Book Review – It Was Never About The Babe

Disclaimer – I’m quoted a few times in the pages of this book.

It Was Never About the Babe: The Red Sox, Racism, Mismanagement, and the Curse of the Bambino


When the Red Sox won the 2004 World Series and ended 86 years of heartache, something else came to an end as well. Dan Shaughnessy’s gravy train, the “The Curse of the Bambino” (now available for as little as $0.01 on Amazon!) also came to a screeching halt. Shaughnessy had even tried to make the “Curse” into a kids book. (The Legend of the Curse of the Bambino) He then tried to capitalize one last time on his creation by writing Reversing the Curse following the long awaited World Series victory.

Of course, there never was any “curse”, and Jerry Gutlon, like many others was annoyed at the many inaccuracies that were out there regarding the Red Sox and Babe Ruth’s exit from the team.

So he set out to correct them, as well as to tell the real reasons why the Red Sox went 86 years between World Series victories. The result is a concise season-by-season summary of the Red Sox from 1901 up until the present. Some of the material is familiar to diehard fans, some of the information might be new to you. The details surrounding Babe Ruth’s departure from the team, for instance, are more complicated than you might’ve been led to believe. (Hint – it’s certainly not as simple as Red Sox owner Harry Frazee needing cash to fund No, No, Nanette as the “Curse” would have you believe.)

The “dirty little secret” of the sale of Babe Ruth is that American League President Ban Johnson was trying to force Frazee out of baseball. Frazee sold Ruth because Johnson was forcing him into financial ruin. Why? Because Johnson was anti-semitic and (mistakenly) thought Frazee was Jewish. The press supported Johnson in this in part because Frazee had taken away the traditional free liquor and food for the media.

Here is a quick Q&A session with Gutlon:

What will Red Sox fans learn from your book that they didn’t know before?

Many of the facts in this book will prove to be revelations. The institutional racism practiced by the franchise is mind blowing, along with the fact that during the Yawkey regime alcohol fueled many of the decisions made by Red Sox management.

What role did racism play in the 86 years the Red Sox failed to win a championship?

The team institutionalized racism and was the last to integrate. They passed on signing Jackie Robinson, Willie Mays and Sam Jethroe, who could’ve revolutionalized Red Sox baseball. To have owner Tom Yawkey declare “We’ll sign a black ballplayer when we find one who meets our standards” was simply irresponsible.

Is it true that legendary Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey owned a brothel?

That’s got to be the strangest aspect of the entire Yawkey saga. In 1934, Yawkey actually bought a whorehouse located in Florence, South Carolina, and moved it to Georgetown, South Carolina, where he had his estate. It operated until 1969, under its Madam, Hazel Weiss. The bordello was internationally known.

What is present management doing right now — that was not done before?

Present management combines a scientific approach to baseball with a modicum of instinctive sense. The Sox no longer are governed by whim and fancy, but by pragmatism. They’re entirely colorblind. I know the almightly martini no longer fuels the front office decisions and personnel. And they’re not afraid to spend money – wisely.

Gutlon is critical of the Yawkey regime, of the complicit press and of the yes-men employed for decades by the franchise. Chapter 19 - “A Failure to Communicate” is devoted to the failure of the media over the years, and according to Gutlon, his publisher actually cut quite a bit out of that chapter. He also claims that “Dan Shaughnessy ignored repeated requests for interviews for this book.”

The book went into a second printing the week it was released, and a third is in production right now. A few minor factual errors have been corrected, and the book has gotten good reviews in other outlets, such as The Boston Globe.

The book is an easy, enjoyable read, and a helpful refresher on the often-turbulent history of the Boston Red Sox.

  • Scott

    Maybe Gutlon ought to consider paying Shaughnessy for that interview.

    • Jerry Gutlon

      You mean for the non-interview?

      Dan ignored my e-mails for comments. Then, after my book was published this past March he complained that I was “unfair” to him…

      He also asked my why I didn’t talk with him at Fenway. The reason why was the Celts were in the midst of the playoffs and Shank never showed up at Fenway…

  • rrsafety

    I wonder if Tom Yawkey ever donated his “personal papers” to a library or something. I’d think an a many decade ownership in MLB would make for some interesting reading if those papers existed somewhere.

    • sam

      the university of south carolina has a collection of love letters to syphilis afflicted whores that yawkey wrote as well as the letters from the parents of clubhouse attendants molested on his watch. fascinating stuff.

  • mandb97

    When I lived out of New England for a few years, my friends and co-workers always brought up the “curse of the Bambino”. I always told them it was the curse of the Yawkey’s. Tom Yawkey was inept and gutless. The only good thing he accomplished was the Jimmy Fund which the new ownership has done ten times more with in the short time they have been here.

    • Jim

      The Boston Braves created the Jimmy Fund.

      • http://www.jonvssports.blogspot.com Jon

        That’s hilarious.

      • mandb97

        Wow I did not know that (obviously). So what you are saying is that he is a bigger dink than I thought he was.

        • Jerry Gutlon

          Yakwey inherited the Jimmy Fund from Lou Perini, former owner of the Boston Braves, when Perini moved the club to Milwaukee.

  • Tony

    Having idiots making the decisions in the dugout when the Sox had some of their most powerful clubs didn’t help either (Darrell Johnson in ’75; Zimmer in ’78; McNamara in ’86; and Grady Gump in ’03).

  • Buck

    I know for a fact the last book Shaughnessy wrote, wasn’t simply to capitalize on the Sox and the Curse one last time. He was approached by the publishing company to write a book about that season the previous winter, and had begun writing in Spring training, that’s why it was printed so quickly after the Series ended, it was three quarters written already.

    • Bruce

      So he and the publisher knew that the Red Sox were going to win the World Series that year? If not, what was the purpose of the book? Was the name always “Reversing the Curse” or was that a nice way to capitalize on the victory?

      • Buck

        the framework of the book came out of the devasting end to the 2003 season, the fact they went out and added the pitcher and closer they were seemingly missing, the feeling it was all or nothing in 2004 because the sox had so many free agents, it was a fascinating season from the outset, and one the publisher felt would make for a good book.
        Of course it turned out in the best possible way because they won, so it’s easy to assume he was just capitalizing.

        • Bruce

          Thanks for the background.

        • Buck

          No problem, just thought you might like to know. i think in the end the title was obvious given the fact he had writtedn the previous book, I dont even know if he had anything to do with the title.

        • rrsafety

          …and had the ’04 Sox failed, the book would probably have been entitled, “The Curse Continues”. I think Bruce’s point is that Dan was capitalizing on a myth that he himself had created.

  • Sluggo

    The best books I have read about this topic were Al Hirshberg’s “What’s the Matter With the Red Sox?” (1973) and Peter Golenbock’s “Fenway” (ca. 1991). Hirshberg covered the team during the 1950s – in fact, he’s the one who supposed heard Pinky Higgins say “There’ll be no n*****s on this team as long as I have anything to say about it.” And Golenbock speaks to people who provide a lot of detail about the roots of Yawkey’s problems – his alcoholism, his paranoia, his shyness, his closed circle of toadies and sycophants who reinforced his beliefs – that led to the apathy and horrible decision-making, along with the racism, that marked much of the first 32 years of Yawkey’s ownership. That Dick O’Connell was able to emerge from this front office in 1965 was nothing short of a miracle, and probably stems from the fact that Yawkey had pretty much given up on the day-to-day management of the ballclub, staying in South Carolina longer every spring and publicly threatening to sell the Red Sox, or move them, if some megaplex, multipurpose stadium wasn’t built with public money to replace Fenway. O’Connell was not a toady – and he would pay dearly for that later when his #2 guy, Haywood Sullivan, wormed his way into Tom and Jean Yawkey’s hearts.

    • Tony

      Golenbock’s book is excellent. I found myself shaking my head half the time as I was reading about the mistakes the front office made over the year, all because Yawkey surrounded himself with idiots, drunks and “yes” men.

    • http://sportsreporter16.tripod.com/ Jerry Gutlon

      I cited both Hirshberg’s book and Golenbock’s book in It Was Never About the Babe. Golenbock is even in the acknowledgments because his interviews were absolutely golden. And the O’Connell regime and its ultimate downfall were likewise well-covered.

  • Rick Mc

    “The bordello was internationally owned.”

    Maybe “renowned”?

    • Bruce

      It was “known.” Sorry, my bad.

  • http://masshysteriasports.blogspot.com DaveR

    Not to be a nitpicker with honest typos, Bruce — but it’s “Sam Jethroe”.

    • Bruce

      Wow. I suck.

      Thanks again.

      • BSF34

        Bruce…the correct response is “I’m sure you’re at the top of your profession”…LOL

  • http://masshysteriasports.blogspot.com DaveR

    Also, this book is going on my “to read” list ASAP. Sounds fascinating.

  • BSF34

    I picked up this book a couple of months ago and though it was an excellent read.

  • Lance

    Bruce, I read the book and it’s awful. You expect a book about the regime and the author gives details of every single game of almost every season.

    And for all the compliments Gutlon receives for this book he completely ignores the true dirty secret of the Yawkey’s: their employment of the pedophile Don Fitzpatrick – the team’s clubhouse manager for forty years. Fitzpatrick hired poor young African-American boys as assistants and repeatedly molested them. The Yawkey’s knew about it (along with players and journalists) and when the victims complained about Fitzpatrick Yawkey fired them and kept Fitzpatrick.

    Any book about the Yawkeys should have that, don’t you think?

    When John Henry bought the team he quickly settled with the claimants and the press barely wrote a word about it, brave souls they are.

    • Big Jeff

      Wait, you’re saying the media ignored a story that was going on right under their noses? I thought steroids was the only time that happened.

    • http://sportsreporter16.tripod.com/ Jerry Gutlon

      Huh? I’ve been criticized because I didn’t provide details from “every single game of every single season.”

      The Fitzpatrick matter, as well as several other new revelations I’ve learned about the Yawkeys will be in a forthcoming edition. That’s out of my hands and in the hands of the publisher.

      • Lance

        The revelations about Fitzpatrick are hardly new. The lawsuits were made in the Harrington era. Certainly the members of the press and former players you interviewed are (and should be) embarrassed by their part in this very ugly episode.

        Around the same as those lawsuits there were others made by minority fans about being singled out and “shaken down” by Fenway ushers and other employees. And your book happened to miss that too.

        Your book purports to be an analysis of the Yawkeys and including excruciating detail of every frikkin’ game – details contained in many other books about the history of the Sox. The details add pages to the book but adds no insight at all into the Yawkey’s. It reeks of filler designed to meet a word quota rather than any quality quota. I stand by my original thought – it’s a boring book with some, but not too much insight.

  • Josh T

    This looks like a good book. I also liked Red Sox Century by Glenn Stout, they got into the racism and the anti semitism involved in Frazee’s departure. Fenway by Golenbeck was good as well. (One part I particularly enjoyed reading about was the claim that the leadership being prejudiced against the Italians as well. Some of the players from the 50′s claimed that the Sox kept guys like Jerry Casale and Frank Malzone down in the minors because they were Italian.) Prior to 1966 they couldn’t do anything right.

  • davey

    “Racist” Yawkey’s ’67 Red Sox: Foy, Scott, Tartabull, Howard, Wyatt, R. Smith (six African-Americans)

    “Color-blind” 2009 Sox (ZERO African Americans).

    Yes they’ve been open-minded to Latinos and Asians (who hasn’t?) but no team has been more racist against blacks than “Theo and the Trio’s” Sox.

    The Sox Planatation lives on! Does anybody care?

    • Paul

      If the Sox were running a “plantation”, wouldn’t they have all black players and pay them next to nothing?

      Considering 8.4% of MLB players are black, it’s not surprising that the Sox (and lots of other teams) have no black players.

      • Tony

        This is an excellent point. The number of black players in MLB has been declining over the last decade or so because fewer and fewer black youths are taking up baseball, plus more and more better prospects are coming out of Latin America. The current Sox regime is hardly racist, nor was the previous (Duquette) regime for that matter. It’s just a circumstantial thing–besides, if you didn’t know that David Ortiz or Ramon Ramirez were Latinos, would you be able to tell by looking at them that they were not African-Americans? Or does being “black” mean being Africa-American, and only African-American?

        It’s downright silly to call today’s Sox racist.

        • davey

          The Red Sox clearly have pre-dispositions against african americans — the numbers both on field (and off) don’t lie.

          The spirit of Al Campanis lives on through Theo, larry and Jon.

          Once Ortiz is dumped (soon), they’ll be that much closer to their “master race” — a team comprised of just whites and asians.

          Clearly, they feel certain types of ballplayers lack the “neccesities” to play in Boston. Barry Bonds was right.

        • http://www.jonvssports.blogspot.com Jon

          I believe we’ve entered davey’s fantasy kingdom.
          Or, he’s a time traveler from the 1940′s when the Red Sox actually were racist. In that case, can anyone here fix a flux capacitor?

    • http://www.jonvssports.blogspot.com Jon

      Because when I think of honky bastards, David Ortiz comes to mind.

      Please.
      I believe Paul just owned you…

  • Mitch

    I’d be willing to bet that this book makes no mention of the fact that in 1967, as racism ran rampant throughout the country and, truth be told, much of Major League Baseball, the Red Sox fielded a ballclub that often had five men of color on the field at one time…while many clubs in baseball had one or two minorities on their entire rosters.

    The players were Joe Foy, Johnny Wyatt, Reggie Smith, Jose Tartabull and veteran catcher Elston Howard, whom Tom Yawkey personally talked out of retiring when the Yankees waived him, in order to bring him to Boston.

    Dick O’Connell was the general manager during that era, and he had a terrific eye for talent…without prejudice.

    That having been stated, roster diversity was not nearly the critical issue during the time period after Jackie Robinson broke in that many would make it out to be. The Yankees were the most dominant team in sports history during the 1950′s and early 1960′s (14 Pennants and 9 World Series Championships in 16 seasons) with only one black player of any note whatsoever: The aforementioned Elston Howard.

    Tom Yawkey’s mistake was not racism. It was the insistence on hiring grossly incompetent field managers and the firing of the one, truly great manager they have ever had: Hall of Famer Dick Williams.

    Anybody who believes or writes otherwise is simply ignoring the facts, and shouldn’t be taken seriously.

    • Mitch

      George Scott makes SIX out of nine on the 1967 field. My bad.

      • http://www.jonvssports.blogspot.com Jon

        How dare you forget Boomer!!

    • Bruce

      Mitch – It does mention that fact and applauds Dick O’Connell for just as you say – having an eye for talent without prejudice. The fact was that by the mid-60′s Yawkey had pretty much distanced himself from the operations of the team, staying down in South Carolina longer and longer in the spring, giving O’Connell more of a free reign to run the club properly.

    • Jerry Gutlon

      The 1967 team also had two Latinos — Jose Santiago (P) and Jose Tartabull (OF). The biggest differences in 1967 were that (1.) Yawkey was absent for much of the season, and (2.) Dick O’Connell was running the club as GM. O’Connell was the first (and only) general manager under Yawkey who wasn’t a topady to the owner. And Yawkey’s style of management is well covered. Read the book before you pass judgement!

  • Tony

    In all fairness, regarding the racism of Yawkey’s Sox: the Yankees were a very racist organization throughout the 30s, 40s and 50s, and were one of the very last major league teams to integrate, with Elston Howard in 1955. The Sox were the last to integrate, and that’s a shameful mark on the organization, but there’s a lot more to the Sox failures than just not having enough black players or not having black players soon enough. The Yankees were racists and they still won a lot during that era.

    Yawkey was just a crappy owner who encouraged the “star” system in the clubhouse, a system which remained intact right up through the day his widow’s trust sold the team, and who also surrounded himself with selfish cronies and total incompetent’s; and yes, in some cases, with out-and-out racists too (Pinky Higgins).

    Golenbock’s book “Fenway” recites a little-known story that accuses Joe Cronin, one of Yawkey’s first big acquisitions after he bought the Red Sox in the 30s and now the player/manager of the team (early 1940s), of selfishly (and quietly) putting the kibosh on the possibility of the Sox signing Pee Wee Reese as a youngster because he, Cronin, didn’t want to lose his shortstop job to the younger player.

    That’s the kind of selfish-cronyism that Yawkey allowed in his organization for far too long.

  • Big D-man

    Well, it would have been nice to have Jackie Robinson playing the infield (he got a tryout with Boston before Brooklyn) and Willie Mays in the outfield (see Gutlon’s book, or “Red Sox Century” by Glen Stoudt, or “The Complete Boston Red Sox” by Gentile). That said, Yawkey’s management style was to hire toadys and pals. I’m sure racism was a factor, but he was just so clueless about the game that it brought down the franchise. But I’ve always winced when people talked of the “Curse.” Heck, before John Henry, the last owner to win a World Series was_ Harry Frazee!

  • http://sportsreporter16.tripod.com/index.html Jerry Gutlon

    I recently found original material about Don Fitzpatrick and unearthed more information regarding Yawkey’s racism. Unfortunately, it’s entirely up to the publisher to add this material to the book. But they assure me that several required corrections will be forthcoming in the next edition.

  • Sam from Boston

    When I read the book, I was absolutely shocked at Gutlon’s revelations of overt racism and stupidity. As a life long Red Sox fan, I knew a little, but Jerry really opened my eyes to the sad state of the Sox until the new ownership took over.

    I know the author and I am sure that his research was on target, ecxcept for qa few minor issues which I underatand he corrected in the latest edition. I would like to see more from him on the other Boston teams going forward.

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