Boston has never been what it is supposed to be. It is by nature perverse and contradictory. The original Boston patriot, for instance, was James Otis, a lawyer whose attack on Crown law in 1761 caused John Adams to write: "Then and there the child Independence was born." But Otis became increasingly Tory, took little part in the Revolution and was sought out (no doubt), struck and killed by lightning in 1783, when independence was just becoming a fact to the people to whom he had introduced the idea.
Boston still celebrates the shot heard round the world with Patriots Day and the Boston Marathon, and it honors as Evacuation Day the date when the British army left town. The Redcoats pulled out sometime after the Battle of Bunker Hill, which was fought some distance away on Breed's Hill, and which, legend and whites of their eyes notwithstanding, the British won in a rout. Then, on Evacuation Day itself, 1,000 Bostonians—a substantial part of the 1776 population—chose, of their own volition, to depart their homes and the Cradle of Liberty and escape with the tyrants. This particular slant on Evacuation Day is not widely promulgated.
But, as Ted Williams would testify, it helps to have a good press in Boston. For instance, it was not Paul Revere who got through to Concord to alert the Minute Men. A British patrol captured Paul Revere. Dr. Samuel Prescott was the rider who warned Concord. Unfortunately, Prescott does not rhyme at all well with "you shall hear," so Revere got the ink. This would be no problem nowadays. Prescott or Revere, the papers would just headline it: HUB MAN WARNS CONCORD. If Neil Armstrong had come from Dorchester or Charlestown, it would have been: HUB MAN ON MOON. If a Pope ever comes out of Southie (South Boston), it will be: TAB HUB MAN PONTIFF. Everyday Hub Man docs something, though it is not always clear why.
For instance, Evacuation Day survives as a legal holiday primarily because General Howe had the foresight to schedule it on St. Patrick's Day. There is a great parade in Southie and, predictably, the biggest hand goes to ex-Senator Leverett Saltonstall, who is not the least bit Irish. Ecumenism is selective, though. Hub Men never liked their own heavyweight champion, Jack Sharkey, because he was a Lithuanian with an Irish name. The Red Sox were the last major league team to integrate, and Edward Brooke is the only black Senator in the United States. It was deemed improper that the Harvard football coach be given a harmless hack job with a racetrack, but there is not a Hub Man in town who cannot get a traffic ticket fixed and then bore others with the proud details of his feat. Who arc these Hub Men?
July 12, 1970
Kevin White, the mayor, sits in his office in city hall. It is surely the most magnificent municipal building in the country, but most Hub Men sneer at it. preferring seedy old Scollay Square, which it replaced. "We're a truly unique city," Mayor White says. "When characterized, we're inevitably dismissed as cither The Late George Apley or The Last Hurrah, but we're not cither, if we ever were. We're a small town that's an international city, and that's very unique indeed."
Boston is ambivalent, ironic, at odds with itself. "The place was still a cow pasture till John L. Sullivan put it on the map," says Sam Silverman, the fight promoter, offering yet another theory of Boston history. The Hub Men lionized that barroom bully, but they busted Mencken for peddling his American Mercury on the Common. Banned in Boston is still not passé. They arrested anyone who showed I Am Curious (Yellow), and the whole state supreme court went off to examine Hair. One of the most prominent black athletes in Boston recently bought a house in a white neighborhood. The man who sold him the house was immediately thrashed by a next-door neighbor. Bill Russell dismisses Boston as the hole in a sugared liberal doughnut. Yet nowhere is there a more liberal thrust. Boston is capital of the first state that passed a law challenging the President's authority to order soldiers to Vietnam.
Above all, Boston reserves the right to regularly change its mind. A scrap-book clipping, bound by yellowing Scotch tape, dated May 12, 1960, from a paper that no longer exists, describes a scene in a hotel that is now out of business. It is about the new Boston stadium—which also does not exist. "We'll be within the Boston city limits. We'll break ground this year," says Billy Sullivan, the president of the Patriots football team. There have been 28 or 29 or 30 or 3,000 more proposals since then, and yet Boston still remains without a municipal stadium, with the distinction of having argued over the issue longer than any city in the land.
Boston is the town that sold Babe Ruth to New York, saluted the c b driver that ran down Casey Stengel and greeted its own Celtics, the greatest basketball team ever, with ennui. It took 50 years for major league baseball to move a team, and as soon as it made up its mind it hustled a club out of Boston over a weekend. The Hub Men yawned when the Redskins went to Washington and stirred even less when the football Yanks left. Fewer than 5% of the Patriot stockholders even bother to buy season tickets. Boston locked Cassius Clay and Sonny Liston out of town long before Clay's draft troubles. Rocky Marciano came from just down the road at Brockton, but he could never get into Boston because there was always a guy with a warrant out to grab him and hang some obscure suit on him. "I've been scuffling for 40 years—since I was 16," says Bill Veeck, now the head of Suffolk Downs. "Before I got to Boston I was sued just once—and it was thrown right out of court. I've been here only 18 months and have been involved in eight suits." They threw fines and everything else at Ted Williams. Who are these Hub Men?
With what is now the smallest major league park in the U.S., Boston trailed only the Mets in baseball attendance last year. Beantown supports dog tracks and Harvard football with equal fervor. The Garden bangs out for high school hockey. The Hub Men keep flat tracks as far away as Rhode Island and New Hampshire open in the dead of winter. Boston loves crew races and pops for more big-time tennis than any city in the land, while Bruno Sammartino also sells out regularly. It was Boston where the Ice Follies made the first $1 million run, and when the city finally did let Clay and Marciano in (together, for their computer fight), Boston responded with the biggest gate in the country. Ken Harrelson, not recognized as a man of oppressive sentiment, babbled like a baby when they traded him out of town. Jackie Jensen, the old California golden boy, is nearly bathetic on the subject. He even remembers the weather as being good. "It was all great, just great," he says at last. Ted Williams says: "It might be better than any sports town you can name."
Who are these Hub Men?
For the sake of our international relations, a bill should be placed before Congress that would require any traveler from abroad to disembark at Boston and spend 48 hours there before moving on to New York and the rest of the U.S. Boston would serve as a decompression chamber. It is one of the last outposts of cosmopolitan behavior in the land; a city, yet not overwhelming. "We don't want to be a mini-New York," the mayor says. "Our problems are still soluble."
Upon arrival in Boston, foreigners would be shown that American cab drivers can be polite, that subways can be clean, that college students, even with long hair, do not engage solely in public anarchy and intercourse. Then a trip down the Freedom Trail, a stroll by the banks of the Charles and a dinner at the Ritz or Joseph's. Afterward the foreign tourists would be brought to the surface of America—to the frontier, as it were—namely a Bruin game at the Boston Garden. Following this exposure, New York cabbies, railroad clerks, thumby waitresses, teen-agers and all egalitarians who use "Hon" and "Mac" as a form of address would appear neither intimidating nor extreme.
"Get him from behind, pull him down and pound him," a gentleman in the balcony suggests in a loud voice. Here is belligerent America, a crowd that knows its hockey only less than its values. Opponents—or the champion Bruins on the rare occasions when they play poorly at home—are demeaned in a vocabulary never heard in other sports. Players are not dismissed as just "bums" or "stiffs." Instead, they are "cowards" or "chickens." When curiously archaic epithets like "weasel" and "sewer rat" are favored, the adjective "yellow" is sure to be prefixed. Good, clean players like Don McKinney get run out of town. It seems more a test of belligerence than of sport, and it is very nearly ugly.
It is not ugly, though, because Hub Men understand hockey and appreciate the intricacies of the game. The crowd resembles an educated Spanish bullfight audience more than an American sports gathering. It is an intimate crowd, too, clubby at every level. Below, in the best seats, old preppies with angular Marquand faces, still wearing blue button-down oxfords and thin regimental stripes, are as neighborly and vociferous as the Gallery Gods who sit above in the $2 seats of the first rows of the top rim. At least one of the Gods has been there for every Bruin game since the Garden opened for hockey on Nov. 20, 1928, when a surging mob of 17,000 literally broke down the doors in a prologue of things to come. There is a riot every April, predictably, when the few playoff seats not held by season ticket-holders go on public sale. Those who camped out are trampled. Women are mauled. Only the strong and mean survive to get inside and see the Bruins play.
Unlike all other U.S. cities—except, perhaps, Minneapolis-St. Paul—hockey is part of the tradition in Boston, not a Sunday road show with mercenaries in from Saskatchewan. The usual roles, in fact, are reversed with basketball, which is the grass-roots game for most of the country. When the Celtics first came to town in '46, so few high schools emphasized basketball that Honey Russell, the coach, had to have clinics for the basketball writers to create interest in the game.
Though basketball is no longer alien, the populace remains indifferent to it. "I've always thought we had a better chance of losing the Celtics than the Patriots," says Sam Cohen, the sports editor of the Record American for 35 years. Bob Cousy finally grew so discouraged and exasperated that he left the area he loves. His highly ranked Boston College teams drew mainly out-of-state students; the Celtics made money only because of the playoffs. Then the fans were there for blood—not the real kind that the Bruins could provide on the ice but the symbolic variety that the lowly Bruins could not give them in those years: the blood of the vanquished. They were swirling, nasty mobs, so uncontrolled in the presence of victory that after the 1966 championship was won, John Havlicek sat disgusted in the victorious locker room and denounced them as ruffians.
Of course, except for the extraordinary dynasty, the Celtics would have gone under years ago. The team lost $462,000 in its first four years. In 1950 Garden President Walter Brown and a partner took over the Celtics for a token $2,500. Before Bill Russell appeared, rather like a divine intervention, Brown had lost $500,000 and had literally mortgaged his home. Eddie Powers, the friendly Hub Man who now runs the Garden, served as assistant treasurer of the Celtics. Since there was no money in the treasury, he was more valuable for his qualifications at legerdemain. "We used to have to spend all of the withholding tax," Powers remembers. "One day the IRS man finally gave up and came to my office and said that the Government had taken enough from us and had to take us over. I stood up behind my desk and spread out my hands—you have to be an actor sometimes—and said, 'O.K., you're going to have an auction sale of the Boston Celtics. How much do you think the Government can get from a dozen T shirts, some used jockstraps and a few beat-up basketballs?' Those were the assets of the Boston Celtics. He left, shaking his head, and Walter kept the thing going."
Hockey remains the winter game. More than 150 high schools in the area field teams, and there are amateur leagues going at every rink. Up at Lynn one league plays at 3:30 in the morning. Mayor White plays hockey. One day in March the Bruins drew 4,000 to a practice. A few days before, in a four-day period, 68,840 paid to see five Garden hockey events—NHL, college and high school. When BC opened its new rink in 1958 with a game against Harvard, Cardinal Cushing himself intervened to get the best Eagle skater out of scholastic purgatory and into the lineup. State politicians, who know where the votes are, maintain that there are now more French-Canadians in the Greater Boston area than any other ethnic group, including the fabled Irish.
"Let's not kid ourselves," Eddie Powers says. "Without the Bruins this place doesn't open." The Garden, a brainchild of Tex Rickard, is one of only a handful of arenas in the nation to run at a profit, and hockey—plus its genteel cousins, the ice shows—is the reason. The Bruins are a wholly owned subsidiary of the Garden, and its young president, Weston Adams Jr., admits that he is interested in the possibility of bringing a Bruin farm team into the Garden—the way the Canadiens worked it in Montreal. That is ominous for the Celtics.
The enthusiasm for hockey and the lack thereof for basketball was substantiated in a study made last summer of Boston fans' preferences. The Celtics—as well as the Patriots—come off as woebegone. The only plus image of the Patriots was that they provide body contact; the most favorable thing that could be said for the Celtics' image was that their game offered lots of scoring and no tie possibilities.
Ah, hockey, though. Positive images, one-two-three, are: "body contact, excitement, fast-moving." The only negative consensus responses dealt with logistics—poor parking, good seats hard to get, etc. In this regard, it is interesting to note that while the survey gave high marks to the Red Sox, the game of baseball had little to do with this endorsement. The two major negative responses directed at the Red Sox—"lack of body contact" and "games too slow"—are virtually the same complaints offered about the sport everywhere. Baseball is appreciated in Boston like an old shoe. The positive image of the Red Sox was based on factors that have nothing to do with the game and could be applied just as easily to account for the sustained popularity of Bonanza or Thanksgiving dinner at Grandma's: to wit, "pleasant environment" and "long-term following."
It is logical to conclude from such evidence that Boston is an unusual sports town, with its own independent tastes, but the more closely its sports relationships are examined, the more one suspects that Boston is not so much at variance with other places as it is ahead of them. Hub Man is a harbinger, not an aberrant.
In a sense, Boston has been in retreat from national eminence since the day in 1775 when John Adams put the welfare of all the Colonies first and began to push for George Washington as commander of the Continental Army. On July 3 of that year, when Washington arrived to stand on the green at Cambridge to take command, the power began to surge out of Boston, first to Philadelphia, then to New York. Boston has had a long time to digest this fact, to make adjustments and to find new roles for itself. It has been, successively, a port, an industrial center, an educational matrix and a major research area. Greater Boston is built that way, in rings of wharves, factories, schools and laboratories, going out from the harbor to Route 128, which circles it all like the walls of ancient Baghdad.
Early on, it was evident that New York, the burgeoning power to the south, would permit Boston to be the hub of a wheel that was limited to New England. Boston is just 43 miles square, which is one-third the size of Detroit, one-tenth the size of Los Angeles. Projected 1970 census estimates indicate that only about 600,000 people still live in Boston, while the whole area, comprising 77 other towns, now has a population of nearly 3 million.
Thus, 80% of the Boston area is not Boston, which is a distinction only one other large U.S. city can claim. The 1970 census will probably show Boston proper to be the 17th largest city in the country, but Boston is still the seventh largest metropolitan area in the U.S. and, because it has no rival in all of New England, it is an even larger TV market. This is important.
The two major Boston sports addresses offer sharp contrasts. Boston Garden is like the city, old and quaint and huddled in the core. Fenway Park relates more to all of New England. It is in a pretty good section of town, not far from where the suburbs begin. The area lacks only parking. People drive in from all over New England, park in Providence—or somewhere—and walk to Fenway Park.
These traveling fans have no allegiance to the Patriots and will not come long distances to see them. For football in New England, fans travel to see their college teams play or they stay home and watch the New York Giants on CBS. Very few struggled downtown in the harsh winter months to see the Bruins or the Celtics, either. The only Garden attraction that draws a substantial portion of its crowd from at least 50 miles away is the ice show—traditionally a family draw.
That is what the Red Sox attract: family. The voices at Fenway are shrill and fervent, for the anticipation of youth sweeps over the place. There is total faith in the stands that today, every day, unquestionably, there will be a no-hitter or somebody will hit four home runs or two grand slams, or, at the least, a hero will pay tribute to his friends in the press box with an obscene gesture.
"It's the only town I know of," Jackie Jensen says, "where if you're walking down the street, a cab driver will yell: 'Hi, Jackie, how ya doin'?' It's as if they feel they know you."
There is a reason for this phenomenon. Sam Cohen says that two things on the sports page sell papers in Boston. These are baseball and championship fights. Since interesting championship fights occur nowadays with the frequency of Halley's Comet, there is a disposition in the Boston press to write about baseball. Eternally there is no off season. The stuff pours out like lava down Krakatoa. Newspapers may disappear in Boston, but not newspaper baseball writers—they come across the diamond in a phalanx. In Boston so much baseball is bombarded at the reading populace that it is difficult not to know a lot about the Sox even if you don't want to.
If Bobby Orr played with the Red Sox instead of the Bruins, they would have to build a new public library to hold his clippings. Even now, Carl Yastrzemski and Tony Conigliaro appear to be regular features, like the horoscope or Dear Abby. Before he ever strode to home plate in a major league game, some kid infielder named Alvarado had been come at so many ways during spring training that he was beginning to resemble the bridge at Chappaquiddick. Was Alvarado ready? Should he play third base or short? Switch Petrocelli to third? Are you crazy? Will this affect Petrocelli? Will it, in fact, affect Petrocelli if he even thinks Alvarado is being considered for short? Will it affect Alvarado if he thinks Petrocelli is affected by this possible switch? What will this do to Petrocelli's hitting? His fielding? Alvarado's? What do teammates think of this situation? Opponents? Rival managers? Alvarado? Petrocelli? After weeks of all this, by which time Alvarado had become a name and psyche familiar to every man, woman and child in the area, the season opened with Petrocelli at short and Alvarado at third. By June Alvarado was back in the minors.
Despite the overkill, Boston writers do not live up to their image. For one thing, their potential power is limited by the fact that the money and the eggheads still scorn the Boston papers, except for occasional ventures into The Christian Science Monitor. Tennis, which draws from the upper-class element, is likely better served by advance publicity in The New York Times than in local papers. Nor are Boston writers exceptionally critical. Many are downright avuncular. Only one, Clif Keane of the Globe, may be classified as a character. Certainly none resemble Dave Egan, "The Colonel," who was the "Splendid Splinter's" nemesis.
Irascible and unpredictable when in his cups, which was often, Egan was a child of mixed parentage—Hearst, out of Harvard. The conflicts showed. He had an almost brilliant capacity to infuriate, and he came, before his death in 1958, to personify The Boston Sportswriter. It was bad casting. In reality, Ted Williams created a monster. Not only did Williams drive Egan to escalate their feud, but the stature Williams gave Egan caused other writers to try to emulate him as a knock artist. None, however, could match The Colonel's artistry of invective. "You couldn't help but laugh," Jackie Jensen says, "even if it was your best friend he was knocking." Besides, Egan was not all the blackguard Williams made him out to be. He often stooped to mercy. He was an original and flamboyant defender of Williams when most Hub Men had taken it upon themselves to launch vicious personal attacks against him for being a draft dodger and unfit father. Moreover, The Colonel was an utterly charming man when sober, and then his writing could become almost gooey. "He used to write columns about me that would embarrass my mother," Cousy says.
Definitely, there is a market for that kind of blarney in Boston, and elsewhere, too, as evidenced by the fact that Curt Gowdy used it as a springboard to national prominence. He was so popular in Boston that when disc jockey Bob Elliott and announcer Ray Goulding began to mimic Gowdy's drippy tag line—"This is Curt Gowdy, rounding third and heading home"—their popularity began to soar, too. "This is Steve Boscoe, rounding third and getting thrown out at home," Ray rasped hopelessly, and they promptly went on to national fame.
With the possible exception of Philadelphia's Bill Cosby, no comedians have ever leaned so heavily on sports material as Bob and Ray. This is in keeping with the surroundings, for there is a general awareness of sports in Beantown. They are accepted. Sports talk is not compartmentalized, escapist fare. It laps over into any conversation, on equal footing with politics, the Catholic Church, sex, The First National Bank and traffic on Route 128. George Frazier, the author and style arbiter, returned recently to write a regular column for the Globe. The column can deal with any subject—local, national, international, serious, funny. Frazier was asked by a Boston friend what subject his first column would cover. It was going on the front page. A man can write on anything in the whole damn world. What does he start with? "Joe Cronin must go," Frazier said quickly. The friend nodded, satisfied with the choice. Who are these Hub Men?
Walking down the street one day in 1867, a Hub Man by the name of Patrick S. Gilmore saw a vision of "a vast structure" in his home town. Gilmore turned the dream into reality and had a gigantic Temple of Peace constructed in only three months in 1869 at a cost of $120,750.68. The monster temple measured 500 feet by 300 feet, with the ceiling 100 feet high. It had a capacity of 50,000, and as such was the last structure erected in Boston that would satisfy the seating requirements of the National Football League. Sadly for Billy Sullivan, the Temple of Peace was blown down in a storm.
Two reactions to the construction of the temple survive, and they are applicable to all incipient Boston stadium projects. One is that before the temple was built there was a political squabble concerning its site and the planned location had to be changed. The other is that when Gilmore arrived home to tell his wife of his vision, she fixed him with a curious stare and said: "Are you crazy?" Stadium plans are still welcomed this way in Boston.
Harvard did build its football arena—seating 37,000—in 1903, and the Red Sox, also with private funds, put up Fenway Park within the city limits in 1912. There are smaller fields that the Patriots have used at Boston University (15,000) and Boston College (27,000), but that's about it for stadiums in Boston.
Fenway Park is not really a stadium anyway. It holds only 33,000 because, essentially, it is a left-field wall with seats. For years people laughed at it and said it was the ruin of the Red Sox. Especially they laughed when all over the country taxpayers were approving what were called all-purpose stadiums. They are called all-purpose because they are perfectly suited for football and also for drum-and-bugle corps competitions. These stadiums are nearly uniform, being round and deep and bearing a resemblance to a large toilet bowl. For baseball, everybody is equidistant from the plate—all too far away. All of a sudden, the best thing that ever happened to the Red Sox was to be stuck with queer old Fenway Park.
Bill Veeck says: "We're in the process of institutionalizing everything we do, standardizing all our surroundings. The wall gives Fenway a life of its own. So do the young people who attend. There is an intimacy to the park, so that you feel part of the game. I had franchises in Cleveland, which is the largest park in baseball, and in St. Louis, which was one of the smallest, and, believe me, given the choice, I'd much prefer to operate out of the smaller stadium."
The wall is so important to the sustaining popularity that Red Sox General Manager Dick O'Connell has even suggested that if Boston ever does build one of those 55,000-seat all-purpose municipal stadiums, a similar left-field wall should be constructed. This is a very sentimental thought, but, of course, the wall at Fenway could not be duplicated, especially since standardized baseball rules would require it to be at least 330 feet away. This would be like rebuilding the Titanic perfectly in every detail except that it would have watertight compartments that really worked.
Pitchers have long called the Fenway wall "the Green Death." Others who use that epithet are football owners. The wall does nothing for football. Neither does the stadium as a whole, and sage Hub Men for generations have avoided football games at Fenway. Only rarely has a football game there managed to capture their fancy.
One such occasion happened in the mid-'30s, when George Preston Marshall's Boston Redskins played a key contest there. Standing at the top of Fenway an hour or so before kickoff, Marshall looked out with surprise toward a huge traffic jam at Kenmore Square.
"Where are all those cars going?" he asked a newspaperman standing with him. "What do you mean?" the writer said. "They're coming to the game."
Dumfounded at this turn of events, Marshall recovered quickly enough to rush downstairs and raise all the ticket prices. Unfortunately for him, the writer described Marshall's perfidy in his paper the next day, and the ensuing reaction never really subsided.
The Redskins left for Washington, the Yanks lasted only five seasons and the Patriots fell, or were pushed, out of Fenway after the '68 season. In a numbing bow to imagery, the Patriots' offices are still located within the very shadow of the left-field wall, but the team found a stopgap playing home last fall at Boston College stadium in the suburb of Newton. Sullivan, whose fuel company supplies the archdiocese, managed this by skirting the BC athletic department and going farther up in the church/school hierarchy. His team and the fans so enraged BC and the surrounding community, however, that the Patriots could not get back in again even if they wanted to.
Sullivan, who is characterized in Boston as being so charming that "he could talk a dog off a meat wagon," was a fuel company executive and one of the 10 men who put up $25,000 each for the Patriots. Soon Sullivan was spokesman for the group, then president of the Patriots, president of the AFL and head of the Boston stadium commission. That was his big mistake; even in Boston they could smell conflict of interest there, and Sullivan has never been permitted to live it down. "It has been a terribly upsetting thing for me and my whole family," he says.
Sullivan wanted to get his team into the Harvard Stadium, but he annoyed the Harvards by doing all his negotiating in the newspapers. By the time last December that Sullivan finally got around to officially approaching the college, he had apparently lost any chance.
Harvard formally turned the Patriots down on Jan. 26, and then a couple of months later the City Council voted 7-2 to reject yet another proposal that had been suggested by Bill Veeck. This called for construction of a stadium in the Neponset section of Dorchester with moneys derived from extra racing days that would go to Suffolk.
"I never figured I would get involved," Veeck says. "I thought Harvard would surely take them in. How could the pitty-pat of professional feet seven times a year manage to desecrate Fair Harvard?"
With Harvard and the City Council both turning the Patriots away in quick succession, though, they were forced to go begging further afield. Various cities in other parts of the country were anxious to receive them, as was New Hampshire. The lucky suitor, however, was Foxboro, a town of 14,000 in southern Massachusetts near Providence.
Foxboro is 35 miles from Boston, the home of a state mental hospital and a trotting track. The latter, it is said, attracted the Patriots and encouraged the citizens to vote approval for a 60,000-seat stadium to be built on the track parking lot. It will not be ready until 1971, but last week Harvard finally relented and agreed to permit the Patriots the use of their stadium this coming season.
With the Patriots' departure for Foxboro goes the one fond excuse for a Boston municipal stadium. Sullivan, who has always been a stumbling block in the matter, is also removed, but the issue is really much the same as ever.
All these parochial concerns aside, however, there may be one underlying reason why the people of Boston have not seen fit to commit millions of dollars for the construction of a stadium that would be used by a profit-making professional football team seven times a year. That reason is, of course, that the idea is ridiculous.
Shortly before Veeck's Neponset plan was voted down, Mayor White was explaining all the usual reasons why he was for a stadium. Suddenly he stopped and stared out the window toward the harbor. "It's a funny thing," he said at last.
"It's just a funny thing. I want to say this right."
What is it?
"Well, I may be wrong, but the more I back this, the more I get involved in this, the more I would say that I'm not really sure how much support there is for a stadium."
He smiled at last, shyly; it was his own ironic little secret. Mayor White is not alone, however, in this revelation. Suddenly, people everywhere are becoming suspicious about stadiums. Do they really bring in $X million a year from out-of-town fans? And, O.K., who gets it besides the ball club, a few hotels and bars?
Mayor White estimates that no more than 30% of the population is concerned about a stadium. "There are, after all, a fair share of serious detractors," he says. "People who are concerned with the problems in our ghettos, people with a desire to see better housing in Boston and schools, hospitals, roads, air, all those things."
Wayne Embry, the former Celtic, was briefly the commissioner of recreation for Boston. For the first time the city instituted summer basketball leagues and winter hockey leagues for its children. "You can go into sections of this town," Embry said, "where absolutely no one cares about a new stadium. The argument presented is: it won't cost anybody anything; it's just 12 extra days of racing. But that's no good. If you can get 12 days of racing to build a stadium, why can't you get the same 12 days for something more important?"
This is not to suggest, necessarily, that Boston alone of all our cities cares more for urban salvation than for pro football. No, it is, simply, that in Boston the stadium missed its time, and now these are other times. The stadium boom of the last 20 years was founded on the notion that a city that built a stadium would be rewarded—surely forever—with a major league franchise. Having a major league franchise was a form of national recognition that a city had arrived, cheek by jowl, with New York. Building a stadium was a small enough price to pay for that distinction.
But the generation that built such stadiums is phasing out of power. It is being replaced by a generation that has spent all its adult years with access to the best of sports on television. To these fans, teams do not represent cities. Teams are nicknames and color combinations. This generation does not ask: Can we get a franchise for our town? It asks: Can we get Channel 2 real clear?
"The Patriots are incidental in a way," says Jeff Cohen, the assistant general manager of the Celtics, who is only 29 and aware of the new TV sports constituancy. "If there were the risk that we were not going to get TV games in Boston, they would march on city hall."
Is it any wonder that football fans, nurtured on TV, strangers to stadiums, care little if a new stadium is built—especially if it will cost them money and cost the town new housing or hospitals or a modicum of good air? Is it any wonder that only the diehards care whether the Patriots are in Boston or Foxboro or New Hampshire or Memphis? It should be no wonder because approximately the same thing happened several years ago. Boxing did not stop drawing because fans liked boxing any less. It was just that they liked boxing on TV more.
In fact, given the Boston situation in almost any pro football town, it is just as possible that the voters would balk at spending money for a stadium to seat 50,000 when millions at home can see for nothing. Surely, with this recognition and the possibility of pay TV, the municipal stadium boom of the '60s is through.
As usual, Boston is not out of step; it is a step in front. It should not be called the only city that will not build a stadium. It should be known as the first city that refused to. Once again, the Hub Men are coming.