An Unexpurgated History of the Boston Red Sox
By Peter Golenbock
New York: GP Putnam & Sons, 1992
My first instinct was not to read this, because the authors previous works include: Dynasty (the Yankees), The Bronx Zoo (Sparky Lyle), Number 1 (Billy Martin), and Balls (Graig Nettles). Obviously hes just waiting for Don Mattingly and Mel Hall to retire so he can write their memoirs.
However, when I examined the book a little closer (this was at the library--were on a budget you know) I saw that it had an actual index in the back, and even a footnotes section to explain where he was getting his material. In other words, it was a real book, not just something written off the top of his head. I was also encouraged to note two of Golenbocks sources: The Boston Red Sox by Fred Lieb (1947, also published by Putnam), and Whats Wrong with the Red Sox? by Al Hirshberg (Dodd, Mead & Co. 1973). The Lieb book is the definitive one for the first half of this century, and I have read several works which ripped it off without giving credit. I was recently able to purchase a copy from R. Plapinger Baseball Books in Ashland, Oregon. The Hirshberg book is an excellent source on the 50s and 60s. It was stolen from the Watertown Public Library, where I used to borrow it, so now I have Mr. Plapinger on the lookout for a copy I can buy.
For the early chapters of Fenway, Peter Golenbocks most interesting source is Glenn Stout, the locally renowned Baseball Bard, who takes care of the sports collection at the Boston Public Library. "Nuf Ced" McGreevey, the leader of the Royal Rooters, used to run a tavern called Third Base (the last place you stopped before you went home). When Prohibition closed down Third Base, the building became a branch of the Boston Public Library (!) and McGreeveys large collection of clippings, photos and memorabilia went to the BPL. Glenn Stout, the curator, is heir to the spirit of Nuf Ced. When is Glenn Stout going to write a book? He has some good stories in this one, such as why manager Chick Stahl committed suicide, and Babe Ruths carousing days as a Red Sox.
Although it is commonly believed that Fenway Parks eccentric layout is due to the layout of the surrounding streets, Golenbock says that the park could have been built symmetrically, but the owners designed the offices first, and shoehorned the playing field into what was left. Besides, during the dead ball era, the fences seemed quite far enough away. Golenbock gives Fenway's original distances as LF 320-1/2, CF 390, RF 313-1/2. There was overflow seating up against the left field wall, the reason for the embankment known as Duffy's Cliff.
Golenbock presents a theme early on: that the Red Sox were the Irish Catholic team. He tells how they stole the Irish hero Jimmy Collins away from the Braves, and with him the allegiance of Royal Rooters leaders Nuf Ced and Honey Fitz. The Boston Globe was the newspaper of the Irish Democrats, so it was natural that the Globes Taylor family (not Irish themselves) would buy the "Pilgrims" and change the name. Tris Speaker, the first Red Sox star to be sold (1916), was a member of the Ku Klux Klan and was said to be responsible for an anti-Catholic clique on the team. Not good in Boston, Tris.
Tom Yawkeys purchase of Joe Cronin is said to be a marketing ploy for the Irish Catholic market, and Cronin himself is said to have been prejudiced against Blacks, non-Catholics, and Italians. Golenbocks book is full of oral history, and while many of the stories are colorful, its dangerous to interpret them as hard facts. Golenbock calls Joe Cronin "a bad shortstop, a lousy manager, and an even worse general manager." Joe Cronin was definitely not a bad shortstop, unless we are to disbelieve the people who were naming All-Star teams in the 1930s. Most of the evidence against Cronin as a manager is from Ben Chapman and Doc Cramer, who didnt get along with Cronin. Hell, you can easily find five guys who dont like any major league manager. The bad general manager part Ill agree with. Cronin was terrible. He misjudged talent and spent his last five years not making any trades. It cannot be a coincidence that right after Cronin left the team to become AL President (1959), the Red Sox finally put a Black player on the field.
Golenbock writes that because Tom Yawkey fired farm director Billy Evans, the Red Sox were doomed not to win any more pennants after 1946. And because Yawkey threw a pennant-clinching party in 46 and didnt invite the press, the writers enmity cost the Red Sox millions and possibly two pennants. And because they sent Pee Wee Reese to Brooklyn they were doomed. And because Yawkey pampered his players they were doomed. And so on... There are fifty things that if Tom Yawkey had done them differently the Sox would have won a string of fourteen consecutive world championships. Woulda coulda. If Yawkey had been perfect.
Many of these ideas come from the Knights of the Keyboard, the mighty Boston Press, whom Golenbock quotes extensively. Its too bad he repeatedly misspells the name of Austen Lake. I grew up reading the columns of this old curmudgeon in the Boston Record-American--though I hope he didnt influence me too much--and his first name definitely had an e in it. Those old Boston sportswriters were hellfire-and-brimstone artists who never let mere facts get in the way of a good column. Golenbock implies they were rascals, but he repeats a lot of their tales anyway.
In the modern era, Golenbock says that after Tom Yawkeys death, Jean never really intended to sell the Red Sox. The author quotes unsuccessful bidder Dom DiMaggio as saying that Jean intended to retain the team all along, and the whole process with Haywood Sullivan and Buddy LeRoux is presented as a sham. (Golenbock misspells Buddy's last name, by the way.) According to an old saying, "History is written by the victors", but in this case the victors werent talking to Peter Golenbock, so we hear a lot from the losers.
To summarize, Fenway gets hung up between story-telling and history. The stories are often excellent, such as Tony Lupiens adventures in the minors, Gene Conley's explanation of the flight to Israel, and Harold Kaeses private notes. There are also infantile recollections from fans (The First Time Dad Took Me To A Ballgame; The Time They Broke My Heart) which you can skip over. As history Fenway brings some new facts to light, but there are too many conspiracy theories and too much superstitious mumbo-jumbo for it to be a really serious book. "Haunted-Red Sox-Fan" books are selling like hot cakes this year. In the last paragraph of Fenway, someone forced Peter Golenbock to write: "Current Red Sox fans still believe they will see their beloved team claim ultimate victory...in heaven. Where Babe Ruth will play for them once again..." Yuk!
Book Review by David Nevard
The Library of Book Reviews