Equates to VICTORY for Julia, not me…
I am writing this as a result of a lost bet with a die-hard Boston Red Sox fan named Julia (@werbiefitz). During the recent World Series, I took the side of my favorite National League team, the Los Angeles Dodgers, while Julia stayed with the team she has stood with since her childhood, the Boston Red Sox. The loser of the bet (which turned out to be me) was forced to read a book chosen by the winner. Upon completion of reading the book, the loser was required to write an essay about the ten things they learned from the book. Not a book review, that wasn’t really the point of the exercise, but rather how did the book affect you.
The Red Sox won the 2018 World Series in five games to cap an incredible season which saw the team win a franchise high 108 games during the regular season. It represented the fourth World Series Championship for Julia since the Curse of the Bambino was broken in 2004. For me, it was a tough post-season. My favorite team, the New York Yankees, won 100 games but were eliminated in the ALDS by the Red Sox. Then, my favorite NL team gave me second life. A renewed opportunity to take down the mighty Red Sox. It was not meant to be and I suffered two heart-breaking series losses to Boston in the same October. Victory to Julia, and some book reading and an essay for me. I also had to change my FaceBook cover photo to one showing the Red Sox celebration for one week upon conclusion of the World Series.
The book Julia chose for me was Shut Out: A Story of Race and Baseball in Boston by Howard Bryant. At first glance, it would be easy to find the negatives in the book about the city of Boston and the Red Sox franchise, but admittedly, I found this a story of redemption.
I was shocked almost from the start when I found out the Red Sox had the first opportunity in Major League Baseball to sign the great Jackie Robinson on April 16, 1945 but passed due in large part to racism that existed within the fabric of the franchise. I didn’t know former Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey but I do know that he hired his drinking buddies to hold key executive positions within the franchise and their racist beliefs prevented potential Red Sox teams that could have featured Jackie Robinson, Willie Mays and Ted Williams in the same lineup. It’s scary to think what the trio would have been capable of together. They certainly would have had a say in the great Yankees Dynasty of the 1950’s.
I qualify this book as focused on the Red Sox but to believe that racism did not occur within the halls of other MLB organizations, including the New York Yankees, would be very wrong. Even the Dodgers organization, as the first team to feature a black player on its roster in 1947, was later marred by the racist words of their former General Manager, Al Campanis, who was fired in 1987. The book briefly mentioned Elston Howard, who was the first and sadly only black player on the Yankee rosters for years during the 1950’s. Howard later played for the Red Sox.
Tom Yawkey purchased the Red Sox in 1933. Yawkey had admired Eddie Collins, a former second baseman with the Philadelphia Athletics and Chicago White Sox, and appointed him as the team’s vice president and general manager when he took over control of the team. Collins had been with the White Sox during the infamous Black Sox scandal of 1919 when they threw the World Series to the Cincinnati Reds but Collins had been cleared of any wrongdoing. In 1935, Yawkey traded for Washington Nationals shortstop Joe Cronin, developing close friendships with both Collins and Cronin. From basically 1933 through 1958, Collins and/or Cronin controlled all player movement within the Red Sox organization. With these two men, I believe, Yawkey tarnished his legacy. Whether he was racist or not is not really the point, he allowed racism to exist to the detriment of the city and the franchise and that makes him responsible.
After passing on Jackie Robinson in 1945, the Red Sox had a unique opportunity to sign Willie Mays four years later due to an exclusive lease arrangement that existed between a Red Sox affiliate, the Birmingham Barons, and the Negro League’s Black Barons. Cronin, by that time the GM for the Red Sox, had been tipped off about the incredible talents of the 18-year-old Mays and he sent a reluctant and racist scout to Alabama to watch Mays. According to stories, it rained for three days and the scout sent the Red Sox front office a negative review, perhaps without ever laying eyes on the legendary Say Hey Kid. It was another missed opportunity for the Red Sox, although I am sure the New York/San Francisco Giants didn’t mind.
The Red Sox were the last Major League Baseball team to add a black player to its roster. While the rest of the Major League teams were slowly starting to integrate, it would take the Red Sox over a decade before they would finally add a person of color to their team. Elijah “Pumpsie” Green, Jr. was born in Richmond, CA (East Bay near Oakland) in 1935. His brother, Cornell, someone I’ve been aware of since my childhood, was a star defensive back for the Dallas Cowboys. However, I never knew who Pumpsie Green was until reading the book. Fighting through racism within the organization and at the team’s training facility in Scottsdale, Arizona, Green believed that he was going to open the 1959 season as the first black player for the Red Sox. At the eleventh hour, one of the noted racists within the Red Sox organization, manager Mike “Pinky” Higgins demoted Green to the minor leagues. Fortunately, it would prove to be a temporary decision. Higgins was fired 73 games into the ’59 season and replaced by Bill Jurges. By that time, Eddie Collins was dead and Joe Cronin had left the Red Sox to become President of the American League. Green finally got the call to join the Red Sox later during the summer and on July 21, 1959, Pumpsie became the first African American player to take the field for the Red Sox when he was inserted as a pinch-runner for Vic Wertz and stayed in the game to play shortstop in Boston’s 2-1 loss to the Chicago White Sox. After the game, Green wept in the clubhouse. I cannot begin to imagine the emotions he must have felt that day.
On a side note about Pumpsie Green, Red Sox Hall of Famer Ted Williams routinely warmed up with Green before games. It became a superstition for Ted but for Pumpsie, he remembered Williams as one of few who treated him both as a ballplayer and a man. I personally haven’t followed Red Sox history, but the way Williams approached Green gives me newfound respect for the Hall of Famer.
Pitcher Earl Wilson might have been the first African American player for the Red Sox if not for a two-year military commitment. Originally drafted as a catcher, Wilson blossomed as a hard-throwing pitcher and roomed with Pumpsie Green for a time. But for Wilson, the Red Sox years were hard ones. After the ’59 season was over, Tom Yawkey fired Billy Jurges and restored the racist Pinky Higgins as manager. As their careers moved into the early 1960’s, Green’s career was quietly coming to a close (the lack of consistent playing time prevented him from realizing his potential) while Wilson was becoming more prominent. In 1962, Wilson (12-8, 3.90 ERA) threw a no-hitter against the Los Angeles Angels.
When Yawkey fired Higgins as manager in 1962, Wilson felt Yawkey was finally opening his eyes to what a divisive man Higgins had been. Unfortunately, Yawkey surprised everyone by making Higgins his general manager. Higgins was the GM in June 1965 when the Red Sox traded Earl Wilson to the Detroit Tigers along with Joe Christopher for Don Demeter and Julio Navarro. Wilson won 22 games for the 1967 Tigers, although the Tigers finished a game behind The Impossible Dream Red Sox that year, and he accumulated 338 victories overall for his career. Although Wilson lost Game 3 of the Series, he celebrated a World Series Championship with the Tigers in 1968. It’s sad that a pitcher primed for tremendous MLB success in Boston saw his greatest days in Detroit.
In a twist of irony, Tom Yawkey fired Pinky Higgins as GM on September 16, 1965, the same day Red Sox pitcher Dave Morehead tossed a no-hitter against the Cleveland Indians. After his firing, while in Louisiana, Higgins drove his car into a group of black highway workers. He killed one man, a white World War II veteran and injured three others. He was charged with driving while intoxicated and sentenced to four years. However, he was paroled after serving only two months in 1969. But just two days after his release, Higgins dropped dead from a heart attack. As Earl Wilson would say while in Detroit when asked to comment on his former manager, “Good things happen to some people”.
I was appalled to learn that The Elks Club, as recently as the 1980’s, condoned racism. The Elks Club in Winter Haven, FL, the site of Red Sox spring training at the time would issue invitations to white players, but not the blacks. Growing up in the Midwest in the 70’s, my step father was an active member of The Elks Club and served as the Exalted Ruler for the local chapter in my hometown in 1978. I was unaware the organization condoned racism and I am deeply saddened to have been connected to such a pitiful organization. I may have been a kid but I feel a responsibility that I should have known better. I only hope that my step-father’s chapter did not practice racism like the Winter Haven chapter did. My mother and step-father have passed away so it is not a discussion I can have with them.
To back up a little, I vividly recall when Jim Rice and Fred Lynn burst onto the Major League scene for Boston in the mid-70’s. They were great players from the start. Living far away in the Midwest, I didn’t see how the players were treated differently in their own city. Jim Rice, backed by his superior talent, had the power to be a major voice for the black community but it wasn’t his personality. He was introspective and to the media, he was unfriendly and considered sullen. I know Rice has gotten into tiffs with Derek Jeter and CC Sabathia over the years for whatever reasons, but I am not trying to indict the man. He was an incredible ball player. In a career spent entirely in Boston, Rice hit 382 home runs and drove in 1,451 runs. His career batting average was a healthy .298 and he had 2,452 hits in a career that spanned from 1974 to 1989. He was an eight-time All Star, AL MVP in the Bucky “F**king” Dent year of 1978, a two-time Silver Slugger Award winner, three-time AL home run leader, and two-time AL RBI leader. Yet, his number (14) was not retired by the Red Sox until two days after his Hall of Fame induction in July 2009. No one wore the number after his retirement but still, Rice is among the Red Sox Legends and deserved better treatment. Rice was charitable and a humanitarian. I think he is misunderstood because of his personality and I’d like to think he could have done more to help pave the way for black players in Boston, but there is no denying the man was one of the best in the history of the Red Sox to pick up a glove, bat and ball. Noted baseball columnist Peter Gammons believed history would have been significantly different had Rice taken an active role in voicing his thoughts about the climate and culture of the Red Sox organization. To Rice’s defense, I’ll use this quote from the book’s author: “Had Rice been white, he would have been lauded as a modern-day Gil Hodges: strong, silent, important. Being black, though, meant Rice was moody, arrogant and distant.” These words prove to me that I have absolutely no idea what it was like to walk in Jim Rice’s shoes.
The next great superstar in the Red Sox organization was slugger Mo Vaughn. He was drafted in Rice’s last year in 1989. For an organization that had featured so many outsiders over the years, Vaughn was a New Englander. He was from Norwalk, CT and had frequently visited Boston while growing up. He was hailed as the first local Red Sox star since Carlton Fisk. As a Yankees fan, I despised Vaughn coming to the plate, much like how I’d later feel about David “Big Papi” Ortiz or more recently, Mookie Betts. These men knew/know how to use Fenway Park to their full advantage.
Vaughn was the AL Most Valuable Player in 1995. The city of Boston accepted Vaughn as their own and he was able to transcend the issue of race in his city. Vaughn loved the city of Boston and wanted to spend his entire career there. The GM at the time, Dan Duquette, brought an era of diversity to the Red Sox. He corrected many of the wrongs committed by previous regimes and reconnected with former black players like Tommy Harper, Dave Henderson, Reggie Smith, and Jim Rice. But for all his positives, Duquette had his faults. He had a reputation of being difficult to work with and he frustrated those who worked for him. The relationship between Duquette and Vaughn became irreparable in 1998 when Vaughn was led to believe that he would be offered four-year contract for approximately $42 million (Peter Gammons believed they had reached agreement). Yet, when the offer came, it was only two years for $17 million. Using the media, the Red Sox orchestrated a smear campaign on the popular Vaughn. Vaughn had put together six monster years for the Red Sox, but on November 25, 1998 as a free agent, he left the team to sign a six-year, $80 million contract with the Anaheim Angels. It was a sad day for Boston and for Baseball in general. Vaughn was not a So-Cal kind of guy. He was a New Englander who should have called Fenway Park home for his entire career. I certainly do not feel that Dan Duquette is a racist but this might have been one of the saddest stories while reading the book.
On February 22, 2002, the legacy of Tom Yawkey was ended when John Harrington sold the club to an ownership group led by John Henry, Tom Werner and Larry Lucchino. It brought much needed closure for the Yawkey Era, and it set the Red Sox on a path that has yielded four World Series championships in fourteen years. Before reading the book, I am not sure that I fully understood the huge impact John Henry has had on the Red Sox organization and how he has, through actions and not just words, rebranded the Red Sox organization into an exemplary model of professionalism and class. Well, maybe not for Yankee fans like me, but the current ownership group should be applauded for making a difference.
As Julia pointed out to me, while the history of the Red Sox organization wasn’t always pretty, the other Boston sports franchises were ground-breakers with integration. Willie O’Ree is referred to as the “Jackie Robinson of ice hockey” (the first black player in the NHL). He made his NHL debut with the Boston Bruins on January 18, 1958. Chuck Cooper became the first black player drafted in the NBA when he was selected with the first pick in the second round of the 1950 NBA Draft by the Boston Celtics. Legendary Celtics coach/executive Red Auerbach put together the NBA’s first all-black starting five in 1964. In the inaugural American Football League draft in 1960, the Boston Patriots selected running back Ron Burton in the first round as their first-ever pick. Rommie Loudd became the AFL’s first black coach when he was named linebackers coach for the Patriots in 1966. Loudd later became the first black top executive in major league sports as the owner of the World Football League’s Florida Blazers in 1974.
There is so much more to the book than I’ve touched on with this short essay. Racism continues to be a big part of our everyday life in 2018 and it must stop. We’ve made some progress, but we are not where we need to be. We live in a current climate of hatred and blame which allows racism to survive. If I have one wish, it is a hope and prayer I live to see the end of racism as we know it. Even this week, there were reports out of the Seattle Mariners organization that their former Director of High Performance, Dr. Lorena Martin, has made allegations of derogatory comments made by GM Jerry DiPoto, Manager Scott Servais, and Director of Player Development Andy McKay with racial and sexist overtones. Maybe it is a case of a disgruntled former employee, but maybe it is not. Where there’s smoke, there’s generally fire. If true, this is unacceptable behavior that cannot be tolerated. I think all of us want a better tomorrow for our children and their children. The work to make it happen starts here. No looking back, the focus should be on now and the future, and how we can help each other be successful and live meaningful, rewarding lives. As they say, none of us are getting out of here alive. We should live these days to the best of our ability and to share love and happiness around the World.
That’s a wrap. While I wish that I had won the bet with Julia, I learned a great deal from the book and hopefully I can be a better person as a result. Enjoy your World Series championship, Julia. Your team earned it. But rest assured, the New York Yankees will be back, stronger than ever in 2019. Until next time…
Less than a week until the Yankees travel to 4 Yawkey Way…
My nemesis last year was Julia of Julia’s Rants. The season started so great for her as the Boston Red Sox took the first eight games of the season series against the Yankees. For a time, it seemed as though the Yankees would never get a win. But then along came August, and the tide turned. Led by hip-rejuvenated Alex Rodriguez, the Yankees captured all but one of the remaining games in the series enroute to their 27th World Championship.
There was hope that Julia and I could face one another in the ALCS but John Lackey and the Los Angeles Angels had other ideas. Of course, after the season, Theo and the Red Sox decided that if you can’t beat him, sign him as they inked Lackey to a five-year deal to be their number 2 starter. I know that Josh Beckett is the ace of the staff, but if I were building a franchise, I’d pass on Beckett and Lackey and go with Jon Lester.
Barry Chin/Boston Globe
Still it was gratifying to beat Julia and to enjoy the success of a championship season (my seventh as a Yankees fan). Conversely, I am 0-for-lifetime as a fan of the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings. If only Brett Favre had just tucked the ball and ran…
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Here we are ready for a new season, and the battle between Julia and I gets off to a very early start. I was listening to an interview with Boston beat writer Ian Browne and someone asked him if it was too early for Yankees-Red Sox. His response was that it could be January 19th and a foot of snow on the ground and it wouldn’t be too early. Precisely! Granted, it’s your final record that determines whether you’ll see October, but the Yankees measure themselves against the Red Sox. There is much more satisfaction in beating Boston than there is in beating, say, Kansas City. The wins are measured the same, but still a win against the Royals just doesn’t have the same meaning. I don’t want to offend my friends in Tampa because I know the Rays have the talent to win it all so this is not about disrespect. However, the rivalry between the Rays and Yankees just isn’t as deep and heated as it is against the Red Sox. There was a day that I despised the Baltimore Orioles like no other, so I am sure that the tide will eventually turn. However, right now, as it has been for most of the past decade, baseball doesn’t get any better than Yankees-Red Sox. As a Bay Area resident, I’ve been to Giants-Dodgers games, but they just don’t compare.
For our first wager, Julia and I have agreed to a book report assignment. The winner gets to send a book of his/her choice (I know, the winner pays…go figure). If the Yankees win, Julia gets to read and write a book report on the following book:
Don’t click…this was just a cut and paste from Amazon.com! The real thing will be making the trip to the Boston metro area to see my friend Julia! I chose this book because it had special meaning to me. 1947 was the year that my late father graduated from high school, and it was the dawn of the great Yankees dynasty of the early 50’s. If I could go back in time, 1927 would be my first choice so that I could watch the greatest Yankees team of all-time. But for a second choice, given all of the great Yankees clubs in the past, 1947 would be next. The team didn’t realize that it was on the verge of the greatest success in baseball history and it would have been fun to see the excitement and enthusiasm of those early years.
Yeah Joe, you can smile a little larger! You’ll be getting over on that dude next to you! 🙂
If I lose (c’mon, Carsten Charles Sabathia, don’t let me down!), I will have to read one of Julia’s favorites:
I like Julia’s essays, so I am pulling for my favorite MLB Blogger! Go Julia! Lose to the Yankees and write that book report! As Rob Schneider would say, ‘C’mon, you CAN do it!’. 😉
Courtesy: Julia’s Rants
Congratulations to Ian Kennedy for being named to the starting rotation for the Arizona Diamondbacks. I was very frustrated at times with Kennedy and his attitude when he was with the Yankees, but I do hope that he finds success. It wasn’t that long ago when his name was mentioned in the same breath as Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes. Also, hats off to the Detroit Tigers newly named starting center fielder Austin Jackson. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy seeing Curtis Granderson in center field for the Yankees. But I will also wonder ‘what could have been’ with Ajax. He made me a believer with the way he tattooed a home run a couple of years ago in spring training. Granted, he is not a home run hitter, but he has that “it” quality people talk about. Having Johnny Damon as your personal mentor is not a bad thing so long as Damon doesn’t wear that freakin’ 2004 ring! 😉
Andrew Mills/The Star Ledger/US Presswire
I was also glad to see Chad Gaudin land with the local Oakland A’s. It is his second go-around with the A’s, and I think he’ll thrive in their bullpen. I am only a BART trip away from the A’s Stadium, so I am sure that I’ll be there a time or two to see how he progresses in his return.
Is this really the last season of 24? Wow, those were eight fast years! On the bright side, you know that they can’t kill off Jack Bauer. Not with the proposed movie deals in the works…
How could Jesse James cheat on Sandra Bullock? I don’t get it. She is perhaps one of the most beautiful and inspirational actresses of my lifetime.
I know, I’m getting way off topic. Sorry. I’ll close with saying that I am pulling for Crystal Bowersox on American Idol! Go Crystal! Keep up what you are doing. You are special!
It was all looking good until Yankees first baseman Juan Miranda botched a potential double-play throw in the second inning, which subsequently allowed six unearned runs to score.
At the time, the Yankees-Red Sox game was tied at 1-1 due to a home run by Red Sox third baseman Mike Lowell earlier in the inning.
Ask me how much I wish Mark Teixeira had been in the line-up last night.
Nevertheless, a bet is a bet and Julia of Julia’s Rants was the victor! So, here is the first part of a four-part series about Boston Red Sox players (past and present).
THE GREAT TED WILLIAMS
Ted Williams was a great baseball player.
Whew! That was easy. Just three more of these and I’ll be finished! Life is good…
You mean that’s not quite good enough? Bummer. Well, here goes…
Before I get started, I need to check on my lunch…
Crow and Mushroom Stew
1 Tbsp lard/shortening
1 pint stock or gravy
2 Tbsp cream
1/2 cup mushrooms
salt and pepper
Clean and cut crows into small portions and let them cook a short time in the lard/shortening in a saucepan, being careful not to brown them. Next, add to the contents of the pan, the stock or gravy, and salt, pepper and cayenne to taste. Simmer 1 hour, or until tender, add mushrooms, simmer 10 minutes more and then stir in cream. Arrange the mushrooms around the crows on a hot platter.
Yum, I can’t wait…
Okay, before I get started, who should I write about? Let me see. I could write about George Herman Ruth. He was a Red Sox once, right? He contributed significantly to the Red Sox World Championships of 1916 and 1918.
Oh, there was something about Harry Frazee financing the play ‘No, No Nanette’ in 1923 and he needed some cash, so I guess that won’t work.
I could write about David Wells or perhaps David Cone…
I know a thing or two about those guys…
Somehow, I don’t think Julia is going to let me get away that easy.
In the spirit of fair play, since this blog is temporarily on loan to the Red Sox Nation, I think I will go with Carl Yastrzemski for the first blog…
THE PERFECT PLAYER
In 1967, Carl Yastrzemski won the American League MVP in a near unanimous vote (missing by a single vote). He won the Triple Crown (.326, 44, 121). He also led the AL in runs, 112; hits, 189; total bases, 360; runs produced, 189; OBP, .421; and SA, .622.
1967 was a remarkable year for Yaz but where did he come from?
Carl Michael Yastrzemski was born in Southhamption, Long Island on August 22, 1939. He grew up in Bridgehampton, Long Island, as the son of a potato farmer. After high school, Yaz went to Notre Dame on a baseball and basketball scholarship, but was signed by the Boston Red Sox in 1958 during his first year of college.
At age 21, he joined the Red Sox in 1961. He inherited left field, a spot that had been occupied by the legendary Ted Williams for the previous two decades.
Yaz hit for average almost from the start, winning the 1963 batting title with .321 average. He also led the AL with doubles and walks that year. The power was slower to develop. For his first six years, his season high for home runs was 20 in 1965. Surely, the shadow of Williams and the surrounding cast of losing players had an impact on Yaz, but the tide was about to turn.
After a losing season in 1966, Dick Williams was hired as the Red Sox manager. The experts expected another losing season in Boston. In fact, the Las Vegas oddsmakers had the Red Sox at 100-1.
With Yaz leading the way, the Red Sox were entrenched in perhaps the wildest pennant race in AL history. Four teams (including Minnesota, Detroit, and Chicago) battled it out throughout the summer, separated by only a few games.
Game after game, Yaz consistently came up with the key hit or catch, or baserunning play, to help Boston win. He was on fire during the stretch run, and batted .523 over the final 12 games of the season. In the season’s final two games against Minnesota, with the Red Sox trailing the Twins by one game, Yaz went 7-for-8 with 5 runs batted in as the Red Sox won both games to win the pennant in the season known as the “Impossible Dream”.
The Red Sox subsequently lost the World Series in seven games to the St. Louis Cardinals. But 1967 will always be known as “The Year of the Yaz”.
During his 23-year career, Yaz finished with:
· 7 Gold Gloves
· 3,419 hits
· 1,844 RBI
· 452 Home Runs
· 3,308 Games Played
Yaz was the first Boston player I was aware of growing up. He wore a Red Sox uniform for his entire major league career, and his number, 8, was retired upon his selection for the Hall of Fame. I didn’t see the early years, but from my perspective, Yaz played the game the right way and he set a standard that is difficult for many to achieve (not just the game of baseball, but the game of life as well).
“And if I have my choice between a pennant and a triple crown, I’ll take the pennant every time.”
— Carl Yastrzemski
I received this notice regarding my Yankees Fan Membership from the She-Fan, Jane Heller, this morning…
Maybe she’ll renew my membership next month if I can defeat Julia in the April 24th to 26th series between the Yankees and Red Sox…
I wonder if lunch is ready…