By Dick Flavin
Boston Red Sox Poet Laureate
and New York Times Best Selling Author
I have been thinking a lot lately about my old friend Ken Coleman.
This is the fiftieth anniversary of both the Impossible Dream season of 1967 and the
founding of the BoSox Club, the official booster club of the Red Sox, and Ken played an
integral part in both of them.
As the Red Sox’ main play by play man during that season, his is the voice most
associated with the team that resurrected baseball in Boston and throughout New
England. And, put simply, there would be no BoSox Club had it not been for him. When
he returned here from Cleveland, where, by the way, he had been the absolute king of
sports media, doing play by play for the Indians in baseball, the Browns in football and
sports reports on the news at six and eleven o’clock, to fulfill his boyhood dream of
calling Red Sox games, he took note that the team had no official fan club. He had
belonged to the Indians’ Wahoo Club so he went to work to set up a similar entity in
Boston. He and Red Sox pr director Bill Crowley recruited Boston business and civic
leaders, chief among them Dom DiMaggio, who became the first BoSox Club president.
The first BoSox luncheon was attended by every single member of the Red Sox team.
Manager Dick Williams showed up at every luncheon that season. For years Ken served
as master of ceremonies at every event. The BoSox Club was such a success that there
was a waiting list for membership. (You can find more about the club’s history by
reading The BoSox Club – Fifty Years, by the estimable Bill Nowlin, who is the author of
all things Red Sox.)
If that didn’t keep Ken busy enough, he was for many years the executive director of the
Jimmy Fund. He’d spend his days raising money to fight cancer and his evenings calling
Red Sox games. That’s what I call a full schedule.
In later years he and I spent many happy hours crisscrossing New England to make
appearances at Jimmy Fund golf tournaments and other fund raising events. He had a
wonderful, off-beat sense of humor that was put on display one night when he introduced
my by saying, “Our next speaker needs no introduction.” Then he stepped away from the
microphone, went up to the bar and ordered a drink, leaving me to pick up the pieces.
As the years went by he sometimes became a little forgetful, like the time he wore a
spiffy new sport coat to an event he was emceeing. Everyone in the place knew the coat
was new because he had forgotten to remove the price tags. Then there was the time he
turned a sand wedge into the lost and found bin at White Cliffs in Plymouth, where he
lived. The next time he went golfing he reached into his bag for his sand wedge only to
discover that it was his own club he had turned in.
He and I were flying from Hyannis to Nantucket once and a woman with a golden
retriever boarded and sat in the row behind us. As he and I chatted he reached idly back
to pat the retriever’s head, which he continued to do for the duration of the short flight.
As we came in for a landing he looked back at the dog, which is when he discovered that
he hadn’t been patting its head at all. He’d been patting the woman’s knee. She never said
a thing and neither did the dog.
Ken had an easy-going personality, but he also had a reporter’s instinct, and when he saw
a chance for a scoop he went for it. Back in 1986 Red Sox super fan Tim Samway, whose
brother was the head of the White House secret service detail, arranged for a Red Sox
delegation to visit with President Reagan when the team was playing just up the road in
Baltimore. One of the ground rules for the visit was that were to be absolutely no
interviews; this was to be just an informal gathering. When the President came into the
room, Ken asked him about his days doing telegraphic recreations of Cubs games when
he worked for station WHO in Des Moines. The President’s face lit up and he started
telling baseball stories. Sensing an opportunity, Ken fished out his tape recorder and put
the microphone in front of him. The Gipper was on a roll so he had no objections. Rules
or no rules, the President’s aides weren’t about to intervene because their boss, having
been set at ease by Ken, was obviously having such a grand time.
Imagine the surprise of listeners to Ken’s pre-game show that night when his guest was
not a player or one of the beat writers but the President of the United States.
Ken died in August, 2003. Like so many others, he never got to witness the miracle of
2004. But every Red Sox fan old enough will always hear the sound of his voice from the
magical year of 1967.
He was a great pro, a good man and a wonderful friend - and I miss him.