The idea came to Sam Cooke on the evening of April 12, 1962, when he appeared at Atlanta’s Rhythm Rink while on an extended Henry Wynn Supersonic Tour of the South. The King of Soul was headlining a lineup that included blues legend Solomon Burke, the Drifters, Dee Clark, B. B. King, and Dion DiMucci (of Dion and the Belmonts fame).
At that time, racial tensions were percolating just as the civil rights movement was gaining momentum. Thus, a “mixed-race tour” in the Old Confederacy was generating a wellspring of controversy. As Cooke’s biographer, Peter Guralnick, remembered: “Sam was the soothing influence who kept that tour together. ‘He was a kind of champion for… cooling everybody out,’ said Dion DiMucci, and, as on the earlier tour, some of Dion’s most treasured memories were of singing with Sam backstage—” he was always so full of music.'”
According to Sam Cooke’s friends, the notion for the song had been stirring around in the singer/songwriter’s mind for weeks. The idea’s inspiration had actually sprung from Charles Brown’s 1959 R&B single, “I Want to Go Home,” a standard 12-bars blues number ladened with traditional call-response that had also been sautéed in a barrel full of soul.
Cooke, who had been a gospel music prodigy before he was 18, had spent much of the preceding ten years on the road, though he now made Los Angeles his base. For someone who was a Chicagoan for more than half of his life, home had become not a physical place for Sam – but it was “about the people you left behind.” This was especially evident to him because he had lived his musical career out of a suitcase.
As Sam Cooke rode in a rented limousine to the concert that evening in Georgia’s capitol city, it all came together for him. He yearned to write a gospel-tinged blues song, featuring call-response in the form of a “backside” duet – a lead-singer in concert with a strong vocal response. Of course, this wasn’t some new form of music for him. Instead, Cooke instinctively yearned to compose the same style of music when he had joined gospel’s legendary Soul Stirrers beginning in 1949 before he had finally crossed over to the dominion of rock-pop with 1957’s “You Send Me.”
While the white public hardly knew of Sam Cooke during his halcyon years as a gospel icon, he had already achieved mythical status to millions of African-Americans around the country while he was the leader of the Soul Stirrers. In 2016, Aretha Franklin recalled Cooke’s magnetism as a gospel star:
“Sam and I met at a Sunday evening program that we had at our church back in the early ’50’s. I was sitting there waiting for the program to start after church, and I just happened to look back over my shoulder, and I saw this group of people coming down the aisle. And, oh, my God, the man that was leading them — Sam – and his younger brother, L.C. These guys were really super sharp. They had on beautiful navy blue and brown trench coats. And I had never seen anyone quite as attractive, not a male as attractive as Sam was. And so prior to the program, my soul was kind of being stirred in another way. And then, Sam sang, and he left everything, everything out on the stage. He was the most beautiful man I ever saw.”
Sam Cooke’s live performances as a gospel lead-singer became so renowned that he was compared in real-time to Frank Sinatra in terms of influence, magnetism, and sheer luminosity. Thus, when he eventually entered the world of pop and soul, his loyal gospel fans viewed him as a Judas. However, once he began churning out such original standards as “Wonderful World,” “Chain Gang,” “(She Was) Only Sixteen,” Everybody Loves to Cha Cha Cha,” “Sad Mood Tonight,” “Cupid,” Twistin’ The Night Away,” and “Feel It,” all was eventually forgiven.
Thus, when he alighted from the limousine that night in Atlanta and rushed for the stage, Sam couldn’t shake this “back home idea” as he called it. Cooke knew that he had to compose and record it quickly. After the concert that evening, he composed much of it in his downtown Atlanta hotel room. Like the vast majority of the numbers he wrote, the refrain section of the song came to him first: “Bring it to me, bring your sweet lovin’, bring it on home to me.”
Once he completed the number, Sam felt that it had a bluesy, almost hypnotic feel, which so excited him that he sang it to performer Dee Clark, whose single, “Raindrops,” had been a significant hit the previous summer. Clark wasn’t impressed at first, but Cooke felt he had something, so he then called his producer back in California, Luigi Creatore, who immediately loved the concept. Sam kept emphasizing that he wanted to sing and record it in the vein of his old Soul Stirrers gospel hits, and Creatore readily agreed.
Given that the singer/songwriter had already composed a ready-made single, “(We’re) Having a Party,” Cooke and his producer thought that the now-titled,“Bring It Home To Me” would fit nicely as its B-Side.
By the time Sam made it back to Los Angeles from his Southern tour ten days later, the number was ready for recording. On April 26, 1962, Cooke entered RCA’s Recording Studio Number 1 in Hollywood, anxious to record both “Having a Party” and “Bring It Home To Me.” Awaiting him were the customary Wrecking Crew musicians, including Tommy Tedesco on lead guitar, Adolphus Alsbrook on the bass, Ernie Freeman on the keyboards, and a bevy of acclaimed string players who had long backed up Sinatra on such hit albums as In The Wee Small Hours of The Morning and Frank Sinatra Sings For Only The Lonely.
The assemblage of musicians began the session with Sam’s “(We’re) Having a Party,” the designated “A-Side,” which was the musical stepchild of his smash hit, “Everybody Loves To Cha Cha Cha.” Cooke’s longtime arranger, René Hall. had not only transposed both numbers to be accompanied by six violins, two violas, two cellos, and a saxophone, but he had added a seven-piece rhythm section to the mix as well. “We wanted musical power to match Sam’s vocal potency,” Hall remembered years later.
That night, Cooke was joined by the Sims Twins, a novice vocal group he had signed with his newly-formed SAR Records the previous year. At the last minute, Sam also asked one of his childhood friends from Chicago, Lou Rawls – whose plush bass-baritone voice had been in constant demand in recording sessions around LA since he moved to the West Coast in 1959 – to sit in on the session as well. “We might need you, Lou,” he winked to his longtime friend as he entered the studio.
After pushing through the infectious “Having a Party,” which took 13 takes to “make right,” Cooke huddled up with René Hall to continue the good vibes and momentum after they recorded, “Party,” with “Bring It Home To Me.” He told Peter Guralnick, “We were after the Soul Stirrers-type thing, trying to create that flavor in a classic rhythm and blues recording.”
“Let’s get to it! “Sam exclaimed to his musical entourage. In just two takes, that’s exactly what they did. Cooke reflected later that it was probably because he yearned for a “live feel” to the ballad. “I wanted it to feel just like a Soul Stirrers’ performance on stage.”
Sam and his production team encouraged renowned pianist and bandleader Ernie Freeman to provide the number’s “intro” with a blues riff that would instantly capture the attention of any listener. After fiddling around on his keyboard for a spell, Freeman crafted a hypnotic, primal introduction that ultimately became a chilling calling card to Sam’s distinctive tenor. Freeman’s bluesy keyboard riff was then supported by the counter-punching percussion chops of Frank Capp, a veteran Wrecking Crew drummer. This pulsating ostinato proved to be an electrifying prologue to one of Sam Cooke’s two or three most revered vocal performances of his storied career.
“If you ever-er change your mi-ind
About leavin’, leavin’ me behi-ind
Oh-oh, bring it to me
Bring your sweet lovin’
Bring it on home to me-ee…”
Just four bars into it, you knew it was Sam Cooke. While he earned the moniker, “The King of Soul” after his untimely death in 1964, even then, in the spring of ’62, you could have predicted that such a dominating vocal performer paved the way for a thousand branches. Like the chiseled knife that can cut your soul in two, the singer’s vocals throughout the ballad are wrapped in a cornucopia of both fidelity and pain.
To put the finishing touches on the gospel-like feel, Lou Rawls not only sings harmony with Sam, but he then bestows a series of muscular call-response “yeahs” throughout the recording as well. In the end, Rawls’ heady vocal conviction and entusiasmo are such that he nearly hijacked the tune from Cooke in the process.
Once the last note was played in LA’s RCA Recording Studio Number One, everyone involved knew even then that they had cut something special. It had taken them only two takes to get it right. This was not Sam Cooke, pop star to a largely white audience. This was Sam Cooke, master of both gospel and soul. As Peter Guralnick remarked in his exceptional biography on Sam Cooke: “What comes through in ‘Bring It Back Home To Me’ is a rare moment of undisguised emotion, an unambiguous embrace not just of a cultural heritage but of an adult experience far removed from white teenage fantasy. There was nothing to add or subtract.”
Arranger René Hall recalled years later. “There was minimal post-production that went into that song. We took it out of the oven, and it was ready for wax.” In the end, it had taken less than 30 minutes of studio time to craft a definitive soul ballad sung by two of the greatest R&B performers of all time, even as it was superbly backed up by LA’s celebrated Wrecking Crew. Of course, enduring artistry is never an accident.
Released along with “Having A Party” on May 21, 1962 by RCA Victor, “Bring It Back Home To Me” was “discovered” by a legion of deejays who methodically played Cooke’s “B-Sides” in case there was something there.
By the early summer of ’62, “Bring It Back Home To Me” began to enter national top-ten lists, reaching as high as #2 on the R&B list and #13 on the pop charts. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who was an avowed Sam Cooke fan, cried, “My goodness, what a sound!” to his friend, the Reverend Ralph Abernathy, when the two civil rights leaders drove to a conference outside of Atlanta one afternoon that summer and heard it on the radio.
Over the years, “Bring It Back Home To Me” was famously covered by both John Lennon and Paul McCartney during their post-Beatles solo careers. It also found favor in both the recording studio and/or onstage with the likes of James Brown, The Animals, Van Morrison, Rod Stewart, Bonnie Raitt, UB40, Bruce Springsteen, Southside Johnny and the Ashbury Jukes, Al Jarreau, Goerge Benson, and U-2. While Sam Cooke was tragically murdered less than three years after this seminal recording, “Bring It Home To Me” is still so revered by musicians that Tom Petty called it, “sacred,” when he chatted about its timelessness on his Sirius Radio show back in 2016.
In retrospect, gospel drove Sam Cooke through his most celebrated songs, the same way it did for Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, and Otis Redding. Like the legendary Nat Cole, Cooke had an incomparable voice that is as distinctive as a fingerprint. In retrospect, Sam could sing anything and make it work. As the late Lester Bangs once famously wrote in Crawdaddy, “It was his power to deliver — it was about his phrasing, the totality of his singing, which made him immortal.”
Of course, Sam Cooke could have sung out the names of the street signs in his hometown of Chicago, and it would have sounded great.
It all started because of a word that has often been used in countless threads on the popular Boston Red Sox message board, “The Sons of Sam Horn,” over the years.
Mojo, according to Webster’s Dictionary, is a noun with an intriguing denotation: “A magical power or supernatural spell.”
After the last out of Game 3 of the 2004 American League Championship Series, nearly every member of SoSH – some 1900 strong at the time – had called upon whatever mojo they could muster to help their Sox stave off the shackles of elimination against their arch-rivals, the New York Yankees who, at the time, had a seemingly insurmountable three games to nothing lead and had just humiliated the Red Sox at Boston’s Fenway Park, 19-8.
From the inclusion of the complete text of Act IV, Scene 3 of Shakespeare’s Henry V (“We few, we happy few, we band of brothers….”) to the publication of a series of montages depicting heroic players from Boston’s sports past, nearly every poster had beseeched the sporting gods on behalf of their beloved baseball team.
As a Red Sox fan who had followed the team on a pitch-by-pitch basis since 1963, I had experienced enough pathos to turn me into the ultimate oxymoron – a raging existentialist. In my forty years of following the team, I had seen them come perilously close to winning the final prize, only to see them stumble, often in inexplicable, even comical circumstances. In 2004, the Boston Red Sox had not won a World Series since the year President Woodrow Wilson had proposed the Fourteen Point Plan. Thus, there were more than three generations who never knew what it was like for the organization to be the sport’s best. Still, as the 2004 playoffs unfolded, I, like countless other Sox fans, didn’t allow myself to wallow in abject misery this time.
The next morning, I appeared on a local New York radio station and proclaimed: “Listen, folks, there has never been a curse that began with the trading of Babe Ruth from the Sox to the Yankees..The only reason we haven’t won it previously is that we’ve always lacked the pitching needed to win. This year, we have the pitching. If we can somehow win Game 4 of this series, the Yankees will be in trouble. We CAN win these next four games. You watch.”
William Jennings Bryan once wrote, “Destiny is not a matter of chance; it is a matter of choice. It is not a thing to be waited for; it is a thing to be achieved.” I wore a Red Sox baseball cap to work each day that week.
Miraculously, the Red Sox won the next three games, two of them in extra innings, to tie up the series.
Accordingly, at 11:25 am on the morning of October 20, 2004, I sat down at my teacher’s desk in Room 7 of the Upper School at The Greenwich (CT) Country Day School and began pounding away on my then Dell laptop keyboard, crafting my own particular mojo that – I hoped – would ultimately defeat the despised Yankees.
I called the thread, “Win it For.”
“Win it for Johnny Pesky, who deserves to wear a Red Sox uniform in the dugout during the 2004 World Series, I began. “Win it for the old Red Sox captain Bobby Doerr, who, through the sadness of losing his beloved wife, Monica, would love nothing more than to see his Sox finally defeat New York in Yankee Stadium. Win it for Dom DiMaggio, the most loyal and devoted of men. If he hadn’t gotten hurt in Game 7 of the 1946 World Series, Enos Slaughter never would have scored – and the Red Sox would have been champions.”
I then urged my SoSH compatriots to win it for other Red Sox icons and personal favorites – Carl Yastrzemski, Ted Williams, Tony Conigliaro, Jack Lamabe, Luis Tiant, Dewey Evans. For Red Sox announcers who had helped hone our love for the team before they had passed on – Ned Martin, Ken Coleman, Jim Woods, Sherm Feller.
I encouraged them to win it for our cherished Red Sox friends, and for other SoSH members who had devotedly followed the fortunes of the franchise, each of them marking their own time with each passing season.
And finally, most of all, I urged them to win it for my father, James Lawrence Kelly, 1913-1986, who “always told me that loyalty and perseverance go hand in hand. Thanks, Dad, for sharing the best part of you with me.”
As I looked over my copy on the SoSH website, I realized that there may be a few others who’d want to dedicate a possible championship to those individuals in their own lives who had loved the Red Sox through thick and thin.
I was right.
In the end, the original thread would contain hundreds of tributes from the populace of Red Sox Nation. Ultimately, 51,000 entries were submitted by posters and lurkers from 47 different states, 39 foreign countries, and six continents. By the time the “Win it For” thread was purposely shut down eight days after it began, each poster had added something unique to what became an utterly compelling Red Sox mosaic. Later that winter, it would be converted into a bestselling book with the proceeds going to both the Jimmy Fund and Curt Schilling’s “Pitch for ALS.”
In an ESPN column paying tribute to the thread, Bill Simmons, deftly crystallized the uniqueness of it that week: “Plow through the ‘Win it For’ posts and it’s like plowing through the history of the franchise – just about every memorable player is mentioned at some point – as well as the basic themes that encompass the human experience. Life and death. Love and family. Friendship and loss.”
What made the thread were the assorted posts that poured out of the hearts of Red Sox fans across the globe and reminded us all that the bonds we had created around the team had never died.
“Win it for my grandfather (1917-2004), who never got to see the Red Sox win it all – but always believed. And for my Dad who watches each and every game wishing his dad were there to watch it with him.”
“Win it for my mother who died of ALS in 1999. The only personal item I have left of hers is her Red Sox visor.”
“Win it for my ten-year-old son, Charlie, who fell asleep listening to Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS assuming the Sox would win. When he woke up the next morning, he asked me eagerly, ‘Did we win, Dad?’ When I told him, gently no, we did not win, his anguished moan startled me. I knew I had raised him as a Red Sox fan, and I began to question whether that was a good thing.”
“Win it for my grandfather, who succumbed to Alzheimer’s disease in 2002. In one of my last conversations with him, he asked me how Ted Williams was doing. During Game 7 on October 20 against the Yankees, his birthday, he was smiling down on the Red Sox.”
“Win it for the elderly Sox fan that I hugged at Yankee Stadium last Wednesday night after Game 7 of the ALCS. Seeing the look of relief and jubilation on his face was one of the most emotional experiences I have ever been through. Yes, baseball has the power to unite generations of strangers.”
“Win it for my Little League coach, Ralph Retera, a tough man who landed on Omaha Beach, and yet a tender man as well who always gave on extra pat on the back of those of us who frankly weren’t very good. ‘Baseball is a game of failure, boys,’ he’d say, ‘look at the Red Sox. But that doesn’t mean we can’t give it our best!’ Coach Ralph used to wear a grungy Red Sox cap that he bought in the 1950’s and would take us to games at Fenway when we played for him. When he died in 1988, Coach Ralph’s tattered Bosox hat adorned the top of his flag-draped casket.”
“Win it for my boss, a dear friend, who lost his dad unexpectedly in March of this year. More than once this season, I’ve seen him glance at the phone after a game, half expecting his father to commiserate, rejoice, or just shoot the breeze about the game that just ended. I’ve seen the sadness in his eyes as he realizes that the call isn’t coming. Win it for his dad, a lifelong fan who never had the opportunity to witness his beloved team taking it all.”
“Win it for my buddy, Brian Kelly, who worshiped at the feet of Tony Conigliaro growing up. He even used to copy Tony C’s swing and was devastated when Jack Hamilton almost killed him. Brian’s favorite time as a Red Sox fan was that magical summer and early fall of 1967, two years before he went off to Vietnam. If the Sox win this whole thing, I plan to go on down to the Vietnam Memorial Wall where you can find Brian’s name. God, he would have loved this team.”
“Win it for my aunt, God rest her soul, who, at her funeral, the priest said, ‘She was a woman of great faith. She believed that she’d see a Red Sox championship in her lifetime.”
Within 48 hours of the inception of “Win it For,” political columnist, Andrew Sullivan linked it on his highly popular political blog. Newspaper reporters from Kansas City to Tampa, San Francisco to Baltimore began to write comprehensive pieces on the thread. Before Game 1 of the World Series, the gang on ESPN’s Baseball Tonight began to refer to the magic of “Win it For” as “the Red Sox’ secret weapon.” Radio commentaries on the thread surfaced in Dallas, New York, Los Angeles, Albany, Seattle, and Atlanta. The thread itself garnered more than fifteen-million Internet hits.
On the evening of October 28, 2004, the day after the Red Sox had swept the St. Louis Cardinals, 4-0, to win their first World Series in 86 years, Peter Jennings ended his nationally televised ABC News Tonight broadcast with a piece that paid tribute “to the power of an emotive Internet thread and its eloquent posters, followers of a championship team that came to define the word – hope.”
Six weeks after the season ended, author Leigh Montville dedicated 33 pages to “Win it For” in his narrative on the 2004 Red Sox, Why Not Us? He entitled Chapter 7 of his book, “The Story of the Amazing Thread.” In an interview after the publication of his remembrance of a remarkable season, Montville maintained that…“at the very least, one-hundred years from now, ‘Win it For’ will be THE historical record of what happened here. The other works – mine included – will have faded away, but the ‘Win it For’ thread on the Sons of Sam Horn website will remain as the voice of all voices concerning the 2004 Boston Red Sox.”
What made the thread so unique were the individual anecdotes that connected generations of fans together. In page after page, the singular stories of Red Sox fans formed bookends to the notions of both loyalty and passion:
TrapperAB: “Just like last year, there will be an empty spot on the couch as I watch Game 7 of the ALCS tonight. Dad cheered for the Sox from the age of eight in 1930. He went to games at Fenway with his father and told me about it when he took me to the most glorious stadium on God’s green earth. My father passed away in 2001, which means, of course, that he never saw the Sox win one in his lifetime. One of his final moments of clarity was seeing Rivera blowing a save and the D-Back’s winning the World Series that year. That was also his last smile. I believe that my father has been busy lately, along with a lot of other fathers and grandfathers and brothers and sons – helping umpires see the truth and helping David Ortiz lead the way. That hand that Curt Schilling talked about last evening after Game 6? It was the legion of dearly departed Red Sox fans – of which my father was one. Once again this year, there will be that empty spot on the couch…reserved for my Dad. I can only hope that he’s sitting there with me.”
Monbo Jumbo: “Shaun – add my old man to your list (1909 – 2000). He saw Ruth pitch, and he saw Pedro pitch. And now, he’s upstairs playing gin rummy with Joe Cronin between games.”
Sooner Steve: “Win it for my old man, who taught me how to love the game and this team; who taught me what it means to be a man; who, even in his darkest hours facing the end, still wanted to talk about his team; who never saw them win it in his lifetime, but who loved every minute of the Impossible Dream to Morgan’s Magic; who worshiped ‘The Splendid Splinter’ and extolled the virtues of Yaz. Win it for me so I can pay a visit to Dad’s grave and toast that title we always dreamed about. Here’s to you, Pops – in loving memory…DW Gibbs (1936-1993).”
Norm Siebern: “Win it for my Granpa Harvey (1974) who would rise up from his seat along the right field line in the grandstand and defend Scotty from the boo birds, even if Boomer was only hitting .170 in 1968. Win it for that seven-year-old kid who fell in love with a game and a team that long ago magical summer of 1967. And for that eighteen-year-old young man who sat in the left field grandstands and watched a little popup hit by Bucky “Bleeping” Dent nestle into the screen on October 2, 1978.”
Ramon’sBrother: “Win it for a certain nineteen-year-old who cried himself to sleep in the early morning hours of October 17, 2003.”
An unknown lurker: “Some morning next week, in the hours just before dawn, the cemeteries all over New England will be filled with middle-aged men, standing by ancestral graves marked – whatever the headstone – with the same bronze veterans’ plaques at the foot – First Sergeant, Staff Sergeant, PFC, served some range of years beginning with a high school graduation and ending with the year, 1945. We will be reading aloud from tear-stained newspapers, sharing our first too-early libation of the day. (A Gansett? A Ballantine Ale?) We will be drinking to Cabrera’s defense; Foulke’s grit; Damon’s grace; Ortiz’s incredible sense of timing. MAYBE we will even have a reason to toast Manny. We will be waving the bloody sock – thanking God and Theo Epstein for sending us Curt Schilling, on whom all our hopes rested, and did not die in vain. Remembering all those who came so close but did not get there, like Yaz and Boomer and Rico and Hawk and El Tiante and Dewey and Jim Ed, even Nomar. Remembering all those who did not live to see us get there, like Ted and Tony C and my Granpa Dan. The clock will be unwinding; the pages will be flying off the calendar; the earth will tilt slightly on its axis. I will be there. My brothers will be there. Get there early. It’s going to be crowded.”
Tedsondeck: “Win it for my brother, Johnny, who left Boston in 1944 for the South Pacific, a Red Sox hat planted firmly on his head. He was a nineteen-year-old kid who loved three things – the Red Sox, Fenway Park, and Ted Williams. He lost his life in a hellhole called Okinawa. There hasn’t been a single day that hasn’t gone by when I don’t think of him. This one’s for you, JB.”
SFGiantsFan: “Win it for the people of Red Sox Nation. You people are the legacy of what this great game is all about – or should be about…the love and support of your team through good times and bad. People like you, and teams like this one, have brought me back to baseball after the shame of 1994. Thank you all. You truly deserve this.”
PUDGEcanCATCH: “Win it for my brother, who worked on the 94th floor of the North Tower, and who died on September 11, 2001. He used to look out the window and stick his tongue out in the direction of the Bronx. Above his desk, he had a framed picture of Fenway with two baseball cards scotch-taped to the bottom, Reggie Smith and Pudge Fisk, his two favorite Red Sox players growing up. Many times when he worked, he would proudly wear his Sox hat. After the plane hit his building, I have a strong hunch that he then put his Sox hat on for the last time.”
BasesDrunk: “My mother-in-law was as diehard a Red Sox fan as they come. She died of cancer in February, 2003. My wife was born on October 7, 1967, literally in the middle of Game 3 of the World Series against the Cardinals. Her mother kept asking the nurses for updates while in labor. No doubt she now wants revenge for St. Louis ruining an otherwise perfect day.”
Lurker OregonSoxFan: “Win it for my dad who passed away on 10/20/93. When I was a seven-year-old boy, he introduced me to – and shared – the Impossible Dream, which was where my love for this awesome team began. Last night, I watched the greatest Sox victory (so far this year) with his eight-year-old grandson, Jeremiah, who, in turn, is catching the fever. We talked about Dad and all that he taught me about the game. Mom called after the game, and we shared tears of joy, and a tear of grief.”
BoSox Lifer: Win it for that little boy who was sitting with his dad and his uncle at Game 7 at Yankee Stadium last October. With him crying as the game ended, I leaned over, and holding back my own tears, I told him with as much conviction as I could muster to cheer up because next year we were going to win it all. Somewhere I know – that little boy is smiling today…”
Curtis Pride: “I want the Red Sox to win it for my mother. She became a fan in 1967 and has followed them faithfully via radio to this very day.”
“I was born deaf, so growing up was difficult for me. But then I discovered the Red Sox in 1977, and my parents took me to Fenway that summer, which made me a Sox fan for life. And since then, I would sit with my mother by the radio while she listens to the Sox and relayed the events to me as they unfolded.”
“We still discuss the Red Sox today, but I want them to win so that she can experience that sweet taste of victory that has been denied her for so long. I know how it feels to finally overcome an enormous obstacle, and I want her to feel that as well.”
Cheekydave: Win it for my father, who had a love for numbers and baseball and passed it on to me; it was the only way we could communicate. But it was always a safe haven, and at least there was ONE way to communicate between us. He died last year on his birthday, October 20th, one year to the day that the Red Sox beat the Yankees! Also, win it for my mother, who died when I was nine on October 2, 1967, the day after the Red Sox won the pennant, and the day I became both a Red Sox fan and also a single parented child.”
A lurker from Australia: “Win it for all of you New Englanders who deserve at least one warm winter.”
“I became a Red Sox fan when I first read Roger Angell’s account of the Impossible Dream team; I became an official citizen of Red Sox Nation when I walked into Fenway on a dreary night in 1985.”
“I ended up living in Boston until 1993 when I returned to Australia. October is the spring down here, but not a baseball season has passed by without me thinking of you hardy New Englanders preparing for a winter that most of my countrymen couldn’t even comprehend; dreaming of Spring Training, and thinking that maybe next year will be ‘the year’ for the Red Stockings.”
“Well, next year is here! This week, all of your dreams will come true. And when it’s time to rake the leaves and put up the storm windows, you’ll be thinking, “Next year – back to back…”
Lurker Nomarfan31: “Win it for my mom, Mary, who died of lung cancer on July 9, 2003, and who loved to declare, “They’re gonna lose,” while inside wildly rooting for them to win. I cried when Nomar was traded, not because it wasn’t time for him to go (sadly, it was) but because it was the loss of another link to Mom, who always call me whenever he did something spectacular in a game.”
Red Sox Owner John Henry: “There was a point during this season that was very, very tough. But I came here, Shaun, and read your Bandwagon thread, and was uplifted by the depth and breadth of your faith. It was at the time the best thing we were reading anywhere. These guys – I’m so proud of them – they refused to lose for the faithful this week. I’m proud of everyone who refused to get off the bandwagon.”
Sargeiswaiting: The Mekong Delta is a long way from Boston. During the summer of 1969, I found myself as a private in the army, fighting in a war that was becoming increasingly unpopular at home. When I was homesick for Boston, a fellow private named Kevin, born and raised in the Boston area, kept my spirits up. We used to listen to the radio after the hell of patrol. There was one song by Neil Diamond that we used to love listening to in the outskirts of the jungle. We would scream it out at the top of our lungs. The girl in the song was the girl in our dreams! Kevin was a big Sox fan. He especially loved the Boomer, George Scott. Kev got Agent Orange and began to fade away in the early eighties. The war eventually killed him years after he returned home. Earlier this August, I attended a Sox game against the White Sox. It was cold as hell for a summer afternoon, and the Sox lost in disappointing fashion. Still, in the bottom of the eighth inning, I began to hear the strains of that song that Kev and I sung so well back in Vietnam –‘Sweet Caroline.’ Jesus, Kevin’s favorite, playing at Fenway. The tears are flowing now as I write this. Win it for Kevin. Win it for Sweet Caroline!”
In early November 2004, ten days after the last out of the 2004 World Series, I received a note from a most perceptive lurker to the website. He wrote: “You know, Shaun, I really believe that the ghosts that we all beckoned, our dearly departed fathers and grandfathers, sisters, brothers, neighbors, coaches, and friends, had a hand in the astonishing two weeks that we’ve just experienced. In a way, it was their last loving act to us. And we, in turn, responded as only we could…in the posts that we ultimately submitted.”
I concluded the “Win it For” thread on the morning of October 28, 2004 with the following entry, written seven hours after Keith Foulke had stabbed Edgar Renteria’s one-hopper for the third and final out of the ‘04 Series:
“In the end, people talk about the ghosts Red Sox fans live with, but they have it all wrong. It isn’t the ghost of Babe Ruth or Bill Buckner or all the names associated with a curse that never really existed. Instead, it is the ghosts we can still see when we walk into Fenway Park. It is our fathers and mothers and grandparents. It’s our next door neighbors and our baseball coaches and our aunts and uncles. Those are the ghosts that matter to us. Those are the specters we see, huddled together, watching their team and the game so intently.”
“For those of us who have followed the fortunes over an extended period, a Red Sox World Series championship marks a beginning – and an end. While we have made peace with all of our relatives and friends who have passed on over the years, there was always a little unfinished business between us – and them. Now with this incomparable victory, that too is complete.”
“And so, after all of these years, we can finally have a clean goodbye to our dearly departed. Perhaps that is why so many tears were shed in living rooms all over New England and beyond in the early morning hours of October 28, 2004.”
The “Win it For” thread, a small idea in the beginning, was formally inducted as a literary entity into the writer’s section of the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York in the summer of 2007.
“Win it For’ seamlessly connected six generations of Red Sox fans together as no other document ever has,” wrote a publicist for the Baseball Hall of Fame upon the thread’s induction. Even today, 16 years after it first was published, the original “Win it For” thread still has the capacity to bring tears and smiles together as close as they can ever be.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt was seldom at a loss for words. Three days previously, he had nominated the most prominent Irish-American at the time, Joseph P. Kennedy of Massachusetts, to be the United States Ambassador to the Court of St. James. The President was amused that he had appointed “someone so Irish” to the second most prestigious position in the State Department as the new Ambassador to England.
Much to his chagrin, however, FDR soon began receiving a plethora of outraged phone calls disputing his controversial appointment, mostly from indignant Irish-Americans. Roosevelt looked baffled as he took still another call from an irritated Irish-American official.
He glanced over at his very Boston-Irish secretary, Missy LeHand, and muttered, “What is the matter with you people? The minute one of you accomplishes anything – there’s always another fellow behind him with a rock, more than eager to bring him down.”
Missy LeHand merely smiled.
As we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day today, those of us who are Irish would surely nod their heads in an endorsement of Roosevelt’s allegation if his testimonial could be magically circulated throughout the Irish world. A case in point: some years ago, I ran into my elderly, Irish-American father as he was coming out of our local high school to vote in an important general election in Massachusetts. His eyes twinkled as he glanced at me.
“Shaunie!” my father hollered, “are you here to cancel my vote?”
“I am, Dad,” I replied.
Without even so much as a hint of irony, he barked, “Good for you!”
Dad then gave me a thumbs-up as I strutted into the polling place to negate all of his political preferences that year.
“The Irish,” H. L. Mencken once observed, “have a logic all their own.” There is a famous story often told among Irish circles concerning the famed dual clock towers situated in Ballyhough. The two clocks disagreed at the correct time – one was six minutes faster than the other. When a visiting American asked one of the community’s locals why the town would have two such splendid clock towers that told conflicting times, the man replied, “And what would we be wanting with two clocks if they told the same time?”
Legendary British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli once stated, “You never know what is going to spew forth from an Irishman’s lips. They are a completely unpredictable lot.”
Disraeli’s thesis could certainly be applied to an incident that occurred in June 1963 during President Kennedy’s visit to Europe, which included stops in Germany, England, and Ireland. Pope John XXIII had died suddenly during JFK’s first stop on the trip – West Berlin. By the time Kennedy neared the end of his stay in Europe, Pope Paul VI had already been installed as the latest Bishop of Rome. John Kennedy decided to pay the new pontiff a visit.
The nation’s thirty-fifth president contacted his old friend, Richard Cardinal Cushing of Boston, and instructed the Catholic leader to meet him as Air Force One rolled onto the runway at Rome’s international airport. Ultimately, Cushing drove to the airport with two aides; all of the other cardinals in the American delegation had already returned to the United States. As President Kennedy stepped into view from his plane, he noticed Cushing standing alone at the bottom of Air Force One’s ramp.
“Jack! Jack!” cried out the Cardinal to his most famous parishioner. “The American cardinals have left! They’re all a bunch of goddamn Republicans!”
President Kennedy, according to eyewitnesses, collapsed in spasms of laughter.
“The Irish don’t get back – they get even,” stated Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill, the legendary Boston congressman, in his spellbinding autobiography, Man of the House. The notion of the famous “Irish grudge” could best be summed up with the words of a traditional Irish curse which goes something like this: “May none of their race survive/May God destroy them all/Each curse of the psalms in the holy books/Of the prophets on them fall. Amen.”
The capriciousness of the Irish was also evident when I stood in line to have acclaimed Irish-American author, Frank McCourt, sign a copy of his Pulitzer-Prize-winning tome, Angela’s Ashes. Throughout the memoir, humor and pathos had been the constants of a childhood of poverty that left the reader laughing despite the tragedies. After his “shiftless, loquacious, alcoholic father” who deserted the family during their time of most need, McCourt’s Pa was found two decades later working as a cook at a monastery.
“Then food must have been their penance,” McCourt wrote.
So here I was in line at a prominent bookstore in Stamford, Connecticut waiting for the great man to sign a copy of his book. when I finally reached his table, he smiled brightly at me and exclaimed, “And whom do I make this out to…my lad?” McCourt.
“To me, Sir. My name is Shaun Kelly,”
“Acchhhh,” he sighed, “May God forgive you.”
From the get-go, the Irish have always loved a good fight. When the Irish fought the English hundreds of years ago, the legend has it that the Anglo-Saxons could not believe how the Celtic Warriors absolutely delighted in the all-consuming passion of hand-to-hand combat. “Their savagery was beyond normality; waves of ecstasy shone from their eyes,” wrote a mystified English chronicler.
In modern times, James Michael Curley, the legendary Boston Irish politician who was immortalized in Edwin O’Connor’s classic novel, The Last Hurrah, embraced the Irish ferocity mindset throughout his colorful fifty-year political career. Curley, who was elected twice from jail, was the quintessential Robin Hood. He stole from the rich and gave to the poor – but he also took ten percent off as a surcharge. Loquacious, opinionated, and flamboyant, the Mayor could charm any bird from a tree.
Despite his obvious rascality, however, Jim Curley was, according to legendary Speaker of the House, Congressman Tip O’Neill, “a man who did a tremendous amount of good for the people of Boston. As mayor, he provided thousands of jobs while improving the schools and the playgrounds, paving streets, expanding the subway, establishing public beaches, putting up affordable hospitals, tearing down slums, and doing favors for an untold number of people who truly needed help.”
According to O’Neill, however, James Michael Curley detested the ruling Yankee aristocracy, pronouncing them as “our Brahmin overlords.” Obviously, the mayor loved to get back at them whenever he could. Once, when an important project that would benefit the poor in Boston was blocked because the local business establishment, virtually all of them controlled by “Yankees” at the time, the mayor personally visited one of them, the defiant owner of Filene’s. “I want you to know,” Jim Curley informed the Filene’s CEO, “that the city’s water ‘main’ goes right under your fancy building here. If you don’t know where it is, your building manager can surely tell you. If I don’t have that money by this very afternoon,” the mayor exclaimed, “then I’ll open the valves and flood Filene’s Basement in an instant.”
The City of Boston received its loan that afternoon.
Self-effacing humor is another quality that is held dear by most Irishmen. In the quaint vernacular of the Irish, a wheelbarrow is called an Irish ambulance, a diaper is known as an Irish flag, and a rock is sometimes referred to as an Irish diamond. Two of the most popular modern presidents used self-effacing humor to disarm their political opponents. It is no coincidence that John Kennedy and Ronald Reagan were both proud Irish-Americans. When an infuriated reporter tried to nail President-elect Kennedy as to the meager qualifications of his then thirty-four-year-old brother, Bobby, after JFK had appointed Bobby as the nation’s new Attorney General, Kennedy replied, “I don’t see what’s wrong with Robert gaining a little government experience before he goes on to establish a practice in law.”
In 1962, when a reporter commented to JFK that the Republican National Committee had formally concluded that he was pretty much a failure, the President flashed his legendary smile and replied, “Well, I am sure that such a proposal passed unanimously!”
President Ronald Reagan possessed the same talent for self-mockery. After he was shot in an assassination attempt in March 1981, he told a friend, “I’ve been shot at many times in my life, but in Hollywood they always used blanks.”
When Reagan entered the operating room to remove bullet fragments from his chest, he proclaimed to the chief physician, “Let’s just hope you are a Republican!”
Both Kennedy and Reagan could laugh at themselves because they both possessed such obvious self-confidence and panache. Politicians in both parties have tried unsuccessfully to emulate them since their presidencies but have been unable to capture the magic of their particular brand of drollery and wit.
“The Irish,” observed T. H. White, “are rank sentimentalists. Their prose and verse drip with a mawkishness that would be unsettling to most other cultures. And yet, I continue to find myself deeply moved by their poems, novels, and lyrics. “Danny Boy,” for instance, still brings tears to even the most stoic of individuals.
The following prayer was recited at the christening of John F. Kennedy, Jr., in 1961:
We wish to the new child
A heart that can be beguiled
By a flower
That the wind lifts
As it passes.
So fleetingly, so fragile.
If the storms break for him
May the trees shake for him –
their blossoms down
And in the night that he is troubled
May a friend wake for him
so that his time be doubled,
And at the end of all the loving
and all the love,
May the Man above –
Give him a crown.
38 years later, the same poem was recited at his funeral by his grieving uncle.
May the wayward winds be with you on this Saint Patrick’s Day!
When I explained what a proverb was to one of my honor’s English classes a few years ago, I reminded them that such adages were verbal warning shots, sighs, clarion calls, or expressions of wisdom, which generally have a prolonged shelf-life, often lasting for more than a millennium.
Within each passage, I explained, one could find examples of values, moral behavior, the meaning of human life, and righteous conduct. After we studied both the Book of Proverbs and Poor Richard’s Almanac plus a medley of William Shakespeare maxims, the kids asked me if there was an artist in contemporary times who had generated a wellspring of modern proverbs.
“Oh, yes,” I replied, “Bob Dylan.”
Over the next week, my ninth-grade class perused through Dylan’s works and located 50 such classic axioms. Given where we are as a society in 2020, the 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature’s takes on life in 2020 is “like a corkscrew through the heart.” Like all great parables, Bob Dylan’s are both timely and timeless. Here then, are those Golden 50 as selected by my class.
There’s no success like failure, and failure’s no success at all.
Money doesn’t talk – it swears.
You can’t be wise, and in love at the same time.
With all memory and fate driven deep beneath the waves, let me forget about today until tomorrow.
But I’ll know my song well before I start singin’.
Come gather ’round people, wherever you roam, and admit that the waters around you have grown.
Are birds free from the chains of the skyway?
Well, the moral of the story; the moral of this song: Is simply that one should never be – where one does not belong. So when you see your neighbor carrying something – help him with his load. And don’t go mistaking paradise – for that home across the road.
I’m sick of love, but I’m in the thick of it.
All the money you made will never buy back your soul.
In the dime stores and bus stations, people talk of situations, read books, repeat quotations, draw conclusions on the wall.
You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.
So many things that we never will undo. I know you’re sorry, I’m sorry too.
Look out kid, it’s somethin’ you did. God knows when, but you’re doin’ it again!
Behind every beautiful thing, there’s some kind of pain.
But I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now.
Yesterday’s just a memory; tomorrow is never what it’s supposed to be.
Steal a little and they’ll put you in jail. Steal a lot, and they’ll make you king.
How many times must a man look up before he can see the sky?
Time is a jet plane — it moves too fast. Oh but what a shame that all we’ve shared can’t last.
Sometimes Satan comes as a man of peace.
I hate myself for loving you.
I was so much older then; I’m younger than that now.
It frightens me the awful truth of how sweet life can be.
All the people we used to know, they’re an illusion to me now.
Beauty walks a razor’s edge; someday I’ll make it mine.
I paid the price of solitude, but at least I’m out of debt.
The guilty undertaker sighs. The lonesome organ grinder cries. The silver saxophones say I should refuse you. The cracked bells and washed-out horns blow into my face with scorn. But it’s not that way, I wasn’t born to lose you.
I’ll let you be in my dreams if I can be in yours.
We sit here stranded, though we’re all doin’ our best to deny it.
Well, the emptiness is endless, cold as the clay; You can always come back – but you can’t come back all the way.
But if the arrow is straight, and the point is slick, it can pierce through dust no matter how thick.
Ain’t it just like the night to play tricks when you’re trying to be so quiet.
In ceremonies of the horsemen, even the pawn must hold a grudge.
I gave her my heart, but she wanted my soul.
To live outside the law, you must be honest.
I see my light come shining, from the west down to the east. Any day now, any day now, I shall be released.
Oh, to dance beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free!
When you ain’t got nothing, you got nothing left to lose.
When your rooster crows at the break of dawn. Look out your window, ‘cause I’ll be gone. You’re the reason I’m travelin’ on.
We always did feel the same, we just saw it from a different point of view.
In the fury of the moment, I can see the master’s hand in every leaf that trembles – in every grain of sand.
Come writers and critics who prophesize with your pen, and keep your eyes wide – the chance won’t come again.
You put your eyes in your pockets, and your nose on the ground.
She’s got everything she needs, she’s an artist – she don’t look back.
He who’s not busy being born, is busy dying.
The future for me is already a thing of the past.
So many things that we never will undo. I know you’re sorry, I’m sorry too.
When you cease to exist, then who will you blame?
Life is sad, life is a bust, all you can do is do what you must.
I’ll always thank the Lord when my working day is through, I get my sweet reward to be alone with you.
Father of night, Father of day Father, who taketh the darkness away Father, who teacheth the bird to fly Builder of rainbows up in the sky Father of loneliness and pain Father of love and Father of rain
Father of day, Father of night Father of black, Father of white Father, who build the mountain so high, Who shapeth the cloud up in the sky Father of time, Father of dreams Father, who turneth the rivers and streams
Father of grain, Father of wheat Father of cold, and Father of heat Father of air, and Father of trees Who dwells in our hearts and our memories Father of minutes, Father of days Father of whom we most solemnly praise!
48 Radcliffe Road, Wellesley, Massachusetts in May 1970. Whatever the season, the house was a beacon of light to those of us who lived in it.
As a congregation of workmen employed by local builder Ralph Porter assembled on a cleared track of dirt that measured half-an-acre, the foreman immediately looked at the designated patch of ground where the firm’s bulldozer would soon continue digging. “If we’re lucky,” he said to his men, “we might be able to finish this today.”
Circling the property, piles of snow lay where the men the day before had plowed away the drifts made by a recent storm. He covered his face when the wind suddenly gusted from the northwest at 9 miles per hour. At 8:01 am on the morning of January 28, 1955, the temperature stood at 11 degrees Fahrenheit, as a hollow sun began to appear on the horizon. In pre-global warming New England, this was a typical mid-winter fare for the people who lived and worked in Wellesley, Massachusetts.
A few hours previously, at the then-named Richardson House in Boston, I was born, the fourth and last child of James Lawrence and Laura Rice Kelly, who then resided at 57 Mayo Road in Wellesley. By the end of my first day of life, the basement of the house had been completed by the work crew of Ralph Porter Construction.
Until the day she died in 2005, my mother would remind me each year on my birthday of my intimate connection to 48 Radcliffe Road. “Shaunie, we might still be on Mayo Road if you hadn’t been born! So our present house, in a special way, is yours.” For nearly four decades, it was, and although I didn’t live there for the last seven years that Mom resided there after Dad died in 1986, I still called it home.
Journalist Warsan Shire once wrote that no one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark. For me, it was the place where I could totally be myself, and I was a full time resident of 48 Radcliffe Road from 1955-1982. Infancy, toddlerhood, childhood, adolescence, young adulthood – 48 Radcliffe Road was the epicenter of who I was for more than 26 years.
Here I am in my new digs – my bedroom at 48 Radcliffe Road – still moving in six-months later.
In the end, I knew every nook and cranny. During unrelenting windstorms, I recognized it’s groans, aches, and sighs. Our house could be scorching to the touch in a July heatwave or shiver in the midst of a February gale. I was there when our abode survived Hurricane Donna in 1960, and I helped Mom clean up after Hurricane Bob in 1991. When the legendary Blizzard of ‘78 hit Wellesley with hurricane winds and snowdrifts up to 56 inches at Mrs. Pelles’s house at the bottom of Radcliffe Road, my parents received food and supplies by sleigh for a week. Homes, like people, have their own peculiarities, and our house, while conventional developed its own personality. It was a well-lit comfort blanket, a safe harbor, and a fierce warrior who stood up to all kinds of weather.
48 Radcliffe Road in a February blizzard, 1969. My bedroom has both of its storm windows open – I never liked the heat!
Over the years, I slept in every room, played hockey in the basement, and discovered a hiding spot in the attic where I read a legion of books. I shot thousands of baskets in our driveway and participated in countless games of baseball and football on the front yard. I walked my first steps in my bedroom, rode my first bike in our elongated driveway, learned how to write at the kitchen table, and watched President Kennedy’s funeral in our book-lined den. Within its walls, I listened to everything from Little Richard and Buddy Holly to the Beatles and the Moody Blues to Stevie Wonder and Joni Mitchell to U2 and Bon Jovi. Virtually every girl I ever dated visited our house at one time or another.
For my first 35 Christmases, I celebrated 34 of them at 48 Radcliffe Road. It was my home-base when I graduated from elementary school, high school, and college. On August 17, 1984, I walked from our house to St. Paul’s Church a mile away to get married to Wendy Barnes of Wellesley.
In retrospect, our dwelling was never an object. It was the seventh member of our family.
This was never more apparent than in January 1986, when my father died suddenly of a heart attack in his bedroom. A few years earlier, we conversed about where he wanted to be buried. As a World War II veteran, I thought that Dad would want to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery. “Nope, Shaunie,” he smiled. “I choose to be buried right behind our house.”
This was not some Irish-tinged fantasy of an older adult who desired to be dumped in the backyard of the family baile. You see, our Wellesley dwelling abutted tree-lined Woodlawn Cemetery, and thus, this was doable.
Consequently, when Mummie traipsed up to the superintendent of the cemetery and purchased a plot as close to 48 Radcliffe Road as possible the day after Daddy’s death, his last wish became a reality. When my wife and I then drove into our driveway on the day of my father’s funeral and saw his casket lying on the ground no more than 500 feet from our house, we both smiled. “Dad’s home,” I said without irony.
Dad’s casket through the trees from our backyard on the day he was buried at Woodlawn Cemetery in January 1986.
Mummie ended up staying at the old homestead for another eight years after Dad died. When Wendy – who came from the other end of Wellesley at Chesterton Road – and I moved to Greenwich, Connecticut in the fall of 1989 to work at The Greenwich Country Day School, we made periodic trips home on weekends. When our first child, Sam, was born in April 1991, we took him to see my mother on several occasions. One time, he visited his Gaga in his Halloween costume, and I showed him how I used to sit at the top of the stairs and then bump my way down to the bottom! Not to be outdone, little Sammy then proceeded to up and down the stairs for what seemed like an hour. Like father – like son.
When Mum informed us that she was selling the house – “nine rooms and one person is way too much!” – we treasured each visit home. Over Christmas break, 1992, just two months before my mother moved, Sam and I showed over several mornings over our Christmas break because he loved to peck away at the piano, which had been a staple in our living room since ’55. During one visit, it began to snow, and I shoveled the walkway and grinned when I remembered the countless hours I had pushed snow away from driveway for my parents who didn’t believe in the concept of snowblowers until the mid-1980’s.
Shoveling the “too-long driveway” old-school fashion on college during Christmas break in 1974.
On January 28, 1993, my 38th birthday, our elementary school alma mater, Tenacre Country Day, invited me to attend a dinner in my mother’s honor, which was held at the Wellesley College Club. For the last time that evening, I slept in my former bedroom. Before closing the familiar blinds, I looked out at the barren treetops, which seemed to wave a special hello to me as the winter wind blew outside.
The next morning, before I returned to Greenwich, I went down to the kitchen and found a black Sharpie. I then hustled upstairs, opened the pull-down attic, and quickly made my way to the place where I had made a reading spot for myself two decades earlier. On a sturdy beam above, which faintly smelled of New England maple, I wrote, “My family lived here from April 30, 1955, to February 25, 1993. IT WILL ALWAYS BE HOME. Shaun Kelly.”
After Mom moved away, I would periodically drive by our old house and visit Dad up at Woodlawn Cemetery. 48 Radcliffe Road was upgraded, and an addition to the living room and dining room areas made the house even more livable. Still, if you viewed it from the front, it looked the same. When my mother called me one day in November 2005 and informed me that she had terminal cancer, I flew down to Florida to see her after Thanksgiving. When we said goodbye to one another, she whispered to me, “I’ll be with Dad soon, and we’ll both be overlooking the house.”
On July 6, 2018, I received a Facebook message from an old Wellesley friend who still resided in town. “Shaun,” it read, “your old house was struck by lightning. The place is crawling with firemen and firetrucks. There’s a lot of damage. I am so so sorry.”
The damage from the Fays’ house at 51 Radcliffe Road.
According to The Wellesley Townsman in its July 10, 2018 edition, “Firefighters from Wellesley and four other towns made quick work of putting down a lightning-caused residential fire on Friday, but the blaze left behind an estimated $750,000 in damage to the house and its contents. Jeff Peterson, assistant fire chief, said the firefighters were dispatched to 48 Radcliffe Road at 12:47 p.m. ‘The home’s owners were away in Maine, and the fire was reported by a neighbor. Between the structural damage and water and smoke damage, the house will not be immediately habitable. The five-bedroom home was built in 1955,’ said Peterson.”
The fire at 48 Radcliffe Road was one of the lead stories that evening on the local Boston TV 4 News.
As soon as I received the message from my Wellesley friend, I frantically called my sister, Karen, after I heard about the fire. “An errant lightning bolt during a thunderstorm hit the attic, seared through to your old bedroom, and created havoc everywhere!” I exclaimed. We were both in shock. The Wellesley Townsman later reported that the house was uninhabitable.
A month later, I visited Wellesley before an afternoon Sox game at Fenway Park. On a whim, I parked my car at the Wellesley High School parking lot and walked home, as I had done countless times throughout the early 1970’s. Every corner, pathway, and street seemed to greet me like an old friend. As I shuffled up Hobart Road to the crest of Radcliffe, I was astonished to see our former house standing resolute and matronly, wounded but still very much alive.
At first glance, there seemed nothing awry with the structure, but then I saw the gaping hole in the roof on the right side of the structure, and I knew that I was probably seeing our old dwelling for the last time. I smiled briefly when I saw that my bedroom, which was at the other end from the damage, still looking pristine and impenetrable. Observing that no one was in the house, I sauntered up to it, pressed my left hand against its familiar wooden side, and held onto our home for a spell. It was my last goodbye. Ultimately, the original house at 48 Radcliffe Road was never inhabited again. The bolt of lightning had done too much damage.
48 Radcliffe Road in 2017 the year before the fire, a 62-year-old beauty.
For 63 years, two months, and six days, the house had been the nerve center for three families who all grew to love its warmth. In a Frostian kind of way – what other connection can I make here, especially as a lifelong New Englander, 48 Radcliffe Road began in ice and ended in fire. I guess that houses are like people – some you like and some you don’t like – and once in a while, there is one you love.
Not long after I discovered that old abode would be demolished and a new one put up in its place, I drove up to Woodlawn Cemetery in 2019 on a windswept April morning and decided to view it all from the perspective of my parents’ grave. Where once our house dominated the view from the back of Woodlawn Cemetery, there was now an empty lot of chocolate-brown dirt that stood out like moonscape in contrast to the overarching greenery snaking around it. At that moment, I felt that I had just lost a limb. Of course, 48 Radcliffe Road and I had parted ways before, but it was always temporary. It had stood like a recalcitrant icon years after I had last walked through its timbered hallways. After we moved away, I sometimes found myself aching for its distinctive smells and its numerous crevices.
As I grew older, however, I came to realize that the memories of childhood are the specters that stay with you after you wake. In reality, our house was in the past, much like a breeze that had blown out to sea. Still, it was gone, and the only family residents left of in Wellesley were buried less than a two-minute walk from a place that no longer existed. As I took it all in, I blinked a few tears and then slumped back into my car, grieving for the loss of my parents, my childhood, and the home that had disappeared, like a mystical Brigadoon, into the mist of time.
This past December, when the Baseball Hall of Fame announced that Ken “The Hawk” Harrelson, the antithesis of Ned Martin as a broadcaster, was the 2019 recipient of the prestigious Ford C. Frick Award and would be inducted in Cooperstown this July, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. I ended up smiling, knowing that Ned Martin, the voice of the Boston Red Sox from 1961-92, would have delighted in the irony.
You see, I got to know Mr. Martin very well – despite the fact that I only met him twice in person. His distinctive tenor, reassuring and cerebral, was the second-most heard male voice of my childhood. Only my father’s fixed baritone surpassed his as the soundtrack of my years growing up in the greater Boston area when he broadcast games for 32 seasons in the Hub.
In an age where humility and grace slowly receded from our national character, Martin’s modesty and eloquence separated him from a host of others. He never intentionally developed a defined signature call for a home run. The ball was simply “gone.”
And yet, Ned Martin used words as a composer uses the notes on a scale. He embraced the notion first put forth by Emerson…“that every word was once a poem.” There was nothing ever programmed about him. Cogent phrases seem to tumble from his mouth like falling stars.
Ultimately, Ned Martin was able to frequently quote from the most gifted bards of English literature – Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Dickens, Hemingway – in order to put the narrative of baseball into its proper context. He was a reader – and he brought a reader’s sensibility to each and every broadcast.
Ned Martin was also a deeply-rooted philosopher. Because he had dipped in the bonfires of hell as a Marine in World War II, Ned described each game as an existentialist. And yet Martin was more than just a baseball announcer. To me, he served as my personal captain, steering me through the choppy waters of both youth and adolescence – guiding, nurturing, and instructing me as I listened intently, his most loyal and devoted student.
28 seasons have come and gone since he last called a Red Sox game on the air. And yet, when I turn on a ballgame these days, it is Ned’s voice that still lingers. On July 22, 2002, he appeared to be his vigorous, cordial self as he participated in the Ted Williams Tribute at Fenway Park.
Less than 24 hours later, he was dead.
While hundreds of players have come and gone since he first began to broadcast for the team in 1961, for many of us, Ned Martin remains the most indispensable Red Sox figure of them all. As former Globe columnist, Bill Griffith, wrote a few years ago: “Today’s broadcasts are slicker and technically superior, but those bygone days were a wonderful time to be a baseball fan in Boston. Long before there was ‘Morgan Magic’ on the field in 1988, there was ‘Martin Magic’ on radio.”
In a storeroom of searing play-by-play moments, the “magic of Ned Martin” was most evident at one of the most culminating historical moments of the 119-year-old franchise, the 1967 Impossible Dream Red Sox. To appreciate the wizardry of Ned Martin, one only has to review his lucid play-by-play of the final out of a closely-fought contest between the Bosox and the mighty Minnesota Twins in order to demonstrate his luster. Leading 5-3 with two outs in the ninth inning, the Twins manager, Cal Ermer, sent up pinch-hitter Rich Reese to face Red Sox ace Jim Lonborg.
As always, Ned Martin provided the scene with absolute precision… “Jim Lonborg is within one out….of his biggest victory ever…his twenty-second of the year….and his first over the Twins.” Efficient, accurate, to the point.
He then paused, letting the listener soak in the scene. Like the ancient Greek philosophers, silence was always one of Martin’s most laudable broadcasting attributes.
“The pitch…is looped to shortstop…”
A living and breathing thesaurus, Martin could have used any of a host of words from his prodigious vocabulary, but he chose, “looped.” My father later described Reese’s popup as “a little squirt from the hose.” Looped was an inspired choice, impeccably capturing the bending flight of the ball.
While the Red Sox announcer was also able to inform the listener where the sphere was heading, there was, at first, no intimation in Martin’s tone whether the ball was even going to be caught. Ned Martin would never impulsively rush to judgment. He was, first and foremost, a patient man. To him, fidelity was the antonym of hyperbole.
However, as the ball began to topple, Ned’s voice hurriedly changed; his tenor commenced to soar as he exclaimed, “Petrocelli’s back….” A hint of expectation in Martin’s voice could now be detected. Because Red Sox fans were so used to Ned’s understated demeanor, thousands of New Englanders began to raise their arms in joyous expectation. Ned’s vigor at that instant was authentic. “He’s got it! The Red Sox win!”
Even in the clutches of euphoria, Martin maintained his integrity. The Red Sox win…..win, what? For with that last out, the Red Sox had just tied for the pennant; they would have to wait for the final result of the Tigers-Angels game to determine whether the team would win the American League flag outright – or be forced to play in a one-game playoff against the Detroit nine the following day. Thus, Ned could not confirm anything official … except that the Red Sox had won a consequential ball game.
The Sox radio announcer then took in a breath of air, mostly to observe the players and fans who had instantly enveloped the jubilant Jim Lonborg to the right of the pitcher’s mound. Chaos ensued, but Ned Martin was well-equipped to describe it. He immediately punched out, “And there’s pandemonium on the field!”
The broadcaster could have used havoc, mayhem, commotion, hubbub – but he chose – pandemonium. From the least-used word for bedlam, pandemonium is, according to Webster’s, “An utterly lawless, riotous place or assemblage.” A toss-off line by Ned Martin – “there’s pandemonium on the field” – immediately entered the lexicon for an entire region of baseball fans.
The last ingredient of Martin’s call contained just one word – and a cacophony of elation. Mindful that he was describing the action to a radio audience, Ned paused, and then bleated, “Listen!”
An opus of horns could be heard – the air-kind that were allowed at the time – instruments of exultation that always gave out a piercing glee as they echoed off the peeling walls of the ancient ballpark. The fans’ collective primal-shouting verified Martin’s precise account. The resulting din, deftly recorded by WHDH engineer, Al Walker, was the perfect call to a transcendent baseball moment.
In retrospect, there were two miracles that occurred that long-ago Sunday afternoon: the 100-to-1 shot Red Sox securing the American League Pennant, and Ned Martin’s flawless, 23-second description of the final out of the contest.
I first became aware of Ned Martin in 1964 when I received a new transistor radio for my ninth birthday. As the Red Sox began Spring Training in Scottsdale, Arizona in early March, I began to tune in to the local flagship station at the time, WHDH 850 AM Boston, in order to listen to the handful of Red Sox radio broadcasts emitting from the desert. At the time, Ned Martin was the team’s broadcasting partner supporting the venerable Curt Gowdy, who was already receiving national exposure as NBC’s chief baseball and football anchorman.
From the moment I first heard Ned’s recitations, his unique style was dissimilar in both tone and approach to any other baseball broadcaster at the time. He was cerebral, ironic, expressive, low-key. Even then, I recognized that Ned was a minimalist in a profession where over-the-top enthusiasm was becoming the norm.
Constancy – not exuberance – seemed to be his modus operandus. And yet, despite his tranquil overtones, it was also evident that he had an unadulterated passion for the game. In an interview with The Globe’s Ray Fitzgerald, Martin recalled: “Red Smith used to say he loved `the music of the game.’ What a great line. There is a music to it, whether it’s the first crack of the bat at Winter Haven, a full house on Opening Day, the murmuration of a meaningless game in July, or the buzz you feel at a World Series. There’s orderliness to it as well, with batting practice; fielding practice; all of the things that take place right up to game time. Yet you can still see something in almost every game that you’ve never seen before. That’s the beauty of baseball, I guess. It’s never predictable, even though it never changes.”
It was clearly evident even at first glance that the unspeakable elements of baseball were what mattered to Ned. At first glance, Martin seemed like a seamless violinist, playing each and every note with a heady mixture of exactitude and grace. After I began listening to Ned Martin’s broadcasts, my father stated, “You know, son, you are listening to an authentic master.”
As I continued to soak in each and every one of his broadcasts, Ned’s imposing array of words and phrases that colored each game left a prevailing impression on me. In Martin’s lexis, a baseball might rocket, balloon, soar, sail, glide, dart, float, sputter, plummet, plunge, bound, skip, hop, spring, or dribble. A ferocious swing of the bat by Harmon Killebrew could create “a crosswind in the box seats.” Cleveland’s young pitcher, Luis Tiant, “uncoiled” when he delivered “the confused sphere.” Center-fielder Gary Geiger might “coax the ball down to his glove as if by supplication.” Sox reliever Dick Radatz invariably raised his hands in exultation “after setting down a gaggle of Yankees!”
Longtime Red Sox fan Michael Burns remembers: “Growing up as I did in Worcester, Massachusetts, I’ll never forget some of Ned’s beautiful and apt descriptions such as ‘hung a frozen rope,’ ‘pool-queue shot,’ ‘peeled foul,’ and “the threat goes by the boards” – phrases that filled so many of his broadcasts over the years. Like many of our fellow Red Sox fans of that era, our family would turn the TV sound down and tune in Ned’s radio play-by-play.”
Ned Martin, along with partners Ken Coleman and Mel Parnell in 1967.
Martin’s eloquence had a profound affect on my own emerging sense of language. My neighborhood in Wellesley, the embodiment of the Baby Boomer explosion that was most visible in the early 1960’s, would be the setting for gargantuan baseball games occasionally involving forty or more children. Loquacious and curious, I normally broadcast each game even as I participated in it. Ned Martin’s choice in both syntax and vocabulary slowly became part of my word arsenal. If someone “blistered” the ball between third and short, “skied” to center, “scalded” the ball by the first baseman’s glove, or threw a “laser” to home plate, I would echo Ned’s phrases. As Martin’s words began to fill my summer days with the sounds of the game, the Red Sox announcer began to transform me into a more nimble speaker without me ever realizing it.
As the seasons passed like shuffling cards, I slowly began to absorb a host of literary allusions that made Martin’s narrative brushstrokes even more compelling. One evening, a low-hanging fog shrouded eastern New England, causing the well-lit Fenway Park to appear as a massive firefly in the Back Bay horizon. When the fog continued to encircle the Fens, Ned sighed, “Fog comes/in little cat’s feet.” I glanced up at Mummie who was listening intently to Martin’s words. “CarlSandburg,” she smiled.
Later that year, during a recap of a doubleheader with the White Sox in which Boston impossibly came back to win the first game only to lose the second in heartbreaking fashion, Ned began, “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.”
After I looked at the radio in puzzlement, my father explained, “Mr. Martin is referring to the opening passage of Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities.”
When the cerebral Elston Howard joined the Red Sox for the pennant drive in 1967, Ned encapsulated Ellie’s prowess as a catcher by quoting Wordsworth: “Wisdom is sometimes nearer when we stoop then when we soar.”
Martin particularly loved to use the words of Shakespeare to help paint the scene for his listeners. Once, when describing Dick Williams’ shrewd managerial moves that had resulted in a dramatic victory for the Boston nine, Ned quoted from The Merry Wives of Windsor: “Why, then the world’s mine oyster/which I with sword will open.”
After some blatant luck – a bad bounce – had afforded the Red Sox with a fortuitous victory during the 1972 season, Martin used the Bard’s words to summarize the game, “And so, ladies and gentlemen, as Shakespeare once wrote, ‘Fortune brings in some boats that are not steered.’”
Three years later, when he was teamed with the legendary Jim Woods, the two announcers found themselves in an extra-inning contest in Oakland in which both bullpens were outwardly spent. Martin ended up citing Macbeth: “If you can look into the seeds of time and say, which grain will grow, and which will not, speak then to me.”
Ernest Hemingway was a particular favorite of Ned’s; he seemed to recognize the pathos that swathed the writer’s work. After a series of managerial movements by Don Zimmer seemed to fall flat for the team in a contest with the Orioles in the late seventies, Martin used a noted Hemingway line as the focal point at the conclusion of a post-game summary. “Never confuse movement with action,” Ned whispered as he signed off for the evening.
When we listened at the beach, in our bedrooms, or from our cars to the sage commentary of Ned Martin, we intrinsically recognized that we had in our midst a cerebral reader-baseball announcer, who relished Willie Mays as much as Ernest Hemingway. Over the expanse of the seasons, Ned’s music became the vinyl for my own developing interest in timeless literature. While I struggled as a reader early on, I soon began to tackle the classics, thanks to the inspiration provided by the man behind the Red Sox mike.
The artistry of Ned Martin seemed to soar especially when he was “on the radio side” of the airwaves. The Globe’s Bill Griffith eloquently explained the culture of baseball radio broadcasting before television became king: “TV production and replays were still in relative infancy in those days – and telecasts were mostly limited to weekends – so it was common for Sox fans to have the game on radio. Tales of being able to walk down the street and follow the game from the radios on people’s porches were true. Baseball was a game made for listening on summer nights and for youngsters to follow in the time-honored radio-under-the-pillow manner.”
As the venerable Art Martone wrote in a poignant tribute to Ned in The Providence Journal after Ned died, “Martin’s was the perfect voice for the day-to-day flow of this sport.”
While Ned was both urbane and eloquent, brevity was at the core of his success, a quality that, except for Red Barber and Vin Scully, has never been duplicated by any other baseball announcer. Art Martone lucidly remembered that quality in The Providence Journal:
“He frequently seemed detached from, rather than immersed in, the day-to-day workings of the team and the game . . . and thus was able to provide a context that other announcers could never hope to capture. My favorite Ned Martin call from the 1967 ‘Impossible Dream’ album was not the ‘pandemonium’ clip that everyone’s mentioning today, but from the day before. The Sox were leading the Twins, 3-2, in the eighth inning on Saturday afternoon — remember, they had to win both Saturday and Sunday to stay alive in the race — and Carl Yastrzemski put the game away with a three-run homer off Jim Merritt in the eighth inning. It wasn’t so much the call itself that I liked, but the postscript he added when the cheering began to subside.”
“‘If you’ve just turned your radio on,’ Ned said in a voice tinged with a tiny hint of disbelief, and then he gave just the slightest dramatic pause, ‘it’s happened again. Yastrzemski’s hit a three-run homer, and it’s now 6-2, Red Sox!’”
The one signature call Ned ultimately became famous for, “mercy,” was something that leisurely developed through time. While it often was stated after a particularly imposing homer, strikeout, or fielding play, he also used it an interjection of remorse, regret, even pathos. Irony was alwaysat play when Ned Martin called a game.
In early each Red Sox broadcast, even the most casual of listeners could discern a hint of melancholy in Ned Martin’s voice. While he obviously rooted for the Red Sox, he served as the antithesis of the over-the-top terrain inhabited by the Celtics’ Johnny Most, who called each game as if it were describing the Passion Play. There were even times when Ned would gently hint to his listeners about the possibilities of defeat just as it seemed as if the team was on the cusp of victory.
After 14 seasons broadcasting Red Sox baseball, Ned Martin gained a new broadcasting partner in 1974 with the arrival of Jim “The Possum” Woods. Pugnacious, impulsive, and anecdotal, Woods would serve as a brilliant converse to Martin throughout their five celebrated years together. In Woods’ hale hearty, good fellow world, Ned became Nedly and every topic under the heavens was open for discussion.
Martin especially took great delight in bantering with “The Possum” over his days as the number-two announcer to the longtime Pirates broadcaster, the legendary Bob Prince. Because “The Possum” and the brash Prince were two of the most legendary beer connoisseurs in Major League history, Ned once asked, “Did Budweiser sponsor you, or did you two sponsor Bud?”(My favorite Woods moment occurred in a rain delay in Oakland, when The Possum gushed, “And here into the booth comes six great friends of mine – all of them named Bud!” Martin’s sustained laughter was heard all the way into the commercial break).
Animated and spontaneous, Woods inevitably seemed to always bring out the best in Martin. Listening to two such erudite yet disparate men night after night made the summer months seem more fleeting. Even then, I recognized then that we were steadfastly ensconced in a provisional Golden Era, where names like Martin, Woods, the Gold Dust Twins, Yaz, El Tiante, Rooster, Pudge, and Dewey were firmly embedded in both the hearts and minds of Red Sox Nation.
When two such unswerving iconoclasts were subsequently ordered to promote the sponsors’ products more vociferously on the air, Martin and Woods ultimately balked, resulting in their collective dismissals at the end of the 1978 season. While Ned was eventually rehired as NESN’s principal baseball announcer, Jim Woods was not. As Art Martone reflected in The Providence Journal: “Ned Martin’s strengths became less and less important to the radio industry as it evolved from what it was in the 1960s to what it is today. ‘Quiet and intelligent’ doesn’t play over the airwaves these days; modern radio execs like shrillness and hysteria. His profession changed, and Ned Martin couldn’t — or wouldn’t — change with it.”
Ultimately, Ned Martin would serve as the Red Sox television announcer for another 14 seasons before being summarily dismissed at the end of the 1992 season. While there were pockets of brilliance throughout his telecasts, his discreet eloquence often fell flat in the visual realm of television. He sometimes seemed confused as to whether he should fill the silence with prose. It was as if Bobby Orr was restricted from ever crossing the red line.
By his last year with the Sox, 1992, baseball and television had resolutely entered the age of Sportscenter, in-your-face journalism, and enduring union-owner-agent greed. At the time, Ned seemed slightly anachronistic, a gentleman in a society of “me-firsts.” In Bill Griffith’s accolade to Martin in The Globe, his last TV partner, Jerry Remy, talked about Martin’s contentious dismissal: ‘“Ned was sad the last week of that season because he’d learned that NESN wasn’t going to bring him back for the next year. And I knew they were afraid he might say something on the air. There was no chance of that. Not surprisingly, he went out with dignity and class.’”
Ned Martin subsequently retired to Clarksville, Virginia where he spent time with his beloved wife, Barbara, a bevy of dogs, and his cat, Emily. While we in Red Sox Nation occasionally heard his tranquil, reassuring voice from his new outpost via the talk show circuit, he seemed at peace in his new surroundings, a fitting closing act for a serene man.
In 2001, Ned Martin was both astonished and stirred when he was named to the Red Sox Hall of Fame. At the reception that year, he received the most vigorous and sustained ovation of any recipient. On July 22, 2002, Martin attended the Ted Williams Tribute at Fenway Park, where he interviewed old friend, Carl Yastrzemski, the other Sox legend who debued with the team 41 years previously. The next afternoon, Ned died of a massive coronary at the Raleigh-Durham airport, a few miles from his home.
Serendipitously, his last public appearance had been on the infield at Fenway as a blinding sun sheltered the park from the unforgiving dimness of night. The night after he died, I was reminded of a broadcast that Martin made two decades previously on the last day of the 1989 season. As dusk descended over the field, Ned ended the broadcast thusly: “The game is over, the lights are dimming, winter is approaching, and it’s time to go home. And so from Fenway Park this is Ned Martin, farewell for now.”
In the final analysis, the great Ned Martin incessantly stressed the enduring narrative of life through the potent medium of sports broadcasting. From his lens, the seasons ran together like an impressionist painting. Over time, they became chapters in a book that seemed to accentuate the same recurring theme over and over again even as hundreds of players entered and exited the tale like apparitions in a drawn-out war.
But Ned Martin was more than just an invaluable bard – he was also a master-teacher. Ultimately, he served as a mentor to thousands of New Englanders who faithfully listened to his broadcasts year after year. Without knowing it, he not only vastly extended our vocabularies, but instilled in many of us an infatuation for language that stuck with us long after he broadcast his last game for the Boston nine. Mr. Martin provided countless baseball fans with a landscape of metaphor and simile that enabled us to apply the gift of comparative language to own lives as both speakers and writers.
For me, Ned Martin gave me a focal point, a purpose, a sense of the possibilities, a future. Over the past 40 years, I have entered my classroom each and every day as his undisclosed yet grateful apprentice, efficiently equipped to provoke and kindle my students with the same elixir of perspicuity and insight that he first used on me four decades ago. After all, I became an English teacher because of Ned Martin. Early on in my professional career, my first headmaster asked me, “Shaun, who most influenced you to become an educator?”
I gazed out my classroom window as the trees began to sway in rhythm. I looked back at him and whispered, “Ned Martin.”
Sadly, however, I never had the chance to say “thank you” to him. “Regrets are as personal as fingerprints,” sighed Hemingway after the death of Scott Fitzgerald. Because Mr. Martin seemed eternally vigorous, I always thought that there would be time to drop him a note that would convey to Ned how much he meant to me – and to us. Unfortunately, this little essay will have to suffice.
In a lovely piece entitled, “A Day of Light and Shadow,” first published 42 years ago in Sports Illustrated, acclaimed musicologist Jonathan Schwartz wrote,“Ned Martin is as articulate and creative a sportscaster as there is in the country. He is often poetic and moving. ‘The Yankee score is up,’ Ned observed late last in September from Toronto, where scores remained only momentarily on the electric board. ‘Soon it too will be gone,’ he continued in his usual quiet tone. ‘It will flash away like a lightening bug into the chilly Canadian night.’”
In my mind, the poignancy – the vulnerability – that sometimes crept into his broadcasts, made Ned even more endearing in the end. Perhaps this was all because he had experienced the horrors of war as a Marine in the South Pacific. Three days after Martin died, ESPN’s Keith Olbermann wrote: ”He was a subtle, controlled, educated man, from Duke via Iwo Jima. His favorite on-air expression of surprise or delight was `Mercy,’ and in a summer in which we have lost Jack Buck, Darryl Kile, Irv Kaze, Ted Williams, and Jim Warfield, that quote from Hamlet, which Ned Martin always invoked in times of crisis seems all too tearfully appropriate: ‘When sorrows come, they come not as single spies, but in battalions.”’
An unfussy romantic, Martin often used musical allusions to describe the choreography of baseball. The game had a certain rhythm and Ned was most cognizant of its nature, the season, and the fixed beat that seemed to slowly dissipate as fall began to envelop our region.
During an extended rain delay in Cleveland in the mid-seventies, Ned and his compadre, Jim Woods, impulsively began to discuss their own favorite musical numbers over the years. Suddenly, as if on a dare, Martin began to croon out the old Kurt Weill classic, “The September Song,” a standard that his beloved Sinatra had once sung so well. As Martin began to sing, I instantly recognized that I was getting a rare glimpse into the soul of an introvert:
For it’s a long, long time
From May to December
And the days grow short
When you reach September
And the autumn weather
Turns the leaves to flame
One hasn’t got time
For the waiting game
As the days dwindle down
To a precious few
And these few precious days
I’ll spend with you
These golden days
I’ll spend with you.
From 1961 to 1992, we were fortunate to have spent a plethora of golden days with Ned Martin as we listened to him artfully describe the daily episodes of a team that truly mattered to us all in the end. Despite the dark clouds that sometimes rolled inside of him, Martin was able to emit a prevailing luminosity that was able to cut through the shadows of our own lives. The best Boston sportscaster of them all showed us the way even as he guided us through the haze of the seasons.
There is an old proverb that states, “Power lasts ten years; influence not more than a hundred.” While no Baseball Hall of Fame induction seems in the cards for him – he would surely love the incongruity of that – Ned Martin’s influence remains a part of me every time I teach. More importantly, the music that he made for millions of Red Sox fans who came to depend on his illuminating, lyrical voice is worth far more than any bronze plaque hung in some squared, dimly-lit hallway in Upstate New York.
“Back in 1899/When everybody sang ‘Auld Lang Syne’/A hundred years took a long,long time/For every boy and girl/Now there’s only one thing to know/Where did the twentieth century go?/I swear it was here just a minute ago/All over this world.” – Steve Goodman, “The Twentieth Century’s Almost Over,” 1977
Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1979. I gather my yellow legal pad and pen and smile as a compact, amicable young man sits down across from me. He is both energized and dehydrated after an hour’s performance and gulps several glasses of seltzer-water as he answered my question between mouthfuls of refreshment. As we sit down at an oversized maple sideboard, a gaggle of devoted members of the audience approach the young man, asking him for an autograph. He makes small talk with each of them, and signs his name, Steve Goodman, on assorted pages of the Living Section of a discarded Boston Globe.
At the time, I well knew the young performer’s music. Nine years previously, Steve Goodman had composed an American musical classic, “The City of New Orleans” – “the best damn train song ever written,” John Prine had gushed when he first heard it. It was Arlo Guthrie’s popular version of the ballad, which made it a cash-cow for the Chicagoan ever since. Throughout the 1970’s, Goodman had subsequently composed indelible memorable tunes for such musical luminaries as Joan Baez, Johnny Cash, Jimmy Buffett, Linda Ronstadt, Willie Nelson, John Denver, Jerry Jeff Walker, and Emmylou Harris. While his own cult status was mostly limited to the East Coast and his native Midwest, nevertheless, Steve Goodman had culled an enthusiastic and loyal following.
Steve and I ended up talking about the unforgiving entertainment industry, his recent Grammy for acoustic-guitar performing, and why he had unfairly remained a footnote rather than a star in the musical world.
Just before it was time for his second set, I asked Goodman a final question: “Why would you write and record a song about the end of the Twentieth Century when we have nearly a fifth of the century yet to go?”
The singer-songwriter smiled for a minute and then stated, “You know, there’s an answer to that which I will tell you after my set is over. Okay?”
“For sure,” I replied. Goodman then hopped up onto the stage.
“Does anyone remember the Great Depression?
I read all about it in True Confessions
Sorry, I was late for the recording session
But somebody put me on hold;
Has anyone seen my linoleum floors, petroleum jelly –
And two world wars?
They got stuck in the revolving door –
All over this world.”
Even thought he was barely 30 years old at the time, Steve Goodman recognized that time didn’t march on like some interminable battalion. Instead, it seemed to stealthily tiptoe on its own variable pace. As the singer-songwriter himself wrote, “All we have left are those memories/That are most deserving to recall.” It was obvious that Steve Goodman believed that fervently.
Exactly 40 years after I spoke with the seasoned musical performer in Cambridge, I found myself reminiscing with a twenty-something faculty member at school about the first “Armistice Day” Parade I attended as a six-year-old in Wellesley, Massachusetts. I smiled when I recalled my father, still young and vibrant, marching with a legion of his fellow World War II veterans. At the front of the parade, however, strode a beaming nonagenarian who still had a pronounced spring in his steps. I soon learned from my mother that he was a cavalryman in the Spanish American War. We showered him with hosannas as he passed by our perch near the Wellesley Town Hall. When I shared this antidote with my fledgling English teacher-friend, she looked at me with amazement. “Good God,” she sighed.
My late mother seemed to comprehend the essence of time and its bridge-like effect when, one day, she asked me to shake her hand. I then looked at her with puzzlement. She paused and then exclaimed, “When I was a little girl, my Great Uncle John Whiting purposely shook my hand and said, ‘Now you’ve shaken the hand of someone who fought at the Battle of Antietam.” Mummie then smiled at me and bellowed, “So you too can now say that you’ve shaken the hand of someone who shook the hand of a relative who fought in the Civil War!”
I then recalled that when I was a little boy, I used to cuddle next to my grandmother and ask her what life was like in “the old days.” She talked to me about horse-drawn milk carts, the fabled Blizzard of 1896, the brilliance of the night sky before Edison. To me, it seemed as if she had lived an eternity.
Now I know differently. When I took my oldest son to Fenway Park for the first time in 2003, Max asked me why the aisles and seats in the old ballpark were so narrow. “Because Fenway was built in 1912,” I replied. “It was designed for nineteenth-century bodies. People were much smaller back then. Our diets increased and improved over the years.”
Towards the end of the game, I glimpsed at one of the seats and imagined my grandmother, a tiny, fragile figure, a remnant of the 1800’s, sitting in her chair – quite comfortably – rooting for Cy Young and Babe Ruth in Red Sox uniforms.
“Winter’s getting colder, summer’s getting hotter
Our wishing well’s wishing for another drop of water
Mother Earth’s blushin’ cause somebody caught her
Making loving to the man in the moon.
Now how are you going to keep them
Down on the farm
Now that outer space has lost its charm?
Somebody just set off the burglar alarm
And not a moment too soon.”
Because of modern time’s population explosion, more than three-fifths of all human beings who ever lived were born in the past eight decades. Consequently, people did more living in this time period than in all the other centuries combined. On the downside, more humans died in war from 1914-1975 than in the previous thirty centuries of human existence. In contrast, billions of people live more substantive, energetic, healthy lives than ever before. Names, places, items, art, music, linguistic expressions, and fads – even nations and their governments – have come in and out of our lives like passing ships.
To those who lived through the past seven decades, the progress we have observed has been incalculable. In 1961, for instance, the United States launched its first astronaut into the cosmos, Navy Commander Alan Shepard. His Mercury 7 spacecraft spent just 15 minutes in space before splashing down in the Atlantic. A Mickey Mantle popup went higher than Al Shepard, quipped comedian Shelley Berman at the time. Just eight years later, three American pioneers ventured 226,000 miles into deep space, landed on the moon, and returned safely to Earth. Last week, I asked my eighth-graders how many of them had ventured to at least two continents in their short lives. Virtually everyone had. The new generation have become world-travelers as a matter of course.
Still, there are detriments to such progress. If modern times were given a motto which could capture the previous one hundred years, it would be… “With Progress – Nothing Lasts.” Consequently, each decade seems to be its own Brigadoon; it dissolves into the mist – never to be seen again. As those of us who have lived through the Twentieth Century know, the 1950’s were an extraordinarily different time from the 1990’s. We almost could have been living in different centuries. For most of the history of the world, however, progress was hardly noticeable. People perished in the same spot they were born in. For years, I taught a searing historical novel to sixth-graders called The Borning Room. It centered on the room off the kitchen where members of the same family were born, were sick, had children, and died as old folks in the same room. The only thing that changed was their age.
In our modern world, though, if one moves away from his or her hometown and returns ten years later, the place is hardly recognizable. Even change in the workplace is both exhausting and whimsical. In 1984, I began teaching with an authentic educational mentor, Mrs. Edith Whelden, who started toiling at The Fessenden School in West Newton, Massachusetts, the week after the Germans invaded Poland and World War II began. When she finally retired as a teacher in 1987 – Edith was a staple at the school for 48 years – she chuckled as she mimeographed her last math handout: “I began my first day getting purple on my hands, and here I am nearly 50 years later still getting purple on my hands!”
Like Edith Wheldon, I began with mimeograph-purple ink on my hands, but that was scores of changes ago. Today, I use Google Classroom, a SmartBoard M600, and a Lenovo PC as my teaching weapons by choice and decree. Edith Whelden’s professional career was framed within the context of a three-mile an hour world. In comparison, mine has been at Mach 1 speed. In the end, life today is not written in granite but in ever-changing sand. No wonder a lot of us have been clinging to the past.
“Old Father Time has got his toes a tappin’
Standin’ in the window grumblin’ and rappin’
Everybody’s waiting for something to happen,
Tell me if it happens to you.
The Judgement Day is getting nearer
There it is in the rearview mirror!
If you could duck down, I could see a little clearer –
All over this world.”
With the Cambridge audience singing and clapping along, Steve Goodman completed his second and final set singing the refrain of “The Twentieth Century’s Almost Over.” He then shouted out to the Passim crowd: “Let’s celebrate before it becomes passe!” Everyone instantly laughed and gave him a heartfelt standing ovation. Steve walked off the stage and motioned for me to join him at his table once again.
After he had drank a quart of fresh water, Goodman remarked to me: “Shaun, you asked me why I wrote ‘Twentieth Century’ with 23 years left in the 1900’s? I composed it because you never know if you are going to be around for such an event; you could drop dead at any moment. There have been so many crazy things that have happened our time, despicable, head-scratching things. That said, everything that I have ever loved in this world also existed during this time. When the clock strikes midnight on January 1, 2000, there will be a lot to say goodbye to then. Don’t you think?” The performer shook my hand briskly and then disappeared into his dressing room.
I did not know then that he was undergoing extensive chemotherapy in that fall in 1979. He would live five more years and die, much too young at 36, a victim of leukemia. Thus, Steve Goodman would not live to see the ticking of the millennium clock in Times Square on January 1, 2000.
For the past few weeks, I have thought about Steve Goodman. I have also thought about the scores of people who ended up touching my soul through the past 65 years. Many of them have passed on; many are still a vibrant presence in my life. All of us, however, are rooted in the times we experienced together.
Recently, when I visited my hometown, Wellesley, Massachusetts, I ended up walking around the local graveyard, Woodlawn Cemetery, as tranquil and beautiful a resting-place as there is in New England. I stopped and reflected at the gravesites of friends who died too young in car crashes, cancer, or various addictions. I paid my respects to a host of family and friends who had encouraged me as a child. I paused at the monuments of teachers who had seen something in me that I hadn’t recognized previously. I even weeded the grounded nameplate of one of my loyal customers when I was a bag-boy at the Wellesley Super Market. Unlike her venerated daughter, Sylvia, whose tombstone in England is an iconic spot for thousands who visit it each year, Aurelia Plath’s memorial has been untouched since I last weeded it the previous year.
As I turned the far corner of the cemetery, I stopped at a final resting-place, my parents’ gravesite, which overlooked the site of our family’s old house on adjacent Radcliffe Road. Suddenly, I could hear my parents ghostly laughter. After all, here was their youngest child standing above them now as an old man. “Welcome to the fold!” they seemed to say. “Enjoy it all while you can, and remember – enjoy the ride! After all, you’ll never know when it will end.”
As Steve Goodman told me during his interview with me forty years ago this month, “Our time here on Earth is the connective tissue for us all. That is why we should never forget that we’re all in this thing called life together.”
As Virgil once wrote: Omne momentum rei est pretiosum, habens in essentia finis. (Every moment is a precious thing, having in it the essence of finality.)