The Buffalo Head Society

Book Review

Confessions of a Red Sox Fan

from the manuscript by Richard Wilmarth

1996 Richard Wilmarth. Reprinted by permission of the author

Editors note: Richard Wilmarth was born a Red Sox fan in Fall River, Mass., and now lives in Colorado. His book Confessions of a Red Sox Fan, set during the 1995 pennant race, was scheduled to be published this year by Commonwealth Publications of Edmonton, Alberta. Unfortunately, Commonwealth has gone out of business, making Confessions an orphan. If you can help get this book published, write BHS or write the author directly: Richard Wilmarth, PO Box 2076, Boulder CO 80306. Email: wilmartr@colorado.edu

The Sox opened their home stand with a 6-1 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers. Tim "I can only pitch in warm weather" Wakefield is now 16-5. The Beaners have dropped 8 of their last 11 games.

I first met Johnnie Adams through his father. My uncle Blackie had been staying in the spare bedroom of my parents' house. He was wallpapering and doing some painting in exchange for his stay. This was a common occurrence as Blackie had the need to dry out every now and then from all of the liquor he drank. The story I heard was, it was his World War 11 experience-seeing his friends getting killed in action, and the fact that his first wife died of tuberculosis when he was very young. My mother said he never got over these things.

Blackie had a long history of drinking. He was in and out of detox. He could never stay straight. He attended AA meetings regularly, but they never seemed to click. Anyway, he was staying at our house and one night he didn't come back from his drive to the beach. Apparently, he got hooked up with Johnnie Adams' father at the American Legion and had one too many. From what I understand, Johnnie's father and my uncle had been in the same part of the Pacific during the war-they were on different ships during the Battle of Midway Island. I guess one thing led to another, and early next morning, Johnnie and his father brought my uncle back home. They said he had gotten too drunk to drive, so they put him up for the night.

Johnnie Adams was one of the best baseball players in Shamrock. There were stories about his legendary home runs on the Colonial Heights baseball field. Johnnie was what you would call a natural pull hitter. He was a local hero. He had tryouts with the Red Sox. Nothing ever came of it, though.

I used to hang out with Johnnie, until things got too difficult for him with the police. He ended up joining the Army and was sent to South Korea where he occupied a foxhole behind a machine gun on the 38th parallel. I don't know why he never made it to the big leagues. Maybe, it was bad luck. It's hard to say.

When Vicki and I were living in Berkeley, Johnnie and his girlfriend came out and I helped them get a place. I let Johnnie borrow $200. He paid me back every cent. Unfortunately, none of it worked out for him. Johnnie, lost his girl, the same way he had lost the one before, so he headed back to the home front, with a car full of various narcotics that he got familiar with while staring down the North Koreans.

Back in the swamp, Johnnie moved in with his sister and her three kids. When I got back there, after Vicki left me, we used to go to bars and play the bowling machines. One time, with a beer in his hand, he said, 'You're a real competitor, aren't you?' I remained silent. I knew he was right. It all stemmed from my baseball days. But, I couldn't figure out what we were both doing feeding quarters into a machine, trying to get the highest score to somehow mask our pain.

One Christmas morning, my sister came running up to my room and told me Johnnie was dead. His sister's kids were dead, too. The house they lived in burned down. They had been doing a lot of partying and everybody passed out. I think it was a cigarette that got everything going. His sister, and my buddy, Deke, were the only ones that escaped.

I don't know why things turn out the way they do. Johnnie was a great hitter, but he never got out of the swamp.

Boston clinched a tie for the AL East by beating the Milwaukee Brewers 5-3 at Fenway Park. Vaughn Eshelman got the win and Rick Aguilera got his 30th save.

Down at the gym, I saw Red. He told me about the 1927 Yankees-Murderers Row-Ruth, Gehrig, Lazzeri, Combs and Meusel. He said, "How can you compare them to the Colorado Rockies? Just because the Rockies have four 30 home run hitters doesn't mean they're as good as the Yankees once were. It's all hype. You can't do it. You can't compare them. There's no tradition. It's ridiculous. The ball's juiced."

Looking out the window, I commented, "Well, we're not complaining about the heat anymore."

Red observed, "Yeah, it's cold and wet."

Philosophically, I added, "If it's not one thing, it's another."

Red, in a 79 year-old guttural tone, surmised, "Yeah, when you stop complaining, you're dead."

Startled, I responded, "What?"

Repeating his gem of New York street wisdom, Red spoke more forcefully, "When you stop complaining, you're dead."

Conceding, I replied, "I never thought about it that way."

My father had an earphone that he used to listen to the Red Sox games with, so he wouldn't disturb my mother who liked to watch TV. The radio was positioned on the floor, and the wire ran up the side of the chair, right to his ear. He watched television, smoked his pipe, emptied it, filled it, lit it and had conversations, all while listening to the game. It became comical to observe him because of the way he acted when the Sox made a big play. Suddenly, he'd stop whatever he was doing, raise one of his arms, suspend it in mid-air, and stare at you, eyes bulging out, until whatever was happening was over. It was quite a sight. He became full of anticipation, as if he didn't have any disease at all. When the play went wrong, he got disappointed and might say something like, "Shit." If the play went well, his face would light up and he might say excitedly, "Tie score" or "Home run," as if you knew exactly what was going on and the true meaning of what he was saying. He didn't remember he was listening to the game on the earphone and the people in the room with him couldn't hear it. It didn't matter to him though, he went right on keeping us all informed.

Dad lived for the Red Sox. He had given up on me and my crazy ways. In the early part of his illness, he gave me $200 to go back to California because I was such a disruptive, disrespectful ingrate. Not only was I angry about him being sick, but I was also angry that we left Fall River, Massachusetts, a town of about 100.000, for Shamrock, a mill village in the swamps of Rhode Island, where the locals still ran the cows through the center of town. I got so mad, I put my fists through the walls of the house, just to annoy him. I hated the place. I hated Rhode Island and I hated my father when he'd call the State Police just to try and settle me down. He'd always say, "Boy, you're going to learn the hard way." I guess he was right. Back then, I was so jacked up on pills, grass and acid, I didn't know what I was doing. I was living in another world. During one of our heated arguments, my mother said accusingly, "Look what you've done to this man." I felt terrible. He was sick, and I shouldn't have been arguing with him. But I did. I had no sense of what was right or wrong. I'd snap and storm through the house and knock things off tables. Now, I'm awfully sorry for all of that. I wish I could have hugged my father instead of fighting with him. But, it's too late now. I missed my chance.

Last night, the Red Sox captured the AL Eastern Division crown when they beat the Milwaukee Brewers 3-2. Jos Canseco drove in the tie breaking run and Rheal Cormier got the win in relief Starter, Erik Hanson got hit on the knee by a line drive in the sixth off the bat of John Jaha and didn't return to pitch the seventh. Rick Aguilera got his 31st save.

The Bosox locked up the division with 10 games left. It's the earliest post-season berth for the club since 1946. It will be the first time the Beaners have been in the playoffs since 1990. In the fourth game of that Oakland sweep, "the Rocket" Roger Clemens was ejected for mouthing off at home plate umpire, Terry Cooney. Apparently, the Boston ace didn't like the way the balls and strikes were being called. It was another low point in Red Sox history.

It was a week or so after my younger sister got married that we heard uncle Blackie had died. Apparently, he got involved with some woman, couldn't handle it, and went on one last binge. He died drunk, a heart attack got him. My mother cleaned up his apartment on Second Street in Fall River, which was a few doors down from the Lizzie Borden house, scene of the August 4th, 1892 ax murders. My mother said Blackie's place was littered with empty Vodka bottles and human excrement. It wasn't a very pleasant sight. I didn't feel too good about it-going to the funeral, standing around and seeing all of the relatives. Everyone always said Blackie and I were a lot alike. It was scary. However, I didn't want to end up like him. That's part of the reason I quit drinking. That's part of the reason I don't start again.

DREAM

It was a Red Sox-Yankee game. "The Monster" Dick Radatz made a relief appearance for the Sox, and Ryne Duren made one for the Pinstripers. My father and I had box seats on the third base line. I was eating hot dogs with globs of spicy, golden brown mustard. Behind home plate, at the top of the aisle, where the beer was sold, I heard some yelling. Next thing I know, a fight broke out. People stopped looking at the game. I didn't know what the score was. Ryne Duren wore coke bottle eyeglasses, but he didn't cause the blood I saw, the bigger man in the fight did. It was the most blood I had ever seen, and it was gushing out of the smaller man's face. It was the first time I had ever witnessed a real fight. It was ugly. Later, "the Monster" threw hard and inside and hit a batter. It was a terrible thing to see.

For the last 24 hours, my heart has been arrhythmic. I've been very uncomfortable. I stayed home last night. I kept thinking of Charlotte and the arguments we used to have. I didn't go to the Neptune. The Bosox got rained out. There'll be a doubleheader today. I've been trying to calm down. I didn't start the antidepressants. I'm not sure if I should go back to the doctor's. My shoes were on the bed this morning. My mother always said that meant someone was going to die. She'd say, "Don't put your shoes on the bed." When I moved my bowels earlier, the water in the toilet turned red and it was not out of loyalty to the Red Sox. It was a case of bleeding hemorrhoids. My grandfather Kelly had his operated on when I was a little boy. It must run in my mother's family. I'm trying to relax. I don't know what the future holds. I picked up my Food Share, Colorado today and did my laundry. Everyone is making comments about the color of my vintage, 1975 Red Sox cap. The snow has melted.

"The Rocket" Roger Clemens pitched six innings of shut out ball as the Pilgrims beat Toronto 5-0 in the first game of the doubleheader. That's three in a row.

The problem is the Yankees. They've won 21-27 and are now the wild card leader. The California Angels just can't seem to win. The Seattle Mariners have overtaken them in the Western Division. As it stands now, Boston would play Cleveland and Seattle would play New York. Personally, I'd rather the Sox play the Indians after taking on California or Seattle. I'll just have to wait and see what happens. I don't think it's fair. I wish the Yankees would have folded. There's too much history between the Sox and the Pinstripers. We should have nailed them in New York, instead of losing three in a row.

Chickie Peaberry fell in love. I couldn't believe it. I became extremely disillusioned. It all happened when he was living in Montreal. Maybe that was it, he was out of the country. I would have bet $100 it couldn't of happened in the good ole' USA. Chickie always aspired to all that was French. Maybe that was his downfall. Her name was Minot.

Now Chickie wasn't a big man, he stood about 5'7' and went about 135 pounds. Minot was 5'1' and couldn't have been over 105. Her outstanding feature was her long black hair that went nearly to her knees. I can visualize the Chickster getting lost in her hair, night after night. Other than that, she was sort of boyish, had a flat chest, and had fairly irregular teeth. To top it all off, she used to wear a Montreal Expos cap in Red Sox territory. That was part of her uniform, along with a white V-neck tee shirt and faded blue jeans. When it was cold, she'd wear a plain brown cloth jacket. I was so disappointed with Chickie for settling down. He wasn't the type. He could've had any woman he wanted. I don't know what he saw in her. She had nothing at all.

We'd try to hang out together-the three of us-but it didn't work. It wasn't the same. She interrupted the flow of things. Sure, we'd still get high, but his final burst of energy would be with her, and I'd be left to fend for myself It wasn't like the old days. All Chickie thought about was rent and getting a good bag of dope. He didn't want to do anything anymore. He even stopped insulting my family. It was Minot this, Minot that. I couldn't stand it. Eventually, they left and did a Montreal, Berkeley, Vancouver thing-moving around, rolling cigarettes, picking up money on the sly. They did that for about 7 years, until Chickie started to get heavy into coke.

I don't know why Minot left him. I think it had something to do with the fact that Chickie didn't sleep anymore. Also, meeting someone else at her new job didn't help matters any. I had never seen Chickie so upset. He was ready to put a gun in his mouth and pull the trigger. Back in Shamrock, he continually called her and usually got her new boyfriend on the line. He'd tell the Chickster to leave her alone. It was at that time, I realized, I knew nothing at all about life-how someone like Chickie could be so high, so on top of everything, so much in love, so in control, and then crash like Sisyphus' rock. After all, he was the virtual Don Juan of literature and film. He was everything I wanted to be, but I saw him brought down by a 105 pound woman from the Rue St. Urbain, who, above all things, was an Expos fan.

Chickie wouldn't take no for an answer. He went to Vancouver-they had already left. He hitched to Montreal-they weren't there. He hitched to Berkeley, and then he found them, but nothing happened. All of his pleading, all of his arguments, all of his begging did absolutely no good at all.

Minot and her new boyfriend had started a little painting business. When the Expos played the Giants at Candlestick Park in San Francisco, they would go and sit in the bleachers. After about a year, they went back to Vancouver and the Chickster stayed in Berkeley and started to collect on a psychiatric disability. Maybe Chickie should've paid more attention to baseball. I think all Minot wanted was someone to go to the games with. It must have been too simple. That's probably why Chickie didn't get it.

It's hard to say how many years have gone by since I've seen Chick. It might be 10. He's still in Berkeley. We do an occasional letter, and he always says he sees Vicki around on Telegraph Avenue and that she looks really good. I don't know why he tells me that. I never ask him about Minot.

Tim Wakefield took the loss as the Toronto Blue Jays beat the Boston Red Sox 8-6 in the second game of the twin bill. Wakefield is now 16-6. Willie McGee misplayed Carlos Delgado's fly to right with the bases loaded and consequently three unearned runs scored. Wakefield is now 2-5 with a 5.96 ERA in his last eight starts.

When I was in the Little League, my father came to every game. He'd park his '56 Chevy Bel Air on President Avenue and stand on the hill and watch. He didn't make me nervous. I knew I was good, but I couldn't get away with anything because he saw it all.

In the playoffs for the City Championship with the South Park team, I got thrown out of the game for calling one of the umpires a queer. I didn't know what everyone was so upset about. Our manager made me apologize to him after our extra inning victory. I did it reluctantly. At home, on the porch, my father gave me a sermon on good sportsmanship.

Fact is the ump made a bad call at the plate. In the bottom of the fifth, he called Jimmy Medeiros out. Jimmy was trying to score from second on a single to right by Davy Alves. The ump called him out. The ump was wrong. Jimmy was safe. That took us out of the inning and nearly cost us the game.

It was during the top of the sixth. Joey Costa and I were running out to our positions in the outfield. Joey was complaining about the play. An ump was nearby. I said, "Don't worry. We'll still win. The umpire's a queer anyway." BOOM. I was out of the game, ejected, humiliated. No one would talk to me. At 12 years old, I thought queer meant odd, unusual, singular. I didn't understand the sexual connotation.

"You're out of here!"

"Who me? For what?"

"You're out of the game. Get off the field."

I don't think my father ever forgave me for that. He said it was the beginning of the end for us. Every argument after that incident would start, "Ever since that day you were thrown out of that game against South Park, you ..." Although I yelled and screamed and said he was wrong, I knew my father was right.

I never liked Carl Yastrzemski. He had the nerve to replace Ted Williams in left field. He was not a hero. He made the final out in the 1967 and the 1975 World Series, and he popped up to Graig Nettles with runners of first and third to make the last out of the 1978 playoff game with the New York Yankees. God, how I hated him. Why couldn't he have homered off the "Goose," so the headline could've read, "Yaz homers in the ninth-Sox beat Yanks 7-5, head to the World Series?" It just wasn't meant to be. I'll always remember Yaz for those three at bats. I refuse to see the big picture-the MVP and Triple Crown in '67, the 3 time batting champion, the first American League player to total 3,000 hits and 400 home runs, the bonafide hall of famer as of 1989. To me, Yaz was the great choker, no matter how many other times he came through.

I don't remember how I met Sherry. It was sometime before the Iranian Hostage Crisis began. She was mucking the stalls in the local race horse stable outside of Shamrock. She worked every morning, but I don't remember how I met her. The experience must be buried somewhere inside of me. I had to meet her. We lived together for a couple of years.

During the winter, I started to visit her apartment. It was after my father died. She had quit the University of Rhode Island. Eventually, I found out the roommate she told me about was really her husband, and they were planning on getting a divorce. By that time, I was already too involved. Sherry was a cute girl who liked my guitar playing. She got me a job at the stable doing the surrounding lawns. I think she was about 20 years old. I still have a picture of her in front of the barn wearing a Boston Red Sox sweat shirt. She didn't smoke, rarely drank, and liked David Bowie.

I was living at home. My mother, to my surprise, let Sherry move in with me upstairs. I was having a hard time getting out on my own. My mother wanted to help. Well, she helped, and I helped Sherry get away from her husband and start the divorce proceedings. My mother even let her bring her dog. I think she was hoping I'd settle down, get married, and maybe give up music-something like that. It never happened.

Sherry was from a very strict, Roman Catholic, Portuguese family. They didn't like me, but kept it to themselves, as they didn't want to hurt their daughter's feelings. I think she must have had a 100 relatives. Her father was a part-time musician, and she used to sing with him at weddings. Sherry hated her mother. Maybe, I met her through my music. Maybe, she came to one of my shows.

Eventually, we ended up getting a small, two-room place by the local grammar school. With a job at the stable, music students, an occasional gig and fixing instruments, I was doing okay financially. Sherry continued to work, also.

By then, former Georgia Governor, Jimmy Carter was in a lot of trouble. Islamic fundamentalists were holding 52 Americans hostages in the American Embassy in Tehran, demanding the return of the former Shah, who was in New York being treated for cancer. War hysteria gripped the United States. I felt it in Shamrock. President Carter looked helpless. People wanted him to do something, but what could he do, nuke the country? There were all kinds of yellow ribbons tied around trees. It was disgusting. Everyone was a hawk, except me.

In the middle of the crisis, Sherry and I had a lot of strained meetings with her parents and grandparents-Thanksgiving and Christmas-that sort of thing. They thought I didn't work hard enough, that I wasn't a go-getter. Anyway, I was writing songs back then, but I had to give it up. My right arm went south on me. I had developed a bad ulna nerve and I couldn't move my fingers very well. Playing the guitar became an exercise in pain. My old baseball injury reared its ugly head. To make matters worse, I also scarred my vocal cords by singing with a cold. I wasn't going anywhere as a musician. I wasn't going anywhere with Sherry. Things fell apart when she quit her stable job and I started to write poetry. All of the structure left the relationship.

First, her parents got into a car accident and were hospitalized when they were returning from a Red Sox game. From their beds in intensive care, they took the opportunity to plead with Sherry to go back to school, and when I wasn't there, to leave me. A couple of months later, she got a job in a drug store and the pharmacist liked her. She felt guilty. I think it was because she liked him, too. One weekend, she visited back home for a few days and one of her high school chums came around. They drank some wine and had sex. She told me all of this, after the fact, and I forgave her. Then she got a job in a nursing home and all I heard about was Tom, Tom, Tom. I started going nuts. I became jealous. I threw her out. I hit her. It was just what she wanted. She ended up going back to her parents and started dating her old boyfriend. She liked to call me up and tell me all of the details. I listened because I wanted her back. She never came back. I think I wrote a few poems about it. It was during that time, John Lennon, was murdered. We were both upset. Frankly, I don't know what I did for Sherry, except maybe, stand up to her husband.

Toronto beat the Sox 2-1. Rick Aguilera took the loss. His record is 3-3. It all started with a walk to Joe Carter. Carter promptly stole second, went to third on a single by Shawn Green and scored on Carlos Delgado's sacrifice fly.

*****

Doctor Gorman said, "What brings you back so soon?"

"I've had PAC's [premature atrial contractions] for 3 days straight."

"Three days straight?"

"More or less_off and on."

"Did you start that antidepressant?"

"No, I'm too scared. I don't like drugs."

"Well look, do what you want, but the medication will help you."

"I'm still thinking about it."

"What, the pennant race or taking the antidepressant?"

"Both."

"What's really bothering you?"

"Well, Erik Hanson was hit by a line drive on his knee two starts ago and he was scratched from his last start because of stiffness in his arm. He's supposed to pitch tonight, though, against the Tigers."

"Can't you see you have no control over these events? You can't base your happiness on the success or failure of a professional sports team."

"I know, but I've been doing it all my life."

"You may need to change your outlook."

"I just can't see how the Red Sox can get back their momentum. They're only 4-4 on their current home stand."

"No one knows what's going to happen No one can predict. It doesn't do any good to worry."

"I know, but how do I forget the ball going through Billie Buckner's legs in '86, Yastrzemski popping up in '78, Bill Lee's eephus pitch to Tony Perez in '75, Luis Aparicio falling down when rounding third base in '72, Joe McCarthy pulling Ellis Kinder for a pinch-hitter in '49, Denny Galehouse starting against the Indians in '48, Johnny Pesky holding the ball in '46, the sale of Babe Ruth in 1920? Tell me, how do I forget? I think about these things everyday. What's going to happen when the playoffs start? I don't know how much more I can take. There's not enough of my heart left to be broken."

"You're right about that. I'm going to send you down to the cardiac unit in Denver and get you checked out. I want to see it there's anything structurally wrong with your heart. You know it's my diagnosis that you have an extremely dangerous case of Red Sox Syndrome. It could prove fatal."

"Did you know the Red Sox won the first World Series in 1903, and won 5 of the first 15 that were ever played? Did you know Cy Young, Tris Speaker and Jimmie Foxx all played for the Sox? Did you know Harry Frazee nearly sold the whole team to the Yankees, and those great New York teams in the 20's were almost all Boston players?"

"It doesn't do any good to think about all of this. The past is gone. You need to think about living in the present."

"Yeah, but who are they going to put on the mound Tuesday night in Cleveland?"

"It's hard to say."

"Do you know the Yankees worked themselves into the playoffs?"

"That's not really definite, is it?"

"Just about."

"So, what's wrong with that?"

"Strange, inexplicable events occur when the Red Sox and Yankees go at it in the post-season."

"You need to snap out of this. You're making yourself sick. Here's the referral slip for Denver. I'm suggesting they give you a holter monitor test."

"Did you know it was "the Steamer" that gave up the winning run in the playoff in 1978? Everybody talks about Mike Torrez and Bucky Dent, but Stanley gave up a solo homer to Reggie Jackson in the eighth. That's what won it for them. The final score was 5-4. Nobody talks about that."

"You're right, but it doesn't do any good to dwell on these things"

"Look, it's a fact. I don't think I'm dwelling on . . ."

"That was 18 years ago. Will you give it a rest? Baseball is a game. Why do native New Englanders insist on seeing it as a metaphor for human existence? It's a game, not a Greek tragedy."

"I know, but the Red Sox never win. They lost their last four World Series in the seventh game. It's not fair. What kind of fate is this? It's not right. It's almost as if Boston is not one of the chosen teams. There's nothing we can do about it. Some are chosen, some are not. We can't win."

"That's too Calvinistic for me. You have to change the way you think. I'm going to give you 10 Ativans. Take one when your heart gets arrhythmic. Be careful, they're addictive. Have you been drinking any coffee?"

"No, just decaf."

"Good. I want to see you in a month."

"The series will just about be over by then."

"Do you have the suicide prevention number?"

"Yeah, I have it written down at home."

"Try to get your mind off the Red Sox. Why don't you try taking a hike?"

"I get bored with nature."

"I'll see you next month."

"Okay."

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