lee, of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, with teaching him how to pitch.  She played seven years in the AAGPBL, even twirling a perfect game. A self-described “junkball pitcher,” Ms. Lee was not, however, responsible for teaching her nephew the infamous eephus pitch that Tony Perez sent into orbit in the 1975 World Series.

Elaine Weddington Steward was a pioneer in several capacities. Named Boston’s assistant GM in 1990, primarily performing legal and contract work, at the time Steward was first black woman and only the second minority to hold an executive position of any kind in major league baseball, something that is both hard to believe today, and well, not so hard to believe. She now serves as an attorney for MLB.

Jean Yawkey is one of only a handful of women to own a major league team, taking over the Red Sox after her husband died in 1975. While the Sox mostly remained competitive for much of her tenure, she made the same mistake her husband did, turning over most day-to-day management of the team to others, namely men like Heywood Sullivan and John Harrington.

Ms. Pizzuti, take note: Maybe she should have done it herself.

Glenn Stout’s next book with Richard Johnson, The PATS: An Illustrated History, is due out in November. See glennstout.net. He is also the author of  Young Woman & the Sea: How Trudy Ederle Conquered the English Channel and Inspired the World, soon to be a major motion picture.

Friday, August 17, 2018

WIFFLE RULES


 
Originally appeared in Boston Baseball, August 2018

 

This is the way it was.

When I was little –four or five years old – our spare, bare backyard in Ohio was pancake flat and empty.  My dad would pitch a Wiffle ball, I would hit. If it reached the big pile of dirt at the back edge of the yard, leftover from some garden project, well, that was a home run, and so were a lot of other lesser hits as I ran the bases, slipping on vinyl-covered foam bases that didn’t last a summer.

One spring that changed.  My dad planted three silver maples in the backyard, twiggy little slips only a few feet high, held in place and marked by a stake to make sure he didn’t mow them down and I didn’t snap them off at the ground running through the yard.

They grew quickly and in a year or two were sapling height, as big around as my then-thin wrist. And over a summer… they gained names.  The tree at the side of the yard, almost at the edge of the property, became first base.  The tree in the middle became second base and the last tree, not nearly as far away as first base to leave room for the clothesline, became third.  And suddenly the back yard was a ballpark, the always worn spot in front of the steps a muddy or dusty home plate.

As the trees grew, the branches served as outfielders, snagging flies and knocking down line drives, at least until the limbs of second and third began to touch and merge with each other, meaning that if I pulled the ball, I was either out or the ball was lost, caught in some crook that left me crying.

Ah, but right field.  Right field was free, wide open, first and second so far apart they would never touch. By the time I hit Little League I was already an opposite field hitter, my swing hard-wired to shoot the gap, a place with no shade.

I got bigger, stronger and older, and a kid moved in two doors down who loved baseball almost as much as I did. We started pitching to each other and the field shrank.  We stopped using Wiffle bats to save our swings and switched to wood bats, wrapping the ball with electricians tape to mend the inevitable cracks.

Then one day we flipped the field.  First base became home, second became first, third base second, and that bare spot by the steps third.  But we grew bored with running – we wanted to hit – and recruited ghost men as baserunners.

The rules evolved.  If we caught a fly or fielded a ground ball clean before it made it past the greener grass that marked the leach field,  that was an out.  But if it found the ground or stopped in the grass past a line that stretched from first to third, it was a single.  Past second was a double, past the clothesline a triple, and over the clothesline, Hosannah! A home run!

Hanging from one end, near the house in left, a bucket full of clothespins, and a shot at immortality: an automatic grand slam.

But now right field was closed off by the tangle of branches. The real game now lived in left field, the house a not so much a Green Monster but white vinyl sided one, with an asphalt shingled roof.  Line drives could smack off the wall like Fenway, but if the ball landed on our roof, it rolled and gave the pitcher a chance.

After landing on the roof it would bounce and roll and we’d run under the eaves, Yaz-like, guessing where the ball might drop down, blind to the ball  to where it would fall. It was as if a ball hit over the Monster could bounce back and still be in play. In our left field potential doubles, triples even potential home runs all had to find the ground to count, disasters saved by diving snags. On our field, if Bucky Dent’s home run wouldn’t have made it over the crest of the roof, it could have rolled back and been caught for an out. F-7. And that bucket of clothespins? I hit that target once, a grand slam walk off.  Game over. My friend Chris, pitching to me, turned around and walked across the yard to his house without a word, Ralph Branca to my Bobby Thomson. I can see it still.

But Chris is gone now, long dead,  buried in his uniform, and this spring we finally sold the old house. In think those trees have either been cut down or trimmed now, memories lost in splinters and sawdust, I guess. I’m not quite sure.

I can’t go back, not yet. But I can go on. Next week my old friend Anthony and his wife Raquel are visiting with their son, Louie, five years old and all about baseball.

I got the bat and brand new Wiffle ball already. Time to make another backyard into a ballfield.

 

Glenn Stout’s next book, with Richard Johnson, is The Pats: An Illustrated History of the New England Patriots, available in November. For more see glennstout.net.

Friday, April 27, 2018

STREET JUSTICE


 
 
Personally, I always thought “Yawkey Way” was unintentionally appropriate, referring to the way of Tom Yawkey failed to lead the Red Sox to a championship in his 44 seasons as owner. That way remained in place for more than two championship-barren decades even after his death and “Yawkey Way” was always a kind of grim reminder of that.

But that’s over now, so I’m fine with Jersey Street. The most discussed address in recent memory pre-dates Fenway Park by some 25 years, to 1887, when the name was first proposed to the Laying Out Department of the City of Boston. At the time, the Fenway neighborhood was little more than mud and a few lines scratched out on paper by renowned landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead. 

All this got me thinking.  Why “Jersey Street” anyway?  Or for that matter, why Lansdowne or Van Ness or Ipswich (which was what that stretch of road that is now Van Ness was once called)? Although I’ve been going to Fenway Park for almost forty years, I knew almost nothing about how the surrounding streets got their names… or even much about how the decision came about to rename a portion of Jersey Street after Yawkey.

Brookline Avenue is a gimme, as that was simply the name of the road that connected Boston to Brookline. The rest is more complicated.

The filling of the Fenway, which was completed by about 1900, was an extension of the earlier filling of the Back Bay, which turned tidal mud flats into developable land. The architect behind the Back Bay, Arthur Gilman, was eager to give the former swamp an aura of class, so he named each cross street after an English Lord. This explains the alphabetic pattern which begins with Arlington and ends with Hereford. 

Olmstead, the Fenway architect, took his cue from Gilman and decided to continue the alphabetic pattern of the Back Bay cross streets honoring English lords. Hence the naming of Ipswich, Jersey, Kilmarnock (originally Kenyon) and Lansdowne Streets. 

Specifically, Lansdowne was named after the Marquis of Lansdowne, a peerage held by the held by the head of the Petty-FitzMaurice family. Jersey Street memorialized the Earl of Jersey, a title held by the Child-Villiers family.  

Yet another powerful family, the Boston Globe Taylors, owners of the Red Sox, bought the land for Fenway Park in 1911, and the parcel was originally bounded by Brookline Ave., Lansdowne, Jersey and Ipswich Streets. Ballpark construction necessitated an extension of Ipswich Street to border the park to the south, but club president John I. Taylor balked at naming the extension Ipswich Street.  In 1906, during a trip to Europe, he had met and later married Cornelia Van Ness of San Francisco, a high society girl whose family had roots in Vermont. Ever the romantic, John I. named the extension Van Ness Street after his bride, thus breaking the stranglehold of British Lords. A year later, when Fenway Park opened in 1912, the official address of the new ball club became 24 Jersey Street.

And so it stayed until Tom Yawkey, who bought the team in 1933, died on July 9, 1976. A short time later a Boston City Councilman, variously reported as either Christopher Ianella or Fred Langone, proposed the name change.  It was passed by the nine-member council unanimously and was in effect by the time the Red Sox opened the 1977 season. The clubs official address became 4 Yawkey Way, the #4 numeral likely a subtle homage to Joe Cronin, a Yawkey favorite.

It was not controversial at the time, but it’s also important to note that despite the fact that Boston was 25% black and Hispanic in 1976/77, the city council was all-white.  Louise Day Hicks, the Southie attorney known for her staunch opposition to desegregation, served as council president in 1976 and remained on the council in 1977. In fact, she was at her political peak, having recently founded an organization known as ROAR (Restore Our Alienated Rights), which advocated organized resistance to busing. They not only held mass marches, but pelted school buses from black neighborhoods arriving in white neighborhoods and burned a wooden school bus in effigy.

Pretty subtle, huh?

This is not to suggest that Tom Yawkey was in any way responsible for that, but it does indicate that the initial name change took place with no input or consideration whatsoever from Boston’s minority communities. 

And isn’t that the lasting lesson of all this? Only the rich and powerful, like John I. Taylor and Frederick Law Olmstead, the City Council or John Henry get to name the streets. And only the rich and powerful, like the Earl of Jersey, the Marquis of Lansdowne, Cornelia Van Ness or Tom Yawkey, get to have streets named after them.

That’s the way of this world.

Glenn Stout’s next book, with Richard Johnson, will appear in November. The Pats: An Illustrated History of the Patriots will be the first complete narrative history of the team. For more see www.glennstout.net

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Tom Yawkey, Race, and the Smoking Gun II


 
(as published in Boston Baseball September 2017)

 

On April 16, 1945 the Red Sox held their infamous tryout of Jackie Robinson. For the next fourteen years - and for some years beyond it - the question of race during the tenure of Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey loomed over the Red Sox franchise as palpably as the Green Monster. While it is undeniable that the Red Sox were the last major league team to integrate, since that time there continue to be apologists – both in the press and among Red Sox fans – who sought somehow to explain away the franchise’s long-standing recalcitrance and failure to put a black ballplayer on the field.

Most recently, in the wake of John Henry’s desire to see Yawkey Way renamed, some have chosen to revisit an issue the Red Sox organization has long viewed as decided. In one example, Yawkey biographer Bill Nowlin recently told the Boston Globe’s Nick Cafardo, “I never once found any evidence that Yawkey was personally racist... I looked for a smoking gun, and couldn’t find one.”

Time and again, others have asked this same question, as history has tended to place the blame squarely upon Yawkey, the man at the top and the one figure in the franchise who could have integrated the Red Sox in an instant, yet did not. They argue that not only was Yawkey not personally bigoted, but that the failure lay elsewhere, either among the organization’s scouts, the structure of its southern-based minor league system, or upon others in the organization, from general managers Eddie Collins and Joe Cronin, to manager and general manager Pinky Higgins.

There is a long tradition of Yawkey defenders. In 1986 the late Boston Globe sportswriter Will McDonough rushed to defend Yawkey after coach Tommy Harper filed a successful suit with the EEOC, writing that, “They smear the man and his memory with the legacy of Pumpsie Green and Tommy Harper.... I knew Tom Yawkey, the Man to whom they trace all of this alleged racist history. I never thought he was racist. But I wasn't as close to him as Joe Cronin and Dick O'Connell were. These two former Sox general managers knew him as well as anyone in Boston. Over the years, I asked both if Yawkey ever suggested they do anything racist. The answer was no." In 1991, after Globe reporter Steve Fainaru authored a three-part series on race and the Red Sox, McDonough again distilled the issue down to the matter of who within the organization "was racist," as if that was the only question worth asking. "Was it late owner Tom Yawkey, or his widow Jean who now controls the organization, was it a series of general managers–Joe Cronin, Pinky Higgins, Dick O'Connell and Lou Gorman? Are we to believe it is the scouting department...? Once again, no names....”

A little more than a decade later, following the publication of “Red Sox Century,” a history of the club this author co-wrote with Richard Johnson that addressed the racial issue head on, McDonough again went on the offensive, calling me at home. "The only problem the Red Sox have ever had with blacks," he said to me, "was finding blacks who could play, alright?"

A few years later Howard Bryant’s book “Shut Out,” a comprehensive look at the question, appeared to be final word on the subject, pointing out the long-term impact, including the teams’ continued recalcitrance even after Yawkey’s death to sign African American free agents, a pattern that has ended under Henry. Yet some still hold Yawkey blameless and continue to ask “Where is the evidence, the smoking gun, the definitive act or statement the exposes Tom Yawkey as a racist?” Yawkey himself rarely spoke about the matter himself on the record and did not leave a written record of his attitude in regard to race. They prefer to focus on anecdotes that speak to his private interactions and the charitable contributions the Yawkey Foundation has made long after his death rather than the indisputable comportment of the organization under his leadership, as if one cancels out the other.

I have long believed that the only evidence that mattered was in plain view on the playing field for every day of the fourteen years between Robinson’s tryout and Green’s appearance. But for those who disagree, consider Jack Mann’s Sports Illustrated feature, “The Great Wall of Boston,” published on June 28, 1965.

Mann, who died in March of 2000, was a staff writer at Sports Illustrated and offered that the main reason the team had recently failed to compete for a pennant was because the Red Sox, as a franchise, had sought to build a team to take advantage of the wall and were therefore unable to win on the road. But Mann admitted other possibilities, such as Yawkey’s misplaced loyalty, which caused him to hang onto favored players for too long and hire old cronies as scouts, many of who simply received checks and did no scouting at all.

But Mann also broached the question of race with Yawkey directly, something local sportswriters historically neglected.

“One way to win,” wrote Mann of the Red Sox, “is to have the best players. The Red Sox did in 1946, but coincidentally that was the year Jackie Robinson—who had been tried in Fenway Park and found wanting—played his first year in organized (white) baseball. In the parade of Larry Dobys and Roy Campanellas and Elston Howards that followed, the Red Sox brought up the rear… It is easy now for Bostonian critics, seeking a policy man behind such a self-defeating pattern, to point fingers at Mike Higgins, an unreconstructed Texan with classically Confederate views on Negroes, but it is too easy. Higgins, who did not become field manager until 1955 and did not take a desk in the front office until late 1962, could hardly have been the Caucasian in the woodpile.

The owner responded with statements both telling and damning:

"They blame me,” Yawkey says, “and I'm not even a Southerner. I'm from Detroit… I have no feeling against colored people,” he says. “I employ a lot of them in the South. But they are clannish, and when that story got around that we didn't want Negroes they all decided to sign with some other club. Actually, we scouted them right along, but we didn't want one because he was a Negro. We wanted a ballplayer."

That statement is telling.

Yawkey first assigns blame to his Southern employees, intimating that because he was born in Detroit, he is obviously not a racist, and that because they are from the South, they presumably are. But he doesn’t stop there.

He next offers that he has no feelings against African Americans, citing the fact that he employs African Americans on his 20,000 acre South Carolina estate, a former plantation. But that is hardly the equivalent of putting a ball player on a major league field, and as late as 1959 the Sox employed none in any capacity on or off the field, not even as vendors.

But if you need one, then comes the first smoking gun: “But they are clannish,” Mann quotes Yawkey as saying of African Americans, “and when that story got around that we didn't want Negroes they all decided to sign with some other club.”

No single sentence could be more revealing. First Yawkey clearly believes that all African Americans share the same characteristic – in this case, being “clannish,” the kind of dubious stereotyping that has been used to provide a moral justification for segregation. But when he states “when that story got around that we didn't want Negroes they all decided to sign with some other club,” he is in fantasy land, blaming the African American ballplayers themselves. He is saying, in effect, that “because African Americans erroneously thought we were racist, they refused to sign with us.”

The notion that an African American ballplayer in the late 1940s and 1950s would turn down an offer to sign with any major league team for any reason sounded spurious to me, and in a survey of the Negro League history books I could find no such accounting. But I wanted to be sure and since then have broached the question to a number of baseball historians asking, “Are you aware of any Negro League players, from the time Robinson signed to the late 1950s, who turned down offers from major league teams to remain in the Negro Leagues?” and if any had heard of such a claim in regard to a player refusing to sign with the Red Sox.

The answer is “no.” None could recall a single instance of a player turning down an offer to sign with a major league team when such an offer was made – before free agency no player of any color could choose their employer. Wrote Lawrence Hogan, Professor of History at Union College in New Jersey, one of the foremost Negro League historians in the country and the author of “Shades of Glory,” published by National Geographic and the National Baseball Hall of Fame, “I have never heard even the slightest suggestion of either thing you mention happening... I cannot imagine any Negro League player turning down an offer, other than on the normal personal grounds of not enough money being offered, or wanting to get on with life in a non-baseball way.”

Yawkey’s final statement - “We scouted them right along, but we didn't want one because he was a Negro. We wanted a ballplayer," - might be the most telling. For if we follow Yawkey’s logic – “We looked for black ballplayers but we wanted talent first and foremost” – then consider that from the time of Robinson’s signing to July of 1959, the Red Sox neither put an African American player on the major league field that they signed themselves nor even traded for one already in the majors.

The conclusion is inescapable: Against all evidence to the contrary, Yawkey and his organization refused to admit that any black ballplayer had enough talent to play for the Red Sox. This, despite the fact that they were playing on every other team in baseball, and that by 1959 nearly nine percent of all players in MLB were African American, winning championships, winning Cy Young awards and MVP awards and playing on All-Star teams, players like Henry Aaron, Willie Mays, Ernie Banks, Don Newcombe and many, many, many more. None, apparently, were good enough for Boston. “We wanted a ballplayer,” indeed. And the result of that was on the field, and in the standings for decades.

There, in his own words, if you need one, is a “smoking gun” Decades after they were first uttered, the echoes still resound around Fenway Park.

[Note: Adapted and condensed from a 2009 blog post which appears in slightly different form here: http://verbplow.blogspot.com/2009/11/tom-yawkey-race-and-smoking-gun.html. Further information on the Red Sox organization’s racial history and sources cited can be found below.]

Howard Bryant, Shut Out: A Story of Race and Baseball in Boston (Boston, 2002)

Glenn Stout and Richard A. Johnson, Red Sox Century (Boston, 2000)

Glenn Stout. “Tryout and Fallout: Race, Jackie Robinson and the Red Sox,” Massachusetts Historical Review, Volume 6, 2004.

Will McDonough, "Ticket Increase at Fenway Shouldn't Raise Fan's Ire," Boston Globe, Dec. 2, 2000 (contains McDonough’s and John Harrington’s criticism of Red Sox Century and defense of Yawkey).

Will McDonough, "Sox Racist? Says Who? Harper Case No Proof," Boston Globe, Apr. 17, 1986.

Glenn Stout is series editor of The Best American Sports Writing. www.glennstout.net

 

Friday, March 3, 2017

WRITING A BOOK PROPOSAL ... AND NOT JUST TALKING ABOUT IT

I recently consulted with an established narrative non-fiction writer on a potential book publishing project. As we talked, he said “I can write the book proposal... that’s not a big deal,” and began to speak of other issues. I stopped him almost immediately and asked “Have you ever written a book proposal?” He admitted he had not.

Unfortunately, this is biggest impediment most writers face in the book publishing process, and one that is usually the difference between just having an idea for a book and actually having one published.

The purpose of the proposal is two-fold. One, it helps a writer clarify and identify the book they intend to write, to push the concept forward from “I’d like to write a book about X” toward something more specific and coherent. Here’s an example: Several years ago as the 100th anniversary of the building of Fenway Park approached, I knew I wanted to write something about that – I had the authoritative background to do so. But I also knew that the anniversary was certain to inspire a number of titles on Fenway Park. How could mine stand out? And how could I do something different?

Although I knew I wanted to write about Fenway’s history, simply saying I wanted to write a book about the history of Fenway Park was not nearly specific enough – all anniversary books would in some way try to do that. I needed an organizing principle, one that could be distilled into a single sentence that was clear, concise and unique. A lifetime of writing and more than a dozen successful proposals for single books and series had taught me this.

I was driving to my local town dump one Saturday when it hit me: instead of trying to tell the entire 100-year history of Fenway, I would tell the story of only its first season, from groundbreaking in the fall of 1911 through the 1912 World Series, which culminated in a world championship for the Red Sox. I knew that as I told the story of the ballpark’s construction and first season that would give me the opportunity to write about its larger history as well – the first home run hit over the left field wall would allow me to write about the Green Monster. My idea could then be easily distilled to a title and a single sentence: Fenway 1912, the building of America’s most beloved ballpark and its first championship season.

When I returned home, I sent a one paragraph description to my agent and he was immediately enthusiastic. I had written more than a dozen successful proposals before, and consulted on a number of others, so I was familiar with the format and intention. But having a well-defined idea was essential, and made the proposal itself a relatively straight-forward process. I had a finished proposal within a week and received an offer almost immediately. That book, eventually entitled Fenway 1912: The Birth of a Ballpark, a Championship Season, and Fenway's Remarkable First Year was easily the most successful of what eventually became nearly 20 books written in response to the anniversary, making best-seller lists in New England and winning several awards.

But that’s just one aspect of the proposal – just as important is recognizing that the proposal is a sales document. If a writer does not have an agent, the next goal of the proposal is to attract an agent, and then, in turn, a publisher. A writer needs not just an idea, but then needs to know how to frame and present that idea in a way that underscores both his and her own abilities, but also the marketability of the manuscript, to show its appeal to a well-defined readership.

Unlike what the writer believed at the start of this post, this is actually“ a big deal.” In fact, It’s actually a HUGE deal, for even a great idea, poorly presented and executed, is easy to reject. Every year publishers are hit with millions of book ideas. The whole idea is to make it impossible for them to say “No.”
This is a skill, one that can be taught and learned, and something I now do professionally, both privately and in workshop settings. If one wishes to become a professional author, learning how to write a successful proposal is absolutely essential. How essential? One more short story.

Three weeks ago I was speaking with a publisher. A basic book idea came up in conversation, but one that, due to timing, had a relatively small window to succeed. Within 24 hours I had taken that basic idea, drilled it down to something clear, concise and unique, and completed a basic proposal and forwarded it to my agent.

A few days later, my agent and I reached agreement with a publisher on a contract.

 Glenn Stout is the author and editor of more than 90 books. He will be teaching a three-day workshop entitled “Writing the Non-Fiction Book Proposal... Not just talking about it” at the Archer City Story Center in Archer City, Texas this summer (http://archercitystorycenter.org/professional-workshops/), and giving a one-hour presentation “The Book Proposal: What Agents Want” at the New Hampshire Writer’s Project “Writer’s Day” on April 1, 2017 (http://www.nhwritersproject.org/content/writers-day-1). He also does private consultations on longform narrative non-fiction, book proposals and book manuscripts. For more, see  www.glennstout.net