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 firstname.lastname@example.org, or Jamie McGlone, Clerk to the Board of Trustees email@example.com, 700 Boylston St., Boston MA 02116 617-536-5400, Mayor Thomas Menino,firstname.lastname@example.org, 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.