Shot of love

We’ve been watching Ken Burns’ 1994 documentary “Baseball,” which certainly beats watching the Red Sox these days. Last night, as the story turned to the death of Babe Ruth’s first wife, Helen Ruth, in a Watertown house fire, I heard a familiar tune on piano. I couldn’t quite place it except that it was clearly a hymn.

Then I remembered. It was “Abide with Me,” which — in addition to being sacred music — is the first piece on Thelonious Monk’s 1957 album “Monk’s Music,” written, as it turns out, by a 19th-century English church musician named William Henry Monk. Thelonious Monk doesn’t play; instead, it’s lovingly rendered by his horn section, consisting of Ray Copeland on trumpet, Gigi Gryce on alto sax, and Coleman Hawkins and John Coltrane on tenor sax.

Please give it a listen. It might be the most uplifting thing you do all day.

Congratulations to the Celtics for a thrilling ride. If they stay healthy, they’ll be back.

Jayson Tatum. Photo (cc) 2018 by Erik Drost.

I am no basketball analyst. But I watched almost every minute of the Celtics’ playoff run, which came to an end last night with a thorough thrashing at the hands of the Golden State Warriors. And I just want to say this: Don’t tell me about blown opportunities, choking or any of those other tired sports clichés. They lost to a much better team. Even those maddening turnovers were a symptom, not a cause.

Longtime Celtics fans will hark back to the Larry Bird era or, more recently, the Kevin Garnett-Paul Pierce-Ray Allen trio. There are some key differences. Bird was one of those rare talents who arrived fully formed. Garnett, Pierce and Allen were veterans brought together for what turned out to be one championship run.

Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, by contrast, still have some learning to do. They’ve learned a lot the past few weeks, and we can all hope they’ll be better players as a result.

These opportunities don’t come along very often, and you hate to see them miss what looked like a real chance at a championship. Among other things, the Celtics were about as healthy as you can expect an NBA team to be in June. Robert Williams was hobbled, but he’s their fourth-best player. You can say they’ll be back next year, but so much of that depends on avoiding injuries.

But congratulations to the Celtics for a great ride. And congratulations to the Golden State Warriors and Steph Curry, the best pure shooter the NBA has ever seen.

BoMag and the Globe offer dueling theories about who shot David Ortiz

David Ortiz celebrates the first of his three championships with the Red Sox. Photo (cc) 2013 by Colin Steele.

Boston magazine and The Boston Globe published dueling stories over the weekend that recount the 2019 shooting of Red Sox legend David Ortiz.

The Boston magazine story, by Mike Damiano, appears to have been many weeks, if not months, in the making — it’s a rich, deeply reported story about Ortiz’s life in the Dominican Republic and his complicated family situation. The Globe article, by Bob Hohler, may have been assigned (or least put on the fast track) in reaction to  BoMag. It’s a newsy account of that attempts to get to the bottom of who ordered Ortiz’s shooting, and why.

By all means, read both. But by far the most interesting detail is the dueling theories about the role of a major drug trafficker, César Peralta, known as “The Abuser.” According to the Globe’s account, former Boston police commissioner Ed Davis, who was hired by Ortiz to investigate the shooting, Peralta is in fact the guy who ordered the hit. Hohler writes:

Davis, disclosing his findings for the first time, said the powerful and politically connected drug lord César “The Abuser” Peralta came to feel disrespected by Ortiz, prompting him to place a bounty on Ortiz’s head and sanction the ragtag hit squad that tried to kill him.

“Peralta said he had David shot,” Davis said in an interview, citing information that he said US law enforcement officials gathered and shared with him.

The BoMag story, on the other hand, all but rules out Peralta as having any role. Here’s what Damiano has to say:

As I, too, tried to get to the bottom of what caused the shooting, I found that the closer I got to people with genuine knowledge of the Santo Domingo underworld, the more skepticism I heard about the love-triangle theory and any possibility of Peralta’s involvement. One man I spoke with who knows many of the men in Peralta’s circle, as well as some of the men accused of involvement in the shooting, said that the theory was bunk. No part of it added up, he said, and hardly anyone in his neighborhood — Herrera, a hot bed of Dominican drug trafficking — believed it.

The two accounts also raise some questions about access. The Globe’s owner and publisher, John Henry, is also the principal owner of the Red Sox. Davis is a security consultant for the Globe. It does not appear that Davis shared his theory about Peralta with BoMag.

Both stories dismiss the widely mocked theory put forth by Dominican authorities that Ortiz was the victim of mistaken identity.

The conclusion I took away from Damiano’s and Hohler’s reporting was that we may never know who ordered the hit on Ortiz. I’m just glad he’s still with us.

Footnote: I’m told that Damiano has been hired by the Globe.

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A weird Red Sox season ends on a down note

Red Sox-Yankees at Fenway Park. Photo (cc) 2018 by Daniel Hartwig.

What a weird Red Sox season. They played way over their heads for three months, were lousy for two and a half months, got incredibly hot and then stopped hitting. They were more fun than anyone thought they’d be on Labor Day. But Chaim Bloom has work to do.

Musts: two additional good starting pitchers (maybe Chris Sale can be one of them), a completely revamped bullpen and better defense. I don’t want to see Kyle Schwarber playing first base again. Maybe they can talk J.D. Martinez into leaving, which would open up the DH position. I’m sure they’d like to, even though he can still hit.

Although it would be a luxury, I’d also like to see them figure out how to get more consistency out of the offense as well. Still, offense is not what’s wrong with this team.

Finally, I was upset when the Sox brought back Alex Cora given his role in the Astros’ 2017 cheating scandal — and his possible role in a lesser Red Sox scandal in 2018. He proved himself once again to be the best manager in Sox history other than Terry Francona, and he seems to be genuinely contrite.

But to echo one of my Facebook friends, he needs to take the next step and tell us exactly what happened in 2017. His role in all that is still kind of a mystery, even though we know what happened in general terms.

Don’t let the door hit you on the way out, Curt

Curt Schilling, the bloody-sock hero of the 2004 Red Sox, says he’s leaving Massachusetts for Tennessee, where he expects that people won’t be so mean to him. I’ve never been to Tennessee, but I hope people there aren’t as racist, transphobic and full of hate as Schilling has become over the years.

In 2017, Travis Waldron wrote an excellent in-depth piece for HuffPost on Schilling’s descent from apparently normal conservative in his playing days and the immediate aftermath into an all-purpose terrible person.

Yes, Curt Schilling should be in the Hall of Fame

Curt Schilling in better days. Photo (cc) 2007 by Andrew Malone.

We have a good discussion under way on Facebook about whether Curt Schilling should be in the Baseball Hall of Fame. I say yes, even though he’s devolved into a terrible human being who’s mocked trans people and joked about journalists being murdered in the years since his playing days ended.

The argument against Schilling, one of the great post-season clutch pitchers, is that the Hall of Fame has a character clause, and there’s no doubt that the Schilling of today is someone of exceedingly poor character. But the clause should pertain to how he conducted himself as a player. Schilling always respected the game, unlike cheaters such as Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds and Pete Rose. With Clemens, it wasn’t just steroids; it was also his adolescent meltdown in the 1990 playoffs. Clemens was thrown out, and the Red Sox lost the game and the series. Of course, that probably would have happened anyway given Clemens’ miserable record in big games.

Sean McAdam of the Boston Sports Journal wrote a terrific piece the other day about the man Schilling used to be before becoming a deranged right-wing extremist. I was particularly struck by McAdam’s account of Schilling’s leadership in awarding full shares of the team’s 2004 World Series money to low-paid clubhouse attendants and the like. Here’s how McAdam put it:

After the fact, I was told that Schilling was behind the gesture. (For those suspicious that Schilling was the source of this information, he was not). He argued that for the players, the difference between a full share of, say, $300,000 and $250,000 was minuscule, relatively speaking. But by including more non-players in the distribution of full shares, they could impact the lives of so many who didn’t make seven- and eight-figure annual salaries.

Indeed, some bought houses, paid off mortgages or paid tuition bills with that money. And indirectly, they have Schilling to thank.

None of us knows what happened to Schilling. Obviously something went haywire along the way. In some respects his Hall of Fame credentials are borderline, and we can only imagine the unhinged speech he’d give at Cooperstown if he were actually inducted. But that shouldn’t enter into it. He deserves a plaque.

Hank Aaron could have played in Boston — and he’s still the true home-run king

Hank Aaron. Photo (cc) 2015 by David Valdez.

Imagine if the Braves had never left Boston. The great Hank Aaron, whose death at the age of 86 was announced Friday, might have played here. Of course, Boston was a notoriously racist city when Aaron was playing, and we still have plenty of problems. But it’s interesting to ponder what might have been.

Like many fans, I remember watching the Braves as Aaron approached and then surpassed Babe Ruth’s seemingly unbreakable record of 714 in 1974. Braves games were carried on national TV during Aaron’s pursuit, which meant that the entire country could watch. Sadly, the obits all go into some detail about the hate to which Aaron was subjected for having the temerity to break a white man’s record.

On Friday, Twitter was abuzz with the possibility that Major League Baseball’s recent decision to regard the Negro League as “major” might mean that Aaron’s final home-run total of 755 would be revised upward — conceivably by enough to pass Barry Bonds’ steroid-tainted 762. But apparently that’s not going to happen. Mike Oz of Yahoo Sports addressed the matter in December:

One thing that would have caused a tectonic shift in the record books was if Hank Aaron’s 1952 season in the Negro Leagues counted. He hit either eight or nine home runs that season, depending on the source, but Barry Bonds sits atop the all-time home run leaderboard by seven, so either one of those being accepted would have made Hank No. 1 again.

Alas, the 1948 cutoff was chosen because most of the top talent fled the Negro Leagues after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier, making the leagues more like the minor leagues than the majors by the time Aaron arrived.

That’s a shame, and maybe MLB will revisit the issue. Either way, though, Henry Aaron will always be the truth home-run king.

Sports and justice

The question is what else will and should the players do beyond boycotting games? The NBA has some real leaders, from LeBron James to Jaylen Brown. It will be interesting to see what happens next.

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Rashida Tlaib and the perils of our first-across-the-finish-line elections

Photo (cc) 2008 by H2Whoa!

I was reading a New York Times story about a serious primary challenge to U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib when I came across this sentence: “Had the 2018 primary been a head-to-head race, many believe Ms. Jones would have prevailed.” Jones is Brenda Jones, the Black president of the Detroit City Council, against whom Tlaib is running once again. I decided to look a little more deeply to find out what had happened.

Tlaib, as you no doubt know, is a member of “the squad” — four progressive women of color, all Democrats, who were elected to the House in 2018. (The others are Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar and Ayanna Pressley.) What I didn’t know was that Tlaib’s brief political career stands out as an example of what’s wrong with our first-across-the-finish-line method of determining elections.

Tlaib first ran in a special election to replace John Conyers, who resigned following charges of sexual harassment. She came in second in a multi-candidate field. Jones, the winner of the Democratic primary, received 37.7% of the vote, becoming the acting congresswoman. (In Tlaib’s district, winning the Democratic primary is tantamount to winning the election.) Tlaib came in second with 35.9%

A few months later, another primary was held to choose a regular replacement for Conyers. This time, in a five-candidate field, Tlaib finished first, with 31.2%, and Jones came in second, with 30.2% Note that Tlaib’s support had actually dropped nearly five points since the special election. About 69% of voters cast ballots for someone other than Tlaib. But she was declared the winner, which is how it works under our system.

According to Ballotpedia, the 2020 primary, which will be held Aug. 4, will feature just two candidates, Tlaib and Jones, thus guaranteeing that the winner will receive a majority. That’s the way it should be. If no candidate receives a majority, then there ought to be a runoff election between the top two finishers or ranked-choice voting. (I wrote about ranked choice, also known as instant-runoff voting, and other election reforms for WGBH News in 2018.)

In any case, this will be an interesting primary to keep an eye on. The outspoken Tlaib, who’s Palestinian-American, is, along with Omar, one of the first two Muslim women elected to Congress. Jones represents a more moderate African American constituency.

At least this time, we’ll have a chance of finding out whom voters actually prefer.

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There’s a context for what happened to Adam Jones. We need to put a stop to it.

There’s a context for the racial taunts directed at Orioles centerfielder Adam Jones at Fenway Park during Monday night’s game. After all, we had just learned that a Trump supporter from Winchester, one of the wealthiest communities in the state, had written a letter to his community weekly complaining about those “Hate Has No Home Here” signs that have popped up here and there (including in front of our house).

“It is offensive to imply that the rest of us — who don’t have a sign and who don’t think the way you think we should — are haters,” wrote John Natale in the Winchester Star. “That’s insulting.” It was a breathtaking display of cluelessness and insensitivity. And we never would have heard about it if a seventh-grader’s righteous response hadn’t gone viral.

There has been an enormous amount of commentary about the Fenway Park incident in the past few days. Here are three you ought to take a look at.

  • In The Boston Globe (owned by Red Sox principal owner John Henry), columnist Adrian Walker wonders why more steps haven’t been taken to curb racist fans. “Bad behavior can be stopped,” writes Walker. Indeed. As we have been reminded, Boston is one of the most inhospitable cities in the country for visiting black players. It’s disgusting. I’m glad that fans gave Jones a standing ovation Tuesday night, but it shouldn’t have been necessary in the first place.
  • In the Boston Herald, sports columnist Steve Buckley gives Red Sox president Sam Kennedy high marks for acting decisively but criticizes him for blaming the problem on “an ignorant few.” Buckley’s response: “Every time the ignorant few do their handiwork, another episode of ‘Boston is a Racist City’ gets played out on the national stage.” It may be an ignorant few who drunkenly spew the N-word in public, but something is making them feel empowered to do it.
  • At WBZ Radio (1030 AM), Jon Keller draws a distinction between “real Bostonians” and “fake Bostonians.” The trouble is, though real Bostonians would never engage in racist taunting, they’re not doing enough to stop it, either. Says Keller: “Time for the real Bostonians to do more to see to it that the fakers are exposed, isolated and shamed.”

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