I know how men in exile feed on dreams of hope.
In the early 1960s, Jim Powers was a man in exile. He lived in Connecticut and worked in New York, but it was all Siberia to him. To hazard a shakier metaphor, his world had become a large cell. The bars were pinstripes. There were pinstripes on his commuter train, pinstripes on his subway and pinstripes in his office, all reminding him of those damned pinstriped Yankees winning pennant after pennant up in the Bronx. Powers hated pinstripes and he hated the Yankees. He wasn't of this town: He had been raised in Uxbridge, Mass., 36 miles from Fenway Park, and he was a lifelong Red Sox fan. In the early '60s, the Yankees were still winning almost every year, so New York was a tough town for a Sox fan to live in.
Because of his persuasion he was shunned and ridiculed by his peers. As Aeschylus knew, exile doesn't dampen the inner flames, it fans them. Powers walked about Manhattan subsisting on his unreasonable dreams of hope, becoming leaner but prouder and more defiant. Such citizens are dangerous, and by 1965 Powers was poised to commit a desperate act.
He was sitting at the bar of J.J.'s Cellar, a restaurant on East 55th Street, hidden in a sea of pinstriped suits at cocktail hour. Significantly, Powers was not alone. He was huddling with others who shared his misery. The names they whispered were foreign to midtown Manhattan. Not Ruth, Gehrig, Mantle and Joe, but Ruth (as a pitcher), Foxx, Williams and Dom. The group recounted bygone Boston glories and dared to predict future victories. From such hushed intercourse, movements are born.
"We'd get 12, 14 guys together and have a couple of cocktails," Powers says casually of those early meetings. "We were basically transplanted New Engenders. We didn't call ourselves the BLOHARDS then. That came a couple of years later, when I was thinking about that benevolent loyal order stuff of the Grangers back in Uxbridge."
The BLOHARDS: the Benevolent Loyal Order of Honorable and Ancient Red Sox Diehard Sufferers of New York. Although it took some time and rumination to come up with the official acronym, these guys were always BLOHARDS—that's what brought them together. Like Powers, who is now ad director of USA Weekend, many of the founding fathers were in the media business. And they all were lost souls.
The BLOHARDS gained in organization and sophistication, its membership growing to 150, 250, 350 and more. Officers were selected by Powers, and he became president. "He is the always-and-forever leader," says one member. "The BLOHARDS without Jim would be the Vatican without the pope."
The BLOHARDS convened, perforce, behind enemy lines: in the New England Room of the Hotel Lexington, in the 50th-floor dining room of the McGraw-Hill Building in midtown, even in the Combo Room of Yankee Stadium. Can you imagine 138 BLOHARDS no more than a short fly ball from George Steinbrenner's private box?
Over the seasons the BLOHARDS grew stronger, and their ever more reckless bravado proved irresistible to recruits. A lonely Henry Berry was riding a late-night train to his home in Darien, Conn. in 1965. He had just been to the Stadium, where his Red Sox had lost, naturally, to the Yankees. "I was deep in my thoughts of despair," Berry remembers, "when all of a sudden, from the back of the car, I heard four or five voices raised in song." It was the refrain of a folk song indigenous to New England: "Better than his brother Joe, Dominic Di-Mag-giooooo!" Curious and emboldened, Berry made his way through the car and found Powers leading the chorus. "He seemed to resemble the immortal 'Nuf Sed McGreevey, a leader of the Royal Rooters of the early 1900s. I introduced myself by offering a toast to the great Jimmie Foxx. You see, by mentioning Ol' Double X, you can promptly identify yourself as a real Red Sox fan."
Powers recognized a staunch and courageous leader when he saw one, and it was not long before Berry was a lieutenant in the BLOHARDS. He narrated the slide shows at BLOHARDS gatherings and introduced honored guests, who came to bolster the troops. Johnny Pesky has met with the BLOHARDS twice, and DiMaggio, Dom, addressed a gathering at the New England Room in '68. Cleveland Amory and Peter Golenbock debated the relative merits of the Sox and Yanks at a BLOHARDS-sponsored forum. Managers talked strategy.