A few weeks after John Underwood had finished his story about fishing with Ted Williams (page 60), he went back with Jack Brothers, the guide, to the same spot. "It was Ted's feeling for fishing that made me go there again," John said the other day. "It prodded me, and I had to go back."
When he did, he hooked into a tarpon almost at once and fought it for 45 minutes before he could bring it to the side of the boat. It was huge—125 or 130 pounds, Brothers said, fully 30 pounds better than the largest one Williams had caught earlier—but when the guide tried to gaff it, the tarpon, in a final spasm, broke loose and was gone, leaving a chunk of flesh and a handful of scales behind. Underwood sent the scales to Williams, along with a broadly exaggerated note that put all the blame for losing the fish on the guide. Williams replied in the same vein and said, "I'm glad you gave the guide hell." That was typewritten. Over it, in ink, he added, "Not really."
It was a similar combination of intensity and charm that made Williams such a controversial hero in Boston during his long reign as the best left fielder the Red Sox ever had. When he retired, on September 28, 1960, he did it with a magnificent flourish: in his final time at bat he hit a home run. And that was it. He never played again, and thereafter a malaise called apathy afflicted that part of the New England sports scene that depends on baseball for its small talk. The conversations turned more and more to the Celtics winning in basketball and the Bruins losing in hockey, with seasonal flurries of comment on the Patriots or the Boston Marathon or the Harvard crew.
It was sad, because, when things are right, baseball, above everything else, is the sport that simultaneously stirs the blood of the Brahmin on Beacon Street and the guys sitting around the pubs in South Boston, Hyde Park and Charlestown. After Ted went fishing, Fenway Park lost much of its charm. The fans took to the golf courses, the seashore down at the Cape, the dog tracks. The Red Sox management took to bat days and family nights and other promotional gimmicks to shore up attendance.
August 20, 1967
But now, suddenly, baseball is exciting again in Boston. There is Carl Yastrzemski and Tony Conigliaro and Jim Lonborg and another Williams—Dick, the tough new manager—and the Red Sox are in contention for the pennant. Fans mobbed Logan airport to greet the Sox on their return from a recent road trip. Fenway Park has to stretch its ancient seams to accommodate one capacity crowd after another. The Boston fans are talking seriously about the chances of winning the American League championship and so are the Boston sportswriters. So, too, for that matter, is our own Mark Mulvoy, a Bostonian himself, who has been chasing his favorite team about the country for us (page 12).
The wheel has come full circle in Boston. It has been a long, lean seven years since The Kid hit his last home run, but now on Boston's famous east wind the sweet smell of success can be detected once again.