Book Review – It Was Never About The Babe

Disclaimer – I’m quoted a few times in the pages of this book.

It Was Never About the Babe: The Red Sox, Racism, Mismanagement, and the Curse of the Bambino


When the Red Sox won the 2004 World Series and ended 86 years of heartache, something else came to an end as well. Dan Shaughnessy’s gravy train, the “The Curse of the Bambino” (now available for as little as $0.01 on Amazon!) also came to a screeching halt. Shaughnessy had even tried to make the “Curse” into a kids book. (The Legend of the Curse of the Bambino) He then tried to capitalize one last time on his creation by writing Reversing the Curse following the long awaited World Series victory.

Of course, there never was any “curse”, and Jerry Gutlon, like many others was annoyed at the many inaccuracies that were out there regarding the Red Sox and Babe Ruth’s exit from the team.

So he set out to correct them, as well as to tell the real reasons why the Red Sox went 86 years between World Series victories. The result is a concise season-by-season summary of the Red Sox from 1901 up until the present. Some of the material is familiar to diehard fans, some of the information might be new to you. The details surrounding Babe Ruth’s departure from the team, for instance, are more complicated than you might’ve been led to believe. (Hint – it’s certainly not as simple as Red Sox owner Harry Frazee needing cash to fund No, No, Nanette as the “Curse” would have you believe.)

The “dirty little secret” of the sale of Babe Ruth is that American League President Ban Johnson was trying to force Frazee out of baseball. Frazee sold Ruth because Johnson was forcing him into financial ruin. Why? Because Johnson was anti-semitic and (mistakenly) thought Frazee was Jewish. The press supported Johnson in this in part because Frazee had taken away the traditional free liquor and food for the media.

Here is a quick Q&A session with Gutlon:

What will Red Sox fans learn from your book that they didn’t know before?

Many of the facts in this book will prove to be revelations. The institutional racism practiced by the franchise is mind blowing, along with the fact that during the Yawkey regime alcohol fueled many of the decisions made by Red Sox management.

What role did racism play in the 86 years the Red Sox failed to win a championship?

The team institutionalized racism and was the last to integrate. They passed on signing Jackie Robinson, Willie Mays and Sam Jethroe, who could’ve revolutionalized Red Sox baseball. To have owner Tom Yawkey declare “We’ll sign a black ballplayer when we find one who meets our standards” was simply irresponsible.

Is it true that legendary Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey owned a brothel?

That’s got to be the strangest aspect of the entire Yawkey saga. In 1934, Yawkey actually bought a whorehouse located in Florence, South Carolina, and moved it to Georgetown, South Carolina, where he had his estate. It operated until 1969, under its Madam, Hazel Weiss. The bordello was internationally known.

What is present management doing right now — that was not done before?

Present management combines a scientific approach to baseball with a modicum of instinctive sense. The Sox no longer are governed by whim and fancy, but by pragmatism. They’re entirely colorblind. I know the almightly martini no longer fuels the front office decisions and personnel. And they’re not afraid to spend money – wisely.

Gutlon is critical of the Yawkey regime, of the complicit press and of the yes-men employed for decades by the franchise. Chapter 19 – “A Failure to Communicate” is devoted to the failure of the media over the years, and according to Gutlon, his publisher actually cut quite a bit out of that chapter. He also claims that “Dan Shaughnessy ignored repeated requests for interviews for this book.”

The book went into a second printing the week it was released, and a third is in production right now. A few minor factual errors have been corrected, and the book has gotten good reviews in other outlets, such as The Boston Globe.

The book is an easy, enjoyable read, and a helpful refresher on the often-turbulent history of the Boston Red Sox.

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Lester Falters Again in Loss to Twins

So maybe Jon Lester should be the one moved to the bullpen when John Smoltz or Clay Buchholz are deemed ready to move into the rotation.

OK, that’s probably not going to happen, but Lester, who had been the ace of the Red Sox staff last year, has struggled mightily in 2009. His woes continues last night as he gave up five runs in the fifth inning on route to a 5-2 victory by the Twins over the Red Sox.

Amalie Benjamin says that the Red Sox continue to be put in a hole by Lester, who has given up at least five runs in five starts this season. Michael Silverman has Lester’s woes continuing in Minnesota, even though it was just one bad inning that did him in. Daniel Barbarisi notes that the Red Sox new lineup got off to a quiet start last night.

Nick Cafardo says that we can’t doubt that David Ortiz is trying his best to regain his form. Sean McAdam states that the Red Sox and Ortiz are entering dangerous territory. Silverman writes more about the move down to No. 6 for Big Papi. Bill Reynolds has lost all patience for Ortiz and says baseball is no country for old men. Barbarisi looks at the Red Sox finally making the change with Ortiz.

Bill Burt has an opposing AAA manager raving about Clay Buchholz. Mike Fine says that Jonathan Papelbon’s performance this season is cause for some concern. Rob Bradford looks back at a confusing day for the Red Sox. Barbarisi wonders if this is a lost season for Lester? 

Kevin Gray looks at John Smoltz’s rehab start in Manchester, NH last night with the Portland Sea Dogs. Adam Kilgore has Smoltz satisfied with the progress he’s made thus far. David Willis says Smoltz certainly did not look past his prime last night. Steve Buckley also chronicles the latest step in the John Smoltz Rehab Project. Mike Petraglia has Smoltz targeting Boston.

Cafardo lusts after Joe Mauer. I’m very skeptical that Mauer will leave the Twins after 2010 when he is scheduled to be a free agent – his whole life is there, (his grandparents come to every game) and while I know professional athletes are usually all about who is going to pay the most money, the little I know about Mauer, he seems wired a little differently.

Beth Healy reports on Red Sox minority owner Ed Eskandarian selling his 3.6% stake in the team.

Benjamin’s notebook looks back at a great catch by Jacoby Ellsbury. The Herald notebook also recaps Ellsbury’s catch. The Projo Red Sox journal has Francona putting Papelbon’s struggles in perspective.

Patriots

Dan Shaughnessy weighs in on Brady’s interview with Peter King yesterday, noting that “it’s rare when anybody at Gillette grants an interview of substance without cash changing hands.” Karen Guregian has Brady facing a new routine going forward. Mark Farinella is glad that Brady is back on the field. Shalise Manza Young looks at comments from Brady’s teammates in recent days.

Mike Reiss has the Patriots still looking for inside linebacker depth, and this morning reports that they have signed former Packers and Lions linebacker Paris Lenon.

Celtics

Marc J. Spears and Steve Bulpett report on Kevin Garnett’s knee surgery. Spears’ notebook has Rajon Rondo and Kendrick Perkins unable to attend the USA Basketball minicamp in July because of Perkins’ wedding.

Twitter Updates for BSMW on 2009-05-26

Are You Ready For Some Football?

I am.

We have to give (Boston’s own) Peter King credit for scoring the first extensive interview with Tom Brady since the Patriots’ All-World quarterback was lost for the season on opening day last September.

In the story, (Tom Brady is Back ) posted on SI.com, we see clearly that #12 has lost none of the fire and zeal for the game which made him so adored in these parts, and which also put him at the very top of the NFL.

We get a glimpse of Brady’s offseason workouts with Randy Moss, Wes Welker, Joey Galloway and Greg Lewis, and learn what caused the infamous staph infection which initially cause his recovery to be set back a bit.

Plus, you just have to love this quote:

With his voice rising as he leaned forward in his chair, Brady said that playing 10 more seasons “is a big goal of mine, a very big goal. I want to play until I’m 41. And if I get to that point and still feel good, I’ll keep playing. I mean, what the hell else am I going to do? I don’t like anything else.

As pointed out by the BSMW message board posters however, critics will still manage to find things to twist take out of context. Here is a prediction of how ProFootballTalk.com’s Mike Florio will summarize the article:

  • Brady says he’ll play ten more years – but made no commitment to New England beyond 2010
  • Struggling to regain timing with Moss
  • Calls self “real gladiator” while mocking the nation’s space program and armed forces
  • Considers self bigger than game, team; was surprised that game carried on without him
  • Turned owner, head coach against team’s medical staff
  • Sees son only once a month
  • Currently running illegal practices
  • Has “family friend” do his surgery

Papelbon, Sox Hold On Against Twins

Michael Silverman has the Sox catching a break yesterday with Joe Mauer out of the lineup for the Twins. However, the Minnesota catcher entered the game as a pinch hitter in the ninth, and bombed a two run homer off closer Jonathan Papelbon to make the score 6-5 Boston. Papelbon retired the next batter and the Red Sox escaped with a win on the opening game of their longest road trip of the season. Amalie Benjamin has Mike Lowell chipping in with four hits from the DH spot in the lineup. Daniel Barbarisi has Jeff Bailey’s home run giving Papelbon the breathing room he needed.

Sean McAdam has Lowell earning himself a day off today. Rob Bradford says that life is good for these Red Sox right now. Nick Cafardo says that the Sox can trade Brad Penny if they wish, but they don’t seem inclined that way thus far. McAdam notes that Penny was pitching sick yesterday. Barbarisi has Penny turning in another consistent effort against the Twins.

Mike Fine has Sox batting coach Dave Magadan feeling David Ortiz’s pain, and working with him to get him going. Jeff Jacobs says that it is time to move Ortiz in the batting order.

Bill Burt wonders why Theo Epstein hasn’t signed Jason Bay up to a long-term extension. Glen Farley has Jeff Bailey cherishing the moments he has in the majors. Brian MacPherson notes that as of late, the Red Sox starters are the ones providing relief to the bullpen. He also has a look at John Smoltz getting ready to pitch in NH against the Fisher Cats in his rehab start.

Kevin McNamara has Dennis Eckersley speaking his mind on the NESN telecasts in relief of Jerry Remy – for better or for worse.

The Herald notebook says that the signs indicate that David Ortiz will be dropped in the batting order tonight. Benjamin’s notebook looks at another impressive performance from Clay Buchholz down on the farm. Barbarisi’s Red Sox journal also looks at the probability of Ortiz being dropped in the lineup.

Patriots

Karen Guregian and Mike Reiss have Randy Moss telling ESPN that he feels that the 2009 Patriots offense could be even better than 2007.

Christopher Price selects the top five undrafted rookie free agents of the Bill Belichick era. Guregian has Houston Antwine honored to be a finalist for the Patriots Hall of Fame. Shalise Manza Young has Shawn Crable hoping to make an impact in the Patriots pass rush this season.

Mark Farinella feels that Foxboro will soon morph into “Kraftville.” Michael Felger says that the NFL has a pit bull problem.

Michael Gee on Playoff Sportswriting

Editor’s note: I’m pleased to present you today with a guest post from former Boston Herald sports columnist Michael Gee. Hopefully this is the first of several to come. Today he looks at what covering the postseason is like from a sportswriter’s perspective. 

Many sports fans believe the sportswriters who cover their favorite teams have it in for them and those teams. The writers hate the teams, the players, the coaches, the furry mascots, and of course, most of all, the fans. Writers go to the park or arena hoping that the home team loses every game by a humiliating score.

This is false. Oddly enough, it is contradicted by the most common complaint actual athletes make about sportswriters, which is “You only care about us when we’re winning!” Well over 90 percent of the time, the interests of sportswriters and the people they cover mesh perfectly.

This isn’t complex. Winning sells. The day after the final game of the 2004 World Series, the Herald sold almost a million copies, quadrupling normal circulation. Stories on the team get more space and better play. The aim of the sportswriter, as of any writer, is to tell a story to an audience, and the bigger the audience, the better. Athletes have it all wrong. Writers aren’t front-runners-fans are. We’re just the unpleasant reminder of that fact.

At a more human level, being around a consistent loser is depressing. Think summer’s going to be an endless joy for those assigned to report on the death march of the Washington Nationals? Sportswriters get paid, in part, to be able to maintain a level of human understanding of those they cover. When the people getting covered are constantly on the verge of personal professional oblivion, that’s tough on both parties.

Which makes it all the more strange that the mutual interests of the sports reporter and sports teams diverge precisely at the moment of the latter’s greatest success and when public interest is highest-the post-season. Any post-season.

Baseball is the worst, and football the relatively easiest, but for the sports section, playoffs equal pain. It’s a matter of supply and demand. The demand for information from the public (those front-running SOBs) easily swamps the ability of the sports department to supply said demand. All of a sudden, there’s five pages of space to fill on an off-day hockey practice. You know what goes on at a hockey practice? Not much is the correct answer.

Playoffs are weeks of 2 a.m. hotel check-ins and 6:45 a..m flights. They are 12-14-16 hour days spent in arenas and ballparks, writing, always writing. The Internet (all technological advances in journalism create more difficult working conditions for journalists) has made it possible to achieve the ultimate in demand-the permanent writing cycle.

In addition, there is the added pressure of micromanaging from the super senior management of the news organization, who, alas, are usually sports fans. These worthies abandon their hard-bitten personas to, as a former boss of mine once stated, “dance down Yawkey Way in their underwear.” The closest I ever got to being fired at the Herald before I got fired was in 1994 during the Winter Olympics. The bosses just wouldn’t accept that poor Nancy Kerrigan was not exactly the American heroine on the order of Betsy Ross which the Herald had decided she should be.

Before you break out the “boo-freakin-hoos,” there are compensations.. The playoffs are also tremendously exciting and fulfilling professional experiences. Hey, I got paid to see the Patriots win their first Super Bowl and the Red Sox win the 2004 World Series. I wouldn’t trade that for anything. But I remember the pain of the process along with the thrills. Sportswriting is a profession that entails a constant struggle between fun and work. Fun’s usually an easy winner. During the playoffs, work gets the upper hand, and believe me, it fights dirty in a clinch.

So during the playoffs, what writers root for is mostly for the pain to go away. Let’s wrap this up. Maybe I can eat a meal at home before the end of the month. You’re up 3-2? Win that damn game six..

Here’s a weird offshoot of that sentiment. Once the home team makes it to the championship round of its post-season, the home writers sometimes express the following sentiment. “Well, as long as we’re here, they ought to make it worth our while and win the damn thing!” Surely all this work has to have some ultimate justification.

Going back to 2004, I’m sure press box sentiment was all with the Yankees in Game 4 of the ALCS. During Game 4 of the World Series, the Sox had no stauncher fan than yours truly. It was truly amazing to watch the Patriots win that first Super Bowl. I wasn’t exactly heartbroken when they missed the playoffs the following season. Nothing personal. Just business, or the relative lack of same.

I don’t believe any of the Boston writers covering the Bruins and Celtics this spring were HAPPY when those teams lost Game 7s. I believe part of their inner selves were truly sad. But I know that another part was deeply relieved. It’s a long season. When your workload triples at the end of said season, you’d have to be more or less than human not to feel some pleasure when the work comes to a temporary halt. I’d be surprised if fans of those teams didn’t experience the fleeting thought, “well, at least I can go to bed early tomorrow night.”

The late, great sportswriter Leonard Koppett (Get his book on the NBA if you can find it) came up with two statements that summarize the sportswriter’s thoughts on postseason play. One, called “Koppett’s Law,” sayss “the outcome of the game will be the most inconvenient one.”

The other Koppett motto is a corollary to the rule “no cheering in the press box.” It goes “you’re allowed to root for yourself.”

In 30 years, I never once saw a sportswriter root against a team. In a lot of postseasons, I saw a lot of guys and gals root for themselves.

That’s no sin. Sorry if you think otherwise.

Michael Gee