Boston Sports – Then And Now

Thanks to a message board reader, I came across this Frank Deford column in the July 13, 1970 edition of Sports Illustrated.

Who Are The Hub Men?

It’s about Boston’s refusal to build a public stadium in the city, which forced the Patriots to go and build in Foxborough. However, it is also an overview of the state of the teams in Boston and the mindset of the fans, and media:

In a section which talks about how people in the city recognize Red Sox players whereever they are out in public, Deford writes:

There is a reason for this phenomenon. Sam Cohen says that two things on the sports page sell papers in Boston. These are baseball and championship fights. Since interesting championship fights occur nowadays with the frequency of Halley’s Comet, there is a disposition in the Boston press to write about baseball. Eternally there is no off season. The stuff pours out like lava down Krakatoa. Newspapers may disappear in Boston, but not newspaper baseball writers—they come across the diamond in a phalanx. In Boston so much baseball is bombarded at the reading populace that it is difficult not to know a lot about the Sox even if you don’t want to.

Sounds familiar. So does this:

If Bobby Orr played with the Red Sox instead of the Bruins, they would have to build a new public library to hold his clippings. Even now, Carl Yastrzemski and Tony Conigliaro appear to be regular features, like the horoscope or Dear Abby. Before he ever strode to home plate in a major league game, some kid infielder named Alvarado had been come at so many ways during spring training that he was beginning to resemble the bridge at Chappaquiddick. Was Alvarado ready? Should he play third base or short? Switch Petrocelli to third? Are you crazy? Will this affect Petrocelli? Will it, in fact, affect Petrocelli if he even thinks Alvarado is being considered for short? Will it affect Alvarado if he thinks Petrocelli is affected by this possible switch? What will this do to Petrocelli’s hitting? His fielding? Alvarado’s? What do teammates think of this situation? Opponents? Rival managers? Alvarado? Petrocelli? After weeks of all this, by which time Alvarado had become a name and psyche familiar to every man, woman and child in the area, the season opened with Petrocelli at short and Alvarado at third. By June Alvarado was back in the minors.

Replace “Avarado” with “Iglesias” and that situation might be a description of today.

Despite the overkill, Boston writers do not live up to their image. For one thing, their potential power is limited by the fact that the money and the eggheads still scorn the Boston papers, except for occasional ventures into The Christian Science Monitor. Tennis, which draws from the upper-class element, is likely better served by advance publicity in The New York Times than in local papers. Nor are Boston writers exceptionally critical. Many are downright avuncular. Only one, Clif Keane of the Globe, may be classified as a character. Certainly none resemble Dave Egan, “The Colonel,” who was the “Splendid Splinter’s” nemesis.

Irascible and unpredictable when in his cups, which was often, Egan was a child of mixed parentage—Hearst, out of Harvard. The conflicts showed. He had an almost brilliant capacity to infuriate, and he came, before his death in 1958, to personify The Boston Sportswriter. It was bad casting. In reality, Ted Williams created a monster. Not only did Williams drive Egan to escalate their feud, but the stature Williams gave Egan caused other writers to try to emulate him as a knock artist. None, however, could match The Colonel’s artistry of invective. “You couldn’t help but laugh,” Jackie Jensen says, “even if it was your best friend he was knocking.” Besides, Egan was not all the blackguard Williams made him out to be. He often stooped to mercy. He was an original and flamboyant defender of Williams when most Hub Men had taken it upon themselves to launch vicious personal attacks against him for being a draft dodger and unfit father. Moreover, The Colonel was an utterly charming man when sober, and then his writing could become almost gooey. “He used to write columns about me that would embarrass my mother,” Cousy says.

Today, instead of Dave Egan, we have Dan Shaughnessy.

Still, reading through the article it’s a good overview of the state of Boston sports in 1970. The Red Sox, Celtics, Bruins and Patriots are all looked at. The article concludes this way:

As usual, Boston is not out of step; it is a step in front. It should not be called the only city that will not build a stadium. It should be known as the first city that refused to. Once again, the Hub Men are coming.

Sometimes, the more things change, the more they remain the same. Robert Kraft fought a similar battle to Billy Sullivan in trying to get a stadium built in Boston, and in the end, simply built another one in Foxborough.

Last fall, ESPN the Magazine devoted an entire issue to Boston sports. It’s interesting to compare some of the things written in 1970 to how things are today. In an article looking at the state of the Celtics, Ric Bucher wrote:

One game into the Heat playoff series, longtime Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy compared the Celtics to 74-year-old actor Morgan Freeman. At the end of the series, MassLive.com ran the headline: “The Death of a Dynasty That Never Was.” A video of two Boston writers debating the Celtics’ chances for another ring had one joking that it was possible only if “LeBron James will take off the fourth quarter in four of six playoff games.” A running September fan poll asking “How are you feeling about the Celtics?” on a scale of 10 to 100 sat for a time at 10 and never topped 50. That same month, when another blog asked, “Is This Already a Lost Season?” message-boarders said they’d prefer to lose the entire season to the lockout than witness banner-fail in a quest for an 18th title.

Then there was the introductory story to the issue, entitled Why Boston is better than you. The writer, Peter Keating draws a conclusion not unlike the one that Deford came up with above:

“This city has a passionate fan base and smart fans and a supply of intelligent people coming out of universities nearby,” Morey says. “Boston’s got the lead. And they’re going to hold it for a while.”

We’ll see.

  • http://www.bostonsportsthenandnow.com Joe Gill

    That’s my website!

  • latetodinner

    Bruce:

    Cicero wrote “Times are bad. Children no longer obey their parents, and everyone is writing a book.” over 2000 years ago. I don’t find it surprising that Boston media, or any media has not changed much other than the shear volume of it, over the last 40 years…human nature has not changed much in the last 2000 years. We have had this discussion many, many times. Sports are sports, sports coverage in the media…that is all about the “fame” industry. Each side feeds the other. Ted Williams legend grows because of what the “Colonel” wrote. Likewise the “Colonel’s” legend grows because of Williams exploits both on and off the field. Without the Red Sox Dan Shaughnessey can’t write the Curse books and articles. Without Shank Pedro Martinez “can’t wake up the Babe and drill him in the ass.” The picture painted by the media defines the legends the actual performances could never live up to.

    The dirty secret is both businesses need each other desperately to survive and thrive in the “fame” industry. The athletes, teams, even owners desperately need the attention/ spotlight. The media need a subject the general population will adore, admire, follow, hate, moralize and consume. I think the dichotomy between where one ends and the other begins is what makes being a fan so exciting. Sports, like any other performance entertainment (music, tv, movies, books, celebrity) gives its consumers an escape. The media’s function is to tell the story and put the performance in context. Some media members are excellent at it, some suck, some are biased, some are steady, but they all perform the same function…they create the narrative and we, the fans, would not have it any other way.

    • Scott B.

      I’m pretty sure I would have it another way.

  • The Hey

    “As usual, Boston is not out of step; it is a step in front. It should not be called the only city that will not build a stadium. It should be known as the first city that refused to.”

    Crap. The only reason the city “refused to” build a stadium is because there are too many palms to grease and troughs to fill to make it feasible for a private owner and/or shove down taxpayers throats.

    The previous Red Sox ownership discovered this in the late 90s and that is when they decided to sell.

  • Joe Gill

    That darn ball rolling through Buckner’s legs tuned me out on the Red Sox, but the media did report some Wade Boggs sex scandal and he ended up going on Sally Jesse Raphael to rehab his image.