Tuesday, June 6, 2023

Review: The Boston Globe Story of the Red Sox (2023)

Edited by Chad Finn

We're at 123 years and counting in the relationship between the Boston Globe and the Boston Red Sox. That's a long time for a courtship to last, but you'd have to say that it has worked out well for both sides. 

The newspaper's coverage of the baseball team has proven to be mutually beneficial. It has increased interest in the team, which has no doubt sold plenty of tickets over the years. Meanwhile, the Globe has sold a lot of newspapers during that time too in part because fans wanted to read about the team. Now the connection is even more direct, since the principal owner of the Red Sox, John Henry, owns the Globe.

One hundred and twenty-three years isn't an obvious anniversary to celebrate with a retrospective. Still, it's never a bad idea to take a look back and see where we've been. That's the idea and the charm of the book, "The Boston Globe Story of the Red Sox" - which is good enough to excuse an awkward title. 

This isn't an original idea. The New York Times has been making money on such projects for years. But the connection in this case is a natural. The Boston newspaper put together a legendary sports section in the 1970s, with a stable of writers unmatched in history. Some of them are in Halls of Fame scattered around the country, including Cooperstown. Reading great writing is rarely a chore.

The book starts at the beginning, when the Red Sox and the American League first came to Boston. The origin of the franchise isn't well know, even in Boston. Ban Johnson was forming the American League in 1900, and he decided he wanted to run one of the eight teams personally in Boston. The problem was that Boston didn't have a franchise, so he figured out a way to kick Buffalo out of the new league and replace it with the soon-to-be-entitled Americans. (The Red Sox name came later.) 

Sometimes books of reprinted stories like this contain some outdated language, which has its charms but may be tough to read a century later. It's good to report, then, that for this most part the charms work well but the reading is easy. Tim Murmane was a former pro player (from the 1870s, no less) who became a 30-year veteran on the baseball beat. It seems that he essentially invented the concept of the Baseball Notes column that was essentially perfected by Peter Gammons decades later. Murmane plays it straight for the most part with clear words, even if it's tough to believe that a Red Sox team was once nicknamed "The Speed Boys" once upon a time. 

With the founding story covered, we're off on a long adventure. It's not as if the Red Sox have cranked out great moments in assembly line fashion over the years. You might have heard of a certain 86-year gap between the championships. The highlights are covered here, of course, but there are some low moments too that turn up. Throw in some good-sized characters, and the 400+ pages go by relatively quickly. 

There's one other decision that editor Chad Finn seems to have made that is worth noting. Newspapers aren't called the first draft of history for no reason. Many of these stories were written hours, and in some cases minutes, about events that had just taken place. For example, a story on Nomar Garciaparra's wrist surgery in 2001 runs only four paragraphs. We didn't know at the time that the operation essentially marked the end of his days as a superstar, although we understand why it was included. You can lose a bit of historical perspective by only reading those types of stories, especially if you don't live and die with the subject. But Finn includes some stories that are present events over a longer time period. Sometimes they are profiles of players, sometimes they are analysis. 

There's even a few cases of stories that might be unknown to even the most diehard of fans. There's a good-sized story by Murnane written about the suicide of Red Sox manager Chick Stahl in March 1907. It's a mature, rational story about an irrational action, one which wouldn't have been handled so well in lesser hands.

Admittedly, "The Boston Globe Story of the Red Sox" is targeted for those fans who consider October 2004 (as in, the end of "The Curse of the Bambino") as one of the best times of their life. It won't leap of the shelves of a Phoenix bookstore. And some people don't like reading old stories like this for whatever reason. But this book works better than could even be expected, and should be a welcome gift (think Father's Day) in New England households for quite a while.

Four stars

Learn more about this book from Amazon.com. (As an Amazon affiliate, I earn money from qualified purchases.)    

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