When you search, you often find something better…
Last week, I was looking for a picture of the old Pennant Grille. If you’re an old-timer, you might remember that what is now called “The Cask and Flagon”, on the northeast corner of Brookline Avenue and Lansdowne Street, was once a non-descript , modest, urban watering hole.
I’m trying to finish my playroom/mancave off, and thought a pic of the old place as it was would make an interesting conversation piece.
In an attempt to find one by using Google (I couldn’t) , I came across a June, 1965 article from Sports Illustrated, describing the state of the Red Sox in that year. This article was wriiten in real-time 1965, and while it provides a look back, it was designed to give the reader an accurate, yet woeful view of the Red Sox. It was written by Jack Mann, and is found in the Sports Illustrated “vault” section. It definitely captures the spirit of the pre-1967 fans, and, unfortunately, it was a sad era in Sox history. It’s thankfully long-behind us now.
Here’s the link to it –
What happened in 1965? How bad were things?
The Red Sox finished 62-100, forty games behind the pennant winning Twins.
Ironically, they did not finish in last place, because the pitiful Kansas City Athletics lost 103 games.
They finished the season with a four game home stand, where they split a pair with the Angels, drawing — 461 fans to one game, and 409 to another. Yes, you read that correctly. On the final weekend, they dropped a pair to the Yankees, drawing 4300 fans on Saturday and 5933 on Sunday. Their total attendance for the season = 652,000.
And those were the days of 25c MBTA fares, $3.50 box seats, and $1.00 bleachers. Being a Red Sox fan was not a pinch on the pocketbook, but it was a stressful exercise of tolerance and patience.
Sox reach their post-war nadir, the target of a publicity stunt
The low point? I would have to say it came on September 25, 1965, in Kansas City, where the Sox eked out a 5-2 victory. It was the tail end of the last road trip of a horrible season. Now, how can you say something’s bad when they WIN?
Well, there’s “the rest of the story”.
Charlie O. Finley owned the KC Athletics, which had functioned largely as a “major league farm team” for the Yankees. But, that arrangement ended when he bought the team, and he would do anything to bring people into the decaying stadium. He had sheep grazing in the outfield; he had built a “pennant porch”, and brought the fences in for more home runs; and he even had the Beatles play a concert there in 1964, printing tickets with his picture on them, wearing a Beatles wig and saying “today’s Beatles fans are tomorrow’s BASEBALL fans.”
And the Sox were about to be the target of an historic, humiliating publicity stunt in the fall of 1965.
Satchel owns the pitiful Red Sox
Satchel Paige, with an officially listed age of 59, but likely a few years older, was brought in to pitch for his hometown A’s in a publicity stunt.
League officials had to approve his participation, lest the move in both teams’ rotations affect any pennant race. With the Twins safely in first, Paige’s appearance was permitted. If there were pension enhancements for him associated with the game, I’m not aware of them, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there were.
The game began, with the visiting Sox up first. After Jim Gosger popped up, Dalton Jones reached second on an error but was thrown out trying to advance to third. Yaz doubled, and then the Sox were, somewhat embarrassingly, stunned, as Satchel mowed down the next seven batters in a row! Paige left the game after pitching three scoreless innings — one hit, one strikeout, and he had a 1-0 lead.
The Sox did come back to tie the game in the seventh and went ahead 5-2 in the top of the eighth, but it still had to be one of the most humiliating incidents in Red Sox history.
Note = you may read, in some “historian’s writings” that they “saw” this game at Fenway Park. It was NOT played in Fenway, but in Memorial Stadium in KC. You can look it up on www.retrosheet.org. AND, also to correct an historic myth, the 1964 Kansas City Beatles concert took place while the A’s were on the road. The concert was not between halves of a doubleheader, as is often erroneously reported.
What to make of all this?
Mann’s article pre-dates the Paige debacle by a few months, but it gives a fairly accurate picture as to what the Sox were like, and how they were run.
It was a team with a country-club atmosphere, a roster with lot of aging players riding out their careers while “out to pasture”. Worst of all, it carried an attitude that defeat is okay, with some players not going along for that ride. There was also an owner and general manager, who just didn’t seem to be concerned about what was going on. They were content with the Red Sox as they were.
At the time, Fenway was not “cherished”, and all four pro sports teams would have had little problem accepting a new multi-purpose facility. New stadia were being built everywhere — Shea in New York, the Astrodome in Houston, Dodger Stadium, and on and on. As usual, it came down to who was going to pay for it. Fortunately, the Sox were “stuck” in Fenway when the first of many “new stadium” projects was derailed by lack of financing..
The farm system was under reconstruction under Neil Mahoney, and in 1966, it bore some fruit. The Sox won more in the second half of 1966 than they lost (50-47 from June 22 on), and the following year is history. Dick Williams said prior to 1967, “we’ll win more than we lose”, but that was partially based upon the previous season’s optimistic finish. His get-tough attitude, Dick O’Connell’s taking over the personnel decisions, and a youth movement got them to the World Series.
But, please read the Jack Mann article. It conveys what being a Sox fan was like in the years where there was no hope of winning, and the attitudes in and around Fenway in some of the club’s darkest years.