Monday, September 3, 2012

What to Look Forward to this Fall in New England: A Guide for Red Sox Fans

A lot of chores just got green lighted. And it’s all Josh Beckett’s fault. Beckett and A-Gone’s. And Crawford’s.

The past two seasons the Red Sox failure to make the playoffs came too late to do any lasting harm. Once it became obvious that the Sox were staying home in October, so were you, the space in the easy chair already reserved for the season. It was almost winter, for crying out loud, far too late to add a whole extra months of chores to the schedule. You told her you can’t paint this late in the year – it violates the laws of physics or something like that – it was on Mythbusters - and it’s just gonna have to wait ‘til the spring. And even though she didn’t believe you would do it then, either, from the look on your face she realized you were in mourning and let you get away with it. It was then possible to transition directly into football, basketball and hockey without putting down either the remote or the beer. Life was good.

Not this year. All over New England the projects of seasons’ past, the one’s you’ve talked about doing but never got around to because it’s a pennant race for criss sakes and I hafta watch the game, are about to be dredged up and placed before you. All the garages that haven’t been painted and the decks that have been rotting away, the toilet she wants you to fix and the closet she wants you to clean, and – well get out the shovels and the brooms and the brushes, brother, because this year your excuses are all gone. Boston’s loss is Home Depot’s gain.

And don’t think just one or two chores will be the end of it either, because they won’t be. There’s still plenty of time for family activities, you know, the “fun” ones you hate. Those drives to see the fall colors you’ve were always able to ditch because the radio reception is terrible outside I-495? It doesn’t matter now. Gas up the car, because this year you’re going. Remember how she’s always wanted to go antiquing, starting early some Saturday morning and driving to New Hampshire and then having an overpriced lunch at some kind of Ye Olde Inn on the way back? I hope you’re in the mood for acorn squash soup and remember how to strip varnish.

Do you like maple syrup? Well you’re gonna love it this year because you’re taking her to Vermont and buying a couple gallons at $50 each and then she’s gonna go gluten free. And while you’re up there you’re going to have to stay in a Bed and Breakfast without TV and chat with people from Pennsylvania while sitting on doilies because this fall Jerry and Don are chattering to the crickets. She doesn’t even care about “Pedey” anymore. Now that the Sox are losers, cute got old real quick.

That still leaves… apple picking! You’ll have to drive out to some godforsaken town in Worcester County, and get lost coming and going, to pick the same goddamn apples they got at Price Chopper. Then when you get home you’ll have to sit there and core and peel the little buggers for hours while she turns them into apple sauce that will sit in the basement for years before bursting out of the jars, oozing onto the floor and giving you another job to do..

Those leaves in the yard, the one’s you’ve always looked at and said “God will rake ‘em up?” , and then depended on the mat of detritus to kill the grass so there won’t be as much to cut next summer? This year God is you and you’re gonna be out there raking every waking moment of the weekend you’re not painting or driving or pretending to smile , cursing Beckett and Gonzalez and Crawford with every breath.

Come Monday morning you’ll be a little sore. It didn’t used to be like this, did it? Noooo. That’s because the last time you had this much time in the fall Tim Wakefield was a kid, Johnny Pesky was still hitting fungoes and you could still bend over and tie your shoes. Those days are gone. So get ready, and get out the Icy Hot. It’s gonna be a long and painful autumn.

Thanks a lot, Red Sox. Home Depot appreciates the business. Meanwhile my aching back has a few choice words for that little twit Theo for getting us into this mess.

Glenn Stout is an author, a contributing editor to SB Nation and series editor of The Best American Sports Writing. The 2012 edition, guest edited by Michael Wilbon, and Fenway 1912 will both be available in paperback in October. This article is from the September edition of Boston Baseball.

Friday, August 3, 2012


In the spring of 1985 I was twenty-seven years old, four years out of college with a degree in Creative Writing and working at the Boston Public Library, mostly moving books. A few months earlier, an attempt to go to grad school for a Master’s degree had fallen apart. The school I really wanted to attend rejected me and another, although I was accepted, would not offer any financial aid. Already saddled with $10,000 in student loan debt, I withdrew.

I was working at the library because that was where the books were, and because there were also some people there who liked books and writing, which was important to me. I was involved in the local poetry scene, held a weekly beerfest and poetry salon in my apartment, but at age twenty-seven I had essentially published nothing.

I was, however, doing quite a bit of reading, and one day I read a few paragraphs about the suicide of Boston Red Sox manager Chick Stahl in the spring of 1907. One sentence stood out. It claimed he had killed himself because of “the pressures of managing.”

Even though I wasn’t a Red Sox fan my bullshit detector went off. If the pressure of managing the Red Sox had killed Chick Stahl then why hadn’t Darrell Johnson or Don Zimmer done the same? There should have been a whole graveyard full of former Boston managers.

I was intrigued and wanted to find out why he really killed himself, so I started poking around. Books on baseball history told me very little beyond the fact that most books on baseball history were pretty bad, so I went to the newspapers. The library has an amazing collection of Massachusetts newspapers on microfilm and I started in on one of the eight or nine Boston dailies that existed at the time, using my lunch hour and break times to scroll through film.

Over a few weeks I began to figure out what happened, printing out page after page and taking notes to keep track of what I was learning. I kept going in deeper and deeper. When I told my girlfriend what I was learning and she didn’t fall asleep I began to realize that other people, even strangers, might also be interested. I started to think about turning it into a story.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have a clue about how to sell it, much less write it. I had been editor of my high school newspaper and won a number of state and local awards at the time, but apart from writing academic papers in college, I had had only written poetry and had abandoned prose entirely.

So what to do? Well, I was working in a library, after all. Perhaps there was a book that would tell me what to do.

There was. It was called “How to Be a Freelance Writer” and included a chapter about how to pitch a story to an editor, what information to include in the cover letter, and other practical tips, including sample pitch letters.

Over the course of the next few days I pored over the book and did exactly what it told me to do. I identified two local publications that I thought might be interested in the story, The Boston Globe Sunday Magazine and Boston Magazine, and I found out the name of each editor. Then I formulated a cover letter and a three paragraph pitch that said what the story was, who would be interested in reading it, why I was the only person who could write it, how long it would be and when I could deliver it, meticulously typing out two copies of each on my little portable electric typewriter using the same few fingers I still use today. Then I sent the pitches out by mail and waited.

Three or four days later an envelope arrived with the return address of the Boston Globe. I opened it and discovered a mimeographed letter thanking me for my submission and informing me that the Globe really wasn’t interested.

It wasn’t even signed. I felt stupid and naïve. I was certain that a similar letter from Boston Magazine would soon follow.

Then I got a phone call. I can’t remember precisely who called – I think it was an editorial assistant or secretary - but Boston Magazine editor Ken Hartnett wanted to see me the next day at 11:00 a.m..


My hair hung down to my ass and not only didn’t I have a suit, I didn’t have a tie. I figured a pony tail would take care of the hair but I still needed clothes. A T-ride to the Salvation Army store in Brighton and fifteen dollars solved the problem.

I called in sick to work the next day, drank too much coffee, cleaned up and walked into Editor Ken Hartnett’s office, hair combed and tied back, smelling faintly of mothballs, an aspiring writer.

Hartnett was old school, banty rooster Irish with big bushy eyebrows, a voice that sounded like it had been dipped in an ashtray, his tie loose and his shirtsleeves rolled up, a tough kid from Jersey City who had fallen in love with newspapers and seemed perpetually amused by the fact that now he was editing a fancy magazine. He ignored both the odor of my suit and the length of my hair and told me he loved my pitch, the way I teased the story and framed it, how I identified my audience for the story and all sorts of other good things. He told me it was the kind of story that really worked for a magazine like his because he needed two months lead time for every story, and that made sports stories difficult, but ones like this worked. Then he said “Do you have any clips?”

Now, having read “How To Be a Freelance Writer” I knew he wasn’t talking about grass, but examples of my work. I gulped and told him the truth.

"I don't have any. I haven't written a story before, but I was editor for the paper in high school."

High school. I really said that.

He could have, and probably should have, sent me away. Boston Magazine was a big deal then, one of the first successful city magazines. The economic “Massachusetts Miracle” was beginning to kick in,. The magazine was fat with ads and had just moved into gleaming new office space in a renovated historic building. Most of the bylines were big name writers that even a poet could recognize.

It was not a place for beginners, and that’s all I was, no matter how closely I had read that book.

But he didn’t send me away. He started asking questions and changed my life.

For the next hour we talked about the story - what it was about, how I was researching it, how I planned to write it, and about me - who I read, where I went to school and a thousand other things. I was out there without a net and he undoubtedly knew it, but he was walking me out there anyway, giving me a chance to talk my way into a story, seeing if I’d slip before I did.

Then it was lunchtime. He had to go.

“Here’s what I’m going to do he said. I’ll take the story on spec.”

Blank look from me. Spec? I hadn’t read the book that closely.

“That means I’m asking you to write it and if I like it I’ll pay you three hundred bucks. If I don’t, you don’t get paid. Alright?”

I was taking home $115 a week. Thirty dollars was a lot of money. Three hundred dollars was a fortune.

I nodded, then he ushered me to door.

“I need it in two weeks,” he added, shaking my hand. I turned to leave and then he spoke again.

“Wait a minute,” he said, squinting at me over his reading glasses, scrutinizing me one more time. “You can write, can’t you?”

I looked him in the eye and lied. “I don’t think it will be a problem.”

I floated home and got to work. For the next week I woke up every day at 5:00 a.m., went into the library early and did research before it opened, then came home and wrote until I fell asleep. In those pre-computer days that meant I wrote the story out in longhand, over and over and over again, scratching out words, circling paragraphs, drawing arrows, filling the wastebasket with draft after draft trying to write a story I wanted to read. I lost ten pounds - two belt loops - before I did.

I asked my boss at the library if I could come in early and use the IBM Selectric typewriter in the office, the one that made corrections so cleanly they were almost invisible. Given my typing skills, this was not unimportant. He said yes but it still took another two long mornings for me to type it.

When I was done I put the story in a brand new manila envelope and hand delivered it to Hartnett’s office on my lunch break, several days ahead of deadline. The book said that would impress an editor.

The next day I got a call.

“Glenn, Ken Hartnett. I’m buying your story. What do you want to write about next?”

I blurted out something off the top of my head, a subject I knew nothing at all about except for the fact that I had never read anything about it, and that told me there was probably a story there. I was learning fast.

“This time I’ll give you a contract,” he said, “and pay you $500.”

I was a writer.

Glenn Stout is currently acquiring stories for SBNation and\thinks there is a lesson or two in here for aspiring writers.  For more information see the post entitled "Help Wanted"

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Shades of Gray (and Red Sox)

Each loss makes the game so clear.

For both the players and the fan defeat is the great test of this game. Every player from Little League onward must become accustomed to that fact that in almost every instance failure is the norm. In baseball success is not measured by never failing, but by the ability to ignore failure, to integrate and mitigate its’ lessons in the next attempt.

So, too, for fans. When it’s summertime and the winning is easy, everyone is a front runner and climbs aboard that raucous, drunken jalopy that gloriously teeters and tumbles toward the finish drenched in champagne. The occasional defeat, while inevitable, seems almost artistic in its regularity, the missed stitch in the Persian rug put there on purpose to reveal better the perfection elsewhere.

For more than a decade Sox fans have been riding that bus, more or less, without cessation. Of course they have not won every year, but they have come close. The last season they seemed truly overmatched was 2001 (82-79 and finishing the season with Joe Kerrigan trying to find out who stole the strawberries). The last season they finished below .500 was 1997 (78-84, a fourth place team in every way imaginable, Sele, Suppan and Steve Avery in the rotation). And the last time they were truly horrible, terribly awful, a season long time fans once considered a peculiar badge of pride in the curious accounting that once marked the tribe, was 1992, (73-89 , seventh out of seven in the old two-division system, the future apparently Scott Cooper and Phil Plantier).

Pretty nice run, isn’t it?

Then there is this year. A team best described as a collection of consonants (Ciriaco and Kalish, Lillibridge and Nava, Posednik and Punto) and disabilities (the Gods Achilles, Ibuprofen, and Cruciate), that lurches and lurks around .500, winning games it shouldn’t and then losing games it should, running up a mud soaked hill in flat soled sneakers, slipping and sliding and staying more or less in the same place and looking up at almost everybody else.

The decision is yours, and it tells you who you are. Game time each night is a gut check on your relationship. Are you in, or are you out? Is your hat pink and perfect and pristine, pre-distressed and perfectly faded to look battle weary, or truly stained with sweat and stain and tears that come from years of use? Are you a fan of only winning, an addict to the morphine pump of highlights and high fives, or is there something else, deeper and more profound, that brings you back?

There is, because the farther away you get from winning the closer you get to what baseball really is; hundreds and thousands of small events and occurrences. To end in victory each must follow a convoluted line over the course of an at bat, an inning, a game, a series and a season, mixing the improbable and the implausible with the accidental and the intended, innumerable adjustments encountered and made on the way. There is the call not made, the twin killing not turned, the wind that blows it fair when it should drift foul and foul when it should stay fair, the mess of statistics that no matter what are rarely much better than a coin toss. The best teams win six of ten and the worst teams win only four. All that effort and time and money is expended to change the line score of the two games in the middle, the ones that mean either championship or disaster.

That is why losing seasons have something that the winning years do not – nuance and tone and ambiguity. You cannot watch and yet you cannot turn away. The box scores may still be black and white, the results irrefutable, but the game is all shades of gray. “Almost” and “nearly” and “what if” are torturously bound together. She is bad for you but you cannot help it.

Losing seasons force you to decide, to confront why you are here and why you submit to the game each day, taking the pain because, if you have lived long enough you know it makes the pleasure more intense, and there is nothing, ever, any better than that, than when the ball drops in and the bunt stays fair and short hop in the hole finds the glove and the catcher holds onto the ball and you rise from your seat and roar together as one.

At least that’s what you tell yourself as you grit your teeth and prepare for another flogging.

Glenn Stout is a Contributing Editor for, author of Fenway 1912.  This column appears in the August edition of Boston Baseball. 

Wednesday, July 25, 2012


Yesterday I had a brief but memorable exchange with a writer. Over the past few weeks I’ve been recruiting stories for the Cool But As Yet Unnamed Project for SBNation. I’ve spent nearly every day talking writing, writing about writing, batting ideas back and forth, sharing ideas and all that stuff that we, as writers, do when we get together. Talking craft to each other is one way many of us prepare to enter the mines of our work, taking the last deep breaths at the surface before going down. The experience has been exhilarating.

In this instance, almost without thinking I ended my exchange “Thanks for being a writer.” I meant it, because writing is my life and has shaped my world, utterly and entirely. As someone who decided to become a writer nearly forty years ago and has done that exclusively for two decades, I understand what being a writer entails. People who do not write don’t.

Most writers I know realize that although many people imagine they would like to write, few have any idea what that reality of that is like, that 99% of writing is ambiguous and often done alone even when surrounded by others. I am talking about all the repeat trips down to the metaphorical basement, closing the door and spending hours listening to your own words in the dark, trying to find the ones that matter and make a difference, the few that let you look yourself in the mirror when you are done and know you’ve gotten to something that somehow didn’t exist before. Only those of us who really do it know what that requires, and I’m not even going to get into the real life issues of trying to write for a living. Just ask our friends and families about that.

Now there are many difficult jobs in this world - some of which I’ve done - and not to overstate the fact, but even when it looks as if it is, writing is not easy. That is why there are so many more people who “want to write” than those that do.

I think this explains why I was so affected when the writer responded to my expression of gratitude by writing, “That’s the nicest thing anyone has ever emailed me,” which was about the nicest thing anyone has ever e-mailed me. We might be praised us for a particular story or a book or a line or a phrase or a poem, or criticized for the same - or, worst of all, ignored – but rarely are we extended an appreciation for the vocation itself, for simply devotion to the craft we cannot do without.

So thanks for being a writer.

[Writers: for more about the SB Nation project see my previous blog post "Help Wanted," or "About the SB Nation Project" page on my website,]/

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Mess of History

When writing history – even of baseball - the challenge is to stay true and authentic. That means refusing to place into the historical record anything known to be false or inauthentic, for any reason. Every writer of history must find in their research enough information to recreate the experience, and then present that information in a way that engages the reader.

The guidelines for this are pretty clear; don’t make stuff up or intentionally misrepresent the facts. While it is not always possible to uncover every piece of information that might be pertinent and the veracity of each piece of information may never be completely known, the research process demands that one makes a concerted effort to do so anyway and never succumb to the temptation to fill in the blanks with fiction. While historians may differ in their conclusions historical disagreement is far different from making things up to account for gaps of research or to make a re-telling more colorful and lively.

Unfortunately in recent years the clear line between was is acceptable and what is not has become blurred, and many of book titles that have most egregiously blurred that line have been commercial and critical successes. Increasingly, I read historical accounts of baseball and other sports history that I view with the same suspicions I do the achievements of a hitter on steroids. Too often I encounter books that create dialogue that did not exist and invent entire scenes that never took place. Readers, unfortunately, are usually oblivious to the use of these methods. Over time they learn to expect a certain level of detail that, even though it is false, makes work that adheres to a higher standard somehow seem lacking.

This kind of historical abuse is becoming more and more and more commonplace. I am aware of one current title’s success that is due in part to the author’s ability to put thoughts and words into the minds and mouths of his subjects, something I only know because my own research has covered the same ground. I wish this experience was uncommon, or confined to the genre of sports. Unfortunately it is not. Many of the most successful books of history recently published – including some best sellers now considered classics – make use of these same techniques.

The damage done by this approach is profound. Not only does the true historical record become murky as subsequent accounts repeat spurious information, but the commercial success of such titles places ever more pressure on the writer of history to indulge in these same practices.

I know this is true from my own experience. Several years ago, while writing about a non-sports topic, an editor strongly suggested I include scenes and impressions and dialogue the editor knew did not exist. The clear implication was if did so my work would be more successful and make more money. When I refused the editor was shocked and made it clear other writers had not resisted similar requests.

Real history does not often unfold like scenes from a movie script, all crisp dialogue and clarity. It is more often a mess, a mass of often confusing and apparently contradictory evidence. The task for the writer of history is to guide the reader through the unkempt rooms of the past, finding order and logic and truth in chaos, anticipating questions and providing answers before they are even formed, so at the end of the experience the reader sees clearly what was previously obscure.

As I have embarked on historical projects like the history of a team, a biography of an athlete, or even the story of a ballpark, I try to keep this in mind, believing that the truth always tells the best story, and that if I do my job well and completely it needs no embellishment or added drama. Fortunately, so far my experiences like the one I described above have been the exception, and readers have generally responded with a generosity I find refreshing.

That was why it was particularly gratifying earlier this spring when Fenway 1912 was awarded the Seymour Medal, named after Harold and Dorothy Seymour, baseball’s pre-eminent historians, by the Society of American Baseball Research as the best book of biography or history for 2011. That experience was repeated again last week when SABR also awarded Fenway 1912 the Larry Ritter Award, named after the author of the seminal oral history The Glory of Their Times, as the best book of the Deadball Era, making Fenway 1912 the only title ever to win both such awards.

It’s nice to know someone is still paying attention.

The column originally appears in Boston Baseball July 2012. For more information see Glenn’s website at

Friday, June 29, 2012


My mother used to say that when I was born I didn’t cry; I coughed.

And I am alive today only because the company my father worked for provided health insurance.

She was overstating things only a little, because when I was born the umbilical cord was knotted around my neck so tightly I was actually not breathing at all. Had she waited to go to the hospital or had me at home because she was uninsured, I might not have survived. And because she wasn’t forced prematurely from the hospital with a newborn, and they soon discovered I had an enlarged heart.

That cough that finally did come and didn’t go away a few months later? The doctor came to our house, listened to my lungs and admitted me to the hospital with pneumonia.

At nine months, when she noticed something wrong with my eye, she didn’t have to wait to bring me to the doctor. A cyst was discovered and removed before causing permanent harm. I gave her a black eye when I hit her with the splints on my arms as I recovered.

For the first two years of my life, perhaps because of an immune system already weakened by birth trauma, I contracted every basic childhood illness, one after the other and sometimes simultaneously; chicken pox, measles, mumps, whooping cough, tonsillitis, bronchitis, and God knows what else. Unknown viruses swept through my body like wildfires. I would go to bed healthy and in the middle of the night my mother would check on me and body would feel so hot she would be afraid to take my temperature. My earliest memories (plural) are all of being bundled in blankets and being carried to the car by my father and then all of us, my parents and my older brother, racing to the hospital in the middle of the night or leaving early after overnight trips to my grandmother’s and stopping not at home first, but the hospital or the doctor’s office. I spent weeks swathed in mentholated oil and breathing humidified air, was fed ice chips like most kids get oatmeal, and my mother lost track of the times doctor’s told her “If the fever doesn’t break soon …”

But because I had health insurance, because they didn’t stop often to think if they could afford it, I always got to the doctor or the emergency room on time, always received the shot of antibiotics, the prescriptions, the around-the-clock care. It didn’t help that I was reckless and accident prone – falling through glass doors, down stairs, getting caught on barbed wire, nearly cutting off my thumb with a butcher knife, driving the staff of a small Fourth of July flag through the roof of my mouth, knocking out my front teeth on the dashboard when my father’s car was rear-ended while parked. When I stepped on a nail, received a tetanus shot and seemed to fall asleep on the ride home, my father didn’t hesitate. He shook me out of habit and when I didn’t awake he turned around and carried me into the emergency room. I was in a coma due to an allergic reaction, making all subsequent encounters with sharp objects (of which there were many, including more nails) problematic. Often the entire wound would have to be excised, cored like an apple to prevent infection.

Between the coughs, the pneumonia, the unexplained fevers that kept coming, the allergy to milk that waxed and waned, the bone disease, an arm broken and healed that we only discovered when we thought I had broken the other one, the weird hives I got after being immersed in cold water, what I remember most about school is leaving; field trips cut short leaving other students seething, visits to the nurse, vomiting in the hallway, searing headaches that made me cover my head and scream. Teachers became as adept as my mother at spotting my rapidly emerging maladies, banishing me from class and sequestering me on a cot in the office before I could infect the others as my fevers formed and began to rage, friends peeking around the door at me as if I were some alien, uncertain if I was contagious. What I remember most from my report cards are the absences; 23 days, 29 days, 18.5 days, 32. In sixth grade, after bouts with both pneumonia (which I eventually had six times that I am certain of), and mononucleosis, I peaked with a high of 47 or 48, something that gave me a curious sense of pride; I wasn’t just a sick kid; I was the sickest. All told, of my twelve years in primary and secondary school, I probably missed class about 15% of the time, something that I blame to this day for certain lapses of knowledge, like how electricity works.

Yet when I was not ill I was robust, all appetite and action, which must have made my periods of illness all the more frightening. Each hospitalization was ever more exotic. I was a course in pediatrics all by myself and younger doctors were often paraded in to examine my chart and poke and probe as if I were some new species. Old drugs stopped working and I was always being given new ones.

I should have been dead a dozen times, maybe more, and even with insurance I remember some nights seeing my mother with a stack of bills and my father sitting at a table and the worry over payment, for even insurance did not pay everything. We were not wealthy by any stretch, or even close; one car, one 600 or square foot house on a half acre plot in the cornfields, and once a year vacation – maybe - to see relatives, at least one of which I recall involving a trip to the hospital.

Yet I survived, and somehow, so did our family. Without insurance I doubt that either would have. I’d have died and my parents likely would have lost the house, filed for bankruptcy and fallen apart. But by high school the rate and severity of my illnesses and accidents began to wane, and as an adult – knock on wood – persistent health has replaced chronic infirmity. The baby born coughing has gone on to write and publish several million words and many books, jog a distant equivalent to the circumference of the earth, play a wide variety of sports as both a teenager and an adult and outlive both parents. A recent physical confirms I am more robust than most people my age. Apart from a brief time in my early twenties, when I was fortunate enough to remain well, I have had insurance, either through my own work or that of my wife, and have not often needed it. My own daughter, now sixteen, has enjoyed the good health I did not. But even she, at age seven, was seriously ill with a bout of necrotic pneumonia that ended up requiring nearly two weeks of hospitalization in two facilities, an ambulance transfer during a blizzard, and several surgical procedures.

Even then, insurance paid every cent of her treatment, which included the stint in the hospital that, had I been responsible would have left me bankrupt. More important, had we not had insurance and had to factor caution and cost over concern and waited perhaps one more day for her to get care, it would certainly have killed her.

I knew then how my parents must have felt, and how some parents might feel today.

Glenn Stout is the author and editor of more than eighty books.  For more information see

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Last Pitch

[Note: This column first appeared in Boston Baseball and was also reprinted here in June of 2010]

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 twelve or fourteen 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 sixteen 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. That July he and my stepmother loaded up the RV and he came out for his final visit.

I had a ballgame, last 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 Soldier’s Field 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 line drive single. 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 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 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 after working fourteen hours. 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. 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 for the last time 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 around third 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.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

The Other Side of the Wall

The list of those who have played left field for the Red Sox and won respect for their ability to play balls hit off the left field wall begins with Duffy Lewis and includes other luminaries such as Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski, and Jim Rice. Even lesser fielding lights such as Mike Greenwell and Manny Ramirez, otherwise unheralded for their defensive prowess, were surprisingly adept at playing balls off the wall.

There are, however, two sides to the left field wall. The list of those who have played the outside of the wall, the one that faces Lansdowne Street, is much, much smaller.

I think I’m the only one on it.

For nine years running, from 1983 thru 1991, I celebrated Opening Day at Fenway Park by donning an old baseball uniform, consuming a copious amount of “Baseball Marys” and, standing outside the leftfield wall with a Pignose amplifier and a microphone, I recited baseball inspired poetry to mystified early arrivals. When I began I was just a few years out of college looking for a way to combine my two favorite pastimes, baseball and poetry. When I stopped nine years later I was a published author.

In my recent book, Fenway 1912, I contend that Fenway Park is a place that can change your life. That’s not hyperbole, but because in my case, it was true. Playing the outside of the left field wall had a lot to do with how I made the change from “wanting to write” to becoming a writer.

Part of why it was true was the people I met out there – Bill Littlefield, George Kimball, Rick Dunfey, and others – all of whom later played some role in my transition. More importantly, however,standing outside that wall and speaking poetry to the face of baseball made me whole and complete. For the first time the two most important aspects of my life were able to co-exist. Not always easily, mind you. Some people laughed and some threatened to punch me in the face, but a handful dropped coins at my feet and a surprising number stopped and listened, and made me want to come back.

For a few short hours, mixing words and baseball, I was right where I was supposed to be. In these pages each month, and those of Fenway 1912, I still am.

[This essay first appeared in the June 2012 edition of Boston Baseball.  Glenn Stout is the author of Fenway 1912, the only book to ever be awarded both the Seymour Medal and the Larry Ritter Award by the Society for American Baseball Research.]

Thursday, June 7, 2012


Baseball has entered the era of the entitled.

While the game has never really been rooted in the agrarian utopia of its mythology, for much of its existence the game has been relatively blind to class and status. Although the organized professional game was long segregated by race, and women have always had to fight their way onto the field, for its traditional male constituency the game has generally been remarkably democratic; apart from its first few years of existence, you didn’t need to be either rich or privileged to play. The game was played in nearly every available space and the usual pathway to professional baseball, black or white, began in unorganized, pickup games in the sandlots and fields and empty lots of childhood. Players then meandered through a variety of more organized teams sponsored by schools or towns or the local hardware store before the most promising were identified as prospects in adolescence and then provided the opportunity to play for money. It did not matter whether one was raised as an urban street urchin like Babe Ruth, in a small town like Jim Rice, a suburb like Roger Clemens, a potato farm like Carl Yastrzemski or attended a university like Harry Hooper. Talent was far more important than background. A curve ball didn’t care who your parents were, where they were from or how much money they made; the game was the great equalizer.

But not anymore. In the United States the game is more and more a sport for the 1%, the rich and privileged. Long before the game itself sorts out the talent, the dollar already has. The weeding out of the other 99% is done on geographic and economic boundaries long before a kid even has a chance to pick up a ball. Since the game is not played much anymore on an unorganized basis (for reasons both basic and complicated), a boy without access to youth baseball is generally called out before he ever has a chance even to decide if he wants to play. In my rural town there is no longer a baseball program and the door closed before it is opened. Sadly, that is the plight of much of rural America, a condition which, along with abject poverty, is shared with many in our more urban neighborhoods where there are likewise few opportunities to play. The most talented athletes play something else or succumb to the tedium of the television or the streets.

For young people today baseball is almost entirely a suburban phenomenon, and even on those manicured fields the separating of the wheat from the chaff begins at an early age. There are travel teams for kids as young as eight or nine, and select squads that play nearly year around and cost parents many thousands of dollars in travel, equipment and league fees, not to mention wear and tear on the family dynamic. There is nothing very democratic about that, as talented but less well off kids are generally abandoned and squeezed out by their more well-heeled teammates. By the time a player reaches high school if he has not been plucked to play on several of these select, private travel teams, the chances of playing professionally, earning or earning a college scholarship are as remote as winning American Idol. The player who has a chance to play 100 or 150 games a year has a far better chance to improve and be seen than the kid who does not.

The kids who get drafted into professional baseball now are primarily the privileged, the select of the selects, the ones who have been told they are special and driven around and put up in hotels for tournaments and provided their own batting practice pitchers and pitching coaches since the age of ten. As a result by the time they reach the major leagues these young phenoms have been so cut off from reality for so long they have no idea that much of their success has come, not from within, but as a result of their station in life.

Maybe that’s why too many of them act so bored and blasé, blowing off the fans and media, hitting the links, and hiding behind the tinted glass of their Escalades and the velvet ropes the rest of us never even see, much less cross.

And then they wonder why we boo.

[This essay originally in Boston Baseball in June of 2012]

Monday, June 4, 2012

Autopsy of Writing

One of the best things about being a writer is that when you are in the midst of writing you are transported to another place, the setting and experiences of whatever you are writing about.  For much of my non-fiction writing career, this has been a rather benign and pleasant process; I have been in Fenway Park at the moment of its birth, alongside Jackie Robinson on his first day in the major leagues, in the water with Trudy Ederle as she swam the English Channel and proved for all time that women were at least the physical equal of men.’

Yet it is not always pleasurable.  Sometimes the act of writing requires inhabiting experiences that can range from the merely uncomfortable to the truly unpleasant, disturbing and actually painful.  A number of years ago I had the good fortune to write a book with two construction workers, Charlie Vitchers and Bobby Gray, who helped spearhead the cleanup of the world trade center, resulting in the book Nine Months at Ground Zero.  Over the course of seventy-plus hours of interviews with these two men, and many times that going over the transcripts and crafting a narrative from their words, in some ways I spent my own nine months at Ground Zero.  By the end of that project I dreams of events I never personally witnessed dominated my nights, and I even developed a physical reaction to the stress of the experience that still occasionally afflicts me to this day.  But it was worth it.  Not only did I have the opportunity to translate that experience and deliver it to others, but I gained an insight and perspective about the experience that has been available to very few others who were not actually on site, and for that I will forever be grateful.  Any personal disturbance was more than worth it, and paled against the impact the experience had for those who were actually there

Almost four years ago, I was introduced to Dr. John Parrish, a veteran of the Vietnam War who spent 366 days in Vietnam serving as a doctor.  A few years after that experience, Doctor Parrish wrote a memorable and potent memoir, 12, 20 & 5, about his experience, still one of the most potent of all Vietnam memoirs.

But that was not the end of his story.  Over the next forty plus year, as Dr. Parrish reached the pinnacle of success in his field as one of the foremost dermatologists in the world, his Vietnam experience continued and affected every instant of his life.

I was introduced to John because of my experience working with the difficult material of Nine Months at Ground Zero and for the way I was able to connect with and communicate with my co-authors.  Since publishing his first book Dr. Parrish had been trying to re-write his first book, to try to better capture his experience.  Unfortunately he had been unable to escape the powerful vortex of his initial experience to translate or process the meaning of the ensuing forty years.

I met John through 400 pages of some of the most visceral writing I have ever read.  Over the next year we spoke and met many times and together we envisioned the book John wanted and needed to do NOW – a book that told the story of his war experience in the context of the remainder of this life, a book that showed that wars do not end but become a part of a soldiers’ ongoing life, sometimes re-emerging unwelcome and unexpectedly, with impacts that could not have been anticipated.    

Over the next two years I was given the task to help John turn those searing but diffuse pages of manuscript into a coherent narrative, using some of it, discarding other parts, determining where he need to reveal more, teasing and cajoling and sometimes dragging and prying those stories from him in ways that were not always pleasant or welcome, but were always recognized as necessary. Along the way, as in the Nine Months at Ground Zero, I was invited to experience a most intimate and private place, where John has lived for the past forty years, a place that is both painful and unpleasant, but also a place of redemption and release.  And like that earlier project, I have found myself taken to another world and another place and another time, in some ways experiencing a war I never fought.  It is my hope that some of this translated to the reader, but I realize that some of it is so profound and so much beyond words that will forever be mine alone

That book, John Parrish’s Autopsy of War, will be published on June 5.  Its’ focus, loosely speaking,  is John’s forty-year struggle with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, a subject with obvious resonance in an era in which our soldiers are sent on multiple combat tours and return home to little support.

Although John graciously refers to me as co-author in his acknowledgements, I do not share cover credit in the book.  It is very much his book, and his words, and not mine.  At best I served as a guide to the book writing process, providing the usually gentle organizing principle to his considerable energy and insight, and was privileged to have gained the trust he has withheld from so many others in his life.  The result, I think, is both unlike anything else I have ever read and so necessary to these times, because in Autopsy of War John Parrish tells a story that is both necessary and timely.  In an era in which soldiers return from war every day damaged in  ways that may not be apparent for decades, Doctor Parrish’s survival and testimony is more than essential; it is mandatory if we are ever to learn to understand and avoid the carnage that war entails, and evolve a more human reponse.

I urge you to read it.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Art V Science

There is a war in baseball that rarely comes up on the field of play yet rages in the stands, the press box, in print and online 365 days a year.

On one side of this battle are those that consider baseball a science and believe that numbers tell us more about the game than any other approach. On the other side are those that consider the game an art and hold that baseball is an activity far too complicated and discreet to be contained in a series of calculations.

Neither side speaks much to the other, and when they do those discussions usually degenerate into a series of playground taunts between straw men, Science eschewing the Art crowd as ignorant louts and esthetes blind to logic, and Art denigrating the practitioners of Science as socially stunted denizens of their parent’s basements.

I delicately wandered into this battle a few weeks ago when, in responding to a Facebook discussion Charlie Pierce was involved in on the merits of Mike Cameron versus Dwight Evans I quipped that “Baseball is an art not a science.” Moments later the esteemed Joe Posnanski and a few others gently reprimanded me, one wagging his finger and writing “They don’t keep score at the ballet, Glenn.” Of course I realized the question was not as simple as either comment decreed, so rather than throw dirt bombs back and forth over the back fence I decided to step back, analyze the structure of the disagreement and try to determine if that tells us anything about the veracity of either approach.

As I see it The problem is not whether baseball is “either/or,” but that members of the Baseball Science team and members of the Baseball Art club are actually talking about two different things. When Baseball Science espouses their view of baseball, they are not actually talking so much about the game on the field as it is played in real time, but before and after, baseball analysis. My comment in regard to art was not referring to analysis but the actual practice and act of playing, baseball in motion. That’s why Baseball Science team so often values players and events that the Baseball Art squad turns up its nose at (like J.D. Drew and BABIP) , and why Baseball Art team tends to swoon at players and occurrences Baseball Science consider unworthy of attention (such as Derek Jeter and RBIs).

Although I am temperamentally more a member of the Baseball Art nine, I don’t automatically eschew Baseball Science. I got my first copy of Bill James’ Baseball Abstract in 1984 and yammered on about OBP and OPS before anyone else I knew. Yet at the same time I still thought of myself as a connoisseur of the games’ aesthetic pleasures. In combination I really thought I had baseball figured out, or that I knew more about it than just about anyone I knew.

Then a funny thing happened. At age thirty-four, following a seventeen-year hiatus after tearing my rotator cuff I began to play again in “Over-30,” leagues. While certainly not pro ball it was several notches above high school ball. Over the next ten years I played about 400 games, probably batting 1,200 times and pitching between 500 and 600 innings, winning a few more games than I lost (a nearly meaningless stat for Baseball Science) for teams that lost more than they won (almost immaterial to Baseball Art).

The result of my experience was that I soon concluded that I knew NOTHING at all about baseball and never would, that neither Baseball Science nor Baseball Art alone came anywhere close to capturing all that baseball is, was, or ever will be. While I recognized that both perspectives had value, Baseball Science occasionally informing me of larger principles not always obvious, and Baseball Art showing me that there are essential elements of the game that are not quantifiable, in the end I had to conclude that Baseball, the game itself, is beyond the singular reach of either perspective.

The game is beyond us, an unknowable mystery, infinite and ever evolving. Baseball Science, while valuable, is inherently static. Yet because baseball is played by humans under an incalculable set of conditions that are never the quite the same, it can no more be fully described by statistics than the ballet. And Baseball Art, while accepting the mystery, really exists only in motion, between the baselines when the ball is moving, then slips away as soon as the final out is made.

In the end, I believe baseball is more than either Art or Science, two approaches that never touch yet simultaneously overlap and combine to make the game richer and infinitely more interesting, discovering a score in the ballet and finding artistry behind the numbers.

All I know is the game works best when both teams are present. The fun is in choosing sides, which gives us all something to talk and write about.

(Note: This essay appears in the May edition of Boston Baseball.  The painting was given to the author by artist June Gibson)

Friday, May 4, 2012

MOEM (after Frank O'Hara)

Mariano Rivera has collapsed!

I was trotting along and suddenly
it started raining and snowing
and you said it was hailing
but hailing hits you on the head
hard so it was really snowing and
raining and I was in such a hurry
to meet you but the crowd on the sidewalk
was acting exactly like the sky
and suddenly I see a headline
there is no snow in Kansas City
there is no hail in Yankee Stadium
I have been to lots of ballgames
and acted perfectly disgraceful
but I never actually collapsed
oh MARIANO RIVERA we love you get up.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

On the Death of Ted Williams

[NOTE: This is a reprint of a column I wrote on deadline following Ted Williams' death for Boston Baseball. I also think it says a few things about Fenway Park. Copyright Glenn Stout 2012. All rights reserved.]

I heard a rumor, but I don’t believe it for a minute. Ted Williams isn’t dead.]

Close your eyes for a minute and look. Do you see it? All green and gorgeous? Ted’s house – Fenway Park. Mid-summer, in the sunshine. Ted Williams isn’t dead. He’s everywhere here.

I’ll show you. See up there, way, way, way up in right field? See the red seat? Ted’s still there — section 42, row 37, seat 21 – 502-feet from home plate. In 1946 he hit a home run that landed there. Well, sort of. It put a hole in the straw hat of an engineer from Albany.

Now look up a little farther. The Jimmy Fund sign. No one’s ever done more for the Jimmy Fund than Ted. Even when Ted was getting booed and fighting with the press and complaining about everything, that all stopped when it came time to go to a hospital and see a sick kid. See, when Ted was a kid and his mother spent all her time with the Salvation Army and his dad was away even more, Ted just about had to raise his little brother, Danny, all by himself. Then Ted ran away to play baseball and Danny got in trouble and then got cancer and died. Ted never said no to the Jimmy Fund.

Now look over to your right, on the façade of the roof. 9-4-1-8-42. The way it was before they changed it. The way it should be now.

Everybody knows number 9. That’s Ted. First, as ever.

He’s right next to number 4, Joe Cronin, Ted’s first manager. Ted drove Cronin and everyone else crazy in his first spring training. He never shut up and he never stopped thinking about hitting. But he was too young. When Cronin sent him down to the minors and a few vets gave Ted the business on his way out the door, Ted vowed he’d come back and make more than all of them put together. He was right, and he did.

Then there’s number 1, Bobby Doerr, who played with Ted in the PCL, the only guy on the team who could calm Ted down. When Ted talks about “my guys,” he means Doerr, Dom DiMaggio, and Johnny Pesky. His guys.

And number 8, Yaz, Ted’s successor out in left field. At his first camp with the Sox Ted gave Yaz a long complicated lecture about hitting. When Ted finished and walked away, Yaz turned to a reporter, almost shaking, and admitted, “I can’t understand half of what he says . . . He scares me.” And then there’s number 42, Jackie, who should’ve played with Ted and would’ve if the men who ran the Red Sox had been half as smart as Ted was. You know what Ted said when he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1965, don’t you? He said, “Baseball gives every American boy a chance to excel. Not just to be as good as somebody else, but to be better. This is the nature of man and the name of the game. I hope some day Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson will be voted into the Hall of Fame as symbols of the great Negro players who are not here only because they weren’t given the chance.”

That’s right, that’s what he said. Ted Williams was the first guy, the very first guy to bring this up. And this was in 1966, when it wasn’t cool or p.c. to talk about such things, but he did anyway because that’s the way Ted was. He just thought it was right and he said it. Five years later the Hall of Fame took Ted’s advice.

Now look down a little lower. That’s right, look at the bullpens, where a lot of pitchers got a lot of extra work because of Ted. Tom Yawkey had them built in the winter after Ted’s rookie year so he could hit more home runs. Didn’t work, at least in 1940, when Ted tried too hard and didn’t hit a single home run there. The press called it Williamsburg, but the name never really took. It made the fans mad, if you can believe it. They thought Ted was getting special treatment. They were right of course. Ted’s always been special.

See the awning above the bench where the Red Sox pitchers sit? Out toward center field? Yeah. That where Ted’s last home run, number 521, the one that made John Updike famous, landed. Smacked it off Baltimore’s Jack Fisher in the eighth inning on September 28, 1960. Ted didn’t stop at home, didn’t tip his cap, just crossed home plate and ran into the dugout and sat there by himself.

Notice how big right field is? The biggest in baseball. That’s where Ted played his rookie year, 1939, all arms and legs and enthusiasm. Between pitches, he’d stand out there and practice his swing. When the fans cheered him, he’d pluck hit hat off his head by that little button and wave it like mad. Oh god, the fans. They loved him at first, and truth to be told, Ted loved them. That’s why he got so damn mad later, when he got booed. You have to care about something to get angry about it, and Ted cared.

Now look out to left field. That’s where they moved Ted in 1940, to save his eyes. It worked, and Ted learned to play the wall when it was part tin, part wood, part concrete, when it had dead spots like the parquet floor at the Boston Garden and the scoreboard was bigger and had National League scores, too. Ted played the wall well. This was before it was called the Green Monster. This was when it was covered with ads for Gem Blades and Calvert Gin.

Oh, but the fans in left. With the wall catching the sound behind him, Ted could hear everything they said. And the fans were so close, they could see Ted’s ears turn red. The thing’s they’d say – God, he’d get mad! But you know what? That’s what drove him, that’s what got him going. The things they said and stuff those writers, the Knights of the Keyboard, the stuff they wrote. Every word just made him madder. And then Ted would pick up the bat, he’d pick up the bat and walk to home plate and dig in and look out to the pitcher, another guy trying to make him look bad, and Ted would dig in, and then, and then . . .

You can’t help but look to home. That’s where Ted really lived, in that little 4×6 box on the first base side of home plate, focused on that invisible rectangle exactly seventeen inches wide above home plate from the his knee to his shoulder, and the square inch or so on his bat where he tried to hit the ball every time. Remember the picture in Ted’s book, The Science of Hitting, with all the different colored baseballs in the strike zone with Ted’s batting average on them when he swung at those pitches? When I first read that book when I was a kid, I thought Ted actually saw all those colored baseballs coming at him, and that he picked out the one’s with highest number to hit, and that’s why he was so good. Maybe he did he did see them.

Because no one else in baseball history ever spent more time at bat, saw more pitches, cursed more or swung more than Ted Williams. Forget about his off the chart 20-10 eyesight or the one-in-a-million reflexes. Ted Williams was about practice. Said so himself. Listen: “There’s never been a kid who hit more baseballs than Ted Williams.”

Think about that for a minute, because Ted might be right. When he was a kid, a little kid, he spent hours and hours at the playground, swinging a bat. And he never stopped, not really. I think that anytime Ted was doing anything else he loved, like fishing or flying, he was, in a way, still just swinging the bat, concentrating, looking for a strike, tuning out the world and focusing on only one thing, the only thing that mattered, what he was trying to do right now.

That’s the first, best, and only lesson of hitting right there. Hell, it’s the only lesson of doing anything.

Can’t you see him? Can’t you see him swing?

Ted Williams isn’t dead. Close your eyes, and there he is again, bigger than life.

Number 9. Swinging. Kissing it goodbye and walking down the street.

The greatest hitter who ever lived.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Wonder of the World

Good thing they’ve got Fenway.

Over the course of this offseason I’ve traveled thousands of miles speaking about Fenway Park with fans all over the country, and along the way I’ve learned a few things that I found quite surprising. One is that, although there are a fair number Red Sox fans out there, they are not quite as pervasive as they were three or four or five years ago. Not so long ago the pre-distressed and faded Sox cap was ubiquitous no matter where one went anywhere in the country, as impossible to avoid in airports and train stations as Hare Krishnas once were.

But in my travels this off season Sox hats and other paraphernalia were strictly a regional phenomenon. They are almost nonexistent in my corner of Vermont and do not begin to show up in any numbers until one reaches either Burlington or New Hampshire. Even then, once one travels through Massachusetts, the fade begins as soon as one crosses the Connecticut River. I still saw a few in New York, but elsewhere, in Pennsylvania, Quebec, Michigan, Ohio and even nether reaches like Arizona, Sox hats were as rare as Yankee caps in the bleachers.

Another observation is that after I got done speaking about Fenway Park, although Sox fans wanted to chat, they did not want to discuss this team, think at all about last year, and didn’t have a kind thing to say about anyone on who worked at Yawkey Way. They’re ticked off, not just about the beer and chicken and the colossal September collapse, but about the whole hoary ball of wax. I got nostalgia, but not for 2007 and 2004. Instead people wanted to talk about the 1990s and 1980s, when the Red Sox still seemed unique and different and were in many ways much more approachable than they are today. Once upon a time, the Red Sox were different from other franchises, and not just because they hadn’t won a World Series in generations. Now there seems to be a general consensus that apart from the laundry the Sox might as well be the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, a fantasy team made of money. I can’t remember a single old lady gushing to me about Dustin Pedroia or Jacoby Ellsbury, anyone asking if I thought Daniel Bard could make the transition from the bullpen, or even if I thought Carl Crawford was a bum or who should play shortstop. The Red Sox didn’t seem essential anymore.

The most significant observation will be obvious all year; Fenway Park is the best thing this team has going for them. While there are undoubtedly a lot of Red Sox fans I can say with utter confidence that there are a lot more fans of Fenway Park. No matter where I went after I finished speaking and was signing books three or five or ten fans would sidle up and say, sotto voce, “You know I’m really a fan of (fill in the blank – Yankees, Dodgers, football or Beyonce),” and then, voice rising to audible again, “but I LOVE Fenway Park.”

Then something remarkable would happen. These fans of things other than the Red Sox and Red Sox fans would start talking to each other and over a few words realize that they were not in opposition actually but bound together by this place. Who won and who lost mattered a lot less than when they saw their first game, where they sat, who they went with and how much they paid. Most of the time, in fact, people couldn’t remember which team won.

Yet they could remember how Fenway Park looked and smelled and how the ballpark suddenly just appear from nowhere as they walked down Beacon Street or Ipswich, and what the weather was and who they sat next to and what they ate. Most importantly, however, is that they remembered how it made them feel, which was different that any place on the planet they had ever been before or would be again. To all these people Fenway Park is nothing less than one of the wonders of the world, equal in stature to the Colosseum, the Taj Mahal, the Great Wall of China, Chichen Itza, Machu Picchu or the Pyramids. And that is why, despite the obstructed views and still-too-small seats, the ungodly prices and the embarrassment of a team brought down by beer and chicken, the stands are still full of pilgrims.

Fenway Park, one hundred years old and more important now than ever, is the reason. People come here not for the game or the team, but for the continuing wonder of the place and the way it brings them together for a moment as one, regardless of the score.

Glenn Stout is the author of the Boston Globe bestseller Fenway 1912. Those interested in having Glenn speak about Fenway Park can contact him thru his website,

Monday, March 19, 2012

The End of Fenway Park

As I have travelled New England and the Northeast promoting Fenway 1912, one of the questions I am most often asked is about the future of Fenway. Although I have my own suspicions in regard to how the franchise might one day decide to dispose of Fenway in favor of a new ballpark, and the question of seat size in the grandstand is an apparently insurmountable obstacle moving forward, in the long run such questions, which presuppose that Fenway remains standing, might be moot.

Blame it on 1755. On November 18 of that year, at 4;30 a.m., and earthquake with an epicenter about 25 miles of Cape Ann, struck the northeast. The most powerful ever recorded in the area, the 6.0 to 6.3 quake was felt from Halifax, Nova Scotia to South Carolina and as far inland as Lake Champlain.

In Boston, some 1,300 of a total of 1,600 chimneys were toppled, providing work for masons for months. Significantly, most of the damage took place where buildings had been constructed on so called “infill”, reclaimed land along the harbor and other areas Mother Nature intended to be either wetlands or completely underwater.


Far more significant areas of Boston are built today on reclaimed lands, and a similar quake would cause extensive damage, particularly to buildings constructed for than forty or fifty years ago and featuring significant use of brick. In 1990 a study by the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency estimated financial losses at between $4 billion and $5 billion

That would be Fenway Park.

Constructed on the edge of what was once a tidal marsh, the land beneath Fenway, if subjected to a major earthquake, would almost certainly begin to liquefy and become unstable. A sizable earthquake, even one not as strong as the quake of 1755, would almost certainly cause significant damage to Fenway Park. A quake equal to or stronger than that of 1755 would almost certainly cause its destruction. The End of Fenway Park would come, not with a wrecking ball, but with a rumble.

Glenn Stout is the author of the best selling Fenway 1912.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Doc's Cause

(Copyright 20012 by Glenn Stout. All rights reserved)

He virtually worked for free, but he did not work for nothing. And in the end, the payoff made us all richer.

When Branch Rickey erased organized baseball’s color line by signing Jackie Robinson to play for Montreal in 1946 and broke the major league color line by promoting him to the Dodgers in 1947, Rickey did not act alone. Both his decision and his selection of Robinson was the direct result of years of pressure and lobbying, both subtle and pronounced, from Americans of many different backgrounds. Most of these men and women of courage spoke out against prejudice and bigotry long before it was socially convenient.

The bulk of this pressure came from the outside the game, from leaders in the political, religious and social arena. Inside the game, however, the pressure to eradicate the color barrier came almost exclusively from journalists who covered baseball. Many, like Dave Egan of the Boston Record, called for the barrier to fall long before it was comfortable for him to do so and without regard to the impact it might make on his career.

But by the time Egan and other mainstream journalists went public with their disapproval, they were already standing on the shoulders of giants who had taken up the cause many years earlier. Decades before Robinson reached the major leagues journalists of color had been alternately agitating and arguing for racial equality, promoting the cause of African American athletes, calling attention to both their skills and the inequity that, all too often, kept them segregated on the fields of play.

In Boston, one of these giants of sports journalism stood barely five feet tall. Yet of all those who have brought their byline to the cause, no one in Boston was ever more effective than Mabray “Doc” Kountze. In a career in journalism that spanned more than fifty years, Doc Kountze’s influence, though little known, was enormous. If not for his efforts not only might the Red Sox have waited a little longer to integrate, but so too might all of major league baseball.

He was that important.

Kountze was born in West Medford, Massachusetts in 1910. His grandfather, James Monroe Mabray Kountze, was a native of Virginia, a free black man who in the mid-1800s nearly repatriated to Africa. Instead, he remained in America and his son, Hilliard was born into servitude in 1862 before being set free following the Civil War. Hilliard married and settled with his family in West Medford, Massachusetts, a city with a small but vital black population that traced its roots back more than three hundred years. Kountze and his wife, Madeline, eventually had ten children, including a son named Mabray.

Most of the Kountze children were athletic and excelled in sports at Medford High School, from which Mabray Kountze would graduate in 1932. He shared the enthusiasm of his siblings and their love of sports but did not enjoy the same robust health. As a child he was sickly and his illnesses may have had something to do with his diminutive size. Although he played sports when he could at local playgrounds like Dugger Park and Playstead Park, where in sandlot baseball games he usually played catcher, he more often found himself in the role of the observer. His brothers Hilliard Junior and Al both played for the semi-pro West Medford Independents, one of the best the semi-pro teams in the Boston area. Organized in 1902 the Independents played in the Greater Boston League, a fast integrated semi-pro circuit made up primarily of white teams, winning the championship on at least one occasion, in 1908.

Kountze often travelled with the Independents, watching his brothers play and being exposed to the best semi-pro baseball – black and white – in New England. Due to the relatively small size of the local black population, Boston never truly fielded a club in the traditional “Negro Leagues,” yet there was still enough talent and interest in the sport that the Boston area often supported a half dozen clubs or more, like the Boston Giants, Boston Rangers, Boston Tigers, the Wolverines and others. The best of these teams, the Philadelphia Royal Giants, (who despite their name were based in Boston) routinely toured New England and the Canadian Maritimes from the 1920s into the 1940s.

Most often, their opposition was white teams from nearby industrial leagues, like the Blackstone Valley League, or representatives from Boston’s vibrant semi-pro league that still exists today, the Park League. Even as a young man, as Kountze later wrote that he believed that some of these teams were “one of the most, if not the most, powerful baseball clubs… from all New England, including the Red Sox and Braves.”

Urged on by his brother Hilliard, Kountze kept a scrapbook of the achievements of these teams, clipping the occasional stories from local, mainstream newspapers, but primarily relying upon the Boston Guardian, one of the foremost African American newspapers in the country, a paper that was, at the time, considered somewhat radical for its aggressive editorial stance that called not for appeasement or accommodation but for African American independence and self-reliance.

For a time, Kountze himself subscribed to these same viewpoints, admitting once to the author that in his younger days he had been a staunch segregationist. However, while still a young man Kountze underwent a religious conversion and chose to dedicate his life to what he referred to as “a Cause above Cash, God above Gold, Purpose above Property, Soul above Silver.” His beliefs would find perhaps their best expression in his life’s work. Sports, in his own admission, became his personal “survival kit.”

While still a student at Medford High School, Kountze began drawing cartoons for school publications. They were compared favorably with the work of local sports cartoonists like Gene Mack of the Boston Globe and Bob Coyne of the Post. Kountze soon began contributing drawings to the Associated Negro Press, a news agency founded in 1919 by a graduate of the Tuskegee Institute that supplied African American newspapers with general and feature news from around the country, precisely the kind of afro-centric reportage that was unavailable in the mainstream white press. That sparked an interest in journalism in Kountze and he began stringing for the ANP as well, writing brief general news items.

At the same time, his artistic talents attracted several assignments to create posters for local sports teams, touting big games and matchups, and he soon found himself acting as the de facto public relations agent for team like the West Medford Independents. In 1930, two years before he graduated from Medford High, Kountze was invited by William “Sheep” Jackson, a former All-Scholastic from Malden High School, to contribute sports items to the Boston Chronicle, Boston’s other black oriented newspaper, which differed somewhat from the Guardian in that the Chronicle tended to include more social news than the politically motivated Guardian. These jobs paid very little, if anything, but Kountze did not care. He never married and never complained. Journalism was his calling, and he would soon find his cause.

Almost immediately, Kountze took on the idiocy of baseball’s color line. As he put it himself, “I associated with Negro team players and coaches alike at the ground level and not high up in the press boxes.” Close observation of both Boston area African American players and those Negro League teams that occasionally barnstormed through New England told him that there were plenty of African American ballplayers with major league ability. Pitcher Will Jackman of the Philadelphia Giants, for example, was the New England equivalent of Satchel Paige, and research by the late Dick Thompson indicated that comparison may well be more than hyperbole. Others, like outfielder Tubby Johnson, went back and forth between the Giants and more established Negro League clubs. Although Kountze did not often attend games at either Braves Field or Fenway Park, a number of ex-major leaguers played in local semi pro leagues, and on occasion, the best teams, like mill owner Walter Schuster’s powerful club from Douglas, Massachusetts, were able to entice active major leaguers such as Philadelphia A’s pitcher Lefty Grove to pitch on an off day.

Kountze primarily expressed his views in columns in the Chronicle such as “The Chronicle Sports Review” “National Sports Hook Up” and “Covering the Big Leagues.” In these columns Kountze reported not only on local black athletes, but on established white stars. In his column there was no color line, at least not one that he recognized as valid.

His approach was ingenious, for by writing about African American ballplayers and white major leaguers together, in the same context, Kountze was able to enforce his larger message; there was no difference in ability, only in opportunity. Moreover, his articles in the Chronicle and the Guardian provided almost the only coverage of African American baseball in the Boston area.

But Doc Kountze did not confine his efforts to Boston. His goal was nothing less than the eradication of the color line in the major leagues, an ambitious objective. He realized that the color line existed not only on the playing field, but in the press box and on the sports pages of the mainstream white press. As a result, few fans, white sportswriters or major league scouts even knew who the most talented black players were. They played in virtual anonymity, particularly at the semi-pro, prep and collegiate level. How, thought Kountze, would African Americans ever reach the major leagues if the fans, writers and scouts didn’t even know who they were, or who was the best among them?

His solution to the quandary was simple. In the early 1930s he formed an informal, ad hoc group called the National Negro Newspaper All-American Association of Sports Editors, and convinced his counterparts at other black newspapers around the country like the New York Age, Pittsburgh Courier and Chicago Defender, to join him. As Kountze once told the author, the NNNAASE “pooled votes to select star athletes and teams from the various conferences of Negro Colleges…By channeling the all-star and All-American picks coast-to-coast via the Associated Negro Press, it exposed outstanding athletes to a wider audience, including white pro scouts.” The selection of such teams touted their accomplishments all around the country, gave these athletes valuable publicity, and – were major league baseball ever to look – made the African American ballplayer much easier for major league scouts to find. Interestingly enough, they did not focus their efforts on promoting established Negro League stars, but younger athletes. Long before Branch Rickey realized that it would take a special person to withstand the rigors of breaking the color line, Kountze and his colleagues had arrived at the same conclusion, and were particularly supportive of collegiate athletes who presumably had the social skills needed to succeed in a white environment.

In this way Kountze and his colleagues helped make African American athletes like Jackie Robinson household names in black America years before most of white America had ever heard of him. In fact, no other athlete was touted by the NNNAASE to the same degree as Robinson. While he was still a student at Pasadena Junior College and nearly a decade before Branch Rickey had ever heard of him, Robinson was already being lavished with press attention. The African American press sensed, early on, that part from his athletic skills, that Robinson, college-educated and well spoken, a product of integrated schools in Pasadena, California, was unique. Potentially, he possessed all the other skills needed to succeed in the major leagues. Although Branch Rickey would later came to the same conclusion it is quite possible if not for the efforts of Kountze and his counterparts, Rickey may never have recognized Robinson’s unique palette of qualifications or become aware of Robinson at all. It is important to keep in mind that when Robinson first came across Rickey’s radar, he had barely played an inning in the Negro Leagues. It was his reputation, not his record on the field, which made him visible to Rickey. Had that not been the case Rickey may well have eventually selected another player or even put off his decision to sign an African American player at all.

Kountze did not confine his efforts to push baseball toward integration to the sports page. In 1934 was granted a press pass by the Red Sox and became the first African American allowed in the ballpark as a working professional. One year later, in 1935, Kountze met with Red Sox secretary Phil Troy, who Kountze later wrote was “a fine gentleman of class.” He asked Troy if he knew that there were African American players qualified to appear in the major leagues, a question Boston’s white sportswriters were to cautious – or too cowardly - to ask at the time. According to Kountze Troy stated that he did, and agreed that the color line should be erased. But when Kountze pressed him as to why the Red Sox did not break the color line themselves, Troy “shrugged his shoulders and pointed to the ‘Front Office,’” indicating that the decision rested there, presumably with club owner Tom Yawkey, for neither general manager Eddie Collins nor anyone else in the organization could have made such a courageous break with tradition without Yawkey’s approval. Kountze also wrote that he had a similar meeting that year with Ed Cunningham, the secretary of the Boston Braves, and, Cunningham also stated that he personally disagreed with the color line.

Three years later, in 1938, Kountze met with Braves president and former Red Sox president Bob Quinn Sr. about making Braves Field more available to black teams, part of Kountze’s continuing effort to expose white audiences to African American baseball. In the past, Braves Field had only periodically been available and Burlin White, catcher and one of the organizers of the Philadelphia Royal Giants, asked Kountze to see if he could pry the door open a little farther.

Kountze came prepared for an argument and began to tell Quinn about all the African American talent in New England and that it was his belief that some of these players were of major league quality. According to Kountze, Quinn “surprised the author by being in agreement in many areas I expected to argue.” Quinn had grown up in Columbus, Ohio and told Kountze he had both played with and against African American ballplayers as a young man. He told Kountze “he knew more about Colored Big League abilities than I did,” and spoke knowledgably about various black teams and players. The conversation continued and Quinn offered that he was fully aware that both the National league in general and the Braves in particular needed an “extra attraction” to survive financially. Quinn told Kountze that if it were up to him alone there would be no color line, but that at the present time the other owners would certainly have “voted him down.” At the end of their conversation Quinn predicted that not only would the NL be integrated before the AL, but that the Braves would integrate before the Red Sox. His observation would prove to be prescient.

Pressure from men like Kountze against the forces that wanted organized baseball to remain lily white began to have tangible results during World War II. Before the war Jackie Robinson starred in football at UCLA and played shortstop on the baseball team. He left UCLA in 1941 short of his degree, and over the next year played very little baseball but stayed in shape playing fast pitch softball in the Pasadena area.
On March 22, 1942, the communist newspaper The Daily Worker successfully pressured the Chicago White Sox into giving a tryout to several African American players at the White Sox spring training camp at Brookside Park in Pasadena. Negro League pitcher Nate Moreland was invited to tryout as was Robinson, an invitation that that was tendered more because of his reputation and his proximity to Pasadena than because of his playing ability. Robinson had yet to play in the Negro Leagues and, in fact, had hardly thrived as a ballplayer at UCLA – in 1940 he hit .097 and had a fielding percentage of .907. But due to the efforts of Kountze and his fellow sportswriters, Robinson, of all the African American Athletes in the country, was one of only two men selected for the tryout.

Robinson impressed Chicago manager Jimmy Dykes at the tryout. Dykes, who knew Robinson as a ballplayer from his time at Pasadena Junior College, told the Worker, "Personally I would welcome Negro players on the Sox," and valued Robinson at $50,000. The cursory tryout made news in the Daily Worker and in African American newspapers, but due to the involvement of the Communist Party the white-dominated mainstream press virtually ignored the event. One day later, Robinson received his induction notice and reported to the Army ten days later. Any remote chance of signing a contract with the White Sox disappeared.

During World War II efforts at integration took a back seat to the war effort, but as soon as the outcome of the war was decided, those efforts resumed in earnest. The war gave those who wanted the color line broken an obvious and irrefutable argument; if African Americans were willing to fight and die for their country, why could they not play the national pastime?” There was no satisfactory answer, and the days of the color line were numbered.

In the spring of 1945, Boston city councilman Isadore Muchnick successfully pressured the Red Sox to hold the now infamous tryout for African American League players at Fenway Park. Kountze’s direct involvement in the tryout is unclear. In conversations with the author Kountze, who rarely took credit for anything, was circumspect, although he later wrote that he was “one of those who participated in the tryout crusade.” But it was Wendell Smith of the Pittsburgh Courier who selected Robinson – now out of the Army and just beginning a career in the Negro Leagues – for the tryout and escorted Jackie, Sam Jethroe and Marvin Williams to Fenway Park. Kountze knew Smith and, as his reporting of the event later indicated, was undoubtedly kept informed. After the tryout, when none of the players heard back from the Red Sox, Kountze, now writing for the Boston Guardian, contacted the Red Sox and asked how Robinson and the others had performed. Coach Hugh Duffy told him the three players were "Good boys ... hustlers. We were glad to give them a tryout. They're the same as anybody else.... Got a soul the same as I have.... Deserve the same chance as anybody." Nevertheless, none of the three were signed to a contract.

The optimism that Kountze initially had felt about the tryout quickly turned to bitterness. “We all expected a fair trial at the Hub’s Fenway Park” wrote Kountze later. He called the incident "one of the biggest letdowns the author ever experienced in his entire career of sportswriting. I could see it happening in Mississippi, but not in Massachusetts." The African American community, both in and around Boston and elsewhere in the nation, now held the Red Sox responsible. They had believed – naively perhaps – that due to Boston’s liberal reputation and abolitionist past, that Boston offered perhaps the best chance to break the color line. The disappointment was profound. As a result, after the tryout the African American community held the Red Sox in disdain more so than any other team in the game.

Doc Kountze, however, simply kept working for the cause. When Rickey signed Robinson and then promoted him to the Dodgers, Boston’s white newspapers barely noted Robinson’s presence on the field, but Kountze enthusiastically reported on his progress. The cumulative efforts of the NNNAASE had succeeded, for when Rickey went looking for a player, he found precisely the man the NNNAASE had most often touted. But although the battle was won, Kountze knew that the war was not over – nor it would be until every team in the major leagues, including Boston’s Braves and Red Sox, was integrated.

By this time, however, Kountze had some allies. Now that the color line was broken, more white journalists added their voices to the call for integration and they were now joined by a growing chorus of similar calls from Boston’s religious, political, academic and business community. The logic of their arguments for the integration of baseball was irrefutable and over the next decade nearly every notable Boston baseball writer either explicitly or tacitly began wondering when the Braves and Red Sox would follow course and not only begin to sign African American players, but bring one to Boston. After all, the color line at both ballparks had already been broken by visiting ballplayers in 1947 – by Robinson at Braves Field and by the Indians’ Larry Doby at Fenway Park. What was the holdup now?

As Quinn had earlier predicted, the Braves beat the Red Sox signing Sam Jethroe in 1950, and over the next few years, as other teams followed suit, the pressure on the Red Sox to integrate increased. Shortly after the Braves signed Jethroe – and after passing over an opportunity to sign Willie Mays - the Red Sox belatedly signed his thirty-one-year-old Birmingham Barons teammate Piper Davis. But after Davis played only fifteen games in 1950, hitting .333 for single-A Scranton, he was released in what Joe Cronin later said was "a cost-cutting measure." Apparently, Davis had served his purpose – critics could no longer charge that the Red Sox organization had never signed an African American. But the color line on the big league roster held firm

Kountze kept up the drumbeat in the local black press, which now included a significant ally. In 1950 Kountze left the Boston Chronicle and joined the staff of the Boston Guardian. His place at the Chronicle was taken over by Cambridge native Ralph “Stody” Ward, another African American journalist and former semi-pro player of distinction. As other teams integrated and the Red Sox continued to dance around the issue, Ward added his voice to cause. In 1956 he even led a contingent of African American leaders to Fenway Park to “watch games and talk over the situation,” a group that included Judge Bruce Robinson, NCAAP executive director Ed Cooper and notable local ball players, like the legendary Will Jackman and Burlin White. Although the group was treated well – Tom Yawkey was later quoted by Kountze as saying the group made “a very fine impression,” and Ward was invited to recommend players to Boston scouts, that impression was only skin deep, for the Red Sox took no action. But the cumulative weight of such pressure was beginning to make the Red Sox uncomfortable.

By then there were African Americans in the Boston farm system, namely pitcher Earl Wilson and infielder Elijah “Pumpsie” Green, both of whom had been signed in 1953. But their progress through the farm system was mercurial. Kountze could do nothing more than keep doing what he had done all along; report on their progress and by doing so expose the moral cowardice of the Red Sox front office. Fortunately, by this point the cause was now the object of open discussion in Boston’s mainstream press, which by 1958 was wondering just what Green and Wilson had to do to earn a promotion. Good thing, because just as the Negro Leagues faded as major league baseball became ever more integrated, as the mainstream press began to report on African American issues the influence of Black Press began to wane. In the local African American press began to fall on hard times. After surviving for nearly five decades the Boston Guardian folded in the spring of 1957. Although Kountze would occasionally write for the Chronicle, that paper was also struggling and would cease publication in 1960. From that point on most of Doc’s journalistic efforts would find expression in the local Medford papers.

By then, of course, Kountze’s work had finally born fruit, for on July 21, 1959, Pumpsie Green was called up by the Red Sox to the major leagues. A week later, he was joined by Earl Wilson. A sad chapter in the history of the Red Sox was - to a degree - put to rest.

Few at the time realize the key role Kountze had played in making that happen, and over the next few decades of his life he himself drew little attention to himself. He lived frugally in West Medford, and turned his attention to two larger projects, writing two books. The first, “This Is Your Heritage,” published in 1969, was an immense, sprawling, detailed personal history of African Americans in Medford. The second, “50 Sports Years Along Memory Lane,” was published in 1979 and detailed the history of African American athletes in the Boston area. Although both books lack the professional polish of products produced by major trade publishers, each is an absolute treasure trove of information that can be found nowhere else.

The author was fortunate to get to know Kountze in 1986 after coming across his book at the Boston Public Library while researching a story for Boston Magazine about African American baseball in Boston. Kountze himself was the best source of the story, and over the next few years we often spoke, most of our conversations beginning with my specific questions on a topic or person in Boston sports. Kountze was always forthcoming, but inevitably the conversations inevitably veered off onto matters more important – his kind and gentle counsel about the matters of life. I would occasionally send him copies of my work, and a week or two later I would inevitably receive a letter back, addressed to “Glenn Stout, Sports Writer.”

Nothing ever made me feel more proud. Inside would be a page or two of onionskin paper covered edge to edge and front and back in tiny, single-spaced pica typewriter print, as if paper was too precious to waste, a letter that contained much needed praise, the occasional correction, and, always, encouragement. On the one occasion when he finally agreed to allow me to write about him, I made a brief visit to his home in West Medford.

It was my first ever excursion into the home of a writer – apart from my own – and I was not disappointed. He wrote before a wall covered with photographs of his heroes – Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Jackie Robinson and others. He used an old wooden door as a table and wrote on an ancient manual typewriter. Everywhere were piles of papers, books, magazines and scrapbooks. Doc was beginning to show his age, and although he was becoming infirm he still possessed an admirable level of energy, particularly when he spoke about something he cared about, which is to say almost everything.

Late in his life – belatedly - Kountze’s efforts finally began to be recognized. On May 29, 1993, he was invited by the Red Sox to Fenway Park as part of a tribute to the Negro Leagues before an “Old Timers Day” game. Standing on the field with players like Ernie Banks, Minnie Minoso and Sam Jethroe, Kountze stood tallest – and on the mound, where he was allowed to throw out the first pitch. One year later, on September 26, 1994, he passed away at age 84.

But perhaps the most telling story about Doc Kountze took place a few years earlier and concerns Ted Williams and Pumpsie Green. In 1991 I sent Doc a copy of my first book, “Ted Williams: A Portrait in Words and Pictures.” In the book I mentioned that when Pumpsie Green joined the Red Sox, Ted Williams made a point of publicly playing catch with Greene in front of the Fenway Park grandstand, indicating his personal approval in the most explicit way possible. Later in the book I repeated part of Ted Williams’ 1966 induction speech at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in which he said “Baseball gives every American boy a chance to excel. Not just to be as good as anybody else, but to be better. This is the nature of man and the name of the game. I hope some day Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson will be voted into the Hall of Fame as symbols of the great Negro players who are not here only because they weren't given the chance,” the first Hall of Famer to make such a public statement I later had the opportunity to interview Williams and when asked him why he mentioned the players in his speech, Williams told me that he was fully aware of the quality of play in the Negro Leagues, and that although he had not seen many black ballplayers himself, he had heard stories about the players from his childhood throughout his major league career.

Shortly after I sent Doc my book I received another letter address to “Glenn Stout, Sports Writer.” Doc was mortified. More than thirty years earlier, before Pumpsie Green joined the Red Sox, Kountze, trying to understand why the Red Sox were so resistant to integration, had wondered if perhaps Ted Williams, not only the teams’ best player but the organization’s most important personality, had had something to do with keeping the Red Sox white. Understand, this was only idle, private speculation on Kountze’s’ part. He never wrote or intimated that Williams was prejudiced and had probably never even uttered the notion aloud. But he had believed something he now knew was untrue and he was deeply ashamed.

He asked me if it was possible to provide an address for Ted Williams. He wanted to – had to – write back and apologize, not for something he wrote or said, but simply for something he had once thought. I knew someone who knew someone, and was able not only to provide the address but to provide Williams with a little bit of background about the sender. A few months later I heard from Doc Kountze once more. His letter had gotten through. And although John Updike had once famously written of Williams that “Gods do not answer letters,” on this occasion Updike was proven wrong.

Ted Williams had written Doc back. There was, he wrote, no need to apologize.

[Glenn Stout's latest book, FENWAY 1912, has been awarded the 2011 Seymour Medal by the Society for American Baseball Research as the bets boof of baseball history or biography published in 2011. For more see]

Doc Kountze, private correspondence with Glenn Stout, 1986-1993.
Kountze, Mabray “Doc” 50 Sports Years Along Memory Lane. Mystic Valley Press, Medford, Massachusetts, 1979.
”Diamonds Aren’t Forever,” by Glenn Stout, Boston Magazine, September 1986.
“Doc’s Cause: Curing Baseball of Bigotry,” by Glenn Stout. Middlesex News, July 28, 1987.
”Legendary Munroe and Future Sox MacFayden Spin a Masterpiece,” by Glenn Stout. The Fan, September 1987.
Stout, Glenn, and Johnson, Richard. Jackie Robinson: Between the Base Lines. Woodford, San Francisco, 1997.
Stout, Glenn, and Johnson, Richard. Red Sox Century. Houghton Mifflin, 2000.
Stout, Glenn, and Johnson, Richard. Ted Williams: A Portrait in Words and Pictures. Walker and Company. 1991.