PDA

View Full Version : Historian rewrites story of Sox 'curse'



Jimbo
03-31-01, 04:55 AM
With Opening day fast approaching, I am re-posting this article...it's makes for very interesting reading.

Historian rewrites story of Sox 'curse'
Stout says it's race, not Ruth
By Gordon Edes, Globe Staff, 11/26/2000

''It is the single greatest error in the history of the franchise, far more significant and consequential than the sale of Ruth to the Yankees. For Boston's failure to sign [Jackie] Robinson left no imaginary curse upon the franchise, but a real one, with genuine and lasting consequences.''
-Glenn Stout and Richard A. Johnson, ''Red Sox Century: 100 Years of Red Sox Baseball''

Baseball historian Glenn Stout calls it the ''elephant in the corner.'' It was there, he says, when Reggie Smith was here. It was there for Mo Vaughn. And, he suspects, it is there for Carl Everett.

It is the legacy left by the Red Sox for being the last major league team to integrate its big league roster, Pumpsie Green arriving a full 12 years after Jackie Robinson broke the color line in 1947 and 14 years after Robinson and two other African-American players went through the charade of a tryout in Fenway Park.

It is a story familiar to Sox fans, having been highlighted again three years ago, when the 50th anniversary of Robinson's pioneering role was celebrated by Major League Baseball. But now it has been given a full airing by Stout and Dick Johnson, curator of the New England Sports Museum, in ''Red Sox Century,'' a book that should stand as the definitive history of the Olde Towne Team.

In a recent interview, Stout spoke of the impact of the racial legacy on more recent developments in Sox history, like the Vaughn departure and the contentious season Everett had in his first year with the club.

''I don't know if there's a connection or not [in Vaughn's case], but at the very least there's some perception of a connection and that's kind of the elephant in the corner that the Red Sox are always dealing with,'' Stout said. ''You can't help but acknowledge its presence in the Carl Everett case.''
Stout alludes to a comment Sox CEO John Harrington made to Leigh Montville of Sports Illustrated in 1991 that appears in the book.

The team's racist reputation is ''almost impossible to shake,'' Harrington tells Montville. ''I don't know how you do it. I've been told it will take 50 years, generations before this thing is gone. I won't be around and you won't be around. It's impossible.''

''You know he's right,'' Stout said. ''I don't think you can do much. Charging that the current Red Sox administration is racist, I think that's absurd. They've obviously really tried to be much more inclusive in everything. However, they're still fighting with that shadow looming over the franchise. It makes it difficult today, for example, for the club to sign African-American free agents.''

Stout sees some parallels between Everett's experience here and what Smith went through in 1973, when he walked off the field during a game in August and subsequently demanded to be traded. Smith, unlike Everett, raised the issue of racist treatment by the fans and media.

''Reggie Smith clashed culturally with the Red Sox and temperamentally with his teammates,'' Stout said. ''Can you say race was not an issue? I don't think you can. Certainly it was some part of that equation. I don't know that we can say what part or even [if it was] the most important part.''

Was race part of the equation in Everett's case?

''Once again, you can say it's in the corner of the room,'' Stout said. ''I'm obviously not close enough to that situation to say one way or another. But it's a continuing story that isn't over in terms of the Sox' racial history and won't be over for quite a long time despite what might be their best efforts now and their good intentions.''

To date, Everett has not publicly blamed racism for any of his run-ins with umpires, teammates, manager Jimy Williams, or the media.

''But I don't think it would surprise anyone if it would come up,'' Stout said. ''It was very fortunate that the incident [in the clubhouse] took place with Darren Lewis [an African-American teammate].

''Had it taken place with a white player, I think that flag would have immediately gone up with everyone. As it is, any dissonance he might be having with any of the white players, sort of under the surface, I think it's being talked around.
''A lot of my perception is it's probably there because culturally there are some differences there. They just don't understand one another, but that's speculation on my part.''

This, though, is a matter of historical record: On April 16, 1945, the day before the Sox opened the regular season against the New York Yankees and under pressure from Boston City Councilor Isadore Muchnick, the Red Sox reluctantly held a tryout for Robinson and two other Negro league players - Sam Jethroe of the Cleveland Buckeyes and Marvin Williams of the Philadelphia Stars.

Hugh Duffy, a Red Sox coach at the time, conducted the tryout. Scout Larry Woodard already was on the field, trying out a half-dozen or so white players. Manager Joe Cronin watched from the stands. General manager Eddie Collins, who ultimately would decide whether the players would be signed, was not present. His absence spoke volumes.
''I still remember how I hit the ball that day, good to all fields,'' Robinson is quoted as saying afterward. ''What happened? Nothing!''

None of the three players were offered a contract, even though Duffy, according to Stout, ''supposedly recommended that the Sox sign Robinson.''

The most notorious aspect of the tryout is said to have come as the players were leaving the field. According to Clif Keane of the Globe, who was present, a voice was heard shouting from the grandstand, ''Get those [racial epithet] off the field.''

Two years later, Robinson debuted in the majors with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Jethroe would integrate the Boston Braves in 1950. Green did not appear in a Sox uniform until 1959.

''Had the Red Sox done it, had they had a two-year jump on the Dodgers and every other team in baseball in terms of signing African-American players,'' said Stout, ''can you imagine the addition of a handful of any of two dozen guys who were available in 1945, what that would have meant to those powerhouse teams in the late '40s and early '50s?''

Stout recalled how the Sox' Double A farm team in Birmingham, Ala., shared its ballpark, Rickwood Field, with the Birmingham Barons of the Negro leagues and were promised first dibs on Barons players. But the Sox passed on future Hall of Famer Willie Mays, who had joined the Barons as a 17-year-old, and signed 31-year-old infielder Piper Davis instead in 1950. Davis played 15 games in the Sox farm system, then was released despite a .333 batting average.

''It was wide open then,'' Stout said, ''but the Red Sox, because of their recalcitrance, missed out on the greatest single pool of talent ever released to the major leagues.''
This, then, is the seminal event in the 100-year history of the Sox. Curse of the Bambino? Pulp fiction, in the view of Stout, who shreds the popular notion that theatrical entrepreneur Harry Frazee sold Ruth to the Yankees because he was broke and needed to bankroll ''No, No, Nanette.''

Stout contends Ruth was sold for a variety of reasons: the power struggle Frazee was having with Ban Johnson, the dictatorial president of the American League; Ruth's disruptive behavior, which included leaving the team without permission; the player's problems staying in shape, which made him, Stout wrote, ''a profound physical risk''; and because, Stout argues, there was no way of predicting, prior to the ''lively ball era,'' that Ruth would become the greatest home run hitter in the game.

''Frazee has been described as everything from a simple fool and selfish buffoon to a con man and devil incarnate,'' Stout wrote. ''Yet this version of history, like a third-rate melodrama that supplies an obvious villain, is spurious on its face and virtually unsupported by any factual evidence apart from a series of misconceptions and distortions. The truth is a more complicated story.

''Significantly, in the light of ... the way history has judged Harry Frazee, at the time of the sale there was no mention anywhere that Frazee was in any kind of financial trouble whatsoever. That's because he wasn't. All evidence indicates otherwise.''

Sox fans, Stout said, are holding the wrong man responsible for the course of history since 1918, the last time the Sox won a World Series when, incidentally, Frazee still owned the team. The owner who has had a much more profound impact on the team's fortunes, he argues, is Tom Yawkey.

''He is the dominant figure in the history of the franchise, absolutely,'' Stout said of Yawkey, who owned the team from the age of 30 in 1933 to his death in 1976. ''We're sitting here, almost a quarter-century after he died, and John Harrington still speaks of the Yawkey tradition, and that tradition in some ways is still in effect at Fenway Park in the way business is done.

''I think in the Yawkey era, which I think we're still in, the team has always stopped just a little short. They never had too much, they've always been a player or two short. They've always thought they had enough - `We've got enough, we don't have to make that one extra trade' ... In the postseason, when you have to use the full roster, it's often left them a player or two short.''

Yawkey, Stout said, must be held accountable for the team's failure to sign African-American players. He also offered an opinion on Yawkey's part in the abortive Robinson tryout.

''The buck stopped at the top,'' Stout said. ''Yawkey was someone who almost had no life outside of being owner of the Red Sox. This was not a man who was going to take dramatic action. He was someone that allowed a temperament to proceed after it had disappeared elsewhere or was beginning to disappear elsewhere.

''Was he standing up there, pounding his fist and saying, `We won't sign any African-American players?' I don't think so. I think he was a benevolent racist, like many people of that era were. He also didn't do anything to turn that corner until way late, until really he had lost interest in that team and Dick O'Connell got in and was sort of allowed to do what he wanted.

''Yawkey trusted guys like [former manager Mike] Higgins, who he looked up to as a player, and he allowed their views to influence an entire franchise. Yawkey would allegedly go to Red Sox scouts and say, `How come we don't have any African-American players?' Their response would be, `We can't find any,' and Yawkey's response to that would be, `Well, if we can't find any, we can't find any.'

''Other teams were finding African-American players everywhere, but Red Sox scouts in that era wouldn't go to the black rural South and they wouldn't go to the inner city.''

Stout believes Yawkey was present when Robinson, Jethroe, and Williams tried out in 1945. He also suspects that Yawkey was the voice behind the racial epithet hurled at the players that afternoon, if indeed that incident happened as reported.

''It's unfortunate the principals are gone and nobody really talked about it,'' Stout said. ''Cronin's story about the tryout changed over time and nobody ever asked Eddie Collins about it. Yawkey never spoke about it. Robinson never spoke about it. I've read things from Sam Jethroe and Marvin Williams and they said, `Well, I don't really know anything about that.'

''Rachel Robinson [Jackie's widow] was very close-mouthed about talking about things like that. Clif Keane claimed to have been there, he claims to have heard it. A lot of people don't give that the greatest credibility.

''Is it apocryphal? It might be. If it is apocryphal, it might also be true figuratively.

''My best guess, and I didn't put it in the book because I could never prove it: Some people say it was Cronin. I tend to think it might not have been. I've had people say it was Collins. Maybe there's a little more possibility there. I know Collins had problems with Catholics and he's a generation back, so there might have been some latent feelings there.
''But the guy that more of the arrows seem to point to - and I want to emphasize I'm just speculating here - is Yawkey himself.

That sounds like the eruption of somebody who might not have had it altogether and given the fact that Yawkey had a pretty well-known drinking problem, that's what it almost sounds like. Hey, a drunk in a stands will yell some pretty awful things.

''So if I were forced to speculate I wouldn't say categorically [it was Yawkey]. It might not have been Yawkey, it could have been a guy in a grounds crew. We'll never know.''
But this is something the Sox have yet to escape.

''We talk about the curse of the Bambino,'' he said, ''but this is something that has cast some kind of a real curse, something that has caused this franchise a lot more trouble than selling Babe Ruth.''

:cool: :smokin: :cool:

seahorse
03-31-01, 05:20 AM
Great article Jimbo. Thanks for re-posting it. I absolutely believe it. :cool:

Jimbo
03-31-01, 06:51 AM
Seahorse,
Me too...

And for what it's worth...Thank God for sending Jackie to Brooklyn!

:cool: :smokin: :cool:

#1Coneyfan
03-31-01, 08:59 AM
Yet another reason for these to be distributed in "Friendly Fenway"

1TonHumanHamsterWheel
03-31-01, 03:44 PM
Thanks for posting this interesting story. I heard about Jackie's tryout at http://soxsuck.com and consider it another big mistake in the BooSox' dubious history. Who knows, maybe the Sux would've won the Series in '46 (when they lost to the Cards in 7) with Jackie and the Curse would've ended a long time ago.

Lefty Gomez
03-31-01, 06:00 PM
The Red Sox camethisclose to giving Phil Rizzuto a contract before the Yankees did. The Yanks were in the right place at the right time and snagged Rizzuto while the Red Sox opted for a kid named "Pee Wee" Reese, who they later let get away. Curse? Cursed by poor decision making, indeed!

Jimbo
04-01-01, 01:01 PM
Holy Cow!...Those huckleberries blew another one!

:cool: :smokin: :cool:

seahorse
04-01-01, 03:07 PM
Great image Jimbo! How to exorcise the curse? That is the question! :drool:

Lefty Gomez
04-01-01, 06:02 PM
Originally posted by seahorse
How to exorcise the curse? That is the question! :drool:

The Red Sox won't exorcise the curse, they'll excercise it! Give it lots of good 'ol sweaty aerobic workout! :D

Eddie160
04-01-01, 11:24 PM
good article and about the curse maybe if they move and change their name then maybe then it will end but as long as they're in Boston and call themselves the red sox they will always be cursed.