Musings: Anyone Remember Jim Britt?

By Dick Flavin

Boston Red Sox Poet Laureate

and New York Times Best Selling Author

ANYONE REMEMBER JIM BRITT?

Are you long-in-the-tooth enough remember Jim Britt?

You have to be pretty old to recall him, but there was a time that Britt’s voice was the

most recognizable in all New England; he reigned supreme. Then it all disappeared.

In the 1940s he was the undisputed king of sports broadcasters in New England. Back in

the day when road games of baseball teams were not broadcast, he called the home games

of both the Red Sox and the Boston Braves. Even then there was a network of local

stations that carried the games, so his voice was heard throughout New England. Baseball

telecasts came along in the last few years of the decade although they were few and far

between. On June 15, 1948, when the first baseball game in New England ever to be

televised (Braves versus Chicago Cubs) went on the air, Jim Britt was the man behind the

microphone. His was the voice of baseball in New England.

Back then the New England Patriots did not even exist. The Boston Celtics were just in

their infancy; the Celtics played in what was then considered to be an insignificant

league. The Bruins did exist and had their hard core fans, but most people thought of

hockey as a strictly Canadian game. Baseball was practically the only thing that mattered

in sports around here; and Jim Britt ruled the roost.

If a home game was rained out, Britt would call the game of whichever team was on the

road by telegraphic recreation. He would sit in a studio with a telegraph machine

clattering out bare-bones information such as, “Henrich grounds out to second,” and dress

it up by saying something like, “Henrich slaps a ground ball up the middle but Doerr

makes a backhand stop, spins and fires to first, getting him by half a step.”

In addition to calling ballgames on a daily basis he hosted a popular radio show, “Jim

Britt’s Sports Round Up,” five nights a week. His signature sign-off, “Remember, if you

can’t play a sport, be one anyway,” might sound corny by today’s standards but it was an

iconic phrase back then. He had a silky smooth delivery and was very articulate; he was

by far the most famous and most influential broadcaster in New England.

But nothing lasts forever. At the end of the 1950 season Jim Britt made what turned out

to be a fatal misjudgement.

The Red Sox and Braves both decided that they would begin broadcasting all their

games, home and away, beginning in 1951. It required that broadcasters travel with the

team. The days of calling home games for two teams were over. Both teams wanted Britt

as their full-time voice, but the reality was he could only do one, and the choice was up to

him.

He could choose the Red Sox, who still had their post-World War II core of Ted

Williams, Bobby Doerr, Dom DiMaggio, and Johnny Pesky although they were all in

their thirties by then. Or he could choose the Braves, who had won the National League

pennant just two years earlier, and who had prospects like Hank Aaron and Eddie

Matthews in their system. After giving the matter some serious thought, he placed his bet

on the Braves.

Big mistake.

Aaron and Matthews did, of course, go on to have Hall of Fame careers and the Braves

eventually enjoyed great success but not in Boston; further, his decision proved to be the

ruination of Jim Britt’s career.

After two years of woeful attendance in 1951 and ’52, the Braves, on short notice, packed

up and moved to Milwaukee where in a few short years they would win a World Series.

But when they moved they decided to use local talent for their radio and television

broadcasts and Jim Britt was suddenly out of a job. The Red Sox were no longer an

option for him because the guy the Sox chose when Britt spurned them two years earlier

turned out to be a pretty good announcer – better, even, than Britt. His name was Curt

Gowdy.

After several years in limbo, Britt was hired by the Cleveland Indians where he was

paired with a young broadcaster who had idolized him when he was growing up listening

to the ballgames on the radio back in Quincy, Massachusetts. One of the two would

eventually make a triumphant return to Boston. It wouldn’t be Britt.

The young guy was Ken Coleman who, in addition to calling the Indians games, was also

the voice of the Cleveland Browns. This was back in the days when the Browns were the

class of the National Football League (that’s a loooong time ago). It was during the

heyday of Otto Graham and Jim Brown; in fact, Coleman called every NFL touchdown

the great Brown ever scored. He had become an institution in Cleveland but when, in the

mid-sixties, the national television networks wooed Gowdy away from the Red Sox job,

Coleman saw an opportunity to return to his roots as the voice of the team he had grown

up rooting for. He grabbed it. He arrived back in Boston just in time to become the voice

of the Impossible Dream team of 1967.

Britt’s career, meanwhile, continued on a downhill spiral, aided greatly by his enduring

affection for Old Demon Rum. He never really caught on in Cleveland and after a few

years he found himself back in Boston hosting a bowling show. But bowling isn’t

baseball. When the show was cancelled he faded into obscurity.

He died alone in Monterey, California in 1980 at the age of seventy. Little note was made

of his passing. He left no heirs and there was no one to keep his memory alive.

But let the record show that there once was a time when Jim Britt was the king of New

England broadcasters, the master of all he surveyed. The lesson is that there are some

professions – and sports broadcasting is one of them - in which even kings don’t have job

security.

Musings: Nothing Lasts Forever

By Dick Flavin

Boston Red Sox Poet Laureate

and New York Times Best Selling Author

NOTHING LASTS FOREVER

It feels good to be a Red Sox fan these days, doesn’t it? Four World Series

championships in the last fifteen years is the envy of all baseball. It must have felt the

same way one hundred years ago when the Red Sox were coming off their fourth

championship in just seven years. But, as fans back then were about to find out, nothing

lasts forever.

Ninety-nine years ago, on the morning of January 4, 1920, Bostonians awoke to

shattering news from which they would not recover for eighty-six long years. Red Sox

owner Harry Frazee had sold the team’s – in fact, baseball’s - biggest star to the New

York Yankees. Babe Ruth, then not yet twenty-five years of age, had already racked up

90 victories as a left-handed pitcher in his still blossoming career. Even more noteworthy,

though, was the 29 home runs he had hit in 1919, smashing the previous record.

And he was just coming into his own.

It”s hard to imagine nowadays what stunning news the deal was. This was long before

free-agency existed, it was when a team owned the rights to a player forever, unless it

decided to sell him to someone else. Frazee had a reason for selling Babe Ruth, though.

He needed the dough. Big-time.

His theatrical producing business had hit a dry spell and was bleeding money. So, too,

were the Red Sox, who had not recovered from the government’s shut-down of the 1918

season a month early (it was during World War I). This was when baseball teams’ only

source of revenue was gate receipts. To lose a whole month was devastating. There was

another reason Frazee needed the money – he lived life in the fast lane and he wasn’t

about to skimp on his life-style.

The deal for Ruth was for $100,000 cash, an unheard of amount a century ago. However,

unannounced at the time was that Yankee owner Jake Ruppert also gave Frazee a

$300,000 loan with Fenway Park as collateral. Think about it, the Yankees held the

mortgage on Fenway Park and could call the loan at anytime, thus putting the Boston Red

Sox right out of business. Jake Ruppert and the New York Yankees had Harry Frazee

right where they wanted him, in their hip pocket.

But, hey, look at the bright side. Ruth had morphed into a full-time hitter, and pitching

wins, right? The Red Sox still had the best pitching staff in baseball. But not for long.

The Ruth deal was just the tip of the iceberg.

The following October Frazee tipped Sox manager Ed Barrow that the Yankees were

looking for help in the front office. Barrow, with Frazee’s blessing, got himself

appointed Yankee general manager and immediately started cherry-picking the Red Sox

roster.

Just two months later Frazee shipped pitcher Waite Hoyt (237 wins, Hall of Fame) and

starting catcher Wally Schang to the Yankees for three nonentity players and, of course,

cash for Harry Frazee. The next year it was pitcher Sam Jones (229wins), pitcher Joe

Bush (195 wins), and shortstop Everett Scott to the Yankees for some more nonentities

and – you guessed it – cash. In August of ’22, third-baseman Jumpin’ Joe Dugan was

sent to New York for – wait for it – cash. The Yankees still lacked a front line left-

handed pitcher, so the next off season the Sox sent them Herb Pennock (240 wins, Hall of

Fame), and threw in George Pipgras (102 wins) for good measure. In return the Red Sox

got three more nonentities and Harry Frazee got cash.

So it was that in 1923, when the Yankees won their first World Series in franchise

history, Bob Shawkey was the only pitcher on the staff who won a game (he had 16 of

them) who had not been sold to them by Harry Frazee. The starting catcher, shortstop,

and third-baseman were also former members of the Red Sox, sold to the Yankees by

Harry Frazee. Oh, then there was the guy in right field who batted .393 that year, though

with only 41 homers (which was still more than anyone not named Ruth had ever hit),

and who was by then as famous as the president of the United States. He was a former

Red Soxer, too.

By that time, Harry Frazee had bailed out of baseball. Having drained the Red Sox of all

their worthwhile assets, he sold the team in June of 1923. Only a few short years before,

the Sox had been the envy of all baseball, but now they were nothing more than a

doormat and would remain so for years to come. But Frazee’s fast-lane life-style never

had to suffer a bit.

A word about “No, No, Nanette.” It’s gotten a bad rap. The mythology is that Frazee sold

Ruth to finance the play. But “No, No, Nanette” didn’t open on Broadway until April,

1925. That was more than five years after Ruth was sold and almost two years after

Frazee dumped the Red Sox. Harry Frazee sold his soul to Jake Ruppert for one reason

only: to line his pockets.

The estimable Dan Shaughnessy, in his classic book, “The Curse of the Bambino,” tells

of a night that Frazee was on the town with a pal of his. They picked up a couple of girls

at a downtown club and, in order to impress them, took them over to Fenway Park to

show them around. Their cab driver asked Frazee if he really was the owner of the Red

Sox. Frazee allowed that indeed he was. Whereupon cabbie decked him with a single

punch. If the citizenry of that day had known about the incident, they’d have held a

parade in that cab driver’s honor.

So enjoy the present Red Sox success while you can. It might go on for another year or

two, or even ten, but, life being what it is, it won’t go on forever. It’s unimagineable to

even think that the current ownership would engage in such treachery, but things change

in ways that we can’t foresee. Let’s just count our blessings that we live in such glorious

Red Sox times.

Musings: Trivial Pursuit

By Dick Flavin

Boston Red Sox Poet Laureate

and New York Times Best Selling Author

TRIVIAL PURSUIT

As a rule, I do not like trivia questions, and that includes sports trivia, even questions

about baseball. They are a waste of time, a silly pusuit of useless information, and of no

practical or intellectual value. But there are exceptions to every rule. I think that such

questions ae just fine when I happen to know the answer. Then, in fact, I think they are

peachy-keen. Such questions become clevery designed inquiries designed to measure

one’s sagacity and intelligence.

In the New York Times recently there was a column consisting of fifty baseball trivia

questions. Why bother to read such tripe, much less publish it? I thought. It turned out,

though, that the first five questions were about the Red Sox. It happened that I knew the

answers to all of them. Well, I cheated a little on one, but I did know the answer, honest, I

did. (Question: Who is the Red Sox career leader in innings pitched? Answer: Tim

Wakfield.) I just couldn’t think of it at the time. What a wonderful, interactive piece on

little known factoids of baseball information, I mused. Then, on the ensuing forty-five

questions, only a few of which dealt with the Red Sox, I got pretty much skunked, and

my attention span rapidly waned.

There was one question that piqued my interest. It was this: “Which is the only franchise

that has never had a future Hall of Famer, even for one game?” Aha! I thought, the

perfect question to spring on my son-in-law, who knows a lot about baseball and, being

from Philadephia, is a National League guy. One morning at breakfast I casually dropped

the question on him and then watched with pleasure as he agonized over the answer for

the better part of an hour. He’s a tenacious guy and I knew he wouldn’t quit until he

finally got it. (Answer: the Colorado Rockies). I, on the other hand, would have thought

about it for a few seconds before throwing up my hands and saying dismissively, “Who

gives a rap?”

I did once stump Ted Williams with a trivia question and I have been dining out on the

story ever since. Ted was appearing at a celebrity golf tournament on Cape Cod. At the

dinner held afterwards I asked him if he knew what two players who are in the Hall of

Fame wore number nine for the Red Sox. Ted loudly intoned, “Well, [expletive deleted],

I know who one them was.” I said, “Everyone knows that, but who, besides you, wore

number nine?” Ted quickly fired back, “No one after me ever wore my [expletive

deleted] number.” “That’s right,” I said. “It was someone before you.” “Someone in the

[expletive deleleted] Hall of Fame?” he challenged. “Yes,” I said, beginning to feel a litte

nervous, even though I knew the answer. “You’re full of [expletive deleted],” he

pronounced. “No one else ever wore number nine.” Whereupon I asked Bobby Doerr,

who was also at the tournament, to come over to the table at which we were seated. I

asked him, “Would you please tell Ted what number you wore as a rookie?” Bobby, who

was Ted’s best friend when they played, had reached the majors before him. He looked at

Ted and said matter of factly, “Number nine.” “[Many expletives deleted]! I never knew

that!” Ted bellowed. Like most elite athletes, Williams had a highly developed

competitive gene. He didn’t like losing at anything, and he didn’t like the idea that

anyone knew more about a subject than he did, especially if that subject was himself. I

certainly didn’t know nearly as much about most things as he did, but I did have this one

piece of trivia in my arsenal. And, knowing him the way I did, I like to think that he used

the information regularly in the constant quizzes he used to spring on his friends and

associates.

The BoSox Club, the official booster club of the Red Sox, holds a dinner for its board of

directors and past presidents every Christmastime at which trivia questions about the

team are a featured part of the program. Trivia questions are also on the menu at

luncheons held by the Blohards (Benevolent Loyal Order of Honorable and Ancient

Redsox Diehard Sufferers), a group of Red Sox fanatics based in New York City. There

are serious Red Sox acolytes at these functions, and they know their Red Sox trivia. In

fact, to many of them it’s not Red Sox trivia at all, it’s their very lifeblood. That’s how

important the team is to them. They snap at the answers like bluefish on a feeding frenzy.

I sit by passively while these sessions are held, grumbling about what an utter waste of

time they are – unless, that is, I happen to know the answer to a question. Then I

frantically wave my hands and shout out the answer, usually too late to be recognized by

the guy asking the questions.

It happens that I have particular strength in one area of Red Sox trivia. My age is such

that I know a lot about Sox players who have died, especially those who passed on due to

old age. Ask me something like, “Who was the losing pitcher in the seventh game of the

1946 World Series?” and I’m likely to know the answer (Bob Klinger). My memory

might fail me, though, and I would be stumped, if you ask, “Who was the winning pitcher

in the final game of the 2018 World Series?” I’ll look it up, though, and if you ask me

seventy years from now, I might have the answer.By Dick Flavin

Boston Red Sox Poet Laureate

and New York Times Best Selling Author

TRIVIAL PURSUIT

As a rule, I do not like trivia questions, and that includes sports trivia, even questions

about baseball. They are a waste of time, a silly pusuit of useless information, and of no

practical or intellectual value. But there are exceptions to every rule. I think that such

questions ae just fine when I happen to know the answer. Then, in fact, I think they are

peachy-keen. Such questions become clevery designed inquiries designed to measure

one’s sagacity and intelligence.

In the New York Times recently there was a column consisting of fifty baseball trivia

questions. Why bother to read such tripe, much less publish it? I thought. It turned out,

though, that the first five questions were about the Red Sox. It happened that I knew the

answers to all of them. Well, I cheated a little on one, but I did know the answer, honest, I

did. (Question: Who is the Red Sox career leader in innings pitched? Answer: Tim

Wakfield.) I just couldn’t think of it at the time. What a wonderful, interactive piece on

little known factoids of baseball information, I mused. Then, on the ensuing forty-five

questions, only a few of which dealt with the Red Sox, I got pretty much skunked, and

my attention span rapidly waned.

There was one question that piqued my interest. It was this: “Which is the only franchise

that has never had a future Hall of Famer, even for one game?” Aha! I thought, the

perfect question to spring on my son-in-law, who knows a lot about baseball and, being

from Philadephia, is a National League guy. One morning at breakfast I casually dropped

the question on him and then watched with pleasure as he agonized over the answer for

the better part of an hour. He’s a tenacious guy and I knew he wouldn’t quit until he

finally got it. (Answer: the Colorado Rockies). I, on the other hand, would have thought

about it for a few seconds before throwing up my hands and saying dismissively, “Who

gives a rap?”

I did once stump Ted Williams with a trivia question and I have been dining out on the

story ever since. Ted was appearing at a celebrity golf tournament on Cape Cod. At the

dinner held afterwards I asked him if he knew what two players who are in the Hall of

Fame wore number nine for the Red Sox. Ted loudly intoned, “Well, [expletive deleted],

I know who one them was.” I said, “Everyone knows that, but who, besides you, wore

number nine?” Ted quickly fired back, “No one after me ever wore my [expletive

deleted] number.” “That’s right,” I said. “It was someone before you.” “Someone in the

[expletive deleleted] Hall of Fame?” he challenged. “Yes,” I said, beginning to feel a litte

nervous, even though I knew the answer. “You’re full of [expletive deleted],” he

pronounced. “No one else ever wore number nine.” Whereupon I asked Bobby Doerr,

who was also at the tournament, to come over to the table at which we were seated. I

asked him, “Would you please tell Ted what number you wore as a rookie?” Bobby, who

was Ted’s best friend when they played, had reached the majors before him. He looked at

Ted and said matter of factly, “Number nine.” “[Many expletives deleted]! I never knew

that!” Ted bellowed. Like most elite athletes, Williams had a highly developed

competitive gene. He didn’t like losing at anything, and he didn’t like the idea that

anyone knew more about a subject than he did, especially if that subject was himself. I

certainly didn’t know nearly as much about most things as he did, but I did have this one

piece of trivia in my arsenal. And, knowing him the way I did, I like to think that he used

the information regularly in the constant quizzes he used to spring on his friends and

associates.

The BoSox Club, the official booster club of the Red Sox, holds a dinner for its board of

directors and past presidents every Christmastime at which trivia questions about the

team are a featured part of the program. Trivia questions are also on the menu at

luncheons held by the Blohards (Benevolent Loyal Order of Honorable and Ancient

Redsox Diehard Sufferers), a group of Red Sox fanatics based in New York City. There

are serious Red Sox acolytes at these functions, and they know their Red Sox trivia. In

fact, to many of them it’s not Red Sox trivia at all, it’s their very lifeblood. That’s how

important the team is to them. They snap at the answers like bluefish on a feeding frenzy.

I sit by passively while these sessions are held, grumbling about what an utter waste of

time they are – unless, that is, I happen to know the answer to a question. Then I

frantically wave my hands and shout out the answer, usually too late to be recognized by

the guy asking the questions.

It happens that I have particular strength in one area of Red Sox trivia. My age is such

that I know a lot about Sox players who have died, especially those who passed on due to

old age. Ask me something like, “Who was the losing pitcher in the seventh game of the

1946 World Series?” and I’m likely to know the answer (Bob Klinger). My memory

might fail me, though, and I would be stumped, if you ask, “Who was the winning pitcher

in the final game of the 2018 World Series?” I’ll look it up, though, and if you ask me

seventy years from now, I might have the answer.