Archive for the ‘The World of Sport’ Category

Remembering “Red” Martin, Boston College Hockey’s All-Time Great Defenseman

July 28, 2017

Tom “Red” Martin, one of Boston College Hockey’s All-Time Greats, Passed Away on July 27, 2017. I’ve known Tom for many years and have frequently interviewed him for articles and books.  This blog post has two pieces I wrote about him: a profile in the 2014 Beanpot Tournament program, and a chapter section from Tales from the Boston College Hockey Locker Room.

Rest in peace, Tom. They’ve broken the mold. We won’t see your like again.

From the Beanpot Program

Tom Martin: Just a Hard-Working Kid from North Cambridge

By Tom Burke

Tom Martin, c. 2012

In the Land of Beanpot, it is a truth universally acknowledged that Tom “Red” Martin played the entire 60 minutes of Boston College’s 4-2 championship win over Harvard in 1961. True, though Martin sat out two minutes of action for a minor penalty.

That feat wasn’t such a big deal for Tom. After all, he usually logged more than 50 minutes per game anyway. He’s prouder that he scored the winning goal, taking Billy Hogan’s faceoff draw at the point and letting fly a slap shot that caught the inside of the far post.

Defeating Harvard in that Beanpot final was the last big triumph for BC in Martin’s college career, which included two All-America accolades and the Walter Brown Award. But maybe it shouldn’t have ended that way.  Watson Rink at Harvard was Tom Martin’s early hockey home, and he probably should have gone to play for Cooney Weiland. He initially decided to do so, but Eagle coach John ‘Snooks” Kelley won him over with “Your mother would want you to go to Boston College.”

Tom’s mother Anne was a marvelous, hard-working lady who waited tables in and around Harvard Square.  Widowed when Tom was two years old, she moved into a house owned by Saint Peter’s Parish and frequently needed “Mother’s Aid” charitable payments to make ends meet.  One time, when Tom had sneaked out for a football practice before he’d done his chores, Mrs. Martin walked to the field and marched her son off the gridiron and back home.

That never happened again, and Tom had already developed his own work ethic anyway. From age eight through college, he sold papers at the Sunday masses at St. Peter’s.  He would help Tom Sheehy, the manager of Watson Rink, scrape the ice and wet it down with water from wooden barrels.

Mr. Sheehy let Tom skate there frequently. Sometimes he’d go one-on-one with Billy Cleary. On other occasions he scrimmaged with the Harvard varsity at practices. When he had Watson’s ice sheet to himself, he’d practice skating backwards. Then he would run the two miles to home backwards, pivoting sharply each side as he went.

Tom played baseball and football in high school and states that learning to take and deliver hits in football was an invaluable preparation for hockey.  Jimmy Fitzgerald, who scored the winning goal for BC in its 1949 NCAA championship win over Dartmouth, was his high school coach and first hockey mentor.

“I learned the fundamentals of hockey from Jimmy,” said Tom. “Things like getting out of the zone, head-manning the puck and breaking out yourself after you’ve passed it. That way you create an opportunity for yourself. He also taught me the basics of passing.”

After college, Martin started out at Boston University Law School. He left after a semester, however, because he wanted to join the U.S. National Hockey Team and eventually play in the Olympics.  He made the 1962 team that took a bronze medal in the World Tournament in Colorado Springs.

Back home, Martin needed to work before Olympic tryouts. He took the suggestion of BC accounting professor Jim Dunn that he join one of the Big Eight accounting firms, known as “Ulcer Outfits” for the  pressures they put on workers.

Tom landed a job at Arthur Andersen and was assigned audit work at Perini Construction in Framingham.  Tom got the leeway to work on his hockey game in the mornings and come in to work around noon.  He was the only “cake eater,” as western-based players called eastern boys, to make the final cut. He became assistant captain of the team and roomed with Herb Brooks for the 1964 games in Innsbruck, Austria.

Boston College fans of that era fondly recall Martin’s long floater-play passes to classmate Billy Daley that frequently resulted in scores.  Daley would win a defensive zone faceoff and bolt straight up ice. Martin would swing the net, wait for opposing defenders to yield a passing lane, and hit Daley in full stride near the center circle.

Coach Tom with head coach Snooks Kelley and classmate Billy Daley

When opponents adjusted, Tom found a different gap in the coverage or banked the puck off the boards.  He got the same results – from assessing the situation, taking advantage of openings, exploiting opportunities, and making adjustments.

That modus operandi might well be the story of Tom Martin’s business life.  On several occasions he has recognized business opportunities or detected developing trends in the marketplace, and he’s moved to take advantage of them – just as he did with pinpoint passes through gaps in hockey defenses.

Tom’s Norwood-based company, Cramer Productions, is one of the most highly respected integrated marketing communications organizations in the country. Cramer employs over 100 people in event planning and executions, video and digital production, interactive media, web casting, and print and direct marketing.  The company’s revenue tops $30 million per year. Its client roster includes EMC, Fidelity, Jordan’s Furniture, Raytheon, Reebok, Ocean Spray, Michelin, Motorola, and many other big names of the business world.

Tom went back to Andersen after the Olympics and stayed there for five years. He also made time to serve as Snooks Kelley’s assistant at BC for three years, earning a whopping $500 salary. He then accepted an offer from his greatest career mentor, Tim Cronin, who ran Cramer Electronics.  Like Cronin, who was fifteen years his senior, Tom was trained as a numbers guy.  But he learned all about management and leadership from watching Cronin deal with people.

Cramer grew to national size and more than $100 million in sales. Tom was put in charge of the Northeast region. After Arrow Electronics purchased Cramer in 1979, Tom saw an opportunity and took out a loan to buy the company’s small video equipment division. He’d noticed that Japanese companies had been promoting video, then a new business technology, for businesses communications. Arrow wasn’t interested in video.

Tom kept the Cramer name and launched Cramer Productions.  After a few years, he noticed that many of his clients weren’t getting full benefit from the video equipment.  At meetings, they still used boring slides and overheads.

“I thought  ‘Hey, we should be in the production business’ and our clients liked the idea. So we set up a studio in our building in 1982 and did a few automobile commercials. Car commercials were all produced locally in those days,” he said.

Somewhere along the way, Barry and Elliott Tatelman of Jordan’s Furniture came calling. Cramer began producing all of the popular “Barry and Elliott” commercials. Word got around, and Cramer Productions outgrew its Newton location. They moved to bigger quarters in Braintree.

The high inflation of the mid ‘80s nearly put the Cramer under as the prime rate soared from five percent to near 20 percent.  Technology kept changing in the capital-intensive production business, requiring smaller film, more compact cameras, and differently configured editing suites. “We were hanging on by our thumbs,” says Tom.

But he saw another opportunity amid the difficulties. The company meeting planners needed video for their events.  Cramer began renting out its equipment and added creative services and event staging to the product line.  Business flourished again, and soon Cramer needed bigger space.

Tom got another loan, this time for a million dollars, and bought a 70,000 square-foot building in Norwood. Cramer worked hard to build up the meeting planning and event production business while burnishing their reputation in film production.

Sports fans will recognize several Cramer film oeuvres: “Banner Years,” the Boston Garden farewell; “Boston Red Sox: 100 Years of Baseball History;” “The Story of Golf,” an Emmy-winning PBS feature; and “The Beanpot: The First 50 Years.”

About ten years ago came another sea change. The digital marketplace was taking off. Information would be transmitted digitally – over the Web and on CDs – and Crammer staffed up to get in on the action.  Martin went out and hired, and digital is now a big segment of Cramer’s business.

Tom keeps a financial information binder in his office.  Not everybody gets to see its color-coded graphs and charts that tell the Cramer business score and standings from every conceivable angle. His accounting background at Andersen drilled fiscal discipline into him.  He had seen many businesses and some competitors close up shop after neglecting to manage the balance sheet.

There’s another binder that every visitor to the company can see, however. It bulges with dozens of thank-you letters from charitable organizations that Cramer has helped over the years, either gratis or for cost.  The senders include Big Brother/Big Sister, Bridge Over Troubled Water, Easter Seals, Franciscan Children’s Hospital, Greater Boston Food Bank, Jewish Community Housing for the Elderly, March of Dimes, Mother Caroline Academy, Sisters of Saint Joseph. Rosie’s Place, and Second Helping.  Cramer dispenses at least a million dollars’ worth of professional services to non-profits each year.

Tom and his wife June celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in 2012. Six of their seven children are on the Cramer Productions team.  Tom is company chairman and the face of Cramer, but much more active on the golf links nowadays. And he’s good at that too. He has won the senior division of the Ouimet Memorial Tournament and the Massachusetts Senior Amateur Championship.

A favorite quote from Danny Thomas in Tom’s office gives a visitor yet another clue to Tom “Red” Martin’s career. “Success in life has nothing to do with what you gain in life or accomplish for yourself. It’s what you do for others.”

 

Excerpted from the Beanpot chapter in Tales from the Boston College Hockey Locker Room: A Collection of the Greatest Eagles Hockey Stories Ever Told by Tom Burke and Reid Oslin

Tom Martin in his BC playing days

One old and familiar bit of Beanpot lore is defenseman Tom “Red” Martin’s playing the entire game of the 1961 championship final and taking home the Most Valuable Player Award. True, but with an asterisk. Martin had a minor penalty in the game, so he skated for 58 minutes, not 60.

Tom was a three sport athlete who always kept himself in fine shape. He also played first base for the Eagles’ baseball team that made it to the College World Series in 1960 and 1961.  He routinely played 50 minutes a game anyway. It was more difficult in the packed and hot Boston Garden than in chilly little college rinks, but hardly a superhuman feat for Red Martin.

Tom is prouder of scoring the winning goal than he was of playing at much as he did that evening.

“Billy Hogan drew back a faceoff to me. I was a right-handed shot. A kid from Harvard came out to block it, and my shot caught the left inside post,” said Tom.

That was BC’s third goal, scored at 10:06 of the third period. The Crimson got one back to narrow the margin to a single goal again. Martin’s classmate Billy Daley scored on a wraparound to clinch the win with 2:29 to play. Hogan had opened the scoring in the first period and assisted on Jack Leetch’s second period goal. Jim Logue made 30 saves in the BC net to just 17 for Harvard goalie Bob Bland.

It was the first time that attendance in the old Boston Garden hit the magic number of 13,909, a capacity crowd and the largest to witness a college game there since 1931.

Snooks Kelley waxed particularly eloquent after the game.  He said afterwards,

“I’ve said I thought we were the best team in New England, even when we lost a couple.  But now I know we are the best in the East. Of that I feel positive.  That Jimmy Logue is the best goalie in the business. Look what he did tonight.  Red Martin is as good a defenseman as anybody will ever find. Billy Daley is terrific.  Those sophomores – Billy Hogan, Ed Sullivan, Jack Callahan, Jack Leetch, Ken Giles and the rest. Tonight they were wonderful. They wouldn’t be denied.

The 1960-61 Eagles. Tom is at center of first row.

“You can stop a Daley two times. He’ll get in the third time.  You knew Red Martin would come through. Men like these can’t be stopped forever. And they weren’t.”

Snooks might have gotten a little carried away in his euphoria. Harvard had beaten the Eagles twice already and was missing three of its regulars in the Beanpot.  They didn’t lose another game and finished 18-4-2 to BC’s 19-5-1. Tom Martin, looking back on it all, says simply “It was a great rivalry.”

Few people of that era appreciated the BC-Harvard rivalry as did Tom Martin. He grew up in North Cambridge and spent many hours skating and scrimmaging one on one with a student named Bill Cleary on the near-perfect ice surface at the Crimson’s Watson Rink.  He played high school hockey at Cambridge Latin under Jimmy Fitzgerald, scorer of the winning goal in BC’s 1949 NCAA championship game against Dartmouth.

Martin initially decided to play his college hockey for Cooney Weiland at Harvard. He informed Fitzgerald, who asked him to go and let Mr. Kelley know. That Mr. Kelley was Snooks, who taught in the school. Young Martin dutifully told Mr. Kelley, who promptly summoned a substitute to monitor his class. He brought Martin to the teacher’s lounge and laid the full Catholic trip on the lad, finishing his pitch with, “And your mother would want you to go to Boston College.”

Whether Tom’s mother Anne ever had a preference for Tom’s post-secondary schooling, we’ll never know.  But the Catholic angle hit home with Tom. Anne, widowed when Tom was two, lived in a house owned by Saint Peter’s Parish. Tom sold newspapers at Sunday masses from the time he was in the third grade until after college. Even though he lived about a mile from Harvard, he was going to BC.

He and Daley made the floater play a staple of the BC attack. They liked to pull it late in the game, to “send ‘em home happy” as the wisecracking center Daley would say in calling for the floater. Daley would win a defensive zone draw back to Martin. Tom would retreat behind the net and watch as the opposing defensemen moved laterally out on the blue line. Daley would then sprint up the ice, his diagonal path taking him through the gap between the defensemen. Martin, emerging from the other side of the cage, would then hit the streaking Daley with a long pass and send him in alone for the score.

The floater play worked many times, with Billy Daley getting the goal and Tom Martin the assist. But in the 1961 Beanpot it was Tom Martin who scored the crucial goal. He never came off the ice, save for the two minutes of his penalty, and  the 13,909 who were there that evening saw a feat of endurance that has never since been duplicated, and almost certainly never will.

 

Farewell to The “Sweet Kentucky Babe”

July 16, 2017

Vito “Babe” Parilli, the first of the truly great quarterbacks to play professional football for the Boston/New England Patriots,  lost his battle with cancer and passed away on July 14, 2017 at the age of 87.  The Gridiron Club of Greater Boston honored Babe as its Man of the Year in 2006.  I was Master of Ceremonies and program editor for the Man of the Year Dinner. Before the dinner, I spent some time with Babe and learned the story of his life in football, which is appears below.  If you’re a fan of football, especially of Patriots football, you’ll enjoy getting to know Babe. He was one of a kind. 

By Tom Burke

Vito “Babe” Parilli, Boston Patriots’ quarterback

Back when he was in college, lunch hour was always a singular experience for Vito Parilli.

Rather than sipping sarsaparilla and munching burgoo with fellow students on the campus green at Lexington, Kentucky, Vito would report to the office of the university’s head football coach, Paul “Bear” Bryant. They would sit across from each other and engage in a nerve-wracking board game of the Bear’s personal design, a daily test that made organic chemistry look like basket weaving.

“It was a simulated football game. He’d say ‘I’ll give you a down and distance. What play do you call?’ Then after I answered, he’d say, ‘Okay, you gained three yards. Now what do you call?’” explained Babe recently.

“Sometimes I’d even stay over to his house and play it. The Bear programmed me.  He never sent in the plays, but I always knew what he wanted. In every situation. In four years there, I don’t think I ever got a delay of game penalty either,” he adds proudly.

 

Babe led the Wildcats to the most successful three-year stretch in the school’s football history.  They rolled up a 28-8 record and appeared in the 1950 Orange Bowl, the 1951 Cotton Bowl, and the 1952 Sugar Bowl. In the Wildcats’ 13-7 Cotton Bowl upset of mighty Oklahoma, Babe completed nine of 12 passes for 105 yards and was named the game’s top offensive player. In the Sugar Bowl his senior year, Babe had two TD passes and was MVP in a 20-7 win over TCU.

The Rochester Rifle

Babe in action at Kentucky

Parilli’s father August emigrated to America early in the 20th century, just in time to don an American army uniform and head back to Europe to fight the Kaiser. He was wounded in the Argonne Forest but made it home and went to work for the Phoenix Glass Company in Rochester, Pennsylvania just north of Pittsburgh.

Vito was the youngest of three kids in the Parilli family. There was no television in those days, and every high school boy lived for Friday nights and football. Vito was a fullback in a single-wing backfield. Bryant did not recruit him, but he had always wanted to be a Wildcat. He tagged along on a couple of campus visits to Kentucky with a high school friend who eventually enrolled in a Big Ten school.

After seeing Parilli in a high school all-star game, though, the Kentucky coaches got interested and invited him back down to Lexington for a workout.  They decided that he could become the quarterback to follow George Blanda.

Babe worked out all summer long in Lexington before enrolling, taking in strategy sessions in the morning, field drills in the afternoon, and practicing faking and ball handling in front of a mirror at night. By the time sophomore year rolled around, he was more than ready.

Babe as a Kentucky Wildcat

Known as the “Rochester Rifle” after his home steel country, Parilli set four NCAA passing records – for touchdown passes in a season and a career, and most passes competed and passing yards in three varsity seasons. He was twice a first team All-America selection and finished third and fourth in Heisman Trophy balloting.

Bryant called Parilli the best fake-and-throw passer he’d ever seen, with hand strength so formidable that he could pump three times before releasing the ball.  One sportswriter said “Parilli could take an elephant out on the field and, told it was a football, hide it.”  Another opined, “He handled the ball with the skill of a trans-Atlantic card shark, and can dot a receiver’s eye (right or left as the occasion demands) at 80 yards.”

Parilli was in Army ROTC at college, but he did not have to go into the service upon graduation. Drafted by Green Bay and its new coach Vince Lombardi, he split the quarterbacking with Tobin Rote for two years. Then came the call to military duty.

“I think we were called up because of Senator Joe McCarthy. One of the things kept saying was that the country was not going to give any special privileges to professional athletes,” said Parilli.

Babe spent an uneventful two years in Rabat, Morocco as a traffic controller at an air defense command center. He was able to cross the Mediterranean while on leave and see his grandmother for the first time at her little village near Naples. One poignant memory of that visit was a sign that simply read “October 17,” commemorating a day late in World War II when Nazis bent on retribution stormed into the village and killed all the young men they could find.

Babe returned to pro football in 1956, but his full brilliance as a passer and field general did not emerge until 1962, the third year of the American Football League and Babe’s second campaign with the Boston Patriots. It was a lengthy and sometimes painful route to stardom for the kid from Beaver County.

The first stop was Cleveland, who had traded for his rights when Babe was in the service, hoping that Parilli would take the mantle of the retiring Otto Graham. Five games into the 1955 season, however, Colts’ defensive end Gino Marchetti blindsided Parilli and battered his throwing shoulder so badly that Babe could hardly move the arm.  Six months of convalescence and little response followed.

“I went to a doctor in Kentucky who gave me a cortisone shot and just said to go out there and throw as hard as I could.  That was the way to break it up,” said Parilli.

The straightforward remedy worked, and 1957 found Parilli back in Green Bay. He shared the quarterback job with Bart Starr for two years. The 1959 season rolled around, and Parilli got word that he’d been traded to Philadelphia to be Norm van Brocklin’s understudy. Sick of playing second fiddle, Babe went to Canada instead where he put in a season with the Ottawa Roughriders.

In 1960, the American Football League was born, and Parilli went to Oakland where he and Tom Flores divided the qb duties. Traded from Oakland to Boston after the 1960 season along with Billy Lott for Dick Christy and Hal Smith, Babe shared the quarterbacking duties with Butch Songin in 1961.

Holovak Puts Babe in Charge – at Last

Babe in action as a Boston Patriot

The Pats sent Butch to the New York Titans for 1962, and Babe took over the number one slot. Ably backed up by Tom Yewcic, Babe at last had a team he could call entirely his own.

“It was really the first time in my career that I didn’t have to split the top job with someone.  Mike Holovak was the first coach who gave me that opportunity, and I’ll always be grateful to Mike for that,” said Babe recently.

For the next six seasons, Parilli’s schooling under Bryant paid back all the accrued dividends that Babe’s previous coaches in Green Bay, Cleveland, Oakland, and Ottawa might have collected for their respective teams.  With a talented receiving corps that included Gino Cappelletti, Jim Colclough, Artie Graham, Tony Romeo, and Larry Garron out of the backfield, Babe directed an exciting offensive show in virtually every game.

Parilli set every passing record in the young club’s history during over seven seasons, and his stats have endured in the Pats’ record books where he is now fourth all-time behind Drew Bledsoe, Steve Grogan, and Tom Brady. Babe threw 2,410 times as a Patriot and completed 1,140 passes for 16,747 yards and 132 touchdowns.  His 31 TD tosses in 1964 was the team’s single-season record until Tom Brady surpassed it with 50 in 2007.

The Patriots had a winning record in five of Parilli’s seven seasons and posted an overall mark of went 50-39-9. Babe was a three-time league all-star and the comeback player of they year in 1966 when he led the team to a record of 8-4-2 after a 4-8-2 campaign the previous season.

“He was just a very smart quarterback. Not a scrambler. It was the way he conducted himself out there, and way he called the games,” said Gerry Philbin, a defensive tackle and member of the AFL all-time team who played against Parilli as a member of the New York Jets. The two became teammates for 1968 and 1969, the final two years of Babe’s career when he served as backup and mentor to the Jets’ young quarterback, another Bear Bryant protégé from Pennsylvania named Joe Namath.

“Babe was a tremendous athlete. He ought to be in the Hall of Fame. He was a good punter, and he was the holder for Don Maynard, our kicker. It was very comforting to us, knowing that Babe was there if we needed him,” said Philbin.

The Jets, of course, made football history by upsetting the Baltimore Colts 16-7 in the 1969 AFL-NFL championship game, the first such contest to be dubbed “Super Bowl.” Namath’s brash guarantee of an upset was the most memorable episode of Joe Willie’s entire career. But the prediction and outcome of the game did not surprise Parilli.

“We were lucky to beat Oakland [27-23] in the AFL championship game. But I remember watching films of the Colts along with Joe. We turned to each other and agreed, “Hey, the Raiders are better than these guys. We can beat ‘em,’” recalls Babe.

One other title game in Parilli’s career is not such a good memory for long-time Pats’ fans. The San Diego Chargers won the 1963 AFL West division outright. The Pats and Bills tied atop the East and had a playoff game in snowy Buffalo. The Patriots won 26-8, but then had only three days to prepare and fly cross-country to meet a well-rested foe. San Diego had had two close wins over Boston, 17-13 and 7-6, during the season. It should have been a good match up, but the Patriots were at a hopeless disadvantage and lost 51-10.

Babe and Gridiron Club of Greater Boston president Dave O’Brien in 2006

After his playing days ended, Parilli remained with his beloved game as a coach and front office executive. Babe tutored Terry Bradshaw for three years as a member of the Steelers’ staff.  He also put in three years at Denver and one with the Patriots before casting his lot with the World Football League.

Gridiron Club historian Ned Cully points out that Parilli is the answer to the trivia question, “Who was the first coach of the Charlotte Hornets?” The Hornets were a reincarnation of the New York Stars of the short-lived WFL. Babe was coach of the Boston Bulls, Stars, Hornets, and Chicago Fire of that league. Later on, he got into arena football in venues that included New England, Denver, Las Vegas, Anaheim, and Palm Beach.  He has also worked in real estate, public relations, and as owner of a golf course. He now resides in Denver.

“I really liked working with the arena ball players. They’d play for $500 a game, and they were looking to make their mark. It was just like us, back in the old days,” he smiles.

 

A Boston Baseball Story

June 9, 2017
Piersall2

Jimmy Piersall

The recent passing of Jimmy Piersall brought back a load of memories. If you’re a New Englander of my generation, you automatically think “Piersall” when somebody says “center fielder.” He patrolled that sector of Fenway Park all through my childhood, from 1952 to 1958. I was shocked and confused when the Red Sox traded him for Vic Wertz and Gary Geiger in December of ’58. How could they do that?

Jimmy’s personal problems with a bipolar disorder, which were depicted in the film “Fear Strikes Out,” were well documented. When he came up to the Sox in 1952, he dubbed himself the “Waterbury Wizard,” a reference to his home town in Connecticut. His teammates didn’t care for that one.

The Red Sox were decent all through the 1950s. They usually had a winning record but never finished higher than third place. Their outfield was pretty damn good, with Piersall between Ted Williams in left and Jackie Jensen in right. Piersall was twice an All-Star – which meant a lot more then than it does now – and won three Gold Gloves.

I met Jimmy once, in 1964. He was playing for the Los Angeles Angels at the time. He stopped by Waterman’s Funeral Home in Kenmore Square for the wake for my uncle Walter. My father was there with me, and he asked Jimmy to come over and shake my hand. That was a thrill.

DON GILE HEADSHOT

Don Gile

But now to my Boston baseball story. Jimmy Piersall is a supporting actor in this one. The star of the story is a journeyman player named Don Gile (pronounced Jee-lee.)

Several years ago, my company had a luxury box at Fenway Park. I went there one night when the “legend” host happened to be Dick Radatz. Contemporaries will remember Dick, the unhittable – for a few years – closer whom Mickey Mantle once dubbed “The Monster.” Dick was perfect as a host – nice guy, erudite (he went to Michigan State and was, as he told us that night, only the 25th major leaguer to have attended college at the time he was playing.)

Dick Radatz

Dick Radatz

Dick told me a great tale about the 1963 All-Star Game, which I wrote up here. I happened to mention that one time I’d met, among other Red Sox of that era, Don Gile. It was at the Cottage Park Yacht Club one Sunday evening in the summer of 1962. We had heard that a bunch of Red Sox were around, and we went out to the floats to get their autographs.

The players put down the cases of adult beverages that they were loading onto the docked cabin cruiser and signed, obligingly. Yes, things were different back then. I still have those autographs. One of them is Gile’s. When Radatz heard this he said,

“Ah, Don Gile. Let me tell you about Don Gile.”

It was September 30, 1962, the second game of a doubleheader (remember them?) and the final game of the year. Gile, a reserve catcher and first baseman, was in the lineup. In 17 previous games, he’d not had a hit. He was rather down on himself.

Autographs

1962 Red Sox autographs: Don Gile, Mike Fornieles, Bob Tillman

During pregame warmups, a bunch of the players from the two teams were chatting on the sidelines. The opponents were the Washington Senators. Piersall was their center fielder.

Jimmy listened sympathetically to Gile’s story of frustration. He said, “Hit one to me in center. I’ll short-leg it for you and we’ll get you a hit.”

Sure enough, that happened. Gile hit a soft fly ball that Piersall pretended mightily to chase and catch.  But the ball fell in, and Gile had his first hit of the season. Thank you, Jimmy Piersall.

Came the last of the ninth. The score was tied. There were two runners on base. Gile came up. He swung hard. The air was shattered by the force of his blow.

Shattered too was the baseball. It flew high over the nets in left field for a walk-off home run.

Gile circled the bases, kept his head down, crossed home plate, and made a beeline for the dugout.

“By the time we got into the clubhouse, he was gone,” said Radatz. “We never spoke to him and never saw him again. He never played another game in the majors.”

I have no reason to doubt any of this story. Gile’s final year in the majors was that season of 1962, when he was 27 years of age.  He had two hits in 41 at-bats: a single, a homer, and three runs batted in.

Gile became the second Red Sox player of all time to hit a home run in his final at-bat. Two years earlier, Williams had done it on that day, famously chronicled by John Updike in The New Yorker,  that “Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu.” It was Williams’s 521st career homer; it was Gile’s third.

Other than Don Gile, who’s 82, they’re all gone now: Piersall, Radatz, Williams. May they rest in peace. And thanks to all of them for those baseball memories.

And now you know the rest of the story.

Remembering a One-of-a-Kind Fireman on International Firefighters’ Day

May 4, 2017

Jack Kirrane, 1960 Olympic Team captain and toughest defenseman

Today the world honors the brave first responders who every day put their lives on the line in service to those whose own lives must be preserved and protected when fires break out – at home, at work, on the road, anywhere.

It’s fitting that we do this – thank you to all firefighters for your service.

No better day than today to remember one special man was not only a lifelong member of the firefighting profession. He also served his country on the battlefields of Korea, and he led an unlikely contingent of his countrymen to an improbable and storied triumph in the world of sport.

Jack Kirrane of Brookline, Massachusetts is that man. He was captain of the 1960 United States Olympic Hockey Team that won the Gold Medal at Squaw Valley, California.

With all due respect to Mike Eruzione and his merry band from the 1980 games at Lake Placid, the 1960 Olympic victory was the real Miracle on Ice. The Americans ran up a 7-0 record in those games. They went 4-0 against the three best teams in the world: 7-5 vs the Czechs, 3-2 vs, Russia, 2-1 vs. Canada, and then 9-4 vs. the Czechs again for the Gold Medal.

Mitt Romney and his Salt Lake City Olympics organization took the easy way out in 2002 when they had the 1980 team members light the Olympic Flame. They should have given that honor to the 1960 team. Kirrane and coach Jack Riley were both still alive at that point, and they were both in Salt Lake City along with several other team members.

It was a minor miracle that the 1960 team held together and even made it to Squaw Valley in one piece. Just before the games, Riley got the OK from USA Hockey president Walter Brown to add the Cleary brothers, Bill and Bob, to the squad. The team desperately needed more scoring and playmaking. The Clearys had not gone through the pre-Olympics grind with the rest of the team, and some of the players threatened a boycott.

Jack Kirrane would have none of that, telling everyone that if he had to go to California alone to represent America, he’d do it.

As it turned out, that last-minute personnel move made all the difference. The Clearys played brilliantly. There would have been no Gold Medal, and probably no medal at all, without them.   The last man cut to make room for them was Herbie Brooks, who coached the team to Gold 20 years later.

Kirrane had been playing on the international stage as far back as 1948 at St. Moritz. He was the youngest player on his team then. He was the oldest player in 1960.

After the 1948 games he played for the Boston Olympics, which was a feeder team for National Hockey League players. Fernie Flaman, among others, played for the Pics. Kirrane never got an NHL shot, however. He was drafted into the army and shipped off to Korea.

Brookline honors Olympic hockey captain Jack Kirrane.

After serving in Korea, Jack joined the Brookline Fire Department and kept playing high-level amateur hockey. When the tryouts for the 1960 team came along, he took a four-month unpaid leave of absence. He also sold his pickup truck to pay his own way to the tryouts. When he returned to work, he had lost his seniority and had to start at the bottom.

Jack worked as a firefighter for 38 years and retired as a lieutenant. He also managed Harvard’s hockey rink for 15 years. He’s a member of the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame, and there’s a rink named for him at Larz Anderson Park in Brookline.

I never knew Jack Kirrane. Everyone who knows and loves Boston sports and ice hockey ought to know who he was and what he did.

I wish that I’d had, at least, the honor of shaking Jack Kirrane’s hand. So today, on International Firefighters’ Day, I’d like to given him a special thank-you, as we all express our gratitude to his teammates on those hook-and-ladder trucks all over the world.

Great Men and Great Guys

April 23, 2017
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Jack Grinold

This week’s passing of Northeastern University’s and Boston sports’ beloved Jack Grinold, my good friend and good friend to countless others, brought back so many memories. Here’s one, a recollection of one his personal anecdotes, that’s not only a fond memory. It’s also instructive.

Jack lived in Brighton, about a block from Boston College. One of his walking routes, for those infrequent days when nothing was going on in his life, took him through the campus.

It was a mid-summer Sunday afternoon a few years ago. BC was deserted. Summer session was over, and the students had not begun to arrive for the fall semester.  Boston College’s middle campus is a landscaping gem; the trees, greenery, flower beds and walkways have been beautifully maintained for many years.

Jack was strolling through campus when he saw a man hunched over, close to the side of one of the buildings. Coming closer, he realized that the man was a gardener, digging with a hand spade and pulling up weeds that had begun to sprout through the mulch.

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J. Donald Monan, S.J.

Coming closer still, he recognized the lone gardener. It was J. Donald Monan, S.J., former president and then chancellor of Boston College.

“Hey, Father, what you up to?” cried Jack.  And if you knew Jack, you know exactly how that high-pitched greeting sounded.

“Hello, Jack,” came the reply. “I just saw these weeds coming up, and I figured I’d better do something about them.”

Then they had a nice little chat, just the two of them, and each proceeded along his way.

Kipling once wrote something about walking with kings but not losing the common touch.  The late J. Donald Monan’s station in life made him one who frequently walked with kings. But how many of those of his social rank would – literally – stoop to pull weeds from a garden in the realm he ruled for so many years?

More importantly, Father Monan sought out and valued the company and conversation of people of all stations in life. He also knew that he had a kindred spirit in Jack Grinold. That’s a quality that makes those who rank as “great men” truly great.

In that respect, Jack Grinold was J. Donald Monan’s peer. And both of them knew it. Jack’s place on life’s organizational chart wasn’t as lofty. He wasn’t a king. But kings sought him out and valued his advice. So did students, and athletes, and writers, and historians, and everybody else.  Jack Grinold always had a kind word and genuine, sincere interest in others, no matter what their station. So too did J. Donald Monan.

I can imagine the two of them now, meeting up in the Second Balcony and looking down on the rest of us. There will be no weeds to pull, no press releases to get out. Still, they’ve got plenty to do up there, legions of old friends and acquaintances to catch up with.

But I suspect that each February, perhaps, they’ll get together for another little chat. Fierce competitors that they are, they’ll root for their respective schools’ teams in the Beanpot. But only if it’s a BC-NU matchup. Otherwise, I bet, they’ll be pulling for each other.

After all, that’s what great guys do.

Looking Back at the 1936 Olympics

January 3, 2017

on-board-ss-manhattanEighty-one years ago today (January 3, 1936), the United States Olympic Ice Hockey team set sail for Europe on the S.S. Manhattan.  They would play several exhibition matches along the way, but their ultimate destination was Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany. The coach was my uncle, a 32-year old guy named Walter Brown.

On February 6, 1936, the opening event of the Olympics was a game between the United States and Germany, played despite a heavy snow storm.  The summer Olympics and the heroics of Jesse Owens and the University of Washington crew team (“The Boys in the Boat’) were yet to come.

Our guys won it, 1-0, and eventually finished with the Bronze Medal. In the final round, we tied Great Britain, 0-0, and lost the last game 1-0 to Canada. The winning goal in that one came when a puck eluded U.S. goalie Tom Moone, who was blinded by the bright sun behind the shooter.

Great Britain won its first and only Gold in those games. Canada won the Silver Medal after three consecutive Golds.  The USA team actually never lost to the Brits, tying them in Germany and beating them in another game played in England.

The teams traveled in style.  The S.S. Manhattan, owned by United States Lines, was the largest steamship ever built in America. The line published a book with a passenger list, which was given as a souvenir to all travelers. Its pages are reproduced here.

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A View from the Top of the Hill

November 22, 2016

My grandfather George V. Brown, Class of 1898, and my uncle Walter A. Brown, Class of 1923, were inducted into the Hopkinton High School Top of the Hill Class of 2016 this evening. Top of the Hill  honors graduates of the school whose careers were marked by both high achievement and contribution to society.

I had the privilege of accepting the honor in their names and of speaking in their behalf.  The following is my address to the gathering.

nov-22-2016-1In Hopkinton you have a saying. “It all starts here.” That’s true, when you’re talking about the world’s most prestigious road race.

But that’s not the entire story of Hopkinton and sports. Not at all. Hopkinton has given much more to the world of sport, both in America and abroad. Better to say “It all started here.”

It all started with two of the men that Hopkinton honors this evening for achievements and contributions to society. George V. Brown, my grandfather, and Walter A. Brown, my uncle, were two of our country’s finest sportsmen. They were founding fathers and pioneers.

So much that was good in the world of sport, over more than 60 years of the 20th century, came about because of them.

Regarding their achievements – it would take a long time to list them all. I will mention just a few. But before doing so I want to point out that these gentlemen were not sportsmen as we understand the term today. They didn’t enter their professions as wealthy men. Sports were their livelihood, not their hobby. They were very good at what they did. But more importantly, they were good people. They were men of their times, but they were men for all seasons and for all time.

George Brown went into sports coaching and administration right after Bryant and Stratton Business School. By 1899 he was working at the Boston Athletic Association, and became its Athletic Manager in 1904. The BAA was a prime source of athletes for America’s Olympic teams. George was at the 1904 St Louis Olympics and at every Olympic games until his death, as a coach or an official.

He also was hired to run the rebuilt Boston Arena in 1919. Hockey flourished at all levels in Boston. The Bruins played there. He launched Boston University’s program. He started the CanAm games. His son Walter was his right-hand man.

In 1933, the BAA’s financial leader Henry Lapham took over the Boston Madison Square Garden and made George general manager. When George died at the age of 57, in 1937, Walter succeeded him. George is enshrined in both the United States and the National Hockey League Halls of Fame.

Walter was already a leader of American ice hockey when he became the Garden’s general manager at age 32. He had coached the first American team to win the World Championship: the Massachusetts Rangers, in 1933. They defeated Canada in the championship game in Prague – the first time anyone had ever beaten Canada in international play.

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With Boston College-bound Hopkinton High senior Olivia Sparr, whose class co-hosted this evening’s ceremony.

Walter coached the Bronze medal winning Americans in the 1936 Olympics. The opening event of those Winter Games was hockey: the United States 1, Germany 0, played in a snowstorm before a crowd that included all the high-ranking members of the Third Reich. That was the first time the Americans would defeat and disappoint their hosts. It wouldn’t be the last. A few months later, Jesse Owens and the track team – with George V. Brown as one of the coaches – would do it again.

Walter stayed a leader of American and International hockey up until his death – including running US Hockey when we won the Gold Medal at Squaw Valley in 1960. The Walter Brown Award goes to the best American-born college player in New England.

The BAA fell on hard times in the 1930s. Walter took over as president and ran the organization from the Garden. He kept the race alive in Boston. Nowadays, the BAA is back. It’s a superb, professionally administered operation that more than pays its own way and does many great things for the community. But it wasn’t always like this.

There’s another wonderful tradition around the Marathon that I must mention. I and all of my family members are most grateful to the BAA and Hopkinton for it. Every year since 1908, except for one, a descendant of George V. Brown has fired off the gun to start the Boston Marathon. And since 2008, George, in his statue, has been right there to watch.

Walter is probably best known in Boston as the owner of the Celtics. He bought them from the Garden in 1949 for $2000. In 1950, he was responsible for breaking the color line in the NBA when he drafted Chuck Cooper of Duquesne…and he told those present, those who objected, “I don’t care if he’s striped, plaid, or polka-dot. Boston drafts Chuck Cooper.”

The Celtics, as we know, became a dynasty with Red Auerbach, Bob Cousy, Bill Russell and all the rest. But it took a while, and it took a total personal commitment from Walter. In 1952, he took out a $20,000 mortgage on his house in Newton to keep them afloat.

Like his father, Walter died much too young. He was 59 when he had a massive coronary and passed away in 1964. As the newspapers stated, “Grown men cried that day.” Walter is enshrined in the National Basketball Hall of Fame and three hockey halls of fame.

What I’ve just told you is only the beginning of their achievements and contributions to society. I hope it suffices to say here that these two sons of Hopkinton were overachievers and substantial contributors.

But I’ve just recited a list of things. I don’t think these achievements are the true measure of George and Walter Brown.  Please let me point out what some people who knew them wrote or said.

Of George V. Brown:

“No other Boston man, excepting the late George Wright and Dr. Walter Kendall, has framed so many sport scenes with his personality.  He refereed football games before Jim Thorpe came as an unknown novice on his first visit to the Harvard stadium. He made the B. A. A. Winter Games a winter mecca for indoor athletes of the country and made the Boston Marathon the criterion of the world.”

“Hopkinton’s George Brown and the citizens of Milford were among the relatively few Americans to honor native American Olympic Games winner Jim Thorpe before he was unjustly stripped of his medals…George Brown felt none of the animosity toward Native Americans which other U.S. citizens harbored in those days…As far as Brown was concerned, the measure of a man was not his nationality or race. Rather, Brown expected an athlete to do the best he could in the Olympic Games competition, nothing more, and nothing less.”

“He held his friends through life. What better epitaph.  His word was unfailing. What better wreath to lay on his tomb. He helped the young. What better memorial to hang in his halls.”

And of Walter Brown:

“If none could enter the Boston Garden except by presenting a personal account of a gift of this man’s time, talent, counsel or money to some person or some cause in need of human kindness and help, not a seat in the Garden would be empty.

“And many such there will be in every audience that ever gathers, and they will all remember. And they will pass on to their children the memory of a man who felt that every charity or worthy cause had a claim upon him.  He was the embodiment of civic responsibility in the city where there are many common virtues. He was the exemplar of civic duty in a community where it is sometimes appealed to in vain. To these public virtues were added the virtues of gentleness, kindness, thoughtfulness, humility, and love for his family.

“In a city that had only residents, he was a first citizen. In a life that was crowded with conflicting claims, he was a citizen first.

“What he was, what he did, what he said, and what he thought for the good of his fellow man, each time the lights go up in the Boston Garden down through the years, he will be freshly remembered.”

I thank you for the privilege of addressing to you on behalf of my grandfather and my uncle.  I speak in gratitude for my mother Margaret, for the rest of Walter’s siblings, and for their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.

Tonight I can’t help but recall the words of President John F. Kennedy – “We must judge a country not only by the men it produces. But by the men it honors. By the men it remembers.”

In remembering George V. Brown and Walter A. Brown as you have, along with our other distinguished honorees Fred Harris, Michael Shepard, Kelly Grill, Sunni Beville, and Libby Bischoff, Hopkinton tells the world, “These are our beloved sons and daughters. We nurtured them. We sent them forth. By honoring them, we bring honor to ourselves and all that we stand for.”

Fixing Up Society’s Toy Department: Two Modest Proposals

April 10, 2016

Is it a one-way journey, or will the train some day return to the station? Is this one of those times when I must hope for the wisdom to know the difference between things that can and cannot be changed?

No, I’m not thinking of weighty matters, like the way so much of the world seems to be sliding into chaos and towards perdition. I’m not musing on the sorry state of American politics, not pondering how the country has allowed itself to get into the mess it’s in.

That’s for another time, and for another forum. I’m thinking about fun and games, about the Toy Department of society. I’m thinking about college sports and Olympic sports. I see some things about them that I don’t particularly like, and that I wish I could fix. They probably can’t be fixed, and that’s too bad. But I don’t have to like them, and I were king I’d try something different.

Make College Sports an Educational, College Experience First: Get the Players from High Schools, not from Semi-Pro Leagues

Let’s take college sports first. Hockey season is ended, and the annual exodus of still-eligible players is well underway.  Last year, a total of 31 players left school early to play at some level of professional hockey. It will likely be similar in 2016.

Good luck to them all.  I hope they do well, although I think most of them are making a mistake. They’re not all Jack Eichel or Chris Kreider.

I know that this is reality. But for many of these exceptionally talented young adults, reality will bite.

It’s the same in the other big-money sports. In college football, some 125 underclassmen have declared their intentions to be drafted by the National Football League. And don’t even talk to me about college basketball and the “one-and-done” Wildcats of Kentucky. Players who are good enough, or who have been persuaded that they’re good enough, leave their schools, teams, and fans behind.

College scholarship athletes enter school with a five-year time span in which they may play four years of varsity sports. If they have a serious injury, they may get a “medical red-shirt” ruling and have an additional year.

Freshmen are eligible to play immediately. In football, very few “true freshmen” actually do play. Instead, they work out and bulk up for a year while learning “the system.”

At the end of their senior year, they might get to come back for a fifth year if they’re good enough. That’s if the coach wants or needs them, and if they’re not so good that the NFL doesn’t lure them away. And nowadays, a fifth-year player can also go to a different school and play a single season if he has only played three years at his first school.

Five years to play four is too long.  Make it four years to play three.

I suggest that if a scholarship player leaves after his first or second year of varsity participation, the school owes him nothing. If he goes pro after his third year of varsity participation, great. The school must allow him to come back and finish his degree.

If he’s not good enough to play professionally or get a pro tryout, but he’s had three years of college sport, that’s enough.  He’s there for an education – right? So give some other student-athlete a chance to show what he can do on the field of play.

Freshman eligibility for varsity play returned in the 1970s. We’re not going to go back to the days of freshman teams and jayvee teams. So let’s live with it. But let’s adapt to it in this way.

And while we’re at it – an even more importantly — let’s go back to bringing in college-age kids to play in college. We can do that. The four-years-to-play-three eligibility clock should start 12 months after a player’s high school graduation. Allow for one year of post-graduate preparation only.

In hockey, especially, we’re bringing in players who have played one to three years of junior hockey after high school. The best ones are almost fully baked as college freshmen. They’ve gone through a cycle of development and maturation that they should go through in college. They won’t need four years of college competition to get ready for the next level.  So most of them leave early.

Sure, with what I propose the college coaches would have to do more teaching.  They’d have to evaluate and make scholarship decisions more on potential than on accomplishment. So what? That’s their job.  There would be more busts, but more pleasant surprises too. “Walk-ons” and late bloomers would stand a better chance of making a team. And overall, more young people would have a chance to earn a college education with their athletic talent.

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North Dakota defeated Quinnipiac 5-1 in Tampa to win the NCAA Championship (Hartford Courant photo)

That was a helluva game, that NCAA hockey final, wasn’t it?  It’ll only be a couple of years until a lot of those who played in it can join AARP.

Champion North Dakota is a “young” team with 11 freshmen. Four of those freshmen are either 21 or 22.  Quinnipiac has fifteen players older than 21; four players who are 23; three who are 24; and one who is 25. In contrast, Boston College, Quinnipiac’s NCAA semifinal opponent, had just four players older than 21.

Dakota-Quinnipiac is rather like Cornell-Denver in the days of Ned Harkness and Murray Armstrong.  Ned’s 1970 tri-captain Dick Bertrand was 28 when he graduated. But at least they didn’t allow him to play in the NCAA tournament that year.

Yes, that was a great game in Tampa. The two best teams got to the mountain top, and the best one won. The teams played by the rules. However, the rules of eligibility need a rewrite. Maybe they’re too far along, too embedded and encrusted, to be changed.  But they should.

College hockey is the best of all sports, as far as I’m concerned. But I’d rather watch teams that develop and blossom, rather than plug-and-play.

Change the Olympic Business Model: No More Hosting by Cities. Make the Whole Country the Host.

This one is easier. The recent Boston flirtation with the Summer Olympics is all you need for an example of why a “host city” is no longer the right venue for the Olympic Games.

I am fond of the Olympics, despite their obvious faults and hypocrisies. I usually look forward to them. But I was glad that the Boston bid didn’t succeed. The games are too big and too expensive for a single city.  Nor is there any need to bring all the teams and athletes together, in one place, for the duration of the competition.

Why the International Olympic Committee hasn’t gotten that message, I just can’t understand. They should negotiate with entire countries, rather than with individual cities, to host the games. Bring everybody in for opening and closing ceremonies so as to preserve the pageantry. But hold each of the events in an existing facility, anywhere in the host country, that is best suited for said events.

Nobody does marathons better than the BAA. Hold the Olympic Marathon here. Yachting and rowing? Here too, in Marblehead and on the Charles.  Swimming? Harvard would be a good place, but so would many others around the country.

Gymnastics can go just about anywhere. So can track and field. And somewhere in America, there’s got to be a velodrome for cycling.

Give individual cities and states a chance to bid on a limited number of events, or on just one. They can do a good job at “their thing” when the spotlight is on them, and they won’t go broke. And wherever the athletes are, the TV cameras will be there too.

College sports for college-age kids.  Countries, not cities, for the Olympic Games. That’s all I have to say about that.

Sporting Reflections – Farewell to Bud Collins

March 5, 2016
Bud Collins

Bud Collins

I once met the pope. Got his autograph. And he signed his name, not his official title.

 

The name he signed wasn’t his real name. And I didn’t meet him in the Vatican, but in the press box at Foxboro Stadium, where I worked for many years as a statistician.

 

Pope Alvin was Pete Rozelle, the infallible autocrat who ran the National Football League for almost 30 years. He was born Alvin Ray Rozelle, and he’d been dubbed Pope Alvin by Bud Collins.

I was tempted to ask Mr. Rozelle to sign my game program “Pope Alvin,” but I chickened out. Probably a good decision. He did sign the book, but he seemed just a little affronted at the request. I rather doubt he liked the moniker from Collins, the fun-loving, nonpareil sportswriter-turned-broadcaster, who died earlier this week at age 86.

I met Bud several times over the years and had brief conversations with him, but I can’t say that I knew him. That’s my loss. What a great mentor he would have been for me, as he was with many other writers too numerous to mention here.

For Bud Collins, it seemed, writing wasn’t work at all. I was play. It was joy. He had a joie de vivre that came through on the printed page. Even if he was needling or obliquely criticizing, as was probably the case with “Pope Alvin,” I can’t imagine people staying angry with him.

A major portion of Bud Collins’ professional career was taken up with tennis, first as a writer and then as a broadcaster. He knew everyone and was revered by everyone. I’m a little sorry that his sport happened to be tennis, because tennis and its people never caught my fancy. So I didn’t seek out Bud’s stories and deprived myself of regular reading of a truly superb craftsman.

He was a master at the quick quip-in-print, the off-the-wall simile or metaphor that was just too clever for anyone else to dream up under pressure of a deadline. He was a master, and not just with his nicknames like “Bucharest Buffoon” for Ilie Nastase, and “Sisters Sledgehammer” for Venus and Serena Williams.
Once, when covering the handsome and rising tennis star Bjorn Borg, he described the Swede’s adoring female fans as experiencing “Borgasms.” If memory serves, that one got edited out before the Globe hit the streets. Of course, it would remain in the story today. Probably in the headline.

Bud loved what he did, and he loved the people he covered in their victories and their defeats. He knew that sports was the toy department of society. He enjoyed that department to the full, traveling around the world to cover it. One regular feature in the Globe was “Bud Collins: Anywhere.” And he could be reporting from just about anywhere, dressed in his trademark outlandishly patterned colored pants.

The first I met Bud Collins was back in the late 50’s or early 60’s. It was at the Corinthian Yacht Club during Marblehead Race Week. Bud was still working for the Boston Herald at the time. He came to Marblehead to find an intriguing subject for “The Collins View.” He got to talking with a bunch of us from Winthrop and told us he was a Herald sportswriter. I asked him if he was Tim Horgan. Nice try, but in any case he seemed favorably impressed that I knew somebody with a byline.

He decided to do his column on Winthrop’s own John “Mac” McDonald and his red-haired, freckle-faced Turnabout crewman, Peter “Red” Fenlon. He wrote of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, as I recall, and of girls wanting to go out in Mac’s boat, “Sea Note.” Mac and Red had their picture taken, shaking hands, to accompany the article. They had to go in to the Herald building in Boston for that, if memory serves.

The encomia for Bud Collins keep coming, as well they should. He was one of a kind. Rest in peace, Bud!

What Writers Live For

February 24, 2016

Cover front2Our book was published a little over a year ago. I just have to share the email (below) that I received from Shauna Sullivan McDonald. She is the daughter of Charlie Sullivan, Boston College Class of 1942.

This is why I love writing stories about people – whether they are athletes or not.

Charlie was the oldest former player whom I interviewed during the course of my research. He is, I am quite sure, the oldest living BC hockey alumnus. My co-author Reid Oslin interviewed Bill Hogan, Class of 1933, who lived to the age of 100 and who, unfortunately, did not live to see the book published.

Bill Hogan was the true founding father of Boston College hockey. He was class president in 1932-33. Hockey had been curtailed at the school due to the Great Depression. He persuaded the administration to revive the sport, and he recruited John “Snooks” Kelley to be the coach.

Charlie Sullivan came along a few years later. He was on a team that had three great players — Ray Chaisson, Fishy Dumond, and Johnny Pryor — and a bunch of scrubs including Charlie. In 1941, with World War II looming and knowing that he’d be called to service, Charlie didn’t come back to school in the fall. He waited around, but wasn’t drafted right away.

He happened to be on the campus one day when one of the priests saw him and asked why he was not in school. Charlie told him, and the good father promptly ordered him to report to the dean and to the athletic department.

Charlie played most of that 1941-42 season before the army came calling. His last game was on February 7 when the Eagles lost 7-2 to Dartmouth. Charlie wasn’t around at season’s end for BC’s first national championship. They won the George V. Brown Memorial Trophy as the top amateur hockey team in the country, besting the High Standard, Massena, and Saint Nick’s Hockey Clubs in the National AAU Tournament.

Charlie was just full of stories about his BC days. The team practiced only a few times a week, very early in the mornings at Boston Arena. Frequently, the practices were scrimmages against BU or Northeastern. The players would pitch a quarter each into a pot. The winners would use their money to buy breakfast at the White Tower restaurant on the way back to class.

The all had jobs on the side — usually at the Post Office or in supermarkets — while playing hockey and studying full time. For extra money, they’d sell pints of blood to the Red Cross.

Yes, times were different then. It was a privilege to be able to tell the stories after speaking with someone who lived through them.

Shauna Sullivan email