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Frank Deford
July 13, 1970
Sports, politics and tradition all have equal status in Boston, which has again refused to build a municipal stadium. Is Boston trailing the rest of the country? Maybe it's so far ahead it just seems behind
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July 13, 1970

Who Are The Hub Men?

Sports, politics and tradition all have equal status in Boston, which has again refused to build a municipal stadium. Is Boston trailing the rest of the country? Maybe it's so far ahead it just seems behind

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Ah, hockey, though. Positive images, one-two-three, are: "body contact, excitement, fast-moving." The only negative consensus responses dealt with logistics—poor parking, good seats hard to get, etc. In this regard, it is interesting to note that while the survey gave high marks to the Red Sox, the game of baseball had little to do with this endorsement. The two major negative responses directed at the Red Sox—"lack of body contact" and "games too slow"—are virtually the same complaints offered about the sport everywhere. Baseball is appreciated in Boston like an old shoe. The positive image of the Red Sox was based on factors that have nothing to do with the game and could be applied just as easily to account for the sustained popularity of Bonanza or Thanksgiving dinner at Grandma's: to wit, "pleasant environment" and "long-term following."

It is logical to conclude from such evidence that Boston is an unusual sports town, with its own independent tastes, but the more closely its sports relationships are examined, the more one suspects that Boston is not so much at variance with other places as it is ahead of them. Hub Man is a harbinger, not an aberrant.

In a sense, Boston has been in retreat from national eminence since the day in 1775 when John Adams put the welfare of all the Colonies first and began to push for George Washington as commander of the Continental Army. On July 3 of that year, when Washington arrived to stand on the green at Cambridge to take command, the power began to surge out of Boston, first to Philadelphia, then to New York. Boston has had a long time to digest this fact, to make adjustments and to find new roles for itself. It has been, successively, a port, an industrial center, an educational matrix and a major research area. Greater Boston is built that way, in rings of wharves, factories, schools and laboratories, going out from the harbor to Route 128, which circles it all like the walls of ancient Baghdad.

Early on, it was evident that New York, the burgeoning power to the south, would permit Boston to be the hub of a wheel that was limited to New England. Boston is just 43 miles square, which is one-third the size of Detroit, one-tenth the size of Los Angeles. Projected 1970 census estimates indicate that only about 600,000 people still live in Boston, while the whole area, comprising 77 other towns, now has a population of nearly 3 million.

Thus, 80% of the Boston area is not Boston, which is a distinction only one other large U.S. city can claim. The 1970 census will probably show Boston proper to be the 17th largest city in the country, but Boston is still the seventh largest metropolitan area in the U.S. and, because it has no rival in all of New England, it is an even larger TV market. This is important.

The two major Boston sports addresses offer sharp contrasts. Boston Garden is like the city, old and quaint and huddled in the core. Fenway Park relates more to all of New England. It is in a pretty good section of town, not far from where the suburbs begin. The area lacks only parking. People drive in from all over New England, park in Providence—or somewhere—and walk to Fenway Park.

These traveling fans have no allegiance to the Patriots and will not come long distances to see them. For football in New England, fans travel to see their college teams play or they stay home and watch the New York Giants on CBS. Very few struggled downtown in the harsh winter months to see the Bruins or the Celtics, either. The only Garden attraction that draws a substantial portion of its crowd from at least 50 miles away is the ice show—traditionally a family draw.

That is what the Red Sox attract: family. The voices at Fenway are shrill and fervent, for the anticipation of youth sweeps over the place. There is total faith in the stands that today, every day, unquestionably, there will be a no-hitter or somebody will hit four home runs or two grand slams, or, at the least, a hero will pay tribute to his friends in the press box with an obscene gesture.

"It's the only town I know of," Jackie Jensen says, "where if you're walking down the street, a cab driver will yell: 'Hi, Jackie, how ya doin'?' It's as if they feel they know you."

There is a reason for this phenomenon. Sam Cohen says that two things on the sports page sell papers in Boston. These are baseball and championship fights. Since interesting championship fights occur nowadays with the frequency of Halley's Comet, there is a disposition in the Boston press to write about baseball. Eternally there is no off season. The stuff pours out like lava down Krakatoa. Newspapers may disappear in Boston, but not newspaper baseball writers—they come across the diamond in a phalanx. In Boston so much baseball is bombarded at the reading populace that it is difficult not to know a lot about the Sox even if you don't want to.

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