Musings: The Grind

By Dick Flavin
Boston Red Sox Poet Laureate
and New York Times Best Selling Author

THE GRIND

Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more
common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost
a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and
determination alone are omnipotent. – Calvin Coolidge.
Old Cal Coolidge must have been a baseball guy. He put his finger exactly on what it
takes to persevere, not just through a baseball career but through a single season. As the
2018 campaign churns on to its midpoint it is worth noting that there is a game scheduled
for almost every day or evening for a peiod of six months. Add in playoffs and spring
training and the season stretches on for eight a half months. Teams do not get as many as
two days in a row off from the time the regular season begins at the tail end of March
until the All-Star break in the middle of July. In June, for example, there are just three
days off on the Red Sox schedule; they are playing, or getting ready to play, on the other
twenty-seven days in the month. And the games are just the public performance parts of
what goes into the daily routine of a baseball team’s schedule. There is work in the
weight room; visits with the training staff; video sessions; and what seem like a hundred
other things that need to be done to get ready for that night’s performance.
Those involved in the day to day, never-ending work that goes into a baseball season
refer to it as “the grind.”
That’s just what it is, a grind. If, for example, J.D. Martinez fouls a ball off his foot, he
might hobble around for a minute, but then he gets back in the batter’s box and it’s all
forgotten. That doesn’t mean, though, that his foot doesn’t hurt anymore, or that it
doesn’t still hurt several innings later, when he comes up again, or that it doesn’t hurt that
night when he goes to bed. It might still be a little sore the next night, but he’s back in the
lineup, grinding it out. There are a thousand nicks and bruises players get while diving
for a ball, sliding into a base, or even taking batting practice. They might not be enough
to keep them out of the lineup, but they are there; the players just have to keep their heads
down and grind it out.
What must it be like to be Blake Swihart, the twenty-fifth man on the Red Sox depth
chart? He probably won’t play tonight, maybe not even this week, but he has to keep
himself ready to play – both mentally and physically - on a monent’s notice for every

single game. It’s a job made even tougher by the reality that the trading deadline is
drawing near and he has no idea what uniform he’ll be wearing six weeks from now.
Then there are those pitchers and others who are constantly on the shuttle between
Boston and Pawtucket, neither here nor there. Still, it’s better than it is for those who
never get the call to come up to the big club but who must toil through the daily grind just
the same.
There are those who don’t play but who are just as affected by the daily grind. Someone
has to keep track of luggage during road trips, for example. Players begin each game with
clean, unsoiled uniforms, the same uniforms which only the night before might have been
covered with dirt and grass stains. Doing the laundry is just one of the tasks that has to be
tackled everyday to keep the show going.
Baseball writers have to cover the games and write up to two thousand words of copy per
day, every day, knowing that those they are writing about might not be happy about it,
and they’ll have to face them the next day in the clubhouse. The writers are part of the
grind, too.
Umpires don’t even have the luxury of home games. How does their launry get done –
not their uniforms, but their skivvies, their shirts and their socks?
Plus, all these people have, in addition to baseball, lives and families, with all that entails
Several years ago a baseball writer from the Washington Post, Barry Svrluga (his
surname looks like an eye chart), wrote a very good book dealing with the subject of the
grueling marathon that is a baseball season. The title of the book is – are you ready? –
The Grind.
Here is the thing, though. Those who live through that daily grind – players, coaches,
support staff, writers, and broacasters – wouldn’t have it any other way. Baseball isn’t
just a part of their lives, it IS their lives.
Years ago Dom DiMaggio, who built a very successful business after his baseball career,
approached his old teammate Johnny Pesky with an offer to join his company. Johnny,
Dom knew, would be a perfect spokesman for the business; his offer included job
security and considerably more more income than Johnny had been making. Johnny
turned down his old friend’s generous offer. “Dom,” he said, “I love you like a brother,
but I’m a baseball lifer. They’ll have to cut my uniform off me.” Johnny continued to suit
up in his old number 6 until the very end, and he never for a moment regretted hs
decision, grind and all.
That’s the hold that baseball has on people. As tough as the grind is, it’s better than the
alternative, which is not having it there to endure.

Musings: Football Vs. Baseball

By Dick Flavin
Boston Red Sox Poet Laureate
and New York Times Best Selling Author

FOOTBALL VS. BASEBALL

We are all wired differently. No two of us are exactly the same. We might have many
things in common but there are other things that separate us, that give us our own
identity.
My brother, Jim, and I, for example, are what were in the old days known as “Irish
twins.” We were born two days less than a year apart. Jim and I grew up in the same
bedroom; shared the same loving parents; ate the same things for breakfast; had the same
friends; and went to the same schools. We even looked like brothers (and still do), but we
are different, and always have been, in at least one important way.
He’s a football guy and I’m a baseball guy. I have from the very beginning been drawn
to the game we call “the national pastime” while he has aways primarily been a fan of
what has become, if you can believe the television ratings, America’s most popular sport.
My heroes as a kid were Dom DiMaggio and Ted Williams and Bobby Doerr and Johnny
Pesky; his were Glenn Davis and Doc Blanchard, Mr. Outside and Mr. Inside of the great
Army backfields of the nineteen forties, and Doak Walker of SMU, and Otto Graham of
the then unstoppable Cleveland Browns. We grew up in an age when the Patriots did not
yet exist, when the Celtics played in an infant basketball league, and the Bruins were not
yet on our radar. In other words, we grew up in the olden days.
We both played all sports though neither of us progressed beyond the sandlot stage; but
he was bigger and stronger than I, which I aways chalked up to the fact that he was my
elder by 363 days. It was just a matter of time, I thought, until I caught up. If you were to
describe the two of us today, though, you’d still say, “He’s the bigger, stronger one.” I
was faster over short distances which I’m sure saved my life on those occasions when I
went too far in the taunting department, as younger siblings are wont to do. He was slow
to burn and quick to forgive, thank God.
It’s not that he didn’t like baseball and I didn’t like football, we both did – and still do.
He goes to several Red Sox games a year and, like most people at the games, has an
opinion on just about every play. I never miss a Patriots game on TV because they are on
an historic run and because they are just plain fun to watch. I must admit, though, that it’s
been years since I’ve been to a game at Gillette Stadium. When I am at home there’s
never a traffic jam on the way to my couch and the concessions stand (my refrigerator) is

easly accessible. Fenway Park has its traffic jams and concession stands congestion, of
course, but that’s different – it is for me, anyway.
When the Patriots lost the Super Bowl in February I felt bad, and I wondered, and still
wonder, why Malcom Butler never got into the game when just a single big play on pass
defense could have made the difference, but I slept soundly that night. On the other hand
when the Red Sox lose an important game to the Yankees (and this year every game
against the Yankees is important) I have to be kept away from sharp objects for at least
twenty-four hours or until the next game begins.
Jim and I are just different that way, I guess. We turned out to be different in another
way, too. When he came of age, Jim decided to enter the seminary and dedicate his life to
being a priest. The vows of poverty, chastity and obedience never tempted me, though,
and, while he’s been in the business of forgving sins for all these years, I’ve been
committing the sins that keep guys like him in business.
When the Patriots were born Jim had already been a seminarian in Washingon, DC, for a
number of years (he’s an Oblate of Mary Immaculate, not a local parish priest) so he had
an allegiance to the Redskins back then. His mission - spreading the word of God - took
him to places like West Virginia (for whom in the NFL do you root when you’re in West
Virginia?). He was in the Third World section of Miami when the Don Shula regime was
in its final years. Fortunately, he’s been in the Lowell/Tewksbury area for most of the
Brady and Belichick run.
I have always been a devout Red Sox acolyte, beginning with the magical age of Ted
Williams, through the Impossible Dream of Yaz and Tony C, the glorious years of Fisk,
Evans, Rice, and Lynn, the golden age of Pedro and Big Papi, and on into the emerging
reign of Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez. And I’ve seen it all play out in the crown jewel
of all American sports venues, Fenway Park. Call me lucky.
So here we are, Jim and I, coming down the home stretch of life, so alike in many ways,
yet different. We’ve taken different routes to get where we are, and we’ve been riding
different horses. His is football and mine is baseball.
He’s the better jockey, having more ably navigated his way around the racetrack of life.
But I’ve been riding the better horse, and don’t try to convince me otherwise.

Musings: When The Legend Becomes Fact

By Dick Flavin
Boston Red Sox Poet Laureate
and New York Times Best Selling Author

                                                 WHEN THE LEGEND BECOMES FACT
 

“When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”
That line, the most famous from what is arguably the greatest Western film ever made,
“The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance,” was brought to mind at the recent Red Sox
Alumni Reunion Game at Fenway Park.
First, to put the line in context, the film, directed by John Ford, starred James Stewart as a
high-minded, tenderfoot, Eastern lawyer; John Wayne as the ultimate John Wayne
character, a tough but fair-minded rancher; and Lee Marvin, who plays the title character,
Liberty Valance, with gusto and malevolence. They are backed by a supporting cast that
includes Vera Miles, Andy Devine, Edmund O’Brien, Ken Murray, and John Carradine.
Talk about bench strength!
The story opens with Stewart, a long-time senator from an unnamed Western state,
returning to the town of Shinbone for a for a little known rancher’s funeral. A newspaper
reporter asks why he has traveled all the way from Washington for an obscure man’s
funeral, and Stewart relates his story in flashback. The Marvin character, who has been
terrorrizing town residents for years, tells Stewart to get out of town or else meet him in
the street for a showdown. Rather than leave, the Stewart character, inept at using a six
shooter, goes ahead with the showdown. After first wounding him, Marvin’s character
brags that the next bullet will be “right between the eyes.” Stewart fires his gun and
Marvin falls into the street, dead. Stewart is hailed by the townspeople as a hero, “The
man who shot Liberty Valance.” It is only later that the John Wayne character reveals to
him that he had been hiddden in an alley, that he’d fired his gun at the same time as
Stewart, and that it had been his shot that killed Liberty Valance. But by then Sewart’s
reputation as a hero was firmly set in people’s minds. He went on to become governor
and then senator.
Stewart, as the elder statesman, explains to the newspaper reporter that the man in the
coffin, the John Wayne character, was the real hero of the story. The reporter then throws
his notes into the fireplace. “This is the West, sir,” he explains. “When the legend
becomes fact, print the legend.”
Which brings us to the Red Sox alumni game.

One of the participants was Wade Boggs, the Hall of Fame third baseman. When he was
introduced to the crowd he was warmly received, and when he took his position at third
he was clearly enjoying himself and he even wore a microphone so he could
communicate with the TV announcers as the game progressed. He was playing the role of
what he is, a Red Sox legend.
This, however, is an undeniable fact: when he played for the Red Sox he was never as
popular as he should have been. He had a .338 batting average over eleven seasons while
with the team, he won five batting titles, and he had seven consecutive seasons of more
than 200 hits. Yet he had his critics; there were those who claimed that he was too
wrapped up in his own statistics, others thought that he sacificed too much power for
singles and doubles. In addition, he was a bundle of superstitions and indiosyncracies;
eating chicken before every game was the least of them. He had a gargantuan appetite for
beer, laying claim to drinking more than 100 beers in a single session (think about that
for a moment). He was also, by his own admission, a sex addict. For several seasons he
had a “road wife,” someone he would take-along on road trips for – well, you know what
for. Amazingly, his marriage has survived all that and he and his wife Debbie remain
very close.
The end result is that with all those distractions, Boggs was vastly under-appreciated
when he was in Boston. He was a great hitter and, through hard work, made himself into
a gold glove defender. Despite that, when Boggs had an off-year in 1992, a contract year,
the Red Sox let him walk, not even making a contract offer. His relationship with the
only franchise for which he had ever played was broken.
Boggs signed with the Yankees for whom he had five productive seasons, including a
World Series championship. He finished up his career playing two seasons with the
Tampa Bay Devil Rays.
.
He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2005, but it wasn’t until eleven years
later, when the Red Sox finally chose to put his number 26 on the façade in right field,
next to the retired numbers of other Red Sox greats, that things changed. Something
happened that night and it was reaffirmed at the recent alumni game. Boggs became
emotional the night in 2016 that his number was retired, and the crowd seemed to
recongnize, at last, what a great player he had been. He had been bitter toward the Red
Sox when he left town, and the team and its fan base had been indifferent toward him.
Now all that was forgotten; he was part of the family once again.
To put it succinctly, he had become a Red Sox legend.
And when the legend becomes becomes fact, print the legend. It was about time.