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A Bird's-eye View in Beantown
Leigh Montville
November 29, 1999
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November 29, 1999

A Bird's-eye View In Beantown


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Carrier pigeons were released at the end of each inning, the birds taking to Camp Devens (thirty miles west of Boston) a progressive report of the contest....
Sept. 12, 1918

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.

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