Review (and Giveaway) of Fenway Park: The Centennial

With Fenway Park turning 100 years old next year,  you can count on a steady stream of publications, specials and documentaries on the history of the ballpark.

I mentioned one a few weeks ago (Remembering Fenway Park) and today, another crossed my desk.

Fenway Park:The Centennial by Saul Wisnia, features both a book and a DVD Documentary which is narrated by New England native and Red Sox Hall of Famer Carlton Fisk.

This beautifully illustrated 176-page coffee-table style book captures the feel and spirit of Fenway Park which has been home to the Red Sox since April 1912.  Fenway has also seen its share of  pro and college football games, major cultural and civic events, an international soccer game in 2010 between Celtic and Sporting Lisbon, and even the New Year’s Day 2010 NHL Winter Classic game won by the Boston Bruins and played on a specially built hockey rink in the middle of the field.

The book includes over 200 images, including many from the archives of the Boston Public Library – as well as rarely seen artifices and memorabilia from the decades of events held in Fenway.

While the book naturally focuses on the Red Sox, there a photos of the NFL’s Boston Yanks, who played in Fenway from 1944-1948 as well as the AFL Boston Patriots, who called Fenway home from 1963 to 1968. Even soccer legend Pele played a game at Fenway when the Boston Beacons of the North American Soccer League hosted Pele’s Santos club from Brazil in 1968.

The book includes sections on:

  • The inception, construction, and early years of Fenway
  • Detailed looks at Red Sox legends from Babe Ruth to Ted Williams to Pedro Martinez and David Ortiz
  • The greatest moments of the Green monster, Fenway’s most famous feature
  • A trip inside the Monster’s manually operated scoreboard
  • Fenway fans and their love affair with the legendary stadium through the years
  • Unforgettable seasons, including the 1967 Impossible Dream team and the 2004 World Series champs
Author Saul Wisnia is a former sports and news correspondent for the Washington Post and feature writer for The Boston Herald.  Wisnia is now a senior publications editor at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.  He has authored, co-authored, or otherwise contributed to numerous books on Boston baseball history, and his essays and articles have also appeared in Sports Illustrated, Red Sox Magazine, and The Boston Globe.  He lives 6.78 miles from FenwayPark in Newton,Massachusetts.
The book is being released this coming Tuesday, September 13th. The publisher has agreed to give BSMW three copies of the book and DVD to give away to readers.
If you would like to enter the giveaway, please leave a comment below (with a valid email address so I can contact the winners) between now and the end of the day on Monday. On Tuesday, I’ll pick the three winners at random from among the commenters.

Book Review – Game Six

Sure, yesterday was a big anniversary in Red Sox history, but today is another one.

What were you doing 34 years ago tonight?

If you can remember that far, (I can’t) no doubt you were engrossed in a little baseball game that was taking place over at Fenway Park. The date was October 21st, 1975  and after a three days of rain delays, the Red Sox were set to play the Cincinnati Reds in game six of the World Series.

It turned out to be perhaps the most memorable game in World Series history, ending on the famous Carlton Fisk home run off the foul pole in the 12th inning which gave the Red Sox the win, and tied the series at three games apiece. Beyond Fisk, there were too many heroes to name – for both sides.

Writer Mark Frost has spent two years reading, digging, exploring and talking to players, managers, broadcasters and spectators from that historic night. He made numerous visits to Fenway Park, to the Hall of Fame, talked with as many people involved as he possibly could in order to weave all their stories together into a story that actually ends up encompassing a hundred years of baseball history within the confines of a single game.

The result is Game Six: Cincinnati, Boston, and the 1975 World Series: The Triumph of America’s Pastime.

At most, I’m what you would call a casual golf fan. However, I had read Frost’s books The Greatest Game Ever Played and The Grand Slam and couldn’t put either one down. So I was particularly enthused when I learned about this book and that it was Frost that had written it.

It doesn’t disappoint. If you read the two books mentioned in the previous paragraph, you are aware of Frost’s attention to detail and gift of narration. They are on full display once again here in this work. With eight Hall of Famers prominent in this game, Frost tells their stories as well as those of sportscasters such as Dick Stockton – you learn for instance that he had quite the rep as a “ladies man” back in the day, and that he got the phone number of future wife Lesley Visser in the press box prior to this game.

It’s not just the stars that get detailed however, the bit players, the network execs, the cameramen, the umpires, groundskeepers, and fans all have the night chronicled from their perspective, along with how they got to that night, and what it all meant for them at that time in their lives.

Asked about his favorite discovery that he unearthed in the course of his research, Frost says:  “Many discoveries: the story of Luis Tiant’s moving reunion with his parents, who’d been caught and left behind in Cuba after Castro came to power; the rise and fall and rise of Bernie Carbo; the remarkable relationship between Sparky Anderson and his quartet of superstar players. This is my favorite era in baseball, because I followed the game much more closely then, and to revisit it through the personal experience of the people involved brought it all back in vivid and memorable ways. Every player in this game has a story, and they are all, in one way or another, remarkable.

The book spends a fair amount of time focusing on what baseball was like before free agency. When asked how the game has changed since then, Frost responds: “Games Six and Seven of the ’75 World Series are the last baseball games played before the advent of free agency. The rules of the game off the field, for better or worse (certainly worse for the players), had remained unchanged for 100 years; within a year that structure had been dynamited, and all of sports — and its increasing obsession with the dollar — hasn’t been the same since. You couldn’t invent a more revealing time capsule to show us where we were in 1975 and where we’ve traveled since.”

It really is a time capsule, giving you the most complete picture you can imagine some 34 years after this game was played. The two golf books mentioned took place in 1913 and 1930 respectively, and Frost made those time periods come to life in living detail. To bring 1975 back, then, is a piece of cake.

If you hadn’t guessed, I really enjoyed this book.

Game Six: Cincinnati, Boston, and the 1975 World Series: The Triumph of America’s Pastime

Fighting Words “Lost Chapter” on Patriots

Last week I posted an interview with Jerry Beach, the author of Fighting Words: The Media, The Red Sox and How Boston Finally Won It All.

Beach had mentioned that he had written out a chapter on the New England Patriots and their relationship with the media, but that the chapter had been excluded from the book.

On his blog, Beach has posted the contents of that chapter, spread across three parts. Part one looks at why baseball lends itself to more thorough coverage than football as well as coverage of the Patriots in the early part of the franchise, leading up to the Bill Parcells era. Nick Cafardo explains why he enjoyed Parcells’ tenure as head coach:

“He was an interesting guy in his press conferences,” said Cafardo, who was moved from the Red Sox beat to the Patriots beat when Ron Borges was promoted to NFL columnist in 1996. “He wasn’t afraid to say things about players. He would go off on the writers. He was just very entertaining and he would always fill up your notebook.”

As we know, it’s not whether you win or lose, it all about whether you fill up the reporter’s notebook. That quote kind of tells you all you need to know about the mentality of a lot of sportswriters.

Part two of the chapter looks at the hiring of Bill Belichick, along with a look at his time with the Cleveland Browns, and how writers from that city still talk about how much they dislike him. Beach looks at Belichick’s refusal to provide colorful assessments of players – good or bad – immediately following a game, noting:

Such reluctance to discuss particular players runs counter to the needs of writers, who often need a quote about a particular player for a feature. And Belichick’s singular focus doesn’t leave much room for reflection or prognostication, which are also regular topics for writers.

Part threeof the chapter examines the Patriots policies on talking about injuries…noting that while Belichick gets labeled as uncooperative in this area, his practices aren’t all that different from what goes on all over the league, and explains how talking too much about injuries can be a disadvantage come game day. The chapter also looks at the Patriots attempts to coach their players on speaking with the media, and how the team has embraced new media:

They were the first American professional sports team to embrace new media in 1995, when patriots.com was launched. That year, the Patriots also became the first sports team to publish its own full-color weekly newspaper (Patriots Football Weekly).

In 1997, the Patriots began a nightly online program called “Patriots Video News.” The team also has an online radio station, carries all Belichick and Brady press conferences live online and archives the audio and transcriptions of these press conferences online.

These moves were ahead of all the other teams in the league, many of who do the same things. “Spygate” is touched on, and Beach notes that this incident “provided the most resounding proof yet: Under Belichick, the Patriots talked about what they wanted to when they wanted to and on their own terms.”

Beach notes that this chapter on the Patriots had to be cut from the final book because “there was just no way to put this in the book and maintain some sort of flow.” He adds that his original idea was to write “about how the Patriots, Celtics and Bruins are all secondary to the Sox in Boston,”  but that the end result got bogged down in “minutiae of Bill Belichick’s first two years and the Brady/Bledsoe controversy in particular.”

In the end, I’m rather glad that the chapter on the Patriots was omitted, not because of a lack of material, or because it wouldn’t have been interesting, but because it wouldn’t have fit in with what was a Red Sox dominated book.

I’ve never understood the fascination some in the media have with creating a competition between the Red Sox, Patriots, Celtics and Bruins. They make it out as if fans can’t pull equally hard for all teams, but have to choose one over the other. The media might put the Red Sox ahead of the other teams in Boston, but I don’t think real sports fans in the region do. The chapter has some interesting material, and I encourage you to look it over. I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before there is an entire book put together on the Patriots media practices anyway.

Book Review – Fighting Words

Disclaimer – I’m quoted a number of times in this book.

fighting-wordsWhen I recently received my review copy of Fighting Words: The Media, The Red Sox and How Boston Finally Won It All by Jerry Beach, it was after a long period of anticipation.

Beach and I had been in contact about this project for about five years at this point.

The end result didn’t disappoint, Fighting Words is a must-read for those interested in the relationship between the Red Sox and the media. (Which should be many of you reading this site.)

Beach conducted over 100 interviews in preparation for this book, talking to media members, Red Sox players, Red Sox management, and independent website publishers such as myself and the guys behind Sons of Sam Horn.

He explores how Red Sox superstars through the decades, from Ted Williams to Yaz to Nomar and Pedro have always had a complicated and at times adversarial relationship with the media. He looks at how Lou Gorman and Dan Duquette were polar opposites when it came to dealing with the media, yet both suffered with the same end results.

Chapter four is titled The Boston Media: The Ultimate Insiders, and examines how the sports media in this city has become almost as well known as the players they cover, and how The Boston Globe of the 1970’s headlined by Peter Gammons and Will McDonough – two men with different approaches who really didn’t get along – really launched that trend.

Chapter five revisits Curt Schilling’s arrival in Boston, and how his posting on Sons of Sam Horn infuriated some members of the mainstream media. Chapter six looks at how the new ownership group faced an uphill battle in winning over the local media, while a later chapter examines the relationship that Red Sox managers have historically had with the media, and how Terry Francona has succeeded where the rest failed.

Chapter nine details the evolution of Theo Epstein, from a Red Sox fan growing up, to his first year as Red Sox GM, when he attempted to be as “open and honest as possible” in dealing with the media, to his infamous resignation, due in part to a perceived leak to Dan Shaughnessy, and how since coming back to the Red Sox he has developed an increasingly Duquette-like approach to dealing with the media.

I reached out to Beach and reversed roles, this time asking him a few questions about the book, and the process of getting it written and published.

Here is our Q&A on the book:

Q: I know there was at least 5 years worth of research and work into the book, as you first contacted me about that long ago. If you could, would you please tell us again what made you want to explore the topic in this way?

A: It was really one of those few lightning bolt moments in life. I was standing in the right field press area at Yankee Stadium during the 2003 ALCS, kind of just observing to myself that the Red Sox’ three best players had strained or non-existent relationships with the press, when it occurred to me that this was quite a common occurrence going back to my childhood (Clemens, Rice, Boggs…though as I found out, Boggs had a pretty good relationship with the press, off-field scandals and all, until his final season with the Sox) and of course well before that with Ted Williams. Why was that the case? It seemed to me to be a really interesting idea for a book. I envisioned it as a series of mini-biographies (i.e. a chapter on each player), but I figured that such a specific idea would probably not appeal to my agents and/or the book publishing world (understandably so).

So I put together a proposal for a book in which I would tell various stories—the relationship between the Sox and the media, the Sox’ metamorphosis from a franchise that was the last to integrate into one of the most cutting-edge operations in the game and the passion New England possesses for the Sox—through the prism of the 2004 season.

In retrospect, that would have been pretty unwieldy, and the tales about the Sox’ organizational transformation, Boston fandom and the 2004 team have been and/or were eventually better told by people much more qualified than me. Fortunately, there were so many books pitched about the Sox in 2004 that my idea never really got any nibbles. Late in 2004, I met Bill Nowlin of Rounder Books, who liked the idea of a book about the Sox and the media and agreed to publish the book. Of course, he didn’t expect it would take nearly five years.

I had no idea how layered the book would become. The original idea morphed into something far different than I ever envisioned, and I’m incredibly happy that it did. This turned out to be far more interesting (I hope) than just a book about why Sox superstars have hot-and-cold relationships with the press.

And there’s more layers to reveal: If I were finishing this book right now, I’d have a chapter about how social media is changing sports coverage and, particularly, the consumption of it. I imagine I’ll feel there’s at least one more chapter worth adding at this time next year, too.

Q: In your research for the book, what surprised you the most about the Red Sox and the media?

A: I was surprised at how so many seemingly modern issues have been going on for generations. The press corps covering the Red Sox has always been perceived as too large and the home clubhouse as too small. Fans have long had high standards for the Boston press, and have never been shy about expressing their displeasure when those standards were not met. The fans have felt the media is too critical of the Sox, yet some in the media wonder if they haven’t been critical enough and inquisitive enough of the team.

Curt Schilling has his radio appearances and his blog; Ted Williams tried to control the message—at least as much as a player could in the 1940s and 1950s—by penning columns for newspapers and tweaking the local press by offering exclusive interviews to out-of-towners. Like Williams, Pedro Martinez is an incredibly brilliant and prideful person who initially welcomed all the attention before eventually tiring of it. Nomar Garciaparra and Carl Yastrzemski are uncannily alike in terms of work ethic and personality.

I thought it was really interesting, too, that the Sox and the reporters have in common the challenge of trying to adapt to the immediacy of the 24/7 news cycle.

Q: Did you meet any opposition during the course of your project?

A: I was quite fortunate in that almost everyone I approached was quite accommodating and expansive. There were a few people who slipped through the cracks, though.

Jim Rice declined an interview request. It was my fault: I opened the pitch by saying something about how I wanted to talk to him about his contentious relationship with the press and he got annoyed.

Dan Duquette responded to me within minutes when I emailed him an interview request, but he never replied to my numerous follow-ups asking him if we could talk specifically about the media.

I was unsuccessful in getting in touch with Bill Simmons via email and Nomar Garciaparra through intermediaries. Full disclosure: I was never able to get to a Cubs or Dodgers game when Nomar was playing for those teams, so I tried friends of Nomar b/c I didn’t have the most pleasant experience with his agent when I was writing my first book—a biography of Hideki Matsui, whom Arn Tellem also represents.

Sparky Lyle also declined an interview request when I approached him at an independent league game. Seriously. Sparky Lyle. I think he was trying to show off to his coaches.

My most interesting experiences in writing the book may have been convincing Derek Lowe and Theo Epstein to speak with me. I spent most of the summer of ’04 trying to talk to Lowe, but he obviously saw the end of his time with the Sox on the horizon and thought speaking about the press could only get him in trouble. I finally got him on the final Friday of the 2004 regular season and he was outstanding. I posted that Q&A and went into the story behind the interview here.

Landing Epstein for a follow-up (I interviewed him twice, once for a magazine feature and another time about the media, in 2004) was quite a delicate procedure that took nearly two years. Obviously, he really reduced his profile following the events of 2004 and 2005. He never definitely declined my requests, but he made it clear he was reluctant to talk about the media and to contribute to the celebrity culture that surrounds so many media members. I was beginning to think it wasn’t meant to be when he called me during a rain delay on the final day of the 2006 season and I missed the call because I had my phone on silent in the press box.

Finally, during a series against the Royals in July 2007, I saw him in Terry Francona’s office before Francona’s daily presser. When all the reporters went upstairs around 4, Epstein hung around talking to someone in the office, so I waited right outside the locker room door, figuring my best and last chance to get him would be when there was no one else around. He walked out, I made my pitch, said my book was about why the media was such a part of the story in Boston and that his input would be incredibly valuable. He agreed to the interview and it ended up being the one I really needed to tie everything together. Everyone knew Theo had changed since taking over as GM, but why? It wouldn’t have been nearly as interesting if I didn’t have supporting quotes and evidence from him.

I’m sure that if I started this project in 2005, instead of 2004 when I got to talk to him a few times under more relaxed circumstances, I never would have gotten him for such an in-depth interview, or even written this book.

Q: How do you think the relationship between the Boston media and the Red Sox is similar/dissimilar to that of the New York media and the Yankees?

A: First, let me just state that my take on the Yankees and the NY media is that of a New York writer who was often at the Stadium but never in the capacity of a beat writer covering the Yankees.

I haven’t covered a game at the new Yankee Stadium, but the home clubhouse at the old Stadium was much bigger than the one at Fenway Park. It felt far roomier, too, with pillars throughout the room and the lockers buried deep on the sides. So there was never the feeling, even though there’s a pretty big army of media covering the Yankees, of the reporters being right on top of the players.

It’s not uncommon for a native of the tri-state area to cover the Yankees. But since just about everyone in New York remembers watching championship Yankees teams, those who chronicle the team aren’t prone to recalling the heartbreaks of their youth when the Yankees struggle.

The Yankees are the top attraction in the tri-state area, but even in their recent championship years they haven’t dominated the attention like the Sox do in Boston. The area’s loyalties are more divided, obviously, and the audience more fragmented with at least two teams in all four major sports. If the Yankees struggle, there’s always someone else—the Mets or the Giants, usually—to absorb the attention.

As a team, the Yankees seem polite but distant with the press, but again, that’s coming from someone who hasn’t covered the team as a beat writer, so those who are in that position might feel differently. But from my vantage point it’s a lot like the dynamic the Sox were beginning to establish when I was last up there regularly in 2007.

I think now the coverage of the Mets—who are collapsing and losing games in ways unimaginable even to the most pessimistic of Sox fans—in New York is much closer to the tone and perception of the pre-title coverage in Boston.

Q: Anything interesting that ended up having to be cut from the final edition?

A: This went through a ton of rewrites—remember, at one point I thought I was writing a book about the 2004 season—so the cutting room floor is pretty darn messy. I was working on a Derek Lowe chapter in 2004 that was pretty interesting.

The most interesting chapter that didn’t make the book was cut at the last minute. I had a whole chapter devoted to the Patriots, their approach to media relations, the “one voice” philosophy, the differences in NFL and MLB coverage and why the Sox were still the most covered team in the area even when the Patriots were putting together the most impressive dynasty in NFL history.

I’ve got to be honest: If I was able to get Bill Belichick talking about his media relations philosophies, I probably would have found a way to get it in there, because I think that would have been really fascinating. (I spent about a year trying to talk to him but was able to only conduct a very brief email interview via his assistant) As it was, I couldn’t figure out a way to place it in the book without completely interrupting the flow, so I decided to axe it. I liked how it was turning out, though, so I think I’ll post it on my blog leading up to the first week of the NFL season.

Closing comments from Beach:

Lastly, I’d like to say the same thing I wrote to Jon Couture a few weeks ago: I came out of the project with a renewed appreciation for everyone involved. It was really fascinating to hear the perception players and fans have of the press, as well as to detail the job of the writers and to ask them their viewpoints of the players and the fans. My hope is that I was able to fairly relate each side’s story and, perhaps, clear up some misconceptions folks might have had about one or more parties in this unique triangular relationship

Most of all, the passion everyone has for the coverage of the Sox just blows me away and I’m grateful I was able to write about it and hopeful I gave it the treatment it deserves.

Thanks Jerry!

Get your copy of the book here: Fighting Words: The Media, The Red Sox and How Boston Finally Won It All

Football Outsiders Almanac 2009 Interview With Aaron Schatz

When it comes to statistical analysis of football, no one does it better than Football Outsiders. For the past four years, in addition to their work on the internet, they’ve also published the Pro Football Prospectus. This year however, their publication is titled the Football Outsiders Almanac 2009. So what happened?

From the introduction of the book:

So why the name change, and why aren’t we in bookstores?

For those who don’t know, our frst four books were published through an agreement with Prospectus Entertainment Ventures, the company that owns Baseball Prospectus (as well as the expansion projects Basketball Prospectus and Puck Prospectus). It was PEV that had the publishing contract (first with Workman, then Plume). This year, for various reasons, Plume decided they no longer wanted to publish books related to other sports besides baseball. Other publishers were interested in doing our book, but by the time Plume made their decision, it was too late to get on the publication schedule for 2009.

Thus, because of this mess, they decided to go the self-publishing route.

The head honcho of Football Outsiders is Aaron Schatz, he’s a Patriots fan and New England native. He and I go back a few years, so I asked Aaron to answer a few questions and give us a taste of what to expect in this year’s edition.

football-outsiders-almanac-20091) OK, so we know your print publication is no longer Pro Football Prospectus, but rather the Football Outsiders Almanac 2009. What are your plans for next year? Back in bookstores?

I’m not sure what we’re going to do for next year yet. We have a couple of publishers who are interested in putting out Football Outsiders Almanac 2010 as a standard book. Once we get into October and the book is done selling for this year, we’ll sit down and figure out whether it makes sense to go back to a regular publishing format. We definitely lose a lot of the “promotional value” of the book by doing it ourselves, since we’re not in bookstores to catch the eye of casual readers who may not know about our website. However, there are also significant advantages to producing a book online. We keep a larger share of the gross sales. Also, the previous books were written and edited under a completely ridiculous rushed schedule, where we basically had to do the entire thing in about six weeks after the NFL draft. By doing it ourselves this year, we had an extra month. I think it meant a lot fewer errors in the text, not to mention a huge heaping helping of sanity for me and the other writers. My wife definitely prefers the self-publishing schedule because she didn’t have to be a single parent for six weeks.

2) How have you improved the DVOA in version 6.0?

DVOA, for those who don’t know, is our main statistic. It stands for “Defense-adjusted Value Over Average.” We take the success of every single play during the season and compare to other plays based on situation and opponent. We’ve updated constantly since I started doing this back in 2003. The biggest change this year is that we’re now considering the baseline differently for offense and defense. That allows us to better measure some plays that are really the responsibility of the offense only, where the defense has no effect: false starts, delay of game, and aborted snaps. We’ve also improved the way we adjust for teams playing from behind or with a lead in the fourth quarter.

3) I see you’re also doing more College Football in this publication, tell us about that…

Well, as a Bostonian I don’t really follow college football. The line I usually give to people around the country is that if it doesn’t have to do with Doug Flutie, nobody around here really cares. But I also know that college football has a huge following in other parts of the country, and there’s no reason why we can’t provide the same kind of intelligent analysis for the college game. There’s also the benefit of eventually being able to make better projections which NFL draft picks will succeed once we have more data on the college game. So I went out and looked for people who loved college football as much as I love the NFL, who write well, and who had the same outlook on doing advanced stats, and I found Brian Fremeau and Bill Connelly. We’ve been doing their stats on FO for a couple years now, and this year I wanted to expand that with a full college preview. So the book has about 90 pages of college football in addition to all the NFL material. There are stats tables and writeups for every team in the six BCS conferences, plus a handful of the top independents and mid-major teams. The goal of our college content is the same as the pro content– we want to go beyond just ranking the teams 1-120 and really look at WHY teams won or lost last year and why we can expect certain teams to improve or decline this year. College fans will really enjoy it and people like me who know nothing about college football can learn what they should be looking for on Saturdays in preparation for the 2010 draft.

By the way, we have BC projected 14th in the nation, for those people who do care…

4) What are some of the key differences between the Football Outsiders Game Charting Project and the official boxscores and play-by-play.

Oh, we measure all kinds of things in the Game Charting Project, adding detail to the play-by-play so we can better analyze teams and players. The biggest item is probably defensive coverage — measuring defensive backs by how they do in coverage rather than just when they make tackles. We mark the formation on every play. We mark the number
of pass rushers and blockers so we can see which teams do the best when blitzing or not blitzing. We track why passes are incomplete, so we know which quarterbacks tend to overthrow their guys, or who suffers from the most dropped passes. We count quarterback hurries by defenders, dropped interceptions, and a number of other things.

5) Since we’re dealing mostly with a Patriots fanbase audience here at BSMW, tell us something surprising about the Patriots that we’ll learn in the book…

Here are five fun tidbits.

  • Last year, the Brady-less Patriots actually had the best offense in the NFL from Week 9 onwards, according to our DVOA stats.
  • The Patriots led the league with an average of 6.2 yards after catch; the next highest team, New Orleans, averaged just 5.6 yards after catch.
  • The Patriots ran WR or TE screens 30 percent more often than any other offense.
  • Showing the weakness of last year’s secondary, the Patriots didn’t have a good pass defense even when they hurried the quarterback. Only New Orleans and Detroit were worse when there was a quarterback hurry. The Patriots allowed a league-high average of 7.3 yards after catch on plays where they hurried the quarterback.
  • The Patriots’ 47-7 snowstorm blowout of Arizona was the second-most impressive game played by any team since 1994, according to single-game DVOA ratings. The only team to score higher in one game was the 1994 Philadelphia Eagles, when they beat eventual Super Bowl champion San Francisco 40-8 in Week 5.

You can purchase the Football Outsiders Almanac 2009 or through Amazon.com.

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.

Bill Reynolds Takes Us Back To ’78

I took the news of Bill Reynolds’ new book, ’78: The Boston Red Sox, A Historic Game, And A Divided City (New York: New American Library, 2009, 320 pages, $24.95), with a heavy dose of ambivalence. After all, this was one of the most exciting seasons ever played and it’s maintained a Greek tragedy hold over Red Sox Nation for 31 years, in much the same way that Rocky’s defeat kept us coming back for five sequels. And yet, the juxtaposition of these two particular digits, coupled with the portrait of Boston as a racial bastion during its forced busing era, sent a foreboding chill down my spine.

Sometimes, the past is better left right where it is.

Then to, from 30,000 feet Reynolds’ subject matter is seemingly close to other contemporary works. In our busy lives, and with so much content at our disposal, that’s a formidable barrier to ever creasing this book’s spine. I mean, you’ve got Richard Bradley recounting the 1978 American League East race, Michael Connelly’s analysis of the Boston busing riots’ effects on the city and the C’s, and Jonathan Mahler’s chronicle of the Yankees amid a turbulent Empire the summer before. It’s like looking out the cabin window and seeing three other planes in the sky when you never want to see one.

So why would you read this? Simply, those other stories were not told by Bill Reynolds and this one is. Reynolds can describe a Fenway Frank such that that spicy mustard will burn your sinuses as you read it. Nor did the urban unrest of the mid-seventies have the same effect on the Sox as it did on the C’s, or as Son of Sam had on the Yankees. For one thing, those other franchises still managed to win championships. Ouch!

Although there are no new facts introduced – not to spoil the ending, but Yaz still pops out to Nettles in this one, too – Reynolds skillfully explores the yin and yang relationship of busing and the Sox on the City of Boston, tracing each back to its sixties roots while grounding everything with new first-hand accounts from folks who lived it. You may already know what happens, but Reynolds now explores the causative factors and puts you in the hot seat as violence and pennant race vie for each day’s headlines, whether that seat is on a school bus being pelted with rocks en route to South Boston High, or in the bleachers at Fenway Park as Jerry Remy laces a one-out single to sun-baked right to represent the A.L. East-winning run in the bottom of the ninth.

Reynolds masterfully uses a sequential account of the one-game playoff between the Red Sox and Yankees that would decide the American League East to pace his story’s advancement, while otherwise freeing himself for extemporaneous exploration of race, busing, and baseball in Boston . There’s an inherent risk of chronologic tedium in any book named after a year, but he sidesteps this by popping up and down a time continuum as his subjects dictate. Readers become modern-day Billy Pilgrims as we visit Carl Yastrzemski in his transforming 1967 campaign, then again in his alienated rookie season of 1961, before swinging back to Fenway Park in time to see him take Ron Guidry deep for a 1-0 lead to start the bottom of the second.

And, like Billy Pilgrim, we’ve seen our death a thousand times over the last 31 years, yet we’re inexplicably compelled toward it with each turn of the page. My hands were sweating as Yaz awaited a 1-0 offering from the struggling Goose Gossage in what would be the final at bat of this remarkable season, as if he somehow was not going to pop the next pitch up to Graig Nettles.

For me, a good book is one that entertains and educates, and ’78 does both. Not being a Bostonian, I was ignorant of the forces pitted against each other during this dark time in the Athens of America. Nor did I have an accurate recollection of the waning days of the 1978 season, or of how the one-game playoff unfolded, having tucked the episode away in the bottom drawer of a chest full of ill memories. But Reynolds made me relive it all, and for that I’m grateful.

Aside from an unscheduled tour of the Boston music scene of the sixties and seventies that I feared would cause me to miss the ninth inning, my only issue with this book is one of modest redundancy. Some similes are tested, whether you’re a fly ball away from the Boston Common, a jump shot away from the Boston Garden, or a popup away from Kenmore Square. But even in apparent weakness lies strength; his knowledge of the city and its history that is interwoven throughout his story give Reynolds additional tools to plant you in 1970s Boston.

I’m not sure the Nation could have handled Reynolds’ account before 2004, but after a couple of World Series titles we now have a safe word to escape the world into which he has so vividly dispatched us. If you can handle a day when winning wasn’t the norm, spend next weekend in ’78.

What I’m Reading On The Beach

Bruce is on vacation this week

With some time on my hands to finally just sit and read, I’ve packed up a few of the sports-related books that I’ve received from publishers in recent weeks and which I have been looking forward to getting a chance to really get into. Here are three of the books I’m going to be reading:

When March Went Mad: The Game That Transformed Basketball

This book marks the 30th anniversary of the famed 1979 Indiana State/Michigan State NCAA championship basketball game which featured Larry Bird and Magic Johnson squaring off for the title. This game is still viewed as the precipice of March Madness and the first of the golden era finals matchups of 1979-1985 which introduced us to the players that would win nearly every NBA title for the next 20 years – Magic, Bird, Michael Jordan, Isiah Thomas, and Hakeem Olajuwon.

In addition to all the background and behind-the-scenes information about the game itself, the book also covers the recruitment of both stars out of high school, Bird’s desertion of Bob Knight and the Indiana program, Bird’s decision to remain in school after the Celtics drafted him, Magic’s decision to stay in school after being tempted by the pros after his freshman year, and the close friendship that Bird and Magic share today.

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


For years Red Sox fans were told by a certain columnist in town that their team was cursed because the Sox sold Babe Ruth the Yankees. But as Jerry Gutlon reveals in this book, there is much more drama to Red Sox history than the “Curse of the Bambino.” The truth is more shocking than any myth.

Gutlon attempts to explode many of the myths that fans have been led to believe about the team by a press which was a complicit accomplice in the long history of Red Sox failure. By supporting the management and players they worshiped, without bringing the failures of racism and cronyism to light, writers and broadcasters only fortified the culture of failure that lasted from 1919 to 2003.

I should add that I’m quoted in this book a couple of times, which is pretty neat.

The Yankee Years


I actually started this book before I left. The book has sort of been promoted as a Joe Torre tell-all, but that hasn’t been the case thus far. If you liked The Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty by Buster Olney, you’ll like this one as well. It’s really about the rise of fall of the Yankees during Joe Torre’s tenure.

The book does have plenty of revelations (at least 10 of the 2000 Yankees were taking steroids) and behind the scenes moments, but from the perspective of a Red Sox fan, there are also plenty of good and bad moments and chapters on their team. From a replay of the 2003 ALCS game 7 to the Red Sox passing the Yankees in player development and organizational philosophy, there’s plenty to interest the Boston reader.

Book Review: Rebound!

One of the books that has recently passed across my desk here at BSMW headquarters is Rebound: Basketball, Busing, Larry Bird and the Rebirth of Boston.

Written by Boston Herald writer Michael Connelly ( who also writes the daily Connelly’s Top Ten blog for the Herald website) the book parallels the struggles of a city in crisis during the tumultuous 1970’s with a once-great sports franchise in decline. Drawing upon his own experiences as a youth during that decade, Connelly presents a compelling social history of Boston.

With forced desegregation polarizing the city, the Celtics were in decline following their 1976 NBA championship over the Suns. Both the city and the team had histories of liberty, greatness and pride which were severely tested during the decade. The chapters alternate between events in the city, such as Judge Garrity’s 1974 decision on desegregation and the history of the Celtics through the years, and into their tough times in the late 1970’s. Tales of Red Auerbach talking to both the 76ers and Knicks about taking over those clubs because of his disgust with the owners of the Celtics are discussed.

Then, as Auerbach drafted Larry Bird and then maneuvered meddling owner John Y Brown out of town, the Celtics fortunes turned around. Events in the city, such as the senseless shooting of high school football player Darryl Williams rallied communities into taking action and galvanizing the city. When the Celtics won the 1981 championship, the team and city celebrated together, marking a change in both.

The book is due to be released on December 12th, but is available for pre order through Amazon.com. (Click on the image of the book to be taken to the Amazon order page.)

Maple Street Press Red Sox Annual 2007

Here’s a look at the Maple Street Press Red Sox Annual 2007:

This is the second edition of the annual, and this version is similar to the first in scope and style. (Here’s the review of last year’s edition.) Once again, the publishers worked in collaboration with the Sons of Sam Horn website to produce the annual. In addition, Maple Street Press lined up an impressive group of authors to compose the publication.

Chad Finn (Touching All The Bases) leads things off with an overview of the 2007 Red Sox, along with thumbnails of each significant player on the spring training roster. Finn’s recaps are chock full of factoids, commentary and analysis.

Jeff Kuhn (from The House that Dewey Built) has a look around the entire American League, with snapshots of each team heading into the season.

Rob Bradford of the Lawrence Eagle Tribune has a feature entitled The Transcontinental Courtship of Daisuke Matsuzaka. It’s about as complete a look at the entire process from start to finish as you are likely to read anywhere.

Author and statistician Pete Palmer examines whether Jonathan Papelbon would help the Red Sox more as a starter or as a closer. David Laurila (Interviews from Red Sox Nation) sits down and talks with Papelbon about his move to the starting rotation. Later in the publication, Laurila also has an interview with Red Sox first round pick Daniel Bard.

SoSH member Steve Mastroyin has an article on the Red Sox efforts to return to the 2003-2005 level of run production and offense. Stephen Vetere looks into the bullpen issues that the club has had in the Theo Epstein era.

Vince Gennaro (Diamond Dollars) examines how the Red Sox can attempt to win efficiently after investing over $200 million in three players – Daisuke Matsuzaka, J.D. Drew and Julio Lugo.

Mark A Brown of the Falmouth Enterprise compares the Dynamic Dominican Duo of Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz to other legendary batting combinations in history, such as Ruth/Gehrig, Matthews/Aaron, Williams/Foxx and Mays/Cepeda.

Brandon Magee, (Sox on Deck, Most Valuable Network) submits the 2007 minor league report for the Red Sox, listing out the top 20 prospects in the system (starting with Jacoby Ellsbury), and listing out other players to watch and keep an eye on as well. Chris Paddock (Diehard Magazine) gets into the club’s evolving strategy when it comes to finding amateur talent.

Chuck Burgess and Bill Nowlin (Love That Dirty Water: The Improbable Anthem of the Boston Red Sox) bring us the story of how a song performed in 1966 by a band in which not a single member had ever been to Boston became the victory anthem of the Red Sox.

SoSH legend Shaun Kelly brings us back 40 years to the summer of 1967, which kicked off a new era of Red Sox baseball. On the right field facade at Fenway Park, the #4 is among those retired by the club. Mark Armour (Paths to Glory) looks at the career and influence (good and bad) that Joe Cronin had with the Red Sox.

Robert Sullivan (Our Red Sox) says that things have quickly reverted back to normal for Red Sox fans after the 2004 World Championship. Toby Dorsey from Sox Therapy remembers the Red Sox youth movements of 1987 and 1997 and wonders if we’re in for another in 2007.

The publication concludes with a listing from Graham Knight of great bars and pubs in which to watch the Red Sox all across the country.