In coming up with a baseball theme for its annual Spring Gala, the Wellesley Historical Society knew it had a good draw on Friday night in Red Sox President Sam Kennedy since the team is early in its season and would surely be a hot topic of conversation. But little did the Society know that Kennedy would be heading into the “Looking Back at America’s Favorite Pastime” panel at the end of a week during which he got more air time than Sean Spicer as he launched into full get-out-in-front-of-it PR mode related to a couple of racial incidents at Fenwway Park during the contentious series vs. Baltimore.
Longtime sportscaster and Wellesley resident Mike Dowling, who emceed the event’s auction that featured jewelry, Red Sox tickets and an autographed jersey from Red Sox closer Craig Kimbrel, also moderated the sports talk panel, of which you can find a Facebook Live recording below. In addition to Kennedy, the panel included 98.5 The Sport Hub host Tony Massarotti and The Sport Museum’s Dick Johnson, who I once had the pleasure of interviewing for this article on Jack Sanford, a Wellesley High alum who pitched in the 1962 World Series.
Dowling laid out ground rules for the panel early on by saying “We are not going to talk about this past week except to say that Sam handled things very well…” And then the panel proceeded to talk exactly about incidents of the past week when Kennedy interjected that he was happy to do so and that it was not an issue the Sox are shying away from (“It’s not an indictment on Boston or New England fans, but it’s a reality in todays world that intolerant feelings still exist”). What’s more, a big part of the race story is an historic one with Boston and the Sox, so it was a fitting line of conversation for the Historical Society event, which featured ballpark food from hot dogs to Cracker Jacks. I tried to get into the spirit by sporting the Hanley Ramirez bling given to fans at Monday’s now notorious game vs. the Orioles.
Kennedy said this has been “the most challenging week of my Red Sox career, and I lived through [former Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein] leaving Fenway in a gorilla suit, I lived through the Bobby Valentine era, I’ve lived through managerial changes, but this was very personal, emotional and raw given how frustrating and maddening something like this is.”
Weighing in on the situation, Johnson noted that history looms over everything, which can be good and bad. He recalled that back during the 1970’s busing crisis in Boston, “the most popular man in town was a gentleman of color who happened to smoke cigars in the shower named Luis Tiant” [the ex-Red Sox pitcher of the amazing twirling windup]. Johnson said he felt confident that with the Red Sox organization’s deft handling of this week’s events, that Fenway will continue to be a fun place for all to visit.
While the auction/gala attracted many high rollers who can afford the best seats at Fenway, one fun revelation during the panel discussion that attendees latched onto was that the Sox actually offer $9 student tickets for all games. This ticket offer holds true, Kennedy said, even though the Sox do lead the league in attendance so far this season and have no trouble selling tickets. Massarotti added that one sign of the continued strength of the Red Sox’s following is high road game attendance, and he credits the “deeply personal” relationship between the Red Sox organization and its fan base for sustaining that support.
During a Q&A session at the end of the panel discussion, attendees asked about everything from why there aren’t more day games (blame TV contracts needed to pay obscene player salaries) to who the panelists’ favorite players were/are (Kennedy’s is Dustin Pedroia, Massarotti’s was Pedro Martinez).
Before getting to attendee questions, Dowling hit on some history by harkening back to the glory days of the 1967 Impossible Dream Red Sox team led by Carl Yastrzemski and Gentleman Jim Lonborg. Johnson described the team, “legitimately a hundred to one shot at the start of the season,” as his favorite of all time.
“The team was completely magical,” he said. “I would compare it to that scene in The Wizard of Oz where the house lands on the witch and the screen turns into technicolor and everything is different from there on in. And for 50 years it’s been a different deal.”