Guest Post – A Look At How 1950’s Boston Sportswriters Addressed Racism

You may have read in many places that for years Boston sportswriters “tiptoed around” the issue of racism in the Red Sox organization. Mike Passanisi found one example that might be of interest in the Boston Globe on October 3, 1954.
Thanks to Mike for the submission.
By Mike Passanisi
The fall of 1954 was an interesting time for baseball fans. It was not because of the Red Sox, who had finished fourth, an incredible 42 games behind the Cleveland Indians. Their 69-85 record marked the third straight year of sub-.500 ball and would soon lead to the firing of manager Lou Boudreau.
But it was also the year of one of the World Series’ most shocking upsets, a four-game sweep by the New York Giants over Cleveland, who had set a season record with 111 wins. The tempo of that series was set in the first game, in which Willie Mays made his famous over-the-shoulder basket catch of Vic Wertz’s long drive. Mays’ play kept the contest tied at 2, and New York would go on to win 5-2 in 10 innings. Behind two victories from young Johnny Antonelli, the Giants easily took the next three contests. The series is today part of “Indians Curse” folklore.
As the Fall Classic ended, a curious piece by the Globe’s respected Harold Kaese on October 3rd, 1954 was entitled “No Segregation in the Big Leagues.” Kaese, a learned man with interests beyond baseball, was making the point that even before the Supreme Court’s recent Brown vs Board of Education decision calling for school desegregation, baseball had almost fully integrated.
Citing black stars like Mays, Al Smith, Hank Thompson, and Ruben Gomez, he wrote “ten years ago these men would have been unknowns to all except the comparative few who followed Negro League ball. They would not have been heard of in New England.
Kaese does not totally dodge the “elephant in the room” issue of the Red Sox being one of only four teams (the Yankees, Phillies and Tigers were the other three) which were still totally white. He does mention the “tryout” of Jackie Robinson and two other black stars at Fenway in 1945, but says only that “they heard nothing more from the Red Sox.” He also tells a story, possibly true, that some Boston players stated that they would not let a “Negro” into their clubhouse. Hy Hurwitz, another Globe icon, apparently arranged for Ted Williams to bring Joe Louis in when the team was in New York. According to Kaese, “every Sox player wanted to shake his hand.”
The most direct mention of possible racism appears around the middle of the article, speaking of the all-white teams. “None of these clubs admits to be segregatioinistic. They do not openly favor racial discrimination. What they say is ‘we are perfectly willing to employ a Negro player when we find one we think can help us.’ ‘ A very familiar racist line, as we have come to find out.
One glaring omission was made by Kaese. He expresses a hope that the Sox “can find a Willie Mays or Henry Thompson before too many World Series are played in other cities” What Kaese must have known is that the Sox could easily have had Mays. He had played for the Negro League’s Birmingham Black Barons. Boston had a minor league team in Birmingham and, by league rules, would have had first shot at signing Willie Instead, he went to the Giants in 1951 and the rest, of course, is history.
Imagine Mays patrolling center field in Fenway with Williams in left and future MVP Jackie Jensen in right ? How many more pennants would the Sox have won? Kaese’s article is common among writers for many years regarding the team’s organizational racism. Gently criticize, but don’t dig too deep.

Bird’s Rookie Year — Game 3 vs. the Rockets (M.L. Carr Speaks With BSMW)

Celtics (2-0) vs. Houston (0-2)
April 13, 1980
The Summit

The Celtics took command of the Eastern Conference semi-finals series against the Rockets with a 100-81 victory at the Summit in Texas.

Led by 20 points and 10 assists from Nate Archibald, the Celtics moved one step closer to advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals.  Similar to the Celtics’ current playoff opponent in the New York Knicks, the 1980 Rockets had firepower in Moses Malone (28 points, 9 boards) and Robert Reid (23 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists). but the rest of the team was rendered ineffective.  The Celts were able to find Houston’s weaknesses.  Even though Malone was constantly double-teamed, he did not accumulate one assist the entire game.  In an interview with BSMW, longtime Celtic M.L. Carr — who was capping off a very successful first season with the Celtics — spoke about his team’s success against Houston.

Our team’s talent was unbelievable, but the other part of it was that there was a hunger among the guys.  Tiny had not won, Cowens had, but hadn’t won in a while and he was trying to get another one, Chris Ford had never won a championship, Pete Maravich had never won, I had never won, so there was an incredible hunger, along with the collection of talent, and we were truly about the team.

ML Carr

Coming in that year, the Celtics were rebuilding.  Obviously, they’d had one of the worst years of their time, but Red was adamant about bringing the team back to where it should be.  The team went out and drafted the Larry the year earlier, brought Chris Ford in the year before it, and signed me and Gerald Henderson as free agents.  We had no idea it would go as well and as quick as it did.

I always wanted to be a Celtic.  Saying that could have hurt me in negotiations, but they really pursued me hard.  Red was very, very good, and sold me on the fact we could turn this team around.  He laid out a role for me, and I had been a Celtics’ fan since I was a child growing up.  Red was very involved, and that helped us get on track.  After we won the division, we were so excited after the game.  We were jumping up and down, and Red walked into the locker room.  Red asked, “what are you all doing?”  We told him we were so excited to have won the division and had the best record in the league.  “We don’t celebrate division titles here,” Red said.  “We only celebrate championships.”  He brought us right back to reality.

We had Cowens, Max, Tiny, these guys who had gone through a very tough time the year before.  But, for me, it was a chance to come from the Detroit Pistons.  In three years there, I’d been to the playoffs only once.  I knew this was a chance to be a part of something special.

Rockets coach Del Harris had predicted his team would shoot close to 50 percent from the field back at the Summit.  That number never came to fruition, as Houston shot 41 percent from the field (32-for-78) but allowed eight more shots and twelve more successful attempts for the Celtics.  The C’s, who only made eleven free throws and went 1-5 from long distance, hit 51 percent of their shots and stretched an eight point halftime lead to 14 after three quarters, and then went for the jugular in the fourth and final frame.  Chris Ford stood out with his third consecutive superb game, finishing with an all-around line of 13 points, 7 rebounds, and 5 assists.

The Boston Globe’s Bob Ryan detailed the Celtics dominance in the series:

The Celtics are simply burying the Rockets with superior team play at both ends.  When Tiny Archibald got hot, for example, Chris Ford passed up a wide-open 18-foot jumper from the right to pitch the ball back to Archibald at the top of the key.  Tiny obliged by swishing a jumper.  But perhaps the most impressive displays were on defense.  One, in particular, pleased Bill Fitch.

“It came in the third quarter,” Fitch said.  “Rick Barry made a good penetration, and he wanted to throw the ball back out to an open man.  It was a smart play.  But Tiny did the thing we’re always preaching – he pursued.  He picked the pass off and turned what would have been a good offensive play by Barry into a good defensive play for himself.  And there were two other times when Rick Robey came from behind Malone to intercept passes.  The reason he could do it was the pressure on the ball, which prevented the pass from getting there until Rick could get in front of Malone.”

Jan Volk

Jan Volk, who served as the team’s general manager from 1984-1997, started with the Celtics organization in ticket sales in 1976.  By the spring of 1980, his role evolved to assisting team president Red Auerbach in the front office.  Volk was also gracious enough to share some time with BSMW discussing the season, the playoff run, and how the team emphatically removed the losing culture that had crept into the Boston Garden.

There was a renewed appreciation for what winning was all about that season, said Volk.  We began asserting ourselves with a new cast of characters.  The team, centered around Larry Bird, had many great players.  We were a contender and the appreciation, particularly by the fans, was even more intense because they now really appreciated what they had.  I think that’s pretty common to appreciate what you have after you lose it, and we had got it back.  We had a period of time where we were in transition both on the court and in ownership.

Though it was a small sample size, Bird performed brilliantly in the playoff spotlight.  He shined in game three with 18 points, 7 rebounds, and 8 assists.  Volk admitted that even the Celtics were impressed with Bird’s immediate impact in the league, but also noted that this was not Larry’s team, a fact that was freely accepted.

© Copyright 2013 CorbisCorporation

Larry came in recognizing this was Dave Cowens’ team.  Larry is a very confident guy, but he did not assert himself in deference to Dave Cowens the way he ultimately did subsequently after Dave retired.

Volk also touched on a couple of areas where the rookie from Indiana State surprised even Red Auerbach:

I don’t think anybody knew Larry was going to be as good as he turned out to be for his entire career.  Red would say that he was particularly pleased that Larry was such a good rebounder.  He did not realize, at that point [when Bird was drafted], he was such a good rebounder.  And, despite the fact that he didn’t look to be a terrific defensive player, he was a very good team defensive player.  So those were two aspects of his game that were underappreciated by the time he was drafted.

Draft Bird early and waiting a season may look easy now, but the Celtics suffered through a miserable season while Bird dominated at ISU.  And there was no guarantee that Bird would sign with the Celtics, though thanks to the Bob McAdoo move with Detroit, Boston could have actually drafted Bird with the top choice in the 1980 draft.  Fortunately, he signed and revitalized the Celtics with an MVP-caliber year that earned him Rookie of the Year honors.  Volk recalled the process that led to drafting Bird:

Portland had two picks.  They picked Mychal Thompson with their first pick, and they had the seventh pick.  We had the sixth and the eighth.  If we didn’t take Bird with our first pick, that sixth pick, he would have gone to Portland.  Portland was the only other team we felt could take a chance, more reasonably take a chance than the other teams, but there was a reasonable likelihood that the other teams couldn’t wait the year, and there was an argument to be made that we couldn’t wait, either.  But we did.

We sold out a game on a Wednesday evening early in the season against the World Series.  If you went out on the street, you couldn’t have found one-out-of-a-hundred-people who could name two players playing [on the opponents].  And yet, we sold out.  That was a testimony to what we had, which turned out to be extraordinarily special.

Volk still admires the relationship that Bird and Auerbach formed, beginning in the fall of 1979.

Red respected Larrry, not only in his abilities, but also his work ethic.  I know Larry respected what Red had accomplished.  I don’t think there is much an understanding of historic perspective today, but Larry knew what it was.  Larry was happy to be here: he didn’t want to be any place else and we didn’t want him to be any place else.

Ryan touched on Bird’s impact in his first playoff series in the Globe:

Larry Bird hooked up with his roommate, Rick Robey, for three consecutive baskets in one stretch, and each was different in nature.  The first was a bullet pass from the right wing to a cutting- across-the-lane Robey.  The second was a great left-to-right, fast- break lead.  The third was an artful little pick-and-roll bounce pass.  “When Rick comes out, sets his pick and rolls quickly,” explained Bird, “I can see the whole floor.  If he sets his pick and stands there, it clogs things up.  But he knows how I play now, and we work together real well.”

Larry Bird_Boston Celtics

Fitch on Bird’s offense in this series: “I’d give him a 7 on a 10 scale, but only a 5 on a Bird scale.  The encouraging thing, however, is that he’s coming.  He’s going up instead of down.”

The Celtics were still trending upward, though no one, even those in Philadelphia, had the prescience to know that was going to change any time soon.  The C’s remained in Houston and looked to sweep the Rockets the following night.

 

 

Game 3

Mike and Tommy? How about Red and Tommy? When Heinsohn Was The More Objective Man in the Booth.

These days Tommy Heinsohn is probably best known to the younger set of Celtics fans as the helplessly homer voice on the Celtics television broadcasts, who complains nightly about the refereeing and the atrocities committed against the home town team.

Mike Gorman, a pro in every sense of the word, oftentimes has to talk Tommy down from the ledge in the middle of a broadcast. I can only hope I have half the spirit and vigor that Heinsohn has when I’m going to turn 79.

Heinsohn has been calling Celtics games on television since the 1960’s. If you can believe it, one of his early partners in the booth was none other than Red Auerbach. Can you even imagine that?

The book Dynasty’s End: Bill Russell and the1968-69 World Champion Boston Celtics by Thomas J Whalen of Northeastern University has a very interesting section on the time that Heinsohn and Auerbach spent together in the booth, as well as how Heinsohn got his start in broadcasting.

While Heinsohn may be regarded as a caricature these days by some, this view disregards his contributions to how the game of professional basketball is broadcast on television. 

I’ve obtained permission from Professor Whalen as well as the publisher, University Press of New England, to reprint an excerpt from the book in which Heinsohn details his beginnings as a broadcaster, and his time with Red in the booth.

Enjoy.

*********************

If Boston fans became disillusioned by [Jim "Bad News"] Barnes’s lack of production, they were positively upbeat over the pairing of former Celtics star Tom Heinsohn and Red Auerbach in the television booth to cover the team’s games for channel 56, a Boston station that specialized in old movie reruns and local sports programming. “It worked out pretty well,” Heinsohn later said of the experience. “We had a lot of fun doing the broadcast. Red was definitely pro-Celtic. He would go after referees, what have you. I think Red brought a different look to the broadcast, a different sound and a different attitude. Johnny Most was doing the radio at the time and he had built up such a huge audience on radio because when the Celtics began winning all those titles that’s who they listened to. It wasn’t television. So he was the voice of the Celtics and we were trying to capture our own audience and at the time channel 56 was still a UHF station. In order to get it, you had to buy a special antenna. We had a limited audience at the time and we tried to build an audience, [but people] had to go out of their way to tune in.

For those fortunate enough to tune in, however, Auerbach and Heinsohn provided more than their fair share of entertaining moments, especially when the competition heated up on the floor.There was, for instance, the time when the duo were broadcasting a playoff game in Philadelphia. Auerbach, who had fallen into the habit of eating peanuts during telecasts, dropped a bag on the floor just as Philadelphia’s Chet Walker was viciously fouled by Larry Siegfried going to the hoop. But Auerbach had missed this crucial part of the play. He was too busy retrieving his peanuts. “Everyone in the arena and watching television at home had seen the play except Red,” Heinsohn later explained. “He had been involved in a more important matter. Walker was stretched out when Red finally looked to the court. ‘What’s he doing?’ he screamed into his mike. ‘Is he pulling that same old jazz about 20 seconds?’” Even when Heinsohn gently informed his old coach that Siegfried had knocked him down, Auerbach remained unconvinced.

“He was not in the play!” he insisted.

“Okay, Red,” Heinsohn replied. “Have it your way. He was not in the play, but would you settle for this — he was in the movie?”

As is the case with most innovative concepts, the idea of putting Auerbach alongside Heinsohn as a color man came about by sheer accident. During a road contest against the 76ers in the middle of the 1967-68 season, Auerbach was having difficulty finding an empty seat in the then-packed Philadelphia arena. Seeing that Heinsohn, who was broadcasting the game solo, had an opening next to him, the Celtics GM ambled on over to claim his prize. “And the next thing I knew,” he said, “I was on the air.” Equally significant was the fact that Channel 56 officials liked what they saw in terms of the charismatic energy Auerbach brought to the proceedings. The soon signed up the opinionated Brooklyn native as their number two basketball man in the booth. This new arrangement sat well with Heinsohn because he had been lobbying station officials for some time to provide him with on-air relief during broadcasts. “I had to at least go to the men’s room,” Heinsohn later joked.

Fortunately, providing television commentary was not something new for Auerbach. He had previously worked as a color man on a number of ECAC college basketball games. “But that was different,” Auerbach said. “I would just sit there and tell the folks that one team was using a 3-2 defense and the other team was in a full-court press. Technical stuff like that. When I do the Celtics game, I’m emotionally involved.”

Indeed, Auerbach became so personally wrapped up in a game that he never gave a thought to how unfair and biased his comments sometimes were. During one contest he telecast, for example, referee Earl Strom came down with a painful leg injury, thus temporarily putting a halt to the action on the floor. Instead of expressing sympathy, Auerbach seized the opportunity to settle an old personal score he had with Strom. “Shake it off!” he yelled into his mike. “I never thought a referee could get hurt. If he stands there nursing it everybody will get cold. Let’s go! Doesn’t he know there’s a 20-second rule? He’s only got 20 seconds to get back in there.”

Heinsohn prided himself on being the more professionally polished of the two, as he had been regularly doing the team’s games since 1966. “Hey,” Auerbach informed him over the summer break that year, “we’re going to be televising road games this season in Channel 56. Are you interested in doing the play-by-play?” It didn’t require much arm-twisting by Auerbach to bring Heinsohn on board, especially since the latter had been itching to get back into the game following his retirement as a player in 1965. But before taking over the telecasts, Heinsohn had to first serve a brief apprenticeship with veteran broadcaster Marty Glickman, a longtime voice of the Knicks. “I acquired the feel of the microphone, the pace of the game, the commercials and the entire mechanics,” Heinsohn later wrote of this formative period. “I borrowed the Celtics videotape equipment and practiced at home games. Fred Cusick, the sports director of Channel 56, would sit alongside and review my homework after the Boston Garden games.

Satisfied with the progress he was making behind the mike, Heinsohn decided he was ready to fly solo for a contest against the Bullets in Baltimore. “I had no color man, nothing,” he later recalled. “I did every commercial, every lead-in and the halftime interview without a problem, which made me feel great – like the night I scored 47 points [as a player] in Seattle. Only this time, a star was born in Baltimore. I sweated frequently that first show but I drank enough Cokes to cool me off. That led to the discovery of an occupational hazard of TV announcers. It is called the relief stop by truck drivers and other patrons of the highways. It is called something more descriptive by ballplayers when they go to the dressing rooms at half time.”

Apart from this call of nature, Heinsohn made only one major gaff during the entire broadcast. That occurred when he read a promotional announcement for the movie Yankee Doodle Dandy. Heinsohn pronounced it “Yenkel Doodle Dendy.” Thinking of a way to extricate himself from this embarrassing lapse, he quickly came up with an improbable yet amusing explanation. “Of course, that’s a Jewish movie,” he told viewers.

As the years wore on, such mistakes grew less frequent as Heinsohn became increasingly more comfortable in front of the camera. He particularly enjoyed broadcasting games from historic arenas like the old Madison Square Garden of New York and Boston Garden. “You were in the first row of the balcony in the overhang [of these arenas], so you had the game close to you and you were hanging over the action,” he said. “Subsequent to those buildings going down, all the other buildings that were built [after them] put you further up and out of the action or they put you actually on the floor where you were being blocked out by the coach standing up or the referees standing in front of you.”

While taking in this unique perspective of the game, Heinsohn also found himself mastering the nuts and bolts of television broadcasting. “I was learning to deal with different directors and producers because that’s what they did on the road those days,” he said. “They didn’t travel everybody, just the broadcasters. So we always had a different producer or director. One of the producers he collaborated with in New York in particular proved helpful. “I would give him verbal cues so he would have an indication this is where we needed to go in tight on this picture,” he related. “From that we started to develop a different way to broadcast pro basketball – to catch the action, not just do hero shots.” By “hero shots,” Heinsohn was referring to the unfortunate tendency of sports television producers of this era to allow cameras to linger on players after they made a basket, instead of following the rest of the action on the floor. He felt this hamstrung the efforts of conscientious game announcers like himself to give an accurate depiction of events as they occurred. Indeed, the fast-paced nature of professional basketball required a different broadcasting approach altogether. As he later explained, “You have a certain rhythm in football and baseball where there is a stoppage in action, times between plays to get across your thoughts. In basketball, there is extreme pressure to be succinct. You have only four or five seconds to tie all the pieces together.”

Heinsohn would later incorporate these novel ideals into his work as an analyst for NBA telecasts on CBS-TV in the early 1980’s. His approach was straightforward and simple. He believed his main purpose was to educate the general public on the strategies and inner workings of the game. “Part of my preparation is to be the coach of each team,” he said. “We meet with each coach before the game and I verify the thoughts I have. I script out a series of potential replays which will help in the early stages to give the story line. And the players on each team make the plot work.” To be sure, this was a far cry from the way the sport was covered when he first started out in the business. “We’ve gone from televising the high-flyers, which made it seem like the game was so easy with no defense, to the highly sophisticated game. There has been an evolution in presenting a more sophisticated approach to pro basketball, I game which I feel has been maligned for years. The challenge is to make the broadcast so the first-time viewer doesn’t have to be Albert Einstein to understand it.”

© University Press of New England on behalf of Northeastern, Lebanon, NH. Reprinted with permission excerpts from pages 126-129.

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.

Guest Column: A Tale of Two Titles

Today’s guest column is from Mike Passanisi.

It took an editorial by a respected journalist to get the city to recognize the Celtics’ incredible accomplishment.

On May 6, 1969, the team, a collection of aging stars with a few new additions like Bailey Howell and Emmette Bryant, shocked the hoop world by winning their 11th title in 13 years.

After finishing fourth during the regular season, the Celts had overcome the Sixers, Knicks, and finally the Lakers in seven games capped by an exciting 108-106 victory. Longtime Celtic fans all remember Don Nelson’s shot that bounced off the front and back rims before dropping in. They also remember that Lakers owner Jack Kent Cooke had put balloons into the ceiling of the Forum ready to be released after a Laker victory. Also, the USC band was ready to march onto the court playing “Happy Days are Here Again”. A bitterly disappointed Jerry West said “we’re still the better team, but you have to give them credit for winning it.”

In the Boston Globe, the announcement of the Celts’ victory in a game that did not get over until 1:00 AM Boston time (TV didn’t dictate starting times in those days) did not even make the day’s headline. It only appeared as a “kicker” at the top of page 1 of the morning paper “Celtics Beat LA for 11th title, 108-106″. An accomplishment that had never been achieved in pro sports and probably never will again did not even merit a regular headline.

At the time, one of the most popular and respected journalists was a Globe columnist named Jerry Nason. His style was understated and rather old-fashioned (he used to write prediction poetry for local college football games), but he was not afraid to speak out. In a column entitled “Yes Boston, They’re Your Celtics”, Nason called attention to the team’s incredible achievement over 12 seasons and praised the late owner Walter Brown, who kept the team afloat in the early years.

Then, gently, he prodded the city.

Since the advent of the Celtics era, the Canadiens have captured 9 Stanley Cups, the Yankees 7 AL pennants, the Green Bay Packers 5 football titles. The Celtics have been finalists in 12 “World Series” and the town has never invited ‘em to a party. That used to bug Walter, and it continues to bug me. The closest Boston ever came toward enshrining the Celtics was one year when they rounded up a few of the guys who were still hanging around and got ‘em into the Marathon. They rode in open cars all the way from Coolidge Corner to Exeter Street, three miles-big deal..

Garden officials confirmed that Nason was correct.

Nason and the Globe apparently had some influence with city officials. And so, two days later, there was a parade. It went from the Common to City Hall Plaza. It drew about 3,000 people. Bill Russell, not surprisingly, failed to attend. Mayor Kevin White proclaimed it “Boston Celtics Day” and retiring Celtic Sam Jones was presented with a rocking chair. This was all that happened, and the newspapers began following the Red Sox into a disappointing season that ended with manager Dick Williams getting fired.

Let’s jump ahead 17 years to 1986, 25 years ago last month. The Celts had defeated the Houston Rockets, 114-97, to cop their third title in 5 years. The reaction in Boston was, shall we say, a bit different. On the left side of the front page of the next day’s Globe was a headline, not much smaller than the regular headline on the right side. It read “Celtics Crowning Glory”.  An article by Bob Ryan (who else?), spoke of the Houston Rockets as an “unwary couple pulled over on the highway for going 3 miles an hour over the speed limit by a burly Georgia cop with the mirrored sunglasses”. He continued : “It wasn’t their day. The cop’s name was Bird. The bailiff’s name was Bird. The judge’s name was Bird. And the executioner’s name was-guess what?- Bird.” Ryan went on to say :”Welcome to Bird country, boys, and while you’re at it, why don’t you congratulate your Celtics on the occasion of their 16th NBA championship? “The front page also showed huge photos of Larry getting doused with champagne and fans celebrating outside the Garden. The headlines on articles for the next couple of days tell the story. “Off the Rim and Into Clover”. “From Head to Toe, Fans are Green with Pride”. “Playoff Effort Puts Bird into Drivers Seat”.”A Garden Hangover.”

The parade two days later was somewhat bigger than that of 1969. About 2000 times bigger. That headline proclaimed “Boston Roars Its Tribute”. But the most interesting column was one authored by the great Leigh Montville. It talked about and Irish kid and four Italian kids from East Boston, all students at Boston Latin. They were playing hookey, like many Bostonians that day. It is significant, however, that they were not African-American kids from, say, Brighton or Dorchester High.

In the 1980’s the issue of racism and the Celtics which had always been simmering, appeared again. The ’86 team captured Boston, it was said, because of the racial makeup of the team. There were big men Bird, Kevin McHale, and Bill Walton-all white. African-Americans were certainly part of the picture. Coach KC Jones was black, and Robert Parish and Dennis Johnson played big parts in the title. But it was true that the racial makeup of the Celts was close to 50-50 at a time when most teams were largely black. There were stories  that in parts of Dorchester, Laker jerseys were outselling Celtic ones by a wide margin.

Race was definitely an issue. You can’t talk about Boston in the 70’s and 80’s without facing it. The busing crisis brought it to a head, but it had been there all along. However, the issue is not so much that the ’86 Celtics had more white players than the ’69 team, though it did. The issue is more one of symbolism. In 1969, the coach and symbol was Bill Russell. His image was one of an angry black man. He refused to sign autographs. He was way ahead of his time in criticizing the white power structure, both in sports and society as a whole. In ’69, Boston could not fully accept a team with this symbol. A parade couldn’t even draw 5000 fans.

In 1986, the symbol was a blond superstar with a bit of a chip on his shoulder and a bit of a wise mouth. He seemed to be an everyman, though he earned millions of dollars. At an earlier rally on live TV, he shocked a few people when, seeing a sign, he made a comment about what Houston’s Moses Malone really ate. Though he was neither Irish nor from Boston, people saw some of the team’s mascot-the leprechaun-in Larry Bird.

Ironically, a week after the’86 celebration, Jerry Nason passed away at the age of 77. Few people remember the editorial back in ’69. The parade he inspired was a small one, but that doesn’t matter. It showed that he cared.

Mike Passanisi is a semiretired former high school teacher and freelance writer. Over the years, he has written for New England Baseball Journal, Patriots Football Weekly, Manchester Union Leader, and a number of blogs, including BSMW. He is a member of the Sports Hall of Fame at Pope John High,  where he worked for many years as SID. He is also a regular contributor to the blog Fenway West. He and wife live in Medford.

You can contact Mike at [email protected]

Today in Boston Sports Media History – Remembering Ray Fitzgerald

From August 5th, 1982.

Ray Fitzgerald Is Dead at 55; Sports Columnist in Boston
UPI

Ray Fitzgerald, an acclaimed sports columnist for The Boston Globe, died Tuesday at Brigham and Women’s Hospital after a long illness. He was 55 years old.

Mr. Fitzgerald, a versatile writer, covered many sports for the newspaper for 17 years. He began writing his column in 1975, taking over after the retirement of the veteran columnist Harold Kaese.

The columns were known for quips and tongue-in-cheek humor, characteristics that helped Mr. Fitzgerald win the Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year Award 11 times in balloting by sportswriters across the state.

After graduating in 1949 from the University of Notre Dame, which he had attended on a baseball scholarship, Mr. Fitzgerald began his newspaper career that year at The Schenectady (N.Y.) Union-Star. He later worked for The Springfield (Mass.) Union for 12 years before being hired by The Globe in 1965.

He is survived by his wife, two sons and two daughters, his mother, a brother and two sisters.

If you can come across a copy of the compilation of his columns, Touching All Bases, I highly recommend picking it up. You’ll get a great feel for Boston sports in the 1970’s and very early 80’s.

BSMW Trivia – Name That NBA Player

With the news that Shaquille O’Neal has agreed to join the Celtics, he becomes a member of that relatively rare group of NBA players who will have suited up for both the Celtics and Lakers.

Between the two franchises, they have won 33 of 64 possible NBA Championships.

As far as I can tell, there is ONE player who has won a championship with both the Celtics and Lakers. Bill Sharman won championships with the Celtics and one as Lakers coach, but who is the only player to win a title with both franchises?

First person to correctly name the player in the comments section get a prize.

And if I’m wrong, and there is more than one player and you can name him/them, you’ll get a prize, too.

Edit: 20 minutes and we have a winner! Congrats!

Leigh Montville Tidbits

This post is part of the effort to select The Best All-Time Boston Sports Columnists

Browsing the Sports Illustrated Vault, I noted a couple of publisher’s notes from the magazine which give us a glimpse into the writer that Leigh Montville is.

From the April 20, 1987 issue:

Eighteen years of writing for the Boston globe and living in Newton, Mass., has given columnist Leigh Montville a special perspective on the Boston Marathon. Not only has he written about Heartbreak Hill, he has frequently driven over and around it. So when the idea came up to have him describe the residents and merchants along the storied marathon course (page 94), he had an assignment close to both heart and home.

“Most of the people I talked to have the feeling they’re involved in something special,” says Montville, 43. “Each of the places I went, people didn’t have to think very deeply for stories.”

In addition to writing for us—his two previous contributions were stories on the Boston Garden (May 19, 1986) and the inventor of the Zamboni machine (March 30, 1987)—and for other magazines, he turns out four sports columns a week and the random essay for the Globe’s Sunday magazine. Seeking inspiration, he often turns to a mystical—to him—rubber-coated baseball the late Globe columnist Ray Fitzgerald also favored. “Ray developed the notion that if he held on to the ball, War and Peace would come into his head,” Montville says. “Michael Madden, his successor, uses it, too. It’s surprising how many times you need it.”

Montville’s stories generally reflect a fresh point of view. “Everyone else looks at things from the ground floor,” says SI senior writer Peter Gammons, a former Globe colleague. “Leigh writes like he’s got his own hot-air balloon.” Globe sports editor Vince Doria says, “Leigh’s not a hard-opinion guy. He sees a lot of gray in everything.” And it’s usually funny. To which Montville says, “I think that’s one part of writing columns they don’t mention in journalism school—entertainment. There’s as much Woody Allen in it as Woodward and Bernstein.”

Montville is easy to spot in a press box. He’s the rumpled guy with a toothpick in his mouth and a Coke in his hand. When he isn’t working, he reads Anne Tyler and John Gregory Dunne, vacations in Maine, goes full court at the Newton Y and slugs down junk food.

And then the September 25, 1989 issue:

The first time Leigh Montville entered the time-life Building in New York City, in 1965, he was a callow youth newly graduated from the University of Connecticut. His objective then was to be what he is today—an SI writer. But perhaps he was a tad naive.

“I put on my little suit and gathered my little college newspaper clips and showed up unannounced at the personnel office, where there were two other guys—who were waiting to interview for a maintenance job—and me,” says Montville. “We all saw the same woman and we all heard the same speech, ‘Get some experience and then come see us again.’ ”

Montville has been collecting experience bulk rate ever since. He took a job at his hometown paper, the New Haven Journal-Courier, and three years later moved on to The Boston Globe, where he became a columnist in 1970. Several thousand deadline stories later, he longed for the luxury of time to reflect on his stories. “Doing a daily column is usually more typing than it is writing,” he says. “It’s like being a contestant on Beat the Clock.” That was why when SI asked him to do a piece on the Boston Garden, in ’86, his first question was, “When’s the deadline?” Told it was in four weeks, he accepted the assignment with relish.

Be sure to check out this 1986 SI column by Montville on the old Boston Garden: And They All Say, ‘this Is It?’

Excerpt on Dave Egan

This post is part of the effort to select The Best All-Time Boston Sports Columnists

This is from Leigh Montville’s book Ted Williams: The Biography of an American Hero, in a part noting the death of noted Williams critic Dave Egan. It might give you a little glimpse into the man, as we consider his place among Boston columnists:

Egan left a complicated legacy. He was the only writer in Boston who had complained loudly about the Red Sox racist outlook under Yawkey, the only one who saw the shame in a forced, half-baked, no-chance tryout in 1945 for Negro League stars Jackie Robinson, Sam Jethroe and Marvin Williams. He was often credited or derided as one of the major forces in the Boston Braves’ decision in 1953 to leave town. He was a different voice at all times, making fun of the powerful and successful, siding with the unpowerful and unsuccessful. . . and, of course, there were his “accounts” at the racetracks and boxing rings.

His columns about Williams were remembered more than any others. He had been a defender of Williams in personal situations — the controversy surrounding the birth of Bobby-Jo, for instance — but a constant critic on all other matters. No one attacked Williams more often.

Later on it was noted that honorary pallbearers at Egan’s funeral included Walter Brown, Bob Cousy, Milt Schmidt, boxers Tommy Collins and Tony DeMarco, race track owner B. A. Dario and Joe Cronin. Egan’s space in the Record the next day was taken by Larry Claflin.

We’ve discussed Egan on this site before: Infamous Moments in Boston Sports Media History

Help Select The Best All-Time Boston Sports Columnists

I need your help. Again.

Especially you old-timers.

I’d like to create a list of the best all-time sports columnists here in Boston. The list of potential names is impressive, but who is the best of the best? Who represents the pantheon of Boston sports columnists?

Some potential names you might consider…and this is by no means a complete list. I really need more suggestions, in fact.

  • Clif Keane – Boston Globe
  • Larry Claflin – Boston Record/American/Herald
  • Harold Kaese – Boston Transcript
  • Austen ‘‘Duke’’ Lake – Boston American
  • Bob Ryan – Boston Globe
  • Will McDonough – Boston Globe
  • Tim Horgan – Boston Herald
  • Dave Egan – Boston Record
  • Dan Shaughnessy – Boston Globe
  • Ray Fitzgerald – Boston Globe
  • Leigh Montville – Boston Globe
  • Joe Haggerty – Woburn Daily Times

The list is sort of subjective, so I didn’t include Peter Gammons, as I think of him more as a baseball writer than a general columnist, while Will McDonough did mainly focus on football, but wrote columns about all sports as well, so he’s on the list. Maybe you have your reasons for putting Gammons on the list. Maybe Tim Horgan doesn’t deserve to be considered, so don’t include him, there are no rules here other than they need to be the best.

What I’d like you do is place a comment below in which you list your top three Boston sports columnists of all-time. I’ll use that feedback to compile another list, from which we’ll vote on the all-time best.

Here’s my list, which are all guys I’ve actually read: Fitzgerald (You need this book.) Montville and Ryan.

Feel free to include any stories or reasons why you feel the way you do about your list.

I’ll also have a prize for a random commenter in this list, but I haven’t picked out what it will be yet. (Businesses: Want to donate a prize and get mentioned? Send me an email.)