Work in Sports
A bird's-eye view in Beantown
The Red Sox win the World Series on September 11, 1918
By Leigh Montville
Issue date: July 26, 1993
I stand on the roof of Fenway Park with my flock of faithful carrier pigeons. The afternoon of Sept. 11, 1918, a Wednesday, has turned out to be cold in Boston, keeping the crowd down to 15,238 for the sixth and possibly final game of the World Series between the Red Sox and the Chicago Cubs. I pull up the collar of my U.S. Army-issued overcoat, stamp my feet, smoke my Sweet Caporals cigarette and try to keep my service cap from flying off in the breeze.
The pigeons seem a little nervous. I am a little nervous, too. "You want to be a sportswriter, Private?" the captain says. "Is what I hear correct?"
"Yes, it is, sir," I reply.
"Well, this is your chance. Write out a synopsis of every inning. Tie it to the leg of a pigeon and let the pigeon go. He'll fly right back to Camp Devens. The troops will know how the game is going. Lord knows they need something to keep their minds off the fields of France and the Hun and the mustard gas and all of it. Do us proud, son."
I am doing the best I can. Given a chance, I think I could write eloquently about this Series. Maybe not as well as Mr. Ring Lardner, himself, over there in the press box covering the game for the Chicago Tribune, but well enough to work for one of the Boston papers. I have the snappy wisecracks and the metaphors in my head. I know I do. There isn't much room for creativity, though, in a message that has to be tied to the leg of a pigeon.
"No score, end of one," I write after the first inning. I send a bird into the air.
"No score, end of two," I write after the second inning. Another bird. Gone.
How many pigeons would it take to carry all the lines I could compose on the wonders of George Herman Ruth, the magnificent Babe! Twenty-three years old, he not only is the best pitcher in the game, but he might also be the best hitter! Winner of Games 1 and 4, he extended his Series record to 29 consecutive scoreless innings pitched before the Cubs finally put a run across. He hit a triple in Game 4 that was a rifle shot, a fiery horsehide sphere that went over the head of Chicago rightfielder Max Flack. (See what I mean about the metaphors?) Is he better as a pitcher? Is he better as a hitter? The good Lord hasn't sent us enough birds to carry just the exclamation points that could be used for either side of that debate!
I could describe the mysteries of righthander Carl (Sub) Mays's submarine pitch, the elegance of Harry Hooper in rightfield, the wisdom of manager Ed Barrow in the Boston dugout. I could unearth the true reasons for the distasteful players' strike before Game 5 of the Series, the financial shenanigans of major league officials and team owners that almost ruined the game. I could tell Mr. and Mrs. America what it is like to be around this great Boston Red Sox operation--regal, invincible, dominant--as it stands on the threshold of its third world championship in four years, a record fifth in the short history of baseball.
"Red Sox 2, Chicago 0, end of three," I write after the third inning. I send a bird into the air.
"Red Sox 2, Chicago 1, end of four," I write after the fourth. Another bird.
I send my pigeons, inning by inning. The score stands. I want to detail the heroics of George Whiteman. He hit the ball that ripped through Flack in rightfield for an error that sent home the only two Boston runs. He also made the play that saved the game in the eighth, a shoestring catch of a ball hit by Turner Barber to left--Whiteman running, running, running, snagging the ball and finishing with a somersault. Who has ever made a better catch? Who?
"Red Sox 2, Chicago 1, end of eight," I write. Goodbye, bird.
The time is 3:05 when the final out is made: Red Sox 2, Chicago 1. I can see the celebration on the field, the victorious players gathered near the mound. There's the Babe, right in the middle of the crowd. People are honking their horns in Kenmore Square. The scribes in the press box already have begun to type. I can see the Boston owner, the crafty Harry Frazee, sharing champagne with friends. There's so much I want to say. I can't help myself.
"The Red Sox have done it again!" I write with great haste. "No team will ever approach their accomplishments. They will win again and again. Boston is--and always will be--the capital of the baseball world. Raise your children to be Red Sox fans! They will never be disappointed!"
I have used extra bits of paper to record my message. I roll them into the tightest of scrolls and attach them to my final pigeon's leg. I toss the bird into the air. He seems awkward for a moment but then starts to flap his wings in perfect rhythm.
I watch as he soars higher and higher above the park, above the noise. He is as strong as the message he carries. Red Sox! Champions Forever! I can see him above the city now, heading west, just a dot on the horizon....
Wait a minute.... Did he just seem to pause?... Start to fall?
Must be an optical illusion.
They will win again and again. Boston is -- and always will be -- the capital of the baseball world.