There are uncertainties in the magazine business, but as of this writing we here on SI feel reasonably confident that a considerable proportion of our editorial mail over the next few weeks will be postmarked "Boston, Mass." Some of it friendly, some of it unfriendly, much of it full of facts and figures, and all of it impassioned, this correspondence will come from readers moved to write us in response to what Frank Deford has said about their city in the article beginning on page 54.
We can predict this because we have published studies of cities before (San Francisco in Jan. 15, 1962, for example, New York in Aug. 3, 1964, Baltimore in Oct. 10, 1966, Buffalo in Jan. 20, 1969) and the response has invariably proved immediate and vehement. It may be a salutary sign in this era of supposed rootlessness, urban decay and indifference that the inhabitants of America's great cities take their citizenship so to heart and react so personally to what we say about them, and it is a demonstrable fact that they do. Even passing references to cities in stories devoted to events that take place in them often draw more epistolary comment than the events themselves.
Curiously enough, according to many of our roving reporters, one of the worst things you can say about a city is that it is indifferent to sport. "It is obviously important to Americans," says Deford, "to have their city labeled A GOOD SPORTS TOWN. Sports and climate, these seem to be what matter. If you say, for instance, that a city has bad slums or a corrupt government, its citizens will often shrug in helpless agreement and say, 'Sure, sure, but we have some real nice sections here and our taxes keep low.' But say their city has punk weather or won't support a ball team and you're in instant trouble.
"In every city I go to," adds Deford, who goes to a lot of cities, "I am told that this was once a great fight town. In every city I go to, I am told that 'we have a great reputation here for showing up for games at the very last minute.' Wherever you go, if the local team is not drawing, they will give you 50 reasons why, and none of them has anything to do with the quality of the team itself."
July 12, 1970
Deford himself doesn't believe there is really such a thing as a "good sports town," but the quality of the fans does vary from town to town and Frank has his own set of indices for measuring it. "If people jaywalk regularly in a city," he says, "the crowds at sports events in that city are likely to be lively and enthusiastic." On the other hand, in cities where it is customary to bring transistor radios to the game the fans tend to be rather leaden, preferring to let the sportscasters express their emotions for them. Eastern fans, for the most part, says Deford, are more demonstrative and rougher on the players than those in the West.
There is one constant in every city's attitude toward sport that our current urbanologist claims to have isolated, and that constant is self-consciousness. "Whatever the season," says Frank, "and whatever the city, the sports that draw the best are those that attract the town's 'In crowd,' the citizens who can lend them some class."
It may be that, despite his secret enjoyment of it, the city slicker even today feels that there is an aura of the tank town out at the ball park. However that may be, the cities that tend to be the least sensitive about their attitude toward sports are those, such as Boston, that are most secure in their championship of other concerns, among them painting or music. Like some famed concert violinist caught out at a folk-rock festival, they see no reason either to conceal or affirm their enthusiasm for another art form. They just swing with it.