Musings: Life Is Good

By Dick Flavin

Boston Red Sox Poet Laureate

and New York Times Best Selling Author

LIFE IS GOOD

As the month of December opened, I was reminded of a couple things: first, when the

Red Sox win, the Red Sox rule. They dominate everything else in this town; and second,

Boston has some pretty cool venues in addition to Fenway Park.

On the first Monday of the month I was at the Colonial Theatre (now officially the

Emerson Colonial) for the premier showing of the official 2018 World Series

documentary. It was the first time I’d been in the old theatre since it reopened this past

summer after undergoing extensive renovations, and let me tell you something – the old

girl looks more than pretty good; she looks great!

The oldest continuing operating theater in Boston - and the most beautiful - the Colonial

first opened its doors in December of 1900. That makes it not only twelve years older

than Fenway Park, but it’s even older than the Red Sox themselves. The team wasn’t

born until 1901. The first production at the Colonial was Ben Hur, and it featured eight

horses on stage in the famous horse race scene. One can imagine the sight of them must

have brought the house down, but it’s hard to believe that it got a bigger reaction than the

appearance on-stage of Red Sox manager Alex Cora with the World Series trophy under

his arm.

Back in 1943 the Colonial was the site of a pre-Broadway try-out of a new musical called

Away We Go, written and composed by two veterans of the stage teaming together for the

first time. Their names were Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hamerstein II, and during the

Boston run of the show they decided to change its name to Oklahoma. The rest, as they

say, is history.

But back to more recent history, the showing of World Series documentary. If you ever

want to have a good time, get 1700 friends together and show the CD. The whooping and

hollering in the theater that night was almost like being at the ballpark; and it’s not like

no one knew how it was going to turn out (spoiler alert: it has a happy ending). The show

even comes with villains for everyone to boo. There is, for example, that staple of

baseball bad guys, Alex Rodriguez. He has become baseball’s Bela Lugosi, the

personification of all that is evil. He’s always sure to raise the hackles of the crowd. And

now he’s joined by a new villain the crowd loves to hate: Manny Machado. He earned as

many boos and catcalls when his image appeared on-screeen as did A-Rod, and that’s

saying something.

The documentary is terrific, and getting to see it at the Emerson Colonial was a

memorable experience.

Two nights after the documentary showing I was at another pretty good Boston venue

that has a little history of its own, Symphony Hall. A National Historic Landmark, it’s

even older than the Colonial, but only by two months.

The occasion was the annual A Company Christmas at Pops, the kick-off to the

orchestra’s annual Christmas concerts which have for many years been a great Boston

tradition. The orchestra and the Tanglewood Festival Chorus never sounded better. And

where better them to hear them at than Symphony Hall, world famous for its acoustics.

Getting to recite Teddy at the Bat there several years ago with the full orchestra in back

of me was the thrill of a lifetime.

But, you may ask, what has all that got to do with the Red Sox? First of all, at one point

conductor Keith Lockhart stepped forward to announce that the next song, Sleigh Ride,

first made popular by a Pops recording in 1949, would be led by a special guest

conductor. And who should appear on stage but Red Sox broadaster Jerry Remy, who has

morphed in recent years from a popular celebrity to a revered folk hero because of the

manner in which he has navigated so many problems, both health and otherwise, with

grit, determination, and good humor. Jerry took the baton in hand, and he did not

disappoint. Never has the orchestra been conducted by anyone with more dance moves.

The crowd roared in approval.

How could you top that? Well, a little later in the program Maestro Lockhart stepped

forward once again. It was time for the traditional recitation of ‘Twas the Night Before

Christmas (actual title, A Visit from St. Nicholas) by Clement Moore. Onto the stage,

bathed in a huge ovation, marched Alex Cora. I’m telling you, the guy is everywhere

these days. Judging from the reception he got from the more than two thousand music

and Red Sox lovers in the hall, I’d venture to say that Marty Walsh is lucky that the

mayoral election was last year and not this. Cora is the most popular guy in town, even

more popular than Jerry Remy. Then he proceeded to recite Moore’s classic poem in

Spanish. The audience loved it even though most of us didn’t know what the devil he was

saying, except for when he recited the names of Santa’s reindeer. Dasher and Dancer and

Prancer and Vixen are the same in any language.

Being in Symphony Hall is like watching a game in Fenway Park. You are surrounded by

history and tradition everywhere you look. The greatest artists of more than a century

have been on that stage, and the greatest ballplayers of all time have played on the field at

Fenway Park. Add the Emerson Colonial Theatre with all of its history to the mix, and

you have the elements of what makes Boston unique. To have had the opportunity to

experience all of it in a period of just forty-eight hours is something special.

The Emerson Colonial is still is back and going strong; Symphony Hall and the Boston

Pops have never been better; and the Red Sox are World Series champions.

Life is good.

Musings: A Few Odds and Ends

By Dick Flavin

Boston Red Sox Poet Laureate

and New York Times Best Selling Author

A FEW ODDS AND ENDS

* There was a standing-room-only crowd on November 30 th at the Grove Manor

Estates assisted living facility in Braintree. People were there to celebrate a great baseball

institution.

Mary Pratt turned 100 years old.

Mary was a member of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League that was

immortalized a quarter of a century ago in the movie, A League of Their Own.

A left-handed pitcher, she played from 1943-1947 for the Rockford, Illinois, Peaches and

the Kenosha, Wisconsin, Comets. In ’44 she won 21 games for Kenosha, including a no-

hitter. Previously she had played for the Boston Olympets, a long-forgotten team that

played its home games at, of all places, the Boston Garden. Following her five years with

the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League she resumed her teaching career,

which lasted for 48 years, mostly for the Quincy Public School System. She also spent

fifty years officiating softball, basketball, field hockey and lacrosse games. In addition,

she served on the AAGPBL board of directors. A life well-spent.

Her suitcase from her time with the AAGPBL, adorned with stickers of the places she

visited, is housed at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. To

honor her centennial, the Red Sox sent a goody-bag that featured a World Series t-shirt, a

Red Sox cap, and a Xander Bogaerts bobble-head doll.

Like Fenway Park, Mary has reached triple digits in age and is more beloved than ever.

* I wonder if ballplayers realize the impact that even small gestures can have on

people. The other day, while speaking in Somerville, I asked those in the audience who

their favorite player was. A woman in the second row immediately raised her hand; she

said, “Dustin Pedroia.” When I asked why, she explained that some years ago, to

celebrate her mother’s 82 nd birthday, she took her to a Red Sox game. They were seated

behind the dugout while some of the players were warming up before the game, and she

called out to Pedroia that it was her mother’s birthday. Pedroia looked at her mother,

smiled, and mouthed the words, “Happy birthday.” I’m sure he has long forgotten the

incident, but that woman and her mother will never forget it.

* The Big Fella, Jane Leavy’s riveting book on Babe Ruth and the ground-breaking

way he was marketed to the American public, is the ideal Christmas gift for anyone who

likes baseball and/or American history. Reading it brought to mind a posthumous story

about the Babe that I have never seen in print. There are two statues on display at The

National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York; one is of Babe Ruth and the

other is of Ted Williams. Each was sculpted out of a single piece of basswood by

renowned artist, Armand LaMontagne.

LaMontagne once told me that when he was commissioned to do the Ruth statue, one of

his first chores was research. He studied hundreds, if not thousands of photos of Babe in

action; and he noticed that in some pictures the Yankee cap he was wearing appeared to

have a white button on its crown while in other photos photos it did not. None of the

other Yankee players seemed to have a white buton on his cap. He checked with the

Yankee office and was assured that their caps never had a white button, that the button

was always the same color as the cap itself. That’s the way LaMontagne sculpted it.

In 1984, when it came time to unveil the finished work of the Babe taking his stance at

home plate, a preview unveiling was held for Babe’s daughter, Julia, George

Steinbrenner, and a few baseball bigwigs. When the sheet covering was pulled back,

Ruth’s daughter had one comment. She said, “Where’s his gum?” Apparently when he

came up to bat he’d take out his chewing gum and plunk it on the top of his cap.

Incidentally, if you ever want to see footage of Ted Williams overcome by emotion,

check out on YouTube his reaction at the unveiling of his statue at the Hall of Fame.

* Did you know that Bing Crosby once looked into buying the Boston Braves?

Neither did I, but, according to a new biography, Bing Crosby Swinging on a Star: The

War Years, 1940-1946, that’s what happened during World War II when the team was

known as the Boston Bees and was managed by Casey Stengel (before Casey became a

genius; it’s amazing what good players can do for a manager’s reputation). But

commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis, taking note of the fact that Crosby owned and

bred race horses, put the kibosh on the deal before it ever got off the ground. Later, after

he got out of the horse racing business, Crosby did buy a 14% interest in the Pittsburgh

Pirates. Nowadays baseball is proud to do business with gambling interests. Times

change.

* Do you think that Bryce Harper will regret turning down the Washington

Nationals’ $300 million offer? That’s 30 big ones a year for ten years, guaranteed! I think

he’ll rue the day he didn’t snap it up. He’s young yet, only 26, but he’s got a career

batting average of .279, only .249 in 2018. He’s got power, but if this year’s market for

free agents is as lousy as last year’s, my guess is that he’ll be spending a lot of time this

winter waiting for the phone to ring.

* It’s no surprise that Craig Kimbrel turned down the Red Sox’ qualifying offer of

$17.9 million on his way to free agency because he’s looking for a multi-year deal. But

he damaged his reputation as an elite closer by getting consistently knocked around

during the playoffs, and that’s just when everyone is watching. It makes one wonder if he

would have been better off taking the $17.9 million for a year and using the time to

rehabilitate his standing in the game.

* Pitchers and catchers report to Fort Myers on February 13. My God, that’s only

about a week and a half away.

Musings: Baseball Writers Can't Be Wrong - Or Can They?

By Dick Flavin

Boston Red Sox Poet Laureate

and New York Times Best Selling Author

BASEBALL WRITERS CAN’T BE WRONG – OR CAN THEY?

Was Alex Cora robbed when he didn’t win the American League Manager of the Year

for 2018? It’s impossible to conceive of anyone doing a better job than Cora did this year;

108 wins is an all-time record for a Red Sox team. His managing during the post-season

was flawless, with 11 wins against only 3 losses, and a World Series championship,

although the voting is done before the playoffs begin. But was he robbed?

Bob Melvin of the Oakland A’s, the eventual winner, had a team with the lowest payroll

in baseball at the season’s start ($68.6 million); a team that finished last in the American

League West in 2017; a team that in June of this year had an eleven game deficit to make

up for the wild card berth; and he led it to the post-season with a record of 97 and 65.

That’s nothing to sneeze at, so it’s hard to say who deserved it more. I think Cora earned

it because the object of the game is to win, and that’s exactly what the Red Sox skipper

did. But it wasn’t an out and out hijacking.

It’s not the first time that a Red Sox skipper has been denied the honor that should

rightfully have been his. Terry Francona, the most successful manager in the team’s

history, never won a manager of the year award while he was with the Sox. He did win in

2016 with the Indians.

If Cora wasn’t exactly robbed in 2018, Pedro Martinez was robbed in 1999. He was

edged out for Most Valuable Player by Ivan Rodriguez because two members of the

Baseball Writers of America, who do the voting on these things, left him totally off their

ballots – and they get to choose up to ten players each! George King of the New York

Post and Lavelle Neal of the Minneanapolis Star-Tribune were apparently under the

impression that pitchers are not players and thus shouldn’t be considered for an MVP

award. Rodriguez was a terrific player and had an outstanding year in ’99, but he did not

lead the league in a single offensive category. Pedro, on the other hand, won the pitching

Triple Crown that year, leading the league in victories (23-4), earned run average (2.04)

and strike outs (313). But, as Neal, one of the robbers, said, “It was nothing personal

against Pedro.”

With Ted Williams, though, it was personal. Ted was robbed, virtually at gunpoint, of the

MVP award a number of times, and it was because a lot of the voting writers just plain

didn’t like him. He was edged out by a single vote in 1947 when one writer reportedly

didn’t include him as one of the top ten players in the league and Ted had won the Triple

Crown that year. The winner was Joe DiMaggio, whom Williams had out hit (.343 versus

.315), out homered (32 versus 20), and out RBI’d (114 versus 97). Williams believed

that the writer who didn’t even give him a tenth place vote (which would have been

enough to put him over the top) was Mel Webb of the Boston Globe, but Webb was

almost certainly not the guilty party. He was an old-timer in his seventies by then, didn’t

write on baseball regularly anymore, and he was not one of the voters in either 1946,

when Ted did win the MVP, or in 1948.

The 1947 robbery, bad as it was, was not as outrageous as 1942, when Williams also won

the Triple Crown but lost in the voting to Yankee second baseman Joe Gordon. The

discrepancy in numbers was even wider than in 1947; batting average, .356 to Gordon’s

.322, home runs, 36 to 18, and runs batted in, 142 to 113.

Those brazen stick-ups were in addition to 1941, when he lost out as MVP despite batting

.406 and leading the league in home runs; and again in 1957 when, at age 39, he was

passed over in spite of batting .388.

Clearly, some of the writers voting in those elections did not like Ted very much. Just as

clearly, he had given them ample reason not to like him. He was a high strung guy with a

hair-trigger temper that he struggled to control all his life; and he really had no family life

as a child and had not been taught how to deal with adversity. When he was criticized in

print he lashed out, sometimes at any writer who happened to be around. That didn’t win

him any popularity contests with those who wrote about him – and who voted on who

would win awards. Let’s just say that their relationship was adversarial.

As the years went by and Ted mellowed, things got a little better between them. In 1969

the writers voted him American League Manager of the Year when he led the expansion

Washington Senators to a third place finish. He’d had a pretty good year, though it was

hardly of Triple Crown caliber.

In an effort to rectify the questionable choices sometimes made by the writers, the task of

choosing Gold Glove winners was turned over to managers and coaches. Who could be

more qualified and more relied upon to make worthy choices, right? In 1999 the

managers and coaches, in their unquestioned wisdom, awarded the Gold Glove for first

basemen to Rafael Palmeiro, who had played only 28 games at first base in that entire

season. So much for baseball’s fool-proof decision making process.

It turns out that managers and coaches, just like baseball writers, are people, too. And

people sometimes make mistakes. When choosing the recipients of high honors they can

be right more often than they are wrong, though at times those choices can be called into

question. And every once in a while they can be wildly off the mark.

You know, just like in presidential elections.