Nothing is too good for the Boston fan.
—HARRY FRAZEE, new owner of the Red Sox, responding in 1916 to a report that he had offered the Washington Senators $60,000 for Pitcher Walter Johnson.
I don't think you can trade a Fisk, a Jimmy Rice, a Fred Lynn, a Carl Yastrzemski or a Rick Burleson. When you trade key men like that, you are just defeating your own purpose.
—HAYWOOD SULLIVAN, new owner of the Red Sox, responding in 1977 to a question about his plans for the team.
At approximately 11 a.m. on April 10, Carlton Fisk arrived at Fenway Park, just as he had nine times before on Opening Day. This time, however, his 9-year-old son, Casey, had to show him the way to the visiting team's clubhouse. Casey's father, you see, was now a member of the Chicago White Sox.
A crowd of 35,124, the Red Sox' second largest for an Opening Day, was on hand that beautiful afternoon. One of the reasons they came was curiosity: Fisk, Burleson, Lynn and Butch Hobson had been replaced by Gary (Mugsy) Allen-son, Glenn Hoffman, Rick Miller and Carney Lansford. Outside on Yawkey Way, a vendor was hawking bumper stickers that read HAYWOOD AND BUDDY ARE KILLING THE SOX.
When Fisk was introduced, the boos took an early lead, but finally surrendered to cheers. Pudge may be No. 72 in the program but he's still No. 27 in the hearts of Boston fans. Then Ed Hoffman, the new shortstop's dad and an usher at Anaheim Stadium, showed more range than his son in singing the national anthem. Having declared this The Year of the Fan, the Red Sox chose waitress Eleanor (Stoney) Stone of Holyoke, Mass. to throw out the first ball. Mrs. Stone is a lifelong Red Sox supporter who remembers Jim (Rawhide) Tabor hitting a home run on the occasion of her first date with the man who became her husband of 34 years, Richard. Mrs. Stone was an appropriate choice for another reason: she brought nine children, eight grandchildren and four busloads of neighbors along with her. Although she had teasingly threatened to throw the first ball to Pudge Fisk, at the moment of truth she pegged it to Mugsy Allenson.
Mrs. Stone didn't like it when the fans booed Fisk. "I thought it was terrible," she said. But her 28-year-old daughter Debbie proudly announced. "I booed him. If those guys wanted to be here, they could still be here." In the seventh, Mugsy hit a solo homer to pad the Red Sox' lead to 2-0, and Debbie shouted, "Let Pudge eat that. He called the pitch." But when Fisk hit a dramatic three-run homer in the eighth to put the White Sox ahead, the Stones didn't know what to do, and neither did the fans. The crowd stood, but it wasn't an ovation in the traditional sense. It was more like a standing mortification.
After the game, the press mobbed Fisk in the visiting quarters, so he had to hold an impromptu press conference in a storage room. "It's always nice to beat your own team," he said. Casey unbuckled his father's shin guards. (Eight days later Fisk would beat the Red Sox again with a home run.)
Is it any wonder, then, that schizophrenia is rampant in Boston? The fans don't know whether the Sox are being unraveled or darned, they don't know if Visible Owners Haywood Sullivan and Buddy LeRoux should be pilloried or praised, and they don't know if this is 1920, the year Babe Ruth left, or 1967, the year four new guys broke into the starting lineup and begat the Impossible Dream. On the one hand, the team has just lost three bona fide heroes, and with a 7-12 record at week's end, it was struggling to stay out of last place. On the other, hope springs eternal in the heart of a Red Sox fan. "We're not as bad as we've been playing lately," says Dave Massey, whose clear perspective on the situation comes from his vantage point in the leftfield scoreboard where he posts the inning scores. "We're going to finish with a winning record. The hitting hasn't been that bad. We just need to work a little on the pitching."
Harry Frazee was right about one thing. Nothing is too good for the Boston fan. The Yankees belong to George Steinbrenner, and the Dodgers belong to Manifest Destiny, but the Red Sox, more than any other team, belong to the fans. Not just fans in Boston and Massachusetts but fans all over New England. Sullivan, who concentrates on player personnel matters, and LeRoux, who handles the business end. sometimes forget this, and that's a bigger sin than forgetting mailing deadlines.
There are basically three types of Red Sox fans. Eleanor Stone represents the majority, who have lovingly suffered since 1918, the year of the last world championship. Then there are the literati and intelligentsia, who have made the Red Sox one of the few truly national teams. Enough maudlin muck has been written in the name of The Wall and Teddy Ballgame to fill the Harvard library. And finally there are the yahoos, who aren't displeased that Boston was the last major league baseball team to integrate and has only one black player, Jim Rice, today.
"They have a real love/hate relationship with this team," says Sullivan. They always have. Frazee, the theatrical producer who sold Ruth and every other breathing player he had, was Public Enemy No. 1. Tom Yawkey was vilified at the beginning of his ownership, and before they were elevated to saint-hood. Williams and Yastrzemski felt the fans' wrath. In recent years Don Zimmer, who managed the team from 1976 to 1979, came to be treated like the inflatable doll he resembles; he was poked, kicked and bounced around. Upon leaving, he told Sullivan, "When I was here you had 30% of them [the boos] and I had 70%. They got to zero in on you, now."
Attendance was down 400,000 last year from the year before. This year advance-ticket sales are off an additional 8%, and not even the Yankee games, which are normally SRO, are sold out yet. WWLP in Springfield has dropped its Red Sox telecasts, and WFSB in Hartford, Conn. has defected from the Red Sox to the Yankees. To its credit, the club grasped the image problem and went along with Judy Jurisich, the manager of its originating station, WSBK-TV, when she suggested they both consult an outside advertising agency, Zechman And Associates, in Chicago, of all places.
As Jan Zechman, the head of the agency, puts it, "You wouldn't want a Boston agency doing ads for the Red Sox for the same reason a doctor doesn't operate on his own children." Zechman made numerous trips to Boston, clipping newspaper stories and talking to cabdrivers, sportswriters and club officials. "We talked to a lot of fans, and found a very strong frustration, a great disgust," he says. "We knew we had to confront the problem. If we ignored it, and had Yaz say, 'Smile and come out for Jacket Day,' the people would get even angrier."
The fruit of his effort is a series of bold commercials. Some are delightful; some are silly. The most serious one opens with the camera panning some baseball cards (Lynn, Fisk, Burleson, Luis Tiant, etc.) scattered on a table. Meanwhile a voice—The Voice, if you're a Red Sox fan—says, "To hear some people tell it, the Red Sox were dealt a lousy hand this season. The cards are against us, and we should just fold 'em in. Well, I'm here to tell you we've got some young guys who can play baseball on this team. All they need is the backing of their fans. True, I don't have to get out there every day [cut to, yes it's him, Ted Williams], but I think I know how it feels to have the fans behind you. So c'mon Boston, help out. These kids need your support." [Cut to a deadpan Yastrzemski.] "Ted's right, folks. We kids need your support."
In another commercial, Sullivan's personal favorite, several pitchers are jammed into a bullpen cart, driving at Keystone Kops speed down the open road, while the voice-over says there's been enough heat on the players to make them want to run away from home. The most poignant commercial features Fenway Park organist John Kiley with five Red Sox behind him in his booth: "I've never heard such unharmonious things being said about our team.... These are sensitive human beings. Hit it, boys." And with that, the players go into a moving rendition of Feelings. "Wo, wo, wo feelings."
I can't help it. I'm up against the wall. I need the money.
—HARRY FRAZEE, explaining in January 1920 why he had to sell Ruth.
Here's a list of three players signed for over $13 million. And I'm stupid? Go to hell.
—HAYWOOD SULLIVAN, explaining during spring training why he didn't hold on to Lynn, Burleson and Fisk.
Sullivan is very sensitive, some might say paranoid. He has good reason. If he listens to the radio, he can't help but come across one of the seven carnivorous sports talk shows in Boston. If he reads the sports section of Boston's Herald American, he'll find a regular feature called "Our Boys in Exile," which, under a suitcase logo, details the exploits of Messrs. Fisk, Burleson, Lynn and Hob-son. As of Sunday, Fisk and Burleson were batting over .300; Lynn had five homers and 19 RBIs; and only Hobson was slumping. In recent months Sullivan has been likened to Scrooge, Lou Costello, Silas Marner, Oliver Hardy and Inspector Clouseau. He's none of the above. He's not even Harry Frazee. Yet.
Still, there are some interesting parallels. Upon taking over the club, both men enjoyed instant success. Shortly after Frazee purchased the Red Sox, they won the World Series. In Sullivan's (and LeRoux') first year of stewardship, the Red Sox were 10 games up in July, and in August Sullivan was the hero of a Herald American story headlined now THE SUPER TEAM WAS BUILT. Then along came the Yankees and Bucky Dent. Sixty years before Sullivan-LeRoux, Frazee dispatched his star shortstop, Everett Scott, his star catcher, Wally Schang, and his star outfielder/pitcher, Ruth.
The Red Sox ownership made the decision last year that it couldn't afford, or wouldn't afford, to keep Burleson, Fisk and Lynn. When the owners hired Ralph Houk as manager last October, they told him that the most important third of his lineup would be changed by the 1981 season. All three players were signed in 1976 under the Basic Agreement then in effect, and all were eligible for arbitration in 1981 and free agency at the end of the season. "I thought they'd at least keep two of the three guys," says Rick Miller, Lynn's replacement and Fisk's brother-in-law. "Then after Rick and Fred were traded, I thought they'd try to at least keep Carlton."
At the winter meetings, Sullivan traded Burleson and Hobson to the Angels for Lansford, Miller and Pitcher Mark Clear. He tried to trade Lynn to the Dodgers for pitchers Steve Howe and Joe Beckwith and First Baseman Mike Marshall, but the deal fell through at the last minute when L.A. refused to give Lynn only a one-year contract. That was a much better deal than the one Sullivan finally had to settle for: Lynn and Pitcher Steve Renko to the Angels for Pitcher Frank Tanana, Outfielder Joe Rudi and minor league Pitcher Jim Dorsey. Rudi and Tanana are strictly temps; both are in the final year of their contracts, as are Yastrzemski, Second Baseman Jerry Remy, Outfielder Tom Poquette and Reliever Bill Campbell.
"I just couldn't make a trade for Fisk," Sullivan says. Because he mailed his contract offer to Fisk two days after the deadline, Fisk was ruled a free agent. Sullivan likes to give the impression he did that on purpose. He would have people believe that instead of paying Fisk a high salary won through arbitration this year, and then losing him to free agency next year, he decided that losing once was better than losing twice. It doesn't wash, though. Fisk left and the Red Sox got nothing in return.
That Sullivan got as much as he did for Burleson and Lynn is a tribute to his baseball savvy. "Sully's a good baseball man," says Tiger General Manager Jim Campbell. "He's just a victim of circumstances, and his club is no different from the other clubs which have lost players." Sullivan has been careful to depict his stand not as a penny-pinching exercise but as a crusade against outrageous salaries. "The insanity has to stop somewhere," he says.
What do the boys in exile think of Sullivan? "I still don't know what their objective is—to win or to make money," says Lynn. "I'm sure they'll make money. I don't think they can win." Says Renko, "Baseball is a millionaire's toy. If they can't afford to run a club the way it should be run, they should sell and get out." Says Burleson, "It's their club and they have a right to run it the way they want." When Fisk was told that Ruth's response to being sold to the Yankees was "My heart is in Boston—I have a farm in Sudbury," the catcher said, "My heart is in Boston—I have a farm in New Hampshire."
How did Haywood and Buddy get into this fine mess? Sullivan was an ordinary catcher and a decent manager who was hired by Yawkey in 1965 to be the Red Sox player personnel director. LeRoux was a Red Sox and Celtics trainer who made a lot of money massaging real estate in Winter Haven, the Red Sox Florida home. When the Yawkey estate put the team up for sale in 1977, Sullivan and LeRoux got the scratch together, with the considerable help of Mrs. Jean Yawkey, who remains an Invisible Owner. "I don't know why people are against us," says LeRoux. "Where else but in America can a former catcher and a former trainer buy a baseball team?" Harry Frazee, by the way, was a former bellhop.
Sullivan and LeRoux are nowhere nearly as strapped financially as was Frazee, who kept using the Red Sox to finance his Broadway flops. (Two years after he sold the ball club, Frazee struck it rich with No, No, Nanette, which featured the hit tune Tea for Two.) "We don't owe a single dime," says Sullivan. That isn't strictly true. The owners need a reported $3 million a year to pay the interest on the loans they took out to buy the team. And pardon the expression, it's a whole new ball game nowadays. One baseball executive says, "It's too bad for the Red Sox, but that's the kind of time we're living in. The market of players today has become crazy. They don't have the money they had under Yawkey. Yawkey would have handled it." He might have done what the Baltimore Orioles did. Faced with much the same problem, they signed most of their stars to long-term contracts.
The overall impression the Red Sox owners give is that they're commanding the U.S.S. Caine—someone is always stealing the strawberries. Last year the Red Sox wasted a lot of energy in a battle with the D'Angelo brothers, who own two lucrative souvenir shops on Yawkey Way and Lansdowne Street. The team wanted the brothers to pay a licensing fee for use of the team logo. When the brothers refused, the Red Sox set up their own "official" souvenir shop on Lansdowne Street.
In the past, LeRoux and Sullivan have raised ticket prices without public announcement. The next time they're tempted to raise the prices, they should remember how much money they saved by not signing Fisk, Lynn and Burleson. On Opening Day, they angered the players' wives by switching their complimentary seats behind home plate to less desirable locations.
Of the Visible Owners, Sullivan seems to be overworked. While LeRoux handles financial matters, Sullivan takes care of everything else. He sits on two important owners' committees, serves as general manager, carries a walkie-talkie for crowd control, and yet he has no assistant to tell him when contracts should be mailed. He can't do it all alone, but he tries, either out of pride or penury.
Ruth's 29 homers were more spectacular than useful; they didn't help the Red Sox get out of sixth place.
We finished in fourth place with them; we can finish in fourth place without them.
The Red Sox aren't going to win the division, that's for sure. Of the new acquisitions, only Lansford has been much help. He's a definite improvement over Hobson at third; he fields, he steals and through Sunday he was batting .306. "The minute I was traded to the Red Sox," he says, "I knew I'd have to forget about The Wall and concentrate on hitting the ball up the middle."
Hoffman has been less successful replacing Burleson. He has made some costly errors in the early going, and through Sunday he was batting only .172. But Houk thinks he sees Marty Marion every time Hoffman goes out there, and anyway, Hoffman's heart is in the right place. Growing up in Anaheim, he was such a devout Red Sox fan that he cut out a picture of Yastrzemski's face from a poster and pasted up his own, just to see what he would look like in a Boston uniform. Miller, who's in his second tour with the club, can replace Lynn as a fielder, but in nine years in the majors, he has hit only 20 homers while batting .266. Allenson started well, but as of Sunday he was batting .206.
Tanana, who's gone from being Sandy Koufax to Eddie Lopat, and Clear, who's still having trouble finding the plate, could help the pitching. But through Sunday Tanana was 0-3 with a 7.08 ERA and Clear had only one win and no saves. Campbell is supposedly recovered from arm problems, but Houk is waiting for warm weather to use him regularly. In the meantime, Campbell wears a thermometer around his neck.
The whole team has taken on a new demeanor. "The caste system is gone," says Pitcher Chuck Rainey, something of a free spirit. In the Red Sox yearbook, Rainey responded to "Person you'd most like to meet," with "the Red Sox bookkeeper." "The clubhouse is a lot looser," says Reliever Tom Burgmeier. "We really haven't had anybody to make some noise since Tiant left. Now we have guys like Tanana to rekindle the spark." As if on cue, Yastrzemski literally lights a fire under Tanana's chair.
It's up to Houk, meanwhile, to light a fire under the Red Sox, who ended last week with a seven-game losing streak. "Things were going pretty good until recently," The Major said Sunday. "Then it happened. It's just unbelievable, but it will end."
The mistake some Red Sox people are making is equating the fresh air around the clubhouse with the departure of Lynn, Fisk, Burleson and the rest. They should remember what Frazee said about Ruth: "The Boston club could no longer put up with his eccentricities. I think the Yankees are taking a gamble." As subsequent events proved, of course, the Red Sox were the ones taking the gamble, and Frazee lost it. Last week, while the current Red Sox were struggling, people were beginning to wonder if Sullivan and LeRoux had not lost their gamble, too.