Boston has never been what it is supposed to be. It is by nature perverse and contradictory. The original Boston patriot, for instance, was James Otis, a lawyer whose attack on Crown law in 1761 caused John Adams to write: "Then and there the child Independence was born." But Otis became increasingly Tory, took little part in the Revolution and was sought out (no doubt), struck and killed by lightning in 1783, when independence was just becoming a fact to the people to whom he had introduced the idea.
Boston still celebrates the shot heard round the world with Patriots Day and the Boston Marathon, and it honors as Evacuation Day the date when the British army left town. The Redcoats pulled out sometime after the Battle of Bunker Hill, which was fought some distance away on Breed's Hill, and which, legend and whites of their eyes notwithstanding, the British won in a rout. Then, on Evacuation Day itself, 1,000 Bostonians—a substantial part of the 1776 population—chose, of their own volition, to depart their homes and the Cradle of Liberty and escape with the tyrants. This particular slant on Evacuation Day is not widely promulgated.
But, as Ted Williams would testify, it helps to have a good press in Boston. For instance, it was not Paul Revere who got through to Concord to alert the Minute Men. A British patrol captured Paul Revere. Dr. Samuel Prescott was the rider who warned Concord. Unfortunately, Prescott does not rhyme at all well with "you shall hear," so Revere got the ink. This would be no problem nowadays. Prescott or Revere, the papers would just headline it: HUB MAN WARNS CONCORD. If Neil Armstrong had come from Dorchester or Charlestown, it would have been: HUB MAN ON MOON. If a Pope ever comes out of Southie (South Boston), it will be: TAB HUB MAN PONTIFF. Everyday Hub Man docs something, though it is not always clear why.
For instance, Evacuation Day survives as a legal holiday primarily because General Howe had the foresight to schedule it on St. Patrick's Day. There is a great parade in Southie and, predictably, the biggest hand goes to ex-Senator Leverett Saltonstall, who is not the least bit Irish. Ecumenism is selective, though. Hub Men never liked their own heavyweight champion, Jack Sharkey, because he was a Lithuanian with an Irish name. The Red Sox were the last major league team to integrate, and Edward Brooke is the only black Senator in the United States. It was deemed improper that the Harvard football coach be given a harmless hack job with a racetrack, but there is not a Hub Man in town who cannot get a traffic ticket fixed and then bore others with the proud details of his feat. Who arc these Hub Men?
Kevin White, the mayor, sits in his office in city hall. It is surely the most magnificent municipal building in the country, but most Hub Men sneer at it. preferring seedy old Scollay Square, which it replaced. "We're a truly unique city," Mayor White says. "When characterized, we're inevitably dismissed as cither The Late George Apley or The Last Hurrah, but we're not cither, if we ever were. We're a small town that's an international city, and that's very unique indeed."
Boston is ambivalent, ironic, at odds with itself. "The place was still a cow pasture till John L. Sullivan put it on the map," says Sam Silverman, the fight promoter, offering yet another theory of Boston history. The Hub Men lionized that barroom bully, but they busted Mencken for peddling his American Mercury on the Common. Banned in Boston is still not passé. They arrested anyone who showed I Am Curious (Yellow), and the whole state supreme court went off to examine Hair. One of the most prominent black athletes in Boston recently bought a house in a white neighborhood. The man who sold him the house was immediately thrashed by a next-door neighbor. Bill Russell dismisses Boston as the hole in a sugared liberal doughnut. Yet nowhere is there a more liberal thrust. Boston is capital of the first state that passed a law challenging the President's authority to order soldiers to Vietnam.
Above all, Boston reserves the right to regularly change its mind. A scrap-book clipping, bound by yellowing Scotch tape, dated May 12, 1960, from a paper that no longer exists, describes a scene in a hotel that is now out of business. It is about the new Boston stadium—which also does not exist. "We'll be within the Boston city limits. We'll break ground this year," says Billy Sullivan, the president of the Patriots football team. There have been 28 or 29 or 30 or 3,000 more proposals since then, and yet Boston still remains without a municipal stadium, with the distinction of having argued over the issue longer than any city in the land.
Boston is the town that sold Babe Ruth to New York, saluted the c b driver that ran down Casey Stengel and greeted its own Celtics, the greatest basketball team ever, with ennui. It took 50 years for major league baseball to move a team, and as soon as it made up its mind it hustled a club out of Boston over a weekend. The Hub Men yawned when the Redskins went to Washington and stirred even less when the football Yanks left. Fewer than 5% of the Patriot stockholders even bother to buy season tickets. Boston locked Cassius Clay and Sonny Liston out of town long before Clay's draft troubles. Rocky Marciano came from just down the road at Brockton, but he could never get into Boston because there was always a guy with a warrant out to grab him and hang some obscure suit on him. "I've been scuffling for 40 years—since I was 16," says Bill Veeck, now the head of Suffolk Downs. "Before I got to Boston I was sued just once—and it was thrown right out of court. I've been here only 18 months and have been involved in eight suits." They threw fines and everything else at Ted Williams. Who are these Hub Men?
With what is now the smallest major league park in the U.S., Boston trailed only the Mets in baseball attendance last year. Beantown supports dog tracks and Harvard football with equal fervor. The Garden bangs out for high school hockey. The Hub Men keep flat tracks as far away as Rhode Island and New Hampshire open in the dead of winter. Boston loves crew races and pops for more big-time tennis than any city in the land, while Bruno Sammartino also sells out regularly. It was Boston where the Ice Follies made the first $1 million run, and when the city finally did let Clay and Marciano in (together, for their computer fight), Boston responded with the biggest gate in the country. Ken Harrelson, not recognized as a man of oppressive sentiment, babbled like a baby when they traded him out of town. Jackie Jensen, the old California golden boy, is nearly bathetic on the subject. He even remembers the weather as being good. "It was all great, just great," he says at last. Ted Williams says: "It might be better than any sports town you can name."
Who are these Hub Men?