Friday, September 30, 2011

PHANTOM COLUMN: The Greatest Sox Team EVER

Postseason tickets printed and un-used are called phantoms. Here is my "phantom" Chin Music column from the now unpublished postseason issue of "Boston Baseball." And remember, if you still want to celebrate a championship, or celebrate Fenway Park see my new book, Fenway 1912. They win in this one.

At this time of year it is sometimes helpful to look back at the optimistic, crayola tinged predictions of the spring. Entering into this season more than one prognosticator deemed the 2011 Red the “the greatest ever” and predicted season win total of 100, 105 even (and, I kid you not, 120 wins. Oh, and that World Series thing? The tiniest of hurdles.

Those observers who have witnessed more than just the most recent decade know that, historically, things are generally not quite that easy. The title of “greatest Sox team ever” currently resides where it has for the last 99 years, with Fenway Park’s first residents, the boys of 1912. They went 105-47 in the regular season, plus a hard fought and memorable victory over the hated New York Giants in the eight game 1912 World Series that netted them another four wins (plus one tie) for a final victory total of 109.

This team, for all its accomplishments, is not that team, although there are some interesting parallels.

For one, both the 1912 and 2011 Red Sox featured a emerging star in centerfield who put together an MVP worthy season. Tris Speaker played centerfield for the 1912 Sox, hit .383 and led the team in almost everything, just as Jacoby Ellsbury is doing this year, although major difference is that Speaker ended up in Cooperstown and Ellsbury seems destined for Seattle when his contract ends. Then again, Speaker was dealt to Cleveland a few years after his MVP season.

Both clubs also featured a new first baseman, and here the candidates are Adrian Gonzalez for the 2011’s versus Jake Stahl for the ‘12s. And while Gonzalez has had a wonderful year, he was not quite Jake Stahl, who in addition to providing a bump offensively was also the 11’s Terry Francona and Tom Werner, serving both as manager and as a minority owner.

Now the metaphor starts to stretch, although both clubs employed a catching tandem consisting of one crippled veteran and one raw recruit, Varitek and Saltalamachia versus Rough Bill Carrigan and Hick Cady. Each also had an infielder with a surprisingly potent bat (Dustin Pedroia and Larry Gardner), and a left fielder who inspired nickname. Duffy Lewis of the 1912’s had a cliff nicknamed after him in the new Fenway. So too, has Carl Crawford inspired a name or too. Unfortunately, they are unprintable. In right, Hall of Famer Harry Hooper patrolled the field for ‘12’s – J.D. Drew was paid like a Hall of Famer to do the same for the ‘11’s, although here the metaphor begins to strain beyond belief.

It thoroughly falls apart on the mound. Smoky Joe Wood was 34-5 for ‘12’s. There is, to some surprise, his equivalent on the 11’s. In fact there are four, if you add up the positive qualities and victories of Beckett, Lester, Bard and Papelbon and ignore their failures. That’s how good Wood was in 1912. Take the Sox top four pitchers this year cumulatively, overlooks each bad game and you begin to approach Smoky Joe Wood.

Enough of similarities. The difference lies in, well, the difference. And that is in the unpredictable nature of reality versus prognostication. Greatness is potential realized and to be great you have to remain on the field. The ‘12’s, with the medical assistance of a bottle of iodine and (perhaps) a bucket of Epsom salts, stayed free of serious injuries for most of the season, losing only a few players for a few weeks (Ray Collins, Hick Cady and Jake Stahl) to injuries of the knees and ankles, while everyone else managed to play through things like charlie horses, abscessed teeth and hangovers with nary an antibiotic, PED or a cortisone shot in sight.

Not so with the 11’s, for which hangnails have taken on the specter of gloom once reserved for the grippe. The supposed “greatest Sox team ever” has been neither healthy nor particularly resilient or gallant, while the ‘12’s, for what I’ve learned about them, probably stitched wounds up with barbed wire. Just before the end of the season, for example, Larry Gardner dislocated a finger, the bone popping though the skin. A little over a week later, he was back on the field. That’s the kind of injury that would put J.D. Drew in intensive care for a month.

That is where the lesson lies and that’s what is so great about the postseason. It is the time of no excuses and where predictions vaporize before reality. To win, you actually have to play the games, and for this team, once known as “greatest Sox team ever” that means staying on the field. It is there, and not the disabled list, where the possibility of redemption and glory reside. While it may be too late for the ‘11s to be the greatest Sox team ever, a successful run in October could keep them from being the most disappointing.

Glenn stout is the author of Fenway 1912. For more see Glenn’s website,

Thursday, September 29, 2011


The brief passage below sort of sums it up. Or course, I originally wrote it in Red Sox Century back in 2000. All I had to do was add a few names . . .

. . . In the last month of the regular season History came alive. The major events of the Red Sox improbable past began to repeat and twist into the present. The 2011 Red Sox began re-enacting the roles of their ancestors in some strange public ritual. The whole history of the Red Sox was destined to be replayed and repeated, then replayed and repeated in one game while waiting for one pitch that never came, changing everything and nothing.

Hangovers were instantaneous, severe and violent. Mike Torrez screamed “I’m off the hook!” Darrell Johnson was sprayed with champagne in the Met clubhouse. Bill Buckner danced a jig on his ranch in Idaho, while Carl Crawford, Jonathan Papelbon and a cast of thousands not named Jacoby Ellsbury pushed Pesky aside, their careers distilled into a single moment, the lead of their obituaries already written. The whole 2011 roster elbowed their way past Stanley and Schiraldi and Galehouse and Willoughby. Don Zimmer, Joe McCarthy, Joe Cronin, John McNamara and Grady Little welcomed Terry Francona to the brotherhood while Joe Maddon looked on in sympathy, Buck Showalter grinned and pushed the pin into the voodoo doll a little deeper and Theo Epstein felt the pain and tried to peel the target off his forehead. Robert Andino joined Aaron Boone and Mookie and Bucky as an improbable villain and regional epithet. The dark corner deep in the heart of all Red Sox fans everywhere, the one that appeared to have healed got ripped open and suddenly seemed a little darker, a lot more crowded, and a whole lot more unpleasant.

More than one Boston fan woke the next morning and either logged on or turned on the television or clicked on the radio to confirm that the ultimate nightmare had indeed taken place. It had.

History returned to the Boston Red Sox. Fenway Park, at the end of its one hundredth season,* would have to wait at least one more season to host its first full blown championship celebration.

The worst month ever was over.

*Note: Championship celebrations in both 1912 and 1918 were both muted and took place before a half empty ballpark due to the unique circumstances of those World Series.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Fenway Park Ground Breaking 100 Years Ago

One hundred years ago today, September 25, with little ceremony or fanfare, construction on Fenway Park began. It had been common knowledge in Boston for quite some time that a new park would be built, and that it would be built in the Fens, on a parcel of property once known as part of the "Dana Lands," the ancestral holding s of one of New England's most prominent families, but construction was held up until the sale of the club from the Taylor family to a consortium headed by James McAleer was made official. When the papers were signed, the work began.

Six months later, Fenway Park opened for business.

I tell the entire story, and much much more, including a complete construction and architectural history of the park and, as one reviewer wrote:

"So many cool facts were included in this book that I've forgotten more than I've remembered and I'm probably going to have to re-read at least some of it again. Since I've no knowledge of baseball prior to the eighties it was fun to read about the 1912 season during which the Red Sox and the Giants fought for baseball dominance. This is a great book with more Red Sox/Fenway facts than you'll know what to do with."

For more, including a selection from the Prologue, see the Amazon listing (click"editorial reviews" for the Prologue)

or my website,

Friday, September 16, 2011


And they are terrific.

“In the capable hands of Stout, it promises to make all other books about Fenway’s construction and first season obsolete.” - Sports

“Along with Chicago’s Wrigley Field, Boston’s Fenway Park represents the last physical connection to baseball’s early-twentieth-century history. . . Stout, editor of The Best American Sports Writing series reprises Fenway’s first year, culminating with the dramatic Sox’s victory over the New York Giants in an eight-game World Series, four games to three (the second game was declared a tie). Stout also examines the press coverage of the era. So many reporters would converge on the Series that the Sox greatly expanded the press box rather than give journalists valuable box seats. He also examines the prevalence of gambling, which would reach scandal proportions with the 1919 Black Sox, but in 1912, all the principals looked the other way. In addition, there are miniprofiles of players such as Smoky Joe Wood and Tris Speaker of the Sox as well as the larger-than-life owners and managers of the era. While some sports histories are bone-dry and distant, Stout imbues his account with a unique vibrancy and a razor-sharp intelligence. A wonderful sports book.” - Starred review, Booklist

“BEST BASEBALL BOOK EVER: If you are a lifelong Red Sox fan, a lifelong Red Sox hater, a rabid baseballholic or merely a casual baseball fan, Glenn Stout’s new book, Fenway 1912, is an amazing read into the birth of a ballpark, the 1912 Red Sox and the transition to the modern baseball era. His ability to weave together the tiniest detail and apparent minutiae into a rip-roaring page-turner that is hard to put down is simply amazing. If someone had told me that I’d be fascinated by the 1912 Red Sox I’d have laughed outright, but Mr. Stout is able to make the reader care about a baseball season that happened almost 100 years ago. Even if you are a confirmed Red Sox hater – if you love baseball you’ll find plenty to like in this book. If you know a Red Sox fan there probably isn’t a better book to give to them as gift. And if you haven’t had the privilege of visiting Fenway Park you’ll find yourself thinking about how to go to a few games in the Friendly Confines of Fenway to watch a baseball game in the oldest ballpark in the major leagues. I can whole-heartedly recommend this book. I’ll be buying several copies to give as gifts this holiday season." – Amazon reader review

“From tearing up the sod from a previous ballfield and moving it to the under-construction Fenway to details about the construction of the building to the intricacies of the daily life of the players, every detail of Fenway Park is covered in this book. Mr. Stout clearly has a passion for his material, and I am amazed at the research that must have gone into this. Anyone involved in this project is discussed: groundskeeper, architect, coaches, owners, players. Even at 416 pages, this wasn’t boring and kept me reading even though I don’t follow baseball. . . This has got to be THE definitive work on this subject. I can’t imagine even a dissertation that could be more complete.” - ADVANCE REVIEW via netgalley

“Fenway 1912 is not [just] light reading & pretty pictures. There’s going to be stuff in there that even Dick Bresciani doesn’t know. . . a book that everyone who covers this team has to buy, and read, and keep handy, so that when people ask us where the bones are buried, we can look wise and have the answer at our fingertips.“ -Boston Baseball

“To many fans, Fenway is the Mecca of baseball, a symbol of everything the game represents and aspires to be. But in 1912, it was just one of four new baseball stadiums utilizing newly developed concrete-and-steel construction methods—evidence, writes Best American Sports Writing series editor Stout (Young Woman and the Sea: How Trudy Ederle Conquered the English Channel and Inspired the World, 2009, etc.) “of just how deeply the game of baseball had become ingrained into the fabric of American life.” The Sox’ 1912 season was a remarkable one, and the author takes the reader inside the locker room, management offices and the field. The team featured such luminaries as Hall-of-Famer Tris Speaker, pitching ace “Smoky” Joe Wood, player/manager Jake Stahl and a supporting cast of characters including Duffy Lewis, “Hick” Cady, “Heinie” Wagner, Buck O’Brien and the Sox’ famous booster club the Royal Rooters. But the book’s most important character is Fenway itself, and Stout spares no detail of its design, construction and effect on the game. The author’s meticulous approach makes the book a valuable addition to baseball history . . . The author does an excellent job of portraying the differences in the game between that era—when “the owners were the kings and the players lowly serfs”—and today. Throughout, Fenway Park, “a ballpark for the heart and soul,” shines as a beacon for America’s game. Baseball diehards and historians, and of course Red Sox fans, will find much of interest in this paean to one of sport’s most famous venues.” – KIRKUS Reviews

“In his new work, Stout (Red Sox Century) turns back the clock to 1912 to capture the first season the Boston Red Sox played on their now storied home field. The author gives a detailed account of how Fenway was constructed using “reinforced concrete,” an improvement from the wooden ballpark it replaced. Of course, a ballpark is nothing without a team, and Stout weaves the story of the new ballpark into the saga of the Red Sox ownership, players, fans, and the city of Boston. . . Stout’s knowledge of the sport and passion for the game certainly come across in his writing, especially when he is uncovering little known details of this bygone era of baseball. The book is full of fun and informative anecdotes about Fenway’s past and present including the connection between the ballpark and the sinking of Titanic, the origins of the term “Green Monster,” and how the new field with its cliff in left field, its short porch in right, and the bleachers in center affected Sox outfielders Duffy Lewis and Tris Speaker. Finished off with an epilogue that captures the major moments in Fenway history, this work is a well-constructed tribute to Fenway on its upcoming 100th anniversary. – Publisher’s Weekly

for more see or join Fenway 1912 on facebook

Friday, September 9, 2011

Nine Months at Ground Zero

Note: Five years ago, with Charlie Vitchers and Bobby Gray, I wrote Nine Months at Ground Zero, an oral history of the response of the construction workers to the 9/11 attacks at the World Trade Center. As this anniversary apporaches, their story remains one of honor and resiliance, a testimony to the strength that we draw from others. At a time when so many memories are so painful, their story remains an inspiration.

To Charlie Vitchers, Bobby Gray and other construction workers in New York, the attack on the World Trade Center and subsequent collapse of the Towers was a sucker punch to the gut.

They knew thousands of innocents had been killed, that their city and their country had been attacked. Their outrage did not stop there. Something they had built with their own hands had been taken down. Their work had been destroyed, their legacy ruined, the collective memory of their industry wiped off the map. Not only did almost everybody working in construction in New York know someone who worked at the Trade Center – a neighbor or a cousin, a co-worker or a friend – many had worked there themselves, either when the buildings were first built or later, as other buildings went up in the complex or floors of the Towers were retrofitted for tenants. They took the attacks personally.

The World Trade Center complex were not just two of the largest and best- known structures in the world, they were the signature buildings of the New York construction industry, the epitome of what it could create. Over the course of their construction, which began in 1966, thousands of union tradesmen had worked on the Towers, and their success sparked a new era in New York hi-rise construction. In a city which hadn’t seen its skyline change dramatically in years, after the Towers were built there were suddenly cranes everywhere. Over the next few decades New York’s skyline would take on an entirely new silhouette.

The Towers themselves were so enormous that their construction inspired logistical innovations never before used in New York construction. Each of the 200,000 steel columns, panel and joist was etched and stenciled with a code. None were fabricated on site. Each was a unique piece of an incredibly complicated puzzle. The steel itself was lifted in place by a method developed in Australia, what were known as “Kangaroo cranes,” or “tower cranes,” cranes attached to a tower fixed to the structure, that jacked itself up and rose with the building. Despite their novelty, New York tradesmen had easily adapted and both had since become more or less standard in high-rise construction in New York and elsewhere.

The construction workers who built the Towers carried the experience as a badge of honor – they had built the biggest and the best, succeeding spectacularly, a once in a lifetime opportunity. Since first breaching the New York skyline, the Trade Center was the touchstone against which all other jobs were compared in scale and complexity, still discussed during coffee breaks and over beers after work. As older worker passed away, it was not uncommon to find a line in a newspaper obituary that noted that the deceased had helped build the Towers.

But when the Towers were attacked and then fell, the sense of pride and accomplishment the construction workers felt was cut off at the ground. The buildings were down, and in some strange way, though through no fault of their own, they had failed because what was never meant to fall somehow had. In response, the had an instinctive reaction. Before anyone articulated the need for their skills, thousands of them knew that now another job was calling them out, one that only they knew they could do. The rough logic of their own experience as ironworkers, laborers, carpenters, electricians, crane operators and dozens of other trades told them that just as only they had once built the Towers, they were now the only people in the world equipped for the task ahead. They had the skills, and more importantly, they felt an obligation, a duty. Their response was simple and uncomplicated; anything they had built, they could take down, because before anything else could be built in its place – and they believed it would – they had to erase what had just taken place.

With that realization a new challenge began to take shape. From a pile of rubble so immense that it resisted description, they would restore order. That was the only job that mattered now.

To Read Chapter One, see: