Among the many reasons to be thankful that the wretched 2012 season of your Boston Red Sox has now passed into their checkered history is that we won’t have the 100th anniversary of their faded relic of a ballyard to kick around anymore.
Give them credit. They milked the milestone of Fenway’s uproarious first century for all it was worth. Was even the Republic’s bicentennial this big? In another hundred years we’ll have the answer.
In the last of the celebratory contrivances which, as brother Dan Shaughnessy has tartly noted, management tenderly hopes have softened your displeasure with the franchise’s descent into chaos, we were given with the requisite bells and whistles the all-time Fenway 40-man roster, as determined by an unwieldy electorate that included fans, front office officials, archival consultants, and even historians, according to management.
As is ever the case with such artifice, the results featured many silly quirks. Tris Speaker, arguably their greatest all-round everyday player, didn’t make the cut. Neither did his fellow Hall of Famer, Harry Hooper, with both being deemed inferior to Trot Nixon. Indeed! Another Cooperstown resident spurned was Rick Ferrell, edged out by the immortal Rich Gedman. Joe Cronin, a Hall of Fame shortstop but mediocre manager, makes the team as a manager not a shortstop. Jerry Remy has always been a great guy. But was he a better player than two-time batting champ Pete Runnels?
The greatest injustice may have been dealt to Manny Ramirez. Granted, Manny was an ingrate. But he was not the only one. Moreover, he unquestionably ranks stride for stride with Jimmie Foxx as the greatest of their right-handed sluggers. Manny got totally dissed and rendered a non-person, presumably because he was naughty. And yet the equally mischievous Bernie Carbo, who has boasted of regularly playing “high,” makes the first team as a pinch-hitter on the strength of one time at bat. Silly!
And how about the pitchers! Giving the nod to Bill Lee over Mel Parnell is ludicrous. Boo Ferris, Wes Ferrell, Carl Mays, and Billy Monbouquette also have grounds for complaint. You gotta give the “Spaceman” credit, though. A quarter of a century later he’s still getting away with his thin and tired act.
But enough of the quibbling. It is what it is, just a gimmick quite harmless in the end. My real complaint is that however well intended such exercises are, they only scratch the surface. Focusing all the attention on the greatest of the great ignores too many who have contributed mightily to this franchise’s stature as one of the most colorful in all of sports, the bearer of a fabled mystique. The fact that much of that has been graced with folly only makes it more fascinating. In this laborious “Fenway Centennial,” there should be at least a little recognition of the mere characters, too; not just the wild and crazy kids who amused us with their shenanigans, but those stray, innocent or luckless lads who got tangled in the odd historical moments and are forever remembered accordingly.
So here’s my team of unforgettable characters composed entirely of chaps who have been callously left out and whose service in weaving Fenway’s rich and quirky tale was especially notable:
Catchers: Moe Berg, Sammy White, and Haywood Sullivan. Moe, the linguist out of Princeton who became an OSS agent during World War II, is a treasure any team would be proud to claim. He rarely played in his five seasons here but was so smart they didn’t dare cut him. The zany Sammy White got bored with baseball and ran off to Hawaii. Haywood, of course, was the only catcher in the game’s history with a lifetime .226 batting average who ended up owning the team. What a terrific group.
Pitchers: Eddie Cicotte starred in Boston before becoming a crook in Chicago. Wes Ferrell punched walls and kicked buckets and was known as “Burrhead.” Ellie Kinder ran his car into a tree in Brookline at five o’clock in the morning. Frank Sullivan ran off to Hawaii with White. Maury McDermott thought he was another Frank Sinatra and, in the end, pitched like him. Courageously, Denny Galehouse was willing to take the ball in the playoff with the Indians in 1948, much to everyone’s subsequent regret. Oil Can Boyd. If you remember him, what more can I say. Then there was loveable Gene Conley. Tenacious as a Celtic, the Red Sox drove him to try to seek refuge in Israel. Who can figure? Like Red Ruffing before him, Sparky Lyle’s Boston years were just a tune-up for real greatness in New York. In 1932, near-bankrupt owner Bob Quinn was about to sell Big Ed Morris to the Yankees for huge bucks only to have Morris get killed in a brawl at a South Carolina fish-fry. It was typical of Quinn’s luck. Within months, he sold out to Tom Yawkey.
Rounding out our illustrious staff are Jerry Stephenson, who dyed his hair green, and Tracy Stallard, who served up the 61st homer of Roger Maris, and Matt Young, who lost a no-hitter. Finally there’s Ferguson Jenkins. Everywhere else he pitched he was headed for the Hall of Fame. Here he was a charter member of the “Buffalo Heads,” commanded by Carbo and Lee, whose sole purpose in life was to drive Manager Don Zimmer nuts.
Infielders: At first, the glut of wonderful eccentrics is so deep there’s no room for Billy Buckner. Instead, we go with Rudy York, once described as “part Indian and part first baseman.” He set his Kenmore Square hotel room on fire while smoking in bed. Our star, though, has to be homer-happy Dick Stuart, variously known as “Stonefingers” and “Dr. Strange-glove.” One day he bent over to pick up a gum wrapper and received a standing ovation. Red Sox Nation had a better sense of humor back in those halcyon days.
At second, who else but Steve “Psycho” Lyons. You may recall the day he pulled down his pants to shake out some dirt, disregarding the minor fact that 30,000 people in the stands plus a TV audience were watching. The shortstop has to be Don Buddin. In his five seasons here he was in constant combat with the “Knights of the Keyboard.” Clif Keane wrote that his automobile license plate should read “E-6.” Mr. Buddin was not pleased. At third, we have Vern Stephens. If the post-war era team was truly a “country club,” as was oft alleged, the affable Junior was the maitre’d.
And for utility infielder, we have a quite special gentleman: Elijah “Pumpsie” Green. He had the difficult role of having to de-segregate the reactionary Red Sox, an assignment thrust upon him, and it placed him squarely in the bitter cross-fire of the team’s front office. A half century and two ownerships later, the Red Sox still don’t like to talk about it.
Outfielders: An intriguing group. For openers, you have Jackie Jensen and Jimmy Piersall, both wildly talented but deeply haunted. Their strange tales intertwined in the raucous ‘50s. Jose Canseco was the Typhoid Mary of the steroid set. Smead Jolley, whose attempts to play Duffy’s Cliff in the old Fenway Park were hilarious. Ben Chapman, who was immensely skilled but fiercely racist. Manny Ramirez! Because he didn’t make the Dream Team, he has to be on this one. He belongs.
Finally, there’s long-forgotten Cedric Durst. In a stroke of madness, they traded Red Ruffing to the Yankees for him in 1930. Lasting only that one season, Cedric hit .240 with one homer and promptly disappeared. In New York, Ruffing lasted 16 years, winning 234 games plus seven more in the World Series.
It was all so typical of the way of things for large and merry chunks of that rollicking Fenway century and as such surely deserves to be remembered and maybe, with a laugh here and there, even celebrated. Clearly no history of the era is complete without such mention nor near as much fun to recall.