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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Remembering Muhammad Ali

Malcolm X photographs Muhammad Ali after his first defeat of Sonny Liston. Photo via Wikipedia.

There was a time when those of us in our 50s and 60s cared about boxing. The one and only reason for that was Muhammad Ali, who died Friday at the age of 74. Ali was a great boxer, but it was his persona that made him so appealing: smart, funny, antiwar, an outspoken voice against racism.

I was not a huge boxing fan. Besides, in those days boxing was a big business, and you couldn’t see major bouts without paying money to watch it on closed-circuit TV in a movie theater. I never did that. But I remember organizing a betting pool among my fellow ninth-graders in Middleborough for the first fight between Ali and Joe Frazier in 1971.

My most vivid Ali memory also did not involve seeing him actually fight. His epic battle with George Foreman in what is now Congo took place on the night that I attended my first Bruce Springsteen concert—October 30, 1974. Everyone was convinced that Foreman would crush the aging, smaller Ali. After three and a half thrilling, exhausting hours of the 25-year-old Bruce, the promoter came out at 12:30 a.m. to announce that Ali had won. Pandemonium ensued.

No one cares about boxing anymore, and I think Ali had a lot to do with that, too. When he was young, it seemed as though he never even got hit. In the latter stages of his career, unfortunately, his strategy—as in the Foreman fight—was to absorb a terrible beating, and then to come out swinging once his opponent was exhausted. It almost certainly led to his Parkinson’s, and it’s a big reason why boxing has moved off center stage and into the shadows.

You have to wonder if football will be next.

Tom Yawkey, racist

Tom Yawkey and his wife, Jean, at Fenway Park in the 1930s. Photo (cc) by the Boston Public Library
Tom Yawkey and his wife, Jean, at Fenway Park in the 1930s. Photo (cc) by the Boston Public Library

Excellent column by noted baseball fan Adrian Walker in today’s Boston Globe on the racism of the late Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey. Somewhere in the mists of my memory I seem to recall that when the Sox finally did sign their first black ballplayer, Pumpsie Green, Yawkey’s reaction was: “They really do have funny names, don’t they?”

Walker suggests that both Yawkey Way and the MBTA’s Yawkey Station be named for Ted Williams, who not only was “racially enlightened,” as Walker writes, but was also perhaps the greatest Latino player in major-league history.

Sounds like a good idea to me. But as an alternative, why not rename Yawkey Way for Williams and the T station for Jim Rice, a Hall of Famer and an African-American? Rice was the team’s best player at a time when Boston was considered the most racist city in America. Yet, incredibly, he was often criticized around here for his all-business demeanor and his frosty relations with the media.

Charles Fountain’s colorful new take on the 1919 Black Sox

b_kirtzBy Bill Kirtz

Print the legend?

Charles Fountain doesn’t.

Meticulously researched and colorfully written, his new book, “The Betrayal: The 1919 World Series and the Birth of Modern Baseball” (Oxford University Press, 290 pages, $27.95), offers a host of new information about the often-told 1919 Chicago Black Sox saga.

He’s unearthed a ton of fresh material, including the papers of American League founder Ban Johnson and the files of cover-up maestro Alfred Austrian.

Fountain, a long-time Northeastern University School of Journalism friend and colleague, sorts through the myriad versions of how and why the World Series was fixed, never resorting to easy conclusions. He separates what’s ain’t from what’s so. When the facts are murky, he’s content to present — not pontificate.

This tapestry of baseball and social history encompasses 19th-century game-throwing, the 1920s melange of politics, sports and gambling, and colorful portraits of legendary lawyers and sportswriters.

61zSPKXvyGL._SX328_BO1,204,203,200_We learn that “hippodroming” — game-fixing — is as old as organized baseball itself, as supposed amateurs took “sporting men”’s money to drop flies and strike out. And we see the machinations of White Sox owner Charles Comiskey and baseball commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis as they try to contain and manipulate the burgeoning Black Sox scandal.

Fountain, the author of two well-received sports books (on famed scribe Grantland Rice and on the history of spring training), is especially good on tracing the incestuous relationships between writers and their subjects — and on the wink-and-nod clubbiness and vicious newspaper competition that prevented the biggest baseball story of the (or perhaps any) era from leaking earlier.

“The Betrayal” is a treasure trove of bizarre incidents, including Keystone Kops detective efforts fueled with Scotch, fishing trips and apartment-sharing with a conspirator’s paramour. There are vignettes galore about larger-than-life characters like lawyer-jury rigger William Fallon and criminal mastermind Arnold Rothstein.  Fountain even manages to bring in “Jazz Age siren” Peggy Hopkins Joyce for a cameo.

Fountain also offers a reporting primer. The criminal trial of seven players and four gamblers began in torrid heat. How hot? Ninety-four degrees. (Fountain looked up that day’s weather report.)

From Attell (Abe: boxer, bagman and one of the saga’s host of double-crossers) to Zork (Carl: gambler and plotter), “The Betrayal” is a richly detailed page-turner.

There’s only one real rattlesnake here but plenty of two-legged ones in executive offices and judicial robes — as well as in dugouts.

“The Betrayal” is a must-read for anyone interested in American sports, morality and justice — and how they occasionally mesh.

Bill Kirtz is an associate professor of journalism at Northeastern University.

A few thoughts on the Deflategate decision

Tom_Brady_vs._Vikings_2014
Tom Brady in 2014. Photo (cc) by Andrew Campbell. Some rights reserved.

We’ve had a lively discussion of this on Facebook, so I thought I’d post it here as well.

My first reaction to Deflategate was that Tom Brady was responsible. I based my opinion on his refusal to defend himself beyond a few vague statements. He said nothing after the Wells Report came out. I also had no idea the commissioner’s office was so corrupt — not too strong a word.

I changed my mind after we learned that Brady had denied under oath that he had any involvement or knowledge of footballs being deflated. Not only do I have no reason to think Brady is the sort of person who’d lie under oath, but he gave that statement knowing that Lenny and Squiggy could emerge from their lair and contradict him.

I see Judge Richard Berman’s ruling as total vindication. I know he had to be careful in ruling on narrow legal grounds rather than on the facts, but the facts mattered. He asked a lot of factual questions during the hearings, and of course he was well aware of Brady’s denial. There’s also the matter of the false ESPN report — clearly a smear job by the NFL. I can’t prove this, but I believe that if Berman thought Brady was responsible, he might have knocked the suspension down to two games on procedural grounds but wouldn’t have vacated it entirely. Judges are human, and they can’t help but let the facts influence their legal rulings. (And what’s wrong with that?)

Goodell now says he’s going to appeal. Frankly, the best outcome would be if the NFL owners decided he should spend more time with his family. What a clown.

I’m not even a football fan, but I’m glad Brady won. I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say that Berman’s ruling legitimizes the Patriots’ championship. I never would have believed it, but the NFL really was out to get them.

As for all the media attention this has gotten, so what? I’ve heard a lot of comments along the lines of “this is so unimportant given what’s going on in the world.” Well, sports is a combination of entertainment and culture, and it’s something a lot of us follow — along with the presidential campaign and the horrors of ISIS and the refugee crisis in Europe. We all care about many different things. I’m not going to criticize anyone for caring about this. I care too.

Firing the manager is usually a bad idea

Boston Red Sox at Baltimore Orioles June 15, 2013
John Farrell in happier times — with David Ortiz in 2013.

The Fire John Farrell campaign is far enough along that Boston Globe columnist Christopher Gasper feels compelled to write about why the Red Sox shouldn’t fire him.

Personally, I’ve never understood the urge to fire managers. Sometimes you hire a really bad one and you have no choice. But when you’ve got a good one, you should keep him.

Lest we forget, after the 2011 collapse the Sox fired Terry Francona, the best manager they’d ever had, citing the truism that you can’t fire all the players. Less than a year later, they did fire all the players, more or less, leading to a World Series victory in 2013 under Farrell — a fine manager, but no Francona.

What bothers me about the 2015 Red Sox is that some of the problems were predictable — the lousy starting rotation in particular. But that’s on Ben Cherington and the front office, not Farrell. (No, I wouldn’t fire Cherington, either, but I assume he and the owners are engaged in some serious soul-searching.)

The Sox have plenty of problems, but Farrell isn’t one of them.

Photo (cc) by Keith Allison and published under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

Common sense from Dan Shaughnessy

Not a headline you see every day. In this case, though, his curmudgeonliness meets the perfect topic: the please-kill-me-now idea to bring the Olympics to Boston. No, no, no. One quibble, though, as Shaughnessy writes:

Just for kicks, I ran the Olympic idea past a Boston business tycoon — a local lifer who has dealt with all the big shots on the business and political scenes.

“The Olympics in Boston would probably finish the city off for good,” he said, calmly.

Even if the lack of attribution doesn’t bother you, I would have loved to see an explanation as to why said tycoon wouldn’t let his name be used. Is he afraid of crossing the pro-Olympics crowd? Why? That could prove more interesting than his quote.