Monday, October 11, 2010


After Franklin P. Adams' Baseball's Sad Lexicon, I give you a version for recent Octobers:

These are the saddest of possible words,

“Rivera now pitching the ninth.”

A flurry of fastballs thrown straight that then swerve,

“Rivera now pitching the ninth.”

Ruthlessly turning a comeback to rubble,

With control that is epic and makes the mind boggle,

A pitch that is heavy and nothing but trouble,

“Rivera now pitching the ninth.”

[with apologies to the Twins]

Friday, August 20, 2010


He’s just not that good. Not anymore.

As I write this Rex Sox pitcher Josh Beckett, arguably the staff ace entering the 2010 season, has started fourteen games and accrued an earned run average of 6.67.
Those startling numbers sent me on a search. And here is what I discovered: In the one hundred and ten year history of this franchise, of all the hundreds and hundreds of Red Sox pitchers that have taken the mound in a given season, guess how many have started as many as fourteen games and ended the season with an ERA higher than Josh Beckett’s 6.67?

Uh…. One – and just barely (more on him later).

Josh Beckett has not just been bad in 2010, he has been historically bad. Unbelievably bad. Mind-bogglingly bad. Hall of Shame bad. Horribly, awfully, painfully, even proctologically bad. I don’t think any pitcher in the history of baseball has ever pitched so much, so poorly, at such a high salary as Josh Beckett has in 2010. For all the wrong reasons it’s a season for the ages.

On the day he was drafted, a reporter for a Florida newspaper asked Beckett about fellow pitchers and Texas natives Nolan Ryan, Roger Clemens, and Kerry Wood. Responded Beckett “Yeah, I’m gonna be better than those guys.” At times that seemed possible, even likely.

But that was then. Forget 2003, and the way he beat the Yankees in the World’s Series while pitching for the Marlins, and 2007 when he won twenty and pitched the Red Sox to a championship.

We’re talking NOW, or more accurately, ever since the Red Sox broke their own rule about negotiating a contract during the season. In April Theo Epstein signed Beckett to a contract extension covering 2011 thru 2014 worth $68-million, a deal made before his previous contract, which ran thru this season, had even expired. Think they would like to re-visit that?

Since that time he has been so bad there are, really, no words in the dictionary to describe it. But there are in the Baseball Encyclopedia and on

How bad has Josh Beckett been? Using ERA and a minimum of fourteen starts as a measure, every other pitcher in Red Sox history - with one notable exception - has been NABAB - Not As Bad As Beckett. Matt Young in 1991? Sixteen Starts and a 5.18 ERA, but Not As Bad As Beckett. Danny Darwin in 1994? Thirteen starts and 6.30 - NABAB. Frank Castillo in 2002? NABAB. Ramon Martinez in 2000, Jerry Casale in 1960, Gordon Rhodes in 1935, Frank Heimach in 1926? You can look ‘em up, NABABs all. Even the immortal Joe Harris, who went 2-21 for the 1906 Red Sox, was NABAB – his ERA was a sparkling 3.52, a number Josh Beckett and Theo Epstein would both kill for. And the list goes on and on and on and on.

Somehow this historic achievement has gone unnoticed. In a season best defined by the disabled list it has been easy to overlook Beckett’s expressionless appearances on the mound. Then again, they’ve often been so brief he’s been easy to miss. The fact is even with all the injuries, if Josh Beckett was pitching like an average starting pitcher, rather than a historically bad one, the Red Sox would be making plans for October.

That’s not even the worst part. Because the Sox signed Beckett to an extension before his current contract had expired after putting up one of the worst seasons in Red Sox history, Josh Beckett will rewarded over the next four seasons by becoming the the highest paid pitcher in team history. Which genius thought that was a good idea? The Red Sox can only hope is that Beckett is hurt and his contract is somehow insured, because the only thing worse than a pitcher performing the way Beckett has thus far is a contract that guarantees he’ll be around for another four years no matter how poorly he pitches.

Yet there is still a faint glimmer of hope. Remember, there has been one Red Sox pitcher even worse than Josh Beckett. Like Beckett, he too enjoyed some early success that had everyone whispering “Hall of Fame.” Then one year he went 2-9 in fifteen starts with an ERA of 6.75.

The Sox sent him back to the minor leagues. And two years later he was pitching the way everyone thought Josh Beckett would be pitching this year.

You might remember him, because that guy who was the worst starting pitcher in Red Sox history, 2-9 with a 6.75 ERA in 2008, is now 14-5 with an ERA of 2.36.

His name is Clay Bucholz.

This column appears in the September edition of Boston baseball. Glenn Stout’s Fenway 1912, will appear in 2011. Baseball Heroes, the first title in his juvenile series “Good Sports,” will be available this fall.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Great, But Not Perfect

This October the late John Updike’s classic New Yorker profile of Ted Williams, “Hub Bids Kid Adieu,” turns fifty years old. Recently reissued in book form Updike’s essay is something of a Gilgamesh of literary baseball writing, right up there with Ernest L. Thayer’s Casey at the Bat and Ring Lardner’s epistolary You Know Me, Al.

Recently, while working on my upcoming book Fenway 1912, I had occasion to take close look Updike’s story. Despite its legitimate and deserving place in baseball’s verbal Hall of Fame, it is not flawless. There are, in fact, several factual issues that a neutral scorekeeper might note as errors in their scorebook, or at last send back to the author for some clarification.

I mention them here not to disparage Updike but to underscore how difficult it is to be one hundred percent accurate, to gauge the veracity of another’s reporting - even a reporter as elegant and thorough as Updike - or to render any scene with absolute precision. History, after all, is not black and white but more often flesh and blood and shades of gray.

In the first paragraph Updike writes that “I, and 10,453 others, had shown up primarily because this was the Red Sox's last home game of the season and therefore the last time in all eternity that their regular left fielder… would play in Boston.” True enough, for Ted did retire afterward and did not accompany the team on its final road trip to New York.

But on the morning of September 28, 1960 these facts were not all that widely known. Ted had said he was going to retire, and on September 26 the Sox had released a statement to that effect, but Ted had “retired” before only to change his mind. Many Sox fans and media members wondered if this retirement was genuine, which might explain the sparse crowd. During the 1954 season Williams said he would retire at the end of the year and did so. But once his divorce was finalized on May 11, 1955, Ted abruptly “unretired, signed a lucrative contract beyond the reach of his settlement, and returned the lineup May 23. That act of selfishness may well have cost the Sox a pennant, for without him the Sox were a pedestrian 15-21 in 1955. Yet after Williams returned the Sox went 65-35 in the next hundred games to draw to within three games of first place as late as September 7 before falling back.

The point is that when most fans went to the park on September 28, 1960, Williams’ retirement was hardly certain, and there is little evidence that those other 10,453 fans - almost 5,000 less than the average that year - attended primarily because of Ted. Otherwise meaningless late season games had drawn similar crowds.

Personally I have always wondered what would have happened had Ted popped up in that last at bat. Would his ego have allowed him to end his career so commonly? Or would he, have gone to New York in search of an exclamation point? Would Updike ‘s chronicle of the pop-up been published, or would he have followed Williams to New York hoping for a better ending? Or if Williams had chosen to play in New York anyway after hitting the home run, (Updike notes he learned of Williams’ decision not to go to New York from the radio on his car ride home) would Updike’s story have such lasting resonance? We will never know. It is a small point, but nevertheless Updike’s statement leaves an impression that is less than complete.

And then there is Updike on Fenway Park. He writes that Fenway’s “right field is one of the deepest in the American League, while its left field is the shortest; the high left-field wall, three hundred and fifteen feet from home plate along the foul line, virtually thrusts its surface at right-handed hitters.” Today we know that the distance down the left field line was never 315, but somewhat less, but one can hardly fault Updike for believing number painted on the wall. Yet there is some ambiguity in the claim that “its left field is the shortest,” because that was not true down the line, where Yankee Stadium, at 301 feet in 1960, was considerably shorter, as was Memorial Stadium in Baltimore at 309 feet, although the outfield area in both of those ballparks was considerably larger than that of Fenway Park. Somewhat curiously, Updike does not mention height of the wall, but in 1960 there was not the fetish about what we now call “the Green Monster” as there is now. Updike may not have known precisely how high the wall was.

Apart from the alliterative phrase “lyric little bandbox of a ballpark,” I have never much cared for the way Updike describes the rest of Fenway Park, finding it not only forced and arch but imprecise and in some ways misleading. I have no idea what he means by “the inside of an old-fashioned peeping-type Easter egg,” particularly on a day that was dank, dark and dreary, and I suspect few others do either. I have spent hours looking up images on Google in search of a picture that suggests his intent without success. But if Fenway Park reminded Updike of an Easter egg on that gray September day, that’s fine. When I first saw Fenway Park it reminded me of an abandoned warehouse.

I do, however, take issue with his notion that Fenway Park was “a compromise between Man's Euclidean determinations and Nature's beguiling irregularities.” Most subsequent readers, I think, take that as Updike’s way of saying that’s what happens when you try to fit a ball field onto a patch of land whose boundaries were determined by Nature – presumably herds of cows or sheep - whose pathways later evolved into Boston’ streets.

This common interpretation, is, unfortunately, thoroughly incorrect. The plot of land upon which Fenway Park sits was completely undeveloped before the ballpark was built. The parcel was shaped – as it is now – somewhat like a trapezoid, not due to any irregularities of nature, but because some surveyor planned it that way. Before the ballpark was built the weedy, undeveloped lot between Lansdowne, Jersey and Ipswich streets, as empty as the parking lot of the Burlington Mall at four in the morning, was supposed to be cut into five rectangular blocks. A new street - eventually named Van Ness – was laid out to give these proposed new streets right-angled corners.

Neither Nature nor any wandering cow conspired to create Fenway’s celebrated nooks and crannies. They are the result of “Man’s Euclidean determinations” intersecting with Man’s greed and beguiling desire to cram as many seats as possible into the space, and nothing else.

That may not be as elegantly put as Updike’s fifty-year old lyric little bandbox of a box score, but it is, nevertheless, more accurate.

[Note: Several years ago Globe columnist Alex Beam noticed another potential error in the essay, the probable misidentification of Pumpsie Greene as Willie Tasby.]

Fenway 1912 will appear next year, and the twentieth annual edition Glenn Stout’s The Best American Sports Writing, guest edited by Peter Gammons, will appear this fall. This column first appeared in Boston Baseball, August 2010, as "Great, But Not Perfect. Copyright Glenn Stout, 2010.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Last Pitch

I can still remember the last pitch.

My father was a fan, but not a big fan. No one in my family was, but baseball grabbed me when I was only three or four and never let go. If it was too dark to play ball when my father got home from work I would have a fit, so he installed floodlights in the backyard. Then, no matter how tired he was from working a 12 or 14 hour day in construction, we could still play ball.

Most of my memories of my father are somehow wrapped around a baseball - playing catch, him taking me to games or watching me pitch. It was the one way we really connected. But in high school I tore my rotator cuff and had to stop playing. We didn’t have as much to talk about after that.

Almost twenty years later my shoulder healed and I joined an adult league, one in Boston and later, another in Worcester County, where I then lived. For three or four years I was in both leagues and played forty, fifty games each summer, usually pitching and playing first or third.

I’d call home every week and for the first time since I was a kid my conversations with my father were wrapped around baseball again. I sent him the ball after I won my first game since I was 16- years old, and a T-shirt I got for making the league all-star team. I was as proud of each as of any book I’ve ever written, and so was he.

In April of 1996, the week my daughter was born, Pop was diagnosed with prostate cancer. He had ignored the symptoms for too long and his doctor told him he had a year to live, give or take a week, and to enjoy the time he had. My mother had died a few years before and my father re-married an old family friend, the widow of a man my father had pulled from a burning plane when he was on the crash crew in the Navy. That July he and my stepmother loaded up the RV and he drove out for his final visit.

I had a ballgame, the last one of the year. I was new to my team and we were not very good and I had not been much help. We were playing a team that had already beaten us once and needed only to beat us again to make the playoffs.

Half our team didn’t even show up, but it was a beautiful summer Saturday morning and old Soldier’s Field in Douglas, Massachusetts sparkled like a postcard, dew on the grass glinting in the sun. My dad and stepmother, my wife and baby daughter, my brother, and our neighbors and their kids all sat together in the bleachers, half the crowd.

Before the game our manager muttered “We’re gonna get killed today.” For the first few innings it appeared as if he were right. We played like we did not want to be there and were trailing,5 - 0 in the fourth when I led off with a single, a soft line drive. From the bleachers I could hear his voice again. “Alright!”

That’s the only thing my father ever said at a game - “Alright!” I was happy to get a hit in front of him and some sloppy baseball netted us a couple runs to make it respectable. But when our pitcher put a few guys on in the bottom of the inning it looked hopeless. My manager waved me over from third and even though I had pitched in Boston two days before and my arm was still sore and my legs were shot, I took the ball anyway, just like my father had gone into the backyard all those evenings after working 14 hour days. I was his son. A pop-up, a strikeout and a groundball wrapped around a walk got us out of the inning.

Something happened. We started making impossible plays and improbable hits, rallying against one of the best pitchers in the league. I wiggled through the fifth and sixth, and in the bottom of the inning, down by one with runners on second and third, I bounced a single through the middle and now we led by a run and I needed only three outs for the win. “Alright!”

I had nothing but somehow got two outs and then, with runners on first and second, the batter hit a ground ball down the first base line. I sprinted over to field the ball and end the game.

It felt like someone hit the back of my leg with a ball peen hammer. I went down hard.  My first baseman picked up the ball. The batter raced to first on an infield hit, loading the bases, as my hamstring started to hemorrhage.

I tried to stand and fell. I couldn’t throw another pitch.

I saw him sitting in the stands and I pulled myself up.

Limping to the rubber, using all arm and one leg, I somehow got the count to 3-2. With two outs, a one-run lead, the bases loaded and all the runners moving, I threw the last pitch my father would ever see me throw, a fastball down and away.

Another grounder to my left. I reacted, but I was too late. My first baseman ranged into the hole to make the play.

I lurched toward first, muscle fibers popping with each stride. He flipped the ball ahead of me. I could hear the baserunner coming down the line as the winning run tore toward home.

The throw was wide. I stretched out toward first base and reached out with my bare hand. My hamstring exploded and I snatched the throw from the air. My foot, then the runner’s, hit the base and I fell, holding the ball tight in my fist.



That afternoon I sat on my front porch with my father, drinking beer, a bag of ice under my thigh, talking about the game. He told me he was not surprised I had stayed in and that we had won, that I still played the game the way I always had, hard, just like he had taught me.

He meant it. After this one small miracle I wanted to think there would be another, but I knew better. The following spring, one week before my daughter’s first birthday, only a few days before opening day, Pop was gone.

From June 11 thru June 16 - Father’s Day - Major League Baseball will support the Prostate Cancer Foundation’s Home Run Challenge. For more information about prostate cancer visit and talk with your health professional about prostate cancer testing. 
This column first appeared in slightly different form in Boston Baseball, June 2010. I re-post it every Father's Day.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

How To Write Two Million Words…or so

Several months ago, in his farewell column in ESPN The Magazine, Rick Reilly noted that “My math says this column puts me over one million published words. And that doesn't count books (No. 11 coming up in May), screenplays (two), sonnets, ransom notes and quilts. This is one million too many for many citizens, but the fact remains.”

When I was younger this kind of statement that would send me into deep depression. When one wants to be a writer there is nothing more depressing than having someone quantify what you have not done. I recall being particularly dismayed when I learned that Jack Kerouac had written a million words by the age of thirty. When one has not written anything of merit - or at least published it – one million words seems like, well, one million words, a task so daunting as to be unachievable, like running around the world. One imagines that the writer of a million words must have the discipline of a monk, the typing skills of a graduate of Katie Gibbs, the supple imagination of a jazz musician, the stamina of a marathoner… and either a vow of poverty or a trust fund, because how would it ever be possible to both work and write?

I looked at myself and saw none of those qualities. I liked to have too much fun, laughing and hanging out in bars, and a small nerve problem in my hands made it impossible for me to touch type. The only thing I did every day – beyond the physical necessities - was wake up and read, probably so I would not have to confront the fact that I was not writing very much.

Despite this, in 1986 when I was in my late twenties, after writing in camera for years - mostly poetry - through some kind of dumb luck I finally started writing and publishing non-fiction. In an instant I went from “wanting to be a writer” to “being a writer” and a certain floodgate fell open.

It was not too many years later – I had just turned thirty, hence the accounting - when I sat down and discovered that, rather incredibly, almost accidentally, even I had written a million words. Now this was not a million published words, mind you – there were probably only about 100,000 of those at the time - but if I started in college and counted all the papers I had written and the notebooks I had filled up and scratched over, despite what I saw as my utter lack of discipline, a common imagination, questionable stamina, lack of a trust fund and a regular job that kept me nominally above the poverty line, even I had written a million words.

The realization was liberating beyond measure. Writers were not mysteries, and the act of writing was not some kind of secret sect to which I had no access. It did not entail following a schedule carved in stone, a muse, the ability to work until one fell asleep at the typewriter (a quaint thought…) or the proper pedigree.

No, I realized that most of writing entailed putting my ass in a chair, hitting deadlines and, most important of all, not being intimidated by the process. If I had written a million words by age thirty – and felt that I was just getting started at that – well, writing couldn’t be that hard.* This was something I could do.

I had also started running, and at about this time also realized that running around the world was also achievable as long as I did it in increments and did not let the goal overwhelm the process. For about ten years or so I probably averaged about forty miles a week, which totaled about 20,000 miles and put me on the brink of the running around the world total. And although I no longer run as far or as often, I have still kept it up for more than thirty years and at this point am probably closing in on my second global circumnavigation.

I only bring this up to underscore the point that even while writing a million words one need not stop doing everything else. In fact, I think it helps to do other things, to help turn the act of writing from something so precious that you freeze with anticipation in front of the keyboard into something as normal as brushing your teeth, a part of the daily fabric, not subject to any excuses. At the same time I continued to work full-time until 1993, helped raise my daughter from infancy (and with minimal daycare before school while my wife worked), played nearly 400 games of amateur baseball over nine seasons, learned to skate, ski, and kayak, cut my own wood, built my office, held public office, etc., etc., etc. This does not even include the vast amount of reading I have to do as part of my duties as Series Editor of The Best American Sports Writing. And I won’t even get into the amount of time I’ve spent watching baseball or sitting in bars. I still feel completely undisciplined and think I should be much more productive than I am, but now, after nearly twenty-five years as a professional writer, including the last seventeen on a full time basis, when I add up my published output since 1986, I am closing in one two and a half million words. And that doesn't even include all those poems in the bottom of a drawer somewhere.

When I write that, it does not seem possible, yet there it is. And I hope at least one young writer might find some solace in the fact that if a stiff like me could write a couple million words, well, so can you.

So sit down and get cracking. As long as you start now, there is plenty of time.

Meanwhile, I think I'll take a nap.

P.S. And I still cannot touch type. I only use my thumbs, index fingers and, occasionally, middle fingers on each hand. But I do type at the speed I think.

Word Count:

Illustrated Biographies

Ted Williams: 40,000
Joe DiMaggio: 50,000
Jackie Robinson: 40,000

Red Sox Century: 200,000
Yankees Century: 225,000
The Dodgers: 225,000
The Cubs: 225,000

Nine Months at Ground Zero: 110,000

Young Woman and the Sea: 125,000

Fenway 1912: 140,000

Matt Christopher titles (39): 720,000

Good Sports titles (2): 36,000

BASW Forewords (21): 40,000

Misc work for hire books: 100,000

Articles: 100,000

Boston Baseball Columns: 80,000

TOTAL: 2,456,000

*Understand, I am not equating quantity with quality here. Rick Reilly is not Jack Kerouac and neither am I. All we have of Sappho are a few scant fragments, a few thousand words at most, and I would gladly trade my millions for her few. Believe me, I get that. But there was a time when Sappho was probably intimidated by the act of writing as well.

Sunday, May 2, 2010


I wrote this Chin Music column before the start of the season for Boston Baseball. After dropping three to the Orioles... I think we know now. Read on...

This year we’ll finally know.

Although the Henry group purchased the team in 2002, this will be the first year their efforts can truly be assessed on their own, the first time we’ll be able to tell if Theo is truly talented or just a fortunate son, if John Henry is a genius or just rode the wave that lifted all boats for more than two decades, if Larry Lucchino is Geppetto, pulling all the right strings like a master, or Pinochio, or whether Terry Francona is more Bill Carrigan or Butch Hobson.

This year, for the first time, they have a clean slate, and the responsibility for success or failure is theirs alone. For the first few years after they purchased the team, the lineup was still dominated by stars either drafted or acquired by former general manager Dan Duquette, without which this team never would have never won anything. Like every other team in baseball during the era, the roster was enhanced by players either directly tainted by the games’ PED scandal*, such as Manny Ramirez or David Ortiz, or by others as still unnamed but who are nevertheless under suspicion, guys who did nothing either before or after their time with the Red Sox, but who, remarkably, came to Boston, put together one or two years that were completely out of character and then dropped from sight, either never to return or vastly diminished as soon as drug testing was instituted.

Those are two sizable shadows across the recent history of this franchise, so despite two world championships*, some fine draft picks (Papelbon, Pedroia, Lester, Bard, etc.) and savvy acquisitions such as Curt Schilling, there have been, to be honest, an equal number of question marks – those two world championships*, mishandled draft picks or failures like Craig Hansen, and questionable acquisitions like Daisuke Matsusaka, who the Red Sox believed was one of the “best pitchers in the world,” but who recently has not even been the best pitcher in Fort Myers. What is unarguable is that since the Red Sox have been purchased by John Henry they have been able to buy and sell their way out of mistakes (Julio Lugo, Edgar Renteria etc.) just as the Yankees have.

That is what makes this year so intriguing. The Duquette guys are, for the most part, gone, and the few that remain, such as Jason Varitek and Tim Wakefield, are relatively insignificant to the fortunes of the 2010 Red Sox – the less we see of each in 2010, the better. And the PED guys are, also, presumably either gone or drug tested into sobriety and relative insignificance – as I write this David Ortiz is hitting .216 in the spring, with an OBP of .293, a slugging percentage of .378 and the most strikeouts on the team – Tug Hulett has more total bases, and might see more at bats. And although we here in Boston seem to be convinced that the Red Sox farm system is without peer, more objective analysts such as Baseball America view the system as distinctly middle of the pack, particularly after the horrible misfortune to befall prospect Ryan Westmoreland.

The Red Sox themselves seem to realize that this year is different, and have responded with a different approach, eschewing the higher priced free agents for lesser luminaries who are supposed better values, preferring defense and pitching over offense, and an overall emphasis on doing more with less. The approach will, of course, be best assessed by win and losses, but as the season grows long and the shadows short, what Theo/John/Larry and Terry et al say about that performance may be even more telling.

When you are winning, you really don’t have to say much of anything, but there are always a million euphemisms for “we suck.” In that respect the words and phrases to look out for are “competing,” “maximum effort” “tip your cap to him,” “marketplace” “the economy” and “evil empire.” If the aforementioned four start using these phrases, particularly in combination, such as “In this economy the marketplace favors the evil empire” or “You’ve got to tip your cap to him, because we’re out there competing and giving maximum effort,” there will be no need either to check the standings or to check the standing of Theo, John Henry, Larry Lucchino or Terry Francona.

Because now we’ll know.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

CHIN MUSIC: The Neighborhood of Baseball

Whether you realize it or not, Red Sox history does not reside in Fenway Park. Red Sox history – at least Red Sox history from about 1901 thru 1980, when newspapers became available electronically – resides at the Boston Public Library, in the vast collection of Massachusetts newspapers on microfilm retained in the Microtext department.

Red Sox history – in fact the entire history of the city and the Commonwealth – are in these newspapers, in papers like the old Boston Post, where Paul Shannon was one of most colorful sportswriters the city has ever seen, in the Daily Record, where Dave “the Colonel” Egan drove Ted Williams batty and pushed for integration before it was popular, and in the Boston Chronicle, where my late, great old friend Doc Kountze covered the athletes the rest of the Boston press did not, African Americans like Malden sprinter Louise Stokes, the first African American woman to make the U.S. Olympic team, and semi-pro pitcher Will Jackman, who threw a submarine knuckleball and might have been as good as Satchel Page. That’s where the history lives, in those thousands of newspapers from every corner of the state.

I know this because when I worked at the Boston Public Library I spent years helping to administer millions of dollars in state and federal funds to film and preserve these collections. And in those collections I found my calling as a writer and author, a career that now spans more than two decades and nearly eighty books of one kind or another that have sold a couple million copies, most of which could not have been written without the resources of the Boston Public Library’s Microtext department.

But times are tough, and as far as the City of Boston is concerned that old building in Copley Square –the one that the city has spent gazillions fixing up over the last twenty years –is a nice place for parties and things like that but all ‘dem books and ‘dat stuff are just for ‘dose eggheads, not regular people from ‘da neighba’hoods, right Mr. Mayor? What about the neighborhood of baseball? Doesn’t our vote count? Libraries and librarians are easy targets – they don’t save lives in dramatic fashion like policemen or firemen, they save one mind at a time in ways that are hard to see but just as important.

But I digress. Red Sox history is being sent in exile. The city wants to close the Microtext Department at the BPL which cares for, services and houses newspapers and other collections on microfilm, the department that literally provides access to the history of not only the Red Sox, but the Bruins, the Patriots, the Boston Marathon, the Boston Garden, Fenway Park, the old Boston Arena, the Huntington Avenue Grounds, Harvard Stadium, Boston College, … you get the idea. The city wants to close the department, move some of the film to the hard to reach City of Boston Archive Center in West Roxbury, disperse the rest to other BPL departments, can the staff, squander decades of institutional knowledge, and use the space they recently spent gazillions renovating for the department, for, oh, I don’t know, weddings or cocktail parties. Once they do that the ability to do the kind of research it takes to write a serious book about Red Sox history becomes almost impossible – having the resources you need in one place, at one time, is invaluable and irreplaceable.

I know this not just from my own experience, but because when I was at the BPL I helped local sports writers like Steve Buckley and national guys like Sports Illustrated’s Frank Deford use these resources. I remember one guy in particular I helped – named Halberstam. Won a Pulitzer Prize that helped stop the Vietnam War and wrote a really great book about the Red Sox - Summer of ’49. Ever heard of him?

He could not have written that book without the BPL, and neither could Dan Shaughnessy have written The Curse of the Bambino, Howard Bryant Shut Out, Richard Johnson and I Red Sox Century, Ed Linn Hitter, Leigh Montville The Big Bam or any other author, like Buckley or Bill Nowlin or Bill Reynolds, who have written anything worthwhile about Red Sox history. None of these books – none - could have been done without the newspapers on microfilm at the Boston Public Library. Fenway 1912, which I just finished and comes out next year, would have been impossible.

And here’s the really, really awful part. This is supposed to save the city money. But this department, like much the Library, actually earns back every dime a hundred times over. I am just one of thousands of writers who use or have used the Library, who make special trips to Boston just to use the library and end up spending money on a lot of other things, or have lived in Boston, in part, because the Library was one of the places that make Boston a place worth living. Every book written by any writer on any subject who has used the Library – we’re talking thousands of books that have sold millions and millions of copies, here – pours money right back into city coffers every day of every week.

But if they get rid of the Microtext department and exile and disperse Red Sox history, this won’t happen. All those books still waiting to be written about the Red Sox just won’t get written. The neighborhood of baseball – and the City of Boston – will be poorer for it.

To complain, email, write or call Amy Ryan, President of the Boston Public Library, or Jamie McGlone, Clerk to the Board of Trustees, 700 Boylston St., Boston MA 02116 617-536-5400, Mayor Thomas Menino,, 1 City Hall Square, Boston, MA 02201-2013 , 617.635.4500, or attend the BPL’s Annual Meeting on Tuesday, May 11, 2010, 8:30am, at the Copley Square Library.

Note: This column will appear in the May 2010 issue of Boston Baseball.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Boston's First Marathon

An old story, worth telling again:

When Pheidippides ran from the battle of Marathon to bring word of victory to Athens in 490 B.C., completing the world's first running "marathon," he had no idea what he was starting. No wonder, because upon his arrival in Athens, Pheidippides keeled over and died. It took nearly 2400 years before anyone else decided to try to run a similar distance. The result of that effort did not end quite so tragically. It became the Boston Marathon, the world's premier running event.
Later today hundreds of thousands of spectators and tens of thousands if runners, mofficial and not, will converge on Boston to celebrate the 100th running of the Boston Marathon. In the entire history of the race, approximately three hundred thousand men and women have run, jogged, and plodded their way into the city to make the Boston Marathon the most famous run in the athletic world.
But somebody had to be first. One hundred and thirteen years ago, on April 19, 1897, Boston staged its very first marathon. That inaugural race was nearly as memorable as Pheidippides' initial jaunt.
While the marathon initially was revived for the first modern Olympics held in Athens, Greece in 1896, it wasn't until the Boston Athletic Association decided to run a similar race to celebrate the local Patriot's Day holiday that the race captured the imagination of the public. On that cool April morning, seventeen plucky entrants signed on to make the 25-plus mile journey from Ashland, Massachusetts to Boston. Each hoped for a better fate than their Athenian predecessor.
After gathering in Boston, the contestants travelled by train to Ashland for the noon race. Upon their arrival, the B.A.A. held a hearty luncheon for the runners at a local inn, contemporary notions concerning the pre-race diet not yet in evidence. While most of the competitors chatted amiably with one another, six runners from New York sat together and plotted pre-race strategy. Three entrants apparently had second thoughts and failed to show up. A Harvard University student, Dick Grant, weaseled his way in, introduced himself to marathon officials and talked his way into the race as a last minute entrant.
At noon, the fifteen runners strolled to the starting line in front of Metcalf's Mill. Only one of the men, 22-year old lithographer John McDermott of New York's Pastime Athletic Club, had ever run such a distance before. The previous October, he had won a similar race staged along the New York-Connecticut border. Several other entrants were experienced cross-country men, but most were running novices. Reporters commented that some of the men didn't look like they could run twenty-five feet, much less twenty-five miles.
Several hundred curious spectators gathered in front of the old mill to watch the start. Race manager John Graham of the B.A.A. pinned a number on the back of each man's shirt and handed out typewritten directions to Boston. To prevent anyone from wandering off course, 28 members of the bicycle corps of the Massachusetts Militia were prepared to escort the runners along their way and provide much needed refreshment.
At precisely 12:19 p.m., Olympic 100 and 400 meter champion Thomas Burke marked a line in the dust of the road with his foot and solemnly called out each entrant's number. As the runner's edged close to the starting line and jostled each other for position, Burke shouted for the race to begin. The first Boston Marathon was underway.
All fifteen runners immediately broke into an ill-advised sprint. Three men were later reported to be red-faced and wheezing before the pack had travelled one-hundred yards. But after a few moments the pace slowed. At the end of the first mile, all 15 runners still ran together in a tight bunch.
As the athletes settled into a more realistic pace, the field began to stretch out. Along the road to Framingham, about five miles from the start, a pack of four runners broke away. In first place was Harvard's Dick Grant, a crimson ribbon stretched across his chest. On his shoulder, matching him step-by-step was Hamilton Gray of New York. McDermott and another New Yorker, John Kiernan, followed close behind.
Apart from their own fatigue, the runner's first obstacle was the dust kicked up by their bicycle escorts. The lead pack had trouble breathing, a situation similar to one sometimes faced by runners in today's race, who have complained about the exhaust spewed out by police motorcycle escorts and the contingent of press trucks that now pace the race. Fortunately for Grant and the others, a stiff wind at their back helped dissipate the dust and push the runners toward Boston.
Thirty-six minutes into the race, the lead pack dashed through the first check-point in Framingham. Seeing the runners and cyclists zoom past, some holiday spectators decided to celebrate the day by joining the group on the trip to Boston. Close by the runner's heels a long line of horse-drawn wagons, carriages, and even the odd, sputtering motorcycle joined in the impromptu parade. Meanwhile, three entrants decided that running to Framingham was marathon enough, and dropped out.
Battling one another for the lead, Grant and Gray left Framingham and entered the town of Natick. In the city center crowds pressed so close the men were forced to run in single file. But outside of town the throng cleared out and once again Gray and Grant ran side-by-side.
Halfway to Boston, they remained tied for the lead as they approached Wellesley, urged on, as today's runners are, by a retinue of Wellesley College coeds. But encouragement alone, even from the wildly enthusiastic college women, could not fuel Grant for the entire race. Due to his spur-of-the-moment entry, he failed to line up a bicycle escort to supply him with refreshment like the other runners. While the competition sipped water, sucked lemons, and wiped sweat from their faces with wet towels, Grant began to show signs of fatigue. Still, he managed to stay even with Gray.
As the two men pressed through the Wellesley Hills, Gray took note of Grant's struggle and magnanimously offered him his own canteen. Replenished by Gray's touch of sportsmanship, Grant gamely hung on.
As the two shared provisions, John McDermott, in third place, took advantage of both and surged into the lead. Disheartened, the virtuous Gray began to fade.
For the next mile Grant fought to stay with McDermott as growing crowds urged the underdog on. But as the two men charged down a hill just before the village of Newton Lower Falls, Grant's water deficit caught up with him and he began to stumble. He weakly raised his hand and waved at a passing water wagon that sprayed town streets to keep down dust. The carriage stopped, Grant slumped beside it and the driver gave him an unscheduled shower. He stood up, ran a few steps more, then stopped again. Dehydration and blisters forced him from the race.
Now McDermott ran alone. Entering Auburndale he led John Kiernan, in second place, by more than a mile. Gray faded to third, but was soon passed by an unimposing man named Edward Rhell. An utter surprise and running neophyte, Rhell calmly plodded on, never rushing, never looking back, apparently impervious to the physical demands of the race.
In complete control of the race, McDermott had only to conquer his growing fatigue to claim victory. Kiernan slipped even farther back, playing hare to Rhell's determined tortoise. For the remainder of the race, Kiernan intermittently stopped running and walked until Rhell came into view, only to start running again and pull away.
McDermott appeared to be in fine shape as he crested what a later observer dubbed "Heartbreak Hill," but even then the long slope extracted its toll. As McDermott headed downhill, his calves knotted and cramped. Finally, he slowed to a walk. Far behind, Kiernan and Rhell pulled closer.
After walking for several minutes, McDermott resumed running. But after a few hundred yards the cramps returned and he stopped again. His cycle escorts rushed to his side and began frantically rubbing his calves. Again McDermott tried to run, only to stop once more.
This time one of the escorts handed McDermott a flask of brandy. He tilted his head back and took a healthy belt as the escorts pounded their fists into his cramps. The cramps disappeared and McDermott raced toward the Chestnut Hill Reservoir refreshed.
Only a few miles from the finish, over two hours since he left Ashland, McDermott turned down Beacon Street and raced through Brookline. Hundreds cheered him at Coolidge Corner, and for the remainder of the race the sidewalks were filled with crowds urging him onward.
McDermott entered the City of Boston at Kenmore Square. As he turned down Commonwealth Avenue riding an invigorating wave of emotion, several bike escorts sprinted ahead. When they reached the finish line at the Irvington Oval athletic track, just outside Copley Square and only a hundred yards or so from where today's race ends, three thousand anxious spectators roared as they learned of the runner's impending arrival.
Yet one final obstacle remained in McDermott's path. With victory less than a mile away, he raced down Commonwealth Avenue into Boston's Back Bay. But at Massachusetts Avenue, in contrast to the festive holiday crowd, a formal funeral procession solemnly crept by, blocking his way.
Undaunted, McDermott hardly broke stride as pushed through the crowd and into the street, ducking and dashing between carriages. The cortege abruptly came to a halt as he ran past, much to the consternation of two drivers whose brand new electric automobiles stalled and refused to re-start.
McDermott turned right at Exeter Street. As he approached Huntington Avenue he came within view of the crowd at the Oval. At the sight of one lone runner surrounded by every manner of wheeled vehicle, they began to roar.
As McDermott raced into the Oval and began the single lap around the track that marked the end of the race, dozens of spectators left their seats and surged around him, slapping his back and offering congratulations. Now he broke into a sprint, a weary smile on his faced, and circled the track in only forty seconds.
As he crossed the finish line in front of the stands, he fell into the arms of the adoring mob, who lifted him to their shoulders. It was 3:14 in the afternoon, two hours, 55 minutes and 10 seconds since he took his first step toward Boston from Ashland. The time bettered the recent Olympic mark by ten seconds and set an unofficial world record.
A few minutes later John Kiernan, then Rhell, and over the next hour, seven other finishers slowly made their way into the Oval. As each man arrived, more and more members of the crowd slowly dispersed, buzzing over McDermott's heroic achievement. For his efforts, he received a B.A.A. shield mounted on oak valued at $35, and his own unique place in marathon history.
Best of all, unlike Pheidippides' tragic run, it did not take another 2347 years for the Boston Marathon to be run again. Today in Boston, thousands of men and women will follow the path first blazed by John McDermott.

APRIL 19, 1897

1. John J. McDermott 2:55:10

2. John J. Kiernan 3:02:02

3. Edward Rhell 3:06:02

4. Hamilton Gray 3:11:37

5. H.D. Eggleston 3:17:50

6. J. Mason 3:31:00

7. W. Ryan 3:41:25

8. Larry Brignolia 4:06:12

9. Harry Leonard 4:08:00

10. A.T. Howe 4:10:00

Competed, but did not finish:

Dick Grant, W.A. Mitchell, E.F. Peete, H.L. Morrill, J.E. Enright

Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Real Gods in Red Stockings

I was recently asked by Boston Magazine to be one of the voter to create a “roster of players who have best embodied the spirit and values of the [Red Sox] organization through the years, players who have truly captured what it means to be a member of the Boston Red Sox,” who exhibit that “unique combination of grit, hustle, charm, and character…[that] make certain guys quintessential Red Sox.” Well, on a historical basis I sort of disagree that there is some kind of “unique combination of grit, hustle, charm, and character…[that] make certain guys quintessential Red Sox.” But there are, I think, still traits that create quintessential Red Sox guys, and I do kind of find them endearing, but perhaps not in the way you envision. And let’s not forget that Red Sox history began in 1901, not 2004. That changes everything, and so have I.

Catcher: As much as I’d like to vote for Lou Criger, the only Red Sox catcher known to be addicted to morphine, Criger had no nickname, and behind the plate Boston has always gone for nickname guys who as soon as you thought they could hit, stopped. Like Birdie (Tebbetts), Hick (Cady), Rough (Carrigan), and Tek (Vari). You get the idea. Although my heart wants to go with Samuel Charles White, who once owned “Sammy” White’s bowling alley in Allston, I can not ignore Richard Leo Gedman, aka “Geddy” on the ubiquitous Red Sox painter’s caps that everyone wore in the ’80s. And who could forget the futility of that Walt Hriniak inspired helicopter swing? Raises my blood pressure just thinking about it.

First base: For the Red Sox? Big…check. Slow… check. One dimensional… check. Recruited to hit home runs over the left field wall… check. The answer is Dick Stuart, “Doctor Strangeglove” the quintessential Red Sox first baseman of the last seventy-five seasons.

Second base: Marty Barrett. The typical Red Sox second baseman hits in Fenway Park, particularly doubles, but nowhere else, and is then discarded and made a non-person by the organization. Barrett was the first in a line forgotten demi-gods that would also include Jody Reed, Jose Offerman, Todd Walker and Mark Bellhorn. There is a seat being saved for Dustin Pedroia in a few more years.

Shortstop: This means a good hit, no field guy, a player who can play shortstop only for the Red Sox. My vote is for Junior Stephens, who bumped Johnny Pesky to third base. Knocked in 159 runs in 1949 and let 159 ground balls through the hole.

Third Base: On style points alone, I’d like to vote for Boston’s own sex addict, Wade Boggs, but I can’t. The best and most important third baseman in Red Sox history is Hall of Famer Jimmie Collins, who changed the way the position as played, served as the teams’ first captain, and helped recruit most of the players that delivered Boston its first world championship in 1903. You can look it up, and most Sox fans should.

Left Field: This is too easy. Ted wins. Good hitter who hated the press, traits he passed on to Yaz and Rice.

Center Field: Dom DiMaggio. Because only in Boston will people still try to convince you that the bespectacled “Little Professor” was better than his brother Joe. But that’s because Bostonians always believe that “ours” is better than “theirs,” as in a “spuckie” versus a “gyro.” And if you have to Google “spuckie,” you’re from somewhere else and not from Boston at all, so take that NY crap outta here, pal...

Right Field: Yeah, I’ll go with Trot Nixon here. Over-rated every second he was in Boston, Nixon nonetheless managed to parlay bad hat hygiene and the utter inability to hit lefties into a ten year career as Boston’s right fielder, during which time he took home, but did not earn, almost thirty million dollars. Think of that. But if he was so good, how com no one misses him? Answer: Because he could not play.

Designated Hitter: A year ago I would have voted for David Ortiz, but now I think he’s as dirty as A-rod or Manny. In which case he fits right in, because most Boston DH’s have been vast disappointments and nothing was more disappointing than learning that Big Papi, like everything else in baseball over the last twenty years, is really a Big Fraud. So on second thought, it's Ortiz after all.

Starting Pitchers: Historically, most Red Sox starters are either total divas or complete characters.

Roger Clemens, but only in his “Possessed Rebel” stage.

Pedro Martinez, the last man in the majors who had his own personal dwarf as a good luck charm. At the turn of the century, this was quite common. Really.

Oil Can Boyd. LOVE the Can. Only Sox pitcher ever honored by the National Geographic Society after his discovery of the ocean off the coast of Cleveland.

Cy Young. Neither a diva not a character, Young once said “Pitchers, like Poets, are born and not made.” My kind of guy. And with Young on the staff, who won 511 games and usually started about 45 games a year, you don’t need a fifth starter.

Relief Pitcher: I have to go with a personal favorite here. Remember Steve Crawford? Pitched from the pen for the Sox in 1986 and 1987. How good was he? Well in 1997 I faced Steve Crawford – who is the same age as I am – at a Red Sox fantasy camp and lined a single to right center. When you give up a hit to a sports writer… well, that makes you the quintessential Red Sox reliever!

Manager: Jimy Williams is the only candidate here, because the typical Red Sox manager has been an inscrutable child of the south who made decisions after consulting either the kabbalah, chicken innards, or, like Joe McCarthy before the 1948 playoff game, a bottle of White Horse scotch. I’m not quite sure what Williams used, but whenever I hear the phrase “manager’s decision” today, I go into spasms and have to take my pills.

PS: The picture shows my brother, seated, with the 2004 Championship trophy, something that meant less to him than anyone else in all New England, becasue he could not care less about baseball, which is one of the many things I like about the guy.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Advice for a Young Writer

One of the greatest challenges a young writer will ever face is continuing to write without the forced deadline of a school assignment or a job. It is a test that will determine whether you are meant for this or something else. To start, writing for money is probably the last thing you should be thinking about - no one coming out of college is best served by waiting for a writing job to write. And if you do get one, it may be covering select board meetings and/or the paper towel industry. That is fine and well, but just a start.

Becoming a writer is a decision and a practice, not a job. Whatever work you do can feed your decision, for the practice of one task can inform another. Seek out others interested in words so there is a running conversation about writing taking place in your life. At the same time you should be thinking about stories and embarking on reading that school has not supplied - at its best, formal education prepares you to abandon formal education and start learning on your own - now is the time to start. Look at that as an assignment in itself - report, for yourself, on the paths over writers have taken. Trace those paths through reading. Read what the writers you like most have read. When you find yourself interested in any kind of topic, write it, when you think of an idea, write it, when you think of a phrase, write it, hear some dialogue, write it. Carry a notebook with you at all times. Get into the habit - write anything, notes, sketches, descriptions, etc. You need to write until you don't think about writing when you are writing. Study how stories are framed. Share work with friends. Try everything, all genres. Read everything. It all adds up, and you will never be more prepared to sink in neck deep in words than right now. If you put that off you will find it very difficult to return.

It was six years after college before I published a word. The only reason I did or could was that in the interim I kept reading and writing, steeped myself in it, and kept that - not just "a job" - the priority.

It wasn't practical, but nothing about this or any of the arts is. To paraphrase someone wiser than myself, being professional is doing what you should be doing when no one is watching.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Give to Haiti, Get a Book.

Let’s try to do some good here. I don’t have to tell you what is happening in Haiti and how they are in need of everything, but I was looking around my office the other day and came up with an idea that might give a small measure of help.

Here’s the deal – I have extra copies of some of my books (see list below). In exchange for a donation to the reputable charity of your choice, I’ll send you copy of the book signed by me.

All you have to do is the following:

1) Select a book from the list below.

2) Send me an e-mail to that says “I’ll make a donation in exchange for [NAME OF BOOK]. When I receive and acknowledge your e-mail, the book is now reserved for you. If you want to get more than one book, send an e-mail for each.

3) Pick out the Haiti charity of your choice, such as the Red Cross, Doctors without Borders, UNICEF, etc. Write them a check for at least the minimum dollar amount listed next to each book.

4) Address and stamp an envelope to that charity and put the check in the envelope, but DO NOT seal it.

5) Then put that envelope in another envelope, along with your address and send it to me at Glenn Stout, PO BOX 549, Alburgh VT, 05440. DO NOT SEND ME CASH.

6) When I get your letter, I’ll open it, make sure you’ve enclosed a check and stamped envelope to your charity, seal it up and send it off for you, then send your book to you by media mail. No need to include postage

7) That’s all it takes. Yes, you could probably buy them cheaper, but they would not be signed, and that’s not really the point, is it?

Here is a list of the books available and the minimum donation I am asking for.

The Best American Sports Writing 1994, guest edited by Tom Boswell. Paperback. Two copies. $10 each

The Best American Sports Writing 2005, guest edited by Buzz Bissinger. Hardbound. Five copies. $15 each

The Best American Sports Writing 2005, guest edited by Mike Lupica. Hardbound. Two copies available. $15 each

The Best American Sports Writing 2007, guest edited by David Maraniss. Hardbound. Eight copies available. $15 each

The Best American Sports Writing 2008, edited by William Nack. Hardbound. Three copies available. $15 each

Everything They Had: Sports Writing from David Halberstam. Hardbound. One copy. $20 each [no longer available]

The Cubs: The Complete story of Chicago Cubs Baseball. This is a big, beautiful, giant text-heavy illustrated book. Hardbound. Four copies. $40 each

If these sell out maybe I’ll poke through some more boxes and see if I have any others. And if you feel like sending more than what I ask, well, you’ll feel even better and we’ll do more good.

Many thanks.