"They have a real love/hate relationship with this team," says Sullivan. They always have. Frazee, the theatrical producer who sold Ruth and every other breathing player he had, was Public Enemy No. 1. Tom Yawkey was vilified at the beginning of his ownership, and before they were elevated to saint-hood. Williams and Yastrzemski felt the fans' wrath. In recent years Don Zimmer, who managed the team from 1976 to 1979, came to be treated like the inflatable doll he resembles; he was poked, kicked and bounced around. Upon leaving, he told Sullivan, "When I was here you had 30% of them [the boos] and I had 70%. They got to zero in on you, now."
Attendance was down 400,000 last year from the year before. This year advance-ticket sales are off an additional 8%, and not even the Yankee games, which are normally SRO, are sold out yet. WWLP in Springfield has dropped its Red Sox telecasts, and WFSB in Hartford, Conn. has defected from the Red Sox to the Yankees. To its credit, the club grasped the image problem and went along with Judy Jurisich, the manager of its originating station, WSBK-TV, when she suggested they both consult an outside advertising agency, Zechman And Associates, in Chicago, of all places.
As Jan Zechman, the head of the agency, puts it, "You wouldn't want a Boston agency doing ads for the Red Sox for the same reason a doctor doesn't operate on his own children." Zechman made numerous trips to Boston, clipping newspaper stories and talking to cabdrivers, sportswriters and club officials. "We talked to a lot of fans, and found a very strong frustration, a great disgust," he says. "We knew we had to confront the problem. If we ignored it, and had Yaz say, 'Smile and come out for Jacket Day,' the people would get even angrier."
The fruit of his effort is a series of bold commercials. Some are delightful; some are silly. The most serious one opens with the camera panning some baseball cards (Lynn, Fisk, Burleson, Luis Tiant, etc.) scattered on a table. Meanwhile a voice—The Voice, if you're a Red Sox fan—says, "To hear some people tell it, the Red Sox were dealt a lousy hand this season. The cards are against us, and we should just fold 'em in. Well, I'm here to tell you we've got some young guys who can play baseball on this team. All they need is the backing of their fans. True, I don't have to get out there every day [cut to, yes it's him, Ted Williams], but I think I know how it feels to have the fans behind you. So c'mon Boston, help out. These kids need your support." [Cut to a deadpan Yastrzemski.] "Ted's right, folks. We kids need your support."
In another commercial, Sullivan's personal favorite, several pitchers are jammed into a bullpen cart, driving at Keystone Kops speed down the open road, while the voice-over says there's been enough heat on the players to make them want to run away from home. The most poignant commercial features Fenway Park organist John Kiley with five Red Sox behind him in his booth: "I've never heard such unharmonious things being said about our team.... These are sensitive human beings. Hit it, boys." And with that, the players go into a moving rendition of Feelings. "Wo, wo, wo feelings."
I can't help it. I'm up against the wall. I need the money.
—HARRY FRAZEE, explaining in January 1920 why he had to sell Ruth.
Here's a list of three players signed for over $13 million. And I'm stupid? Go to hell.
—HAYWOOD SULLIVAN, explaining during spring training why he didn't hold on to Lynn, Burleson and Fisk.
Sullivan is very sensitive, some might say paranoid. He has good reason. If he listens to the radio, he can't help but come across one of the seven carnivorous sports talk shows in Boston. If he reads the sports section of Boston's Herald American, he'll find a regular feature called "Our Boys in Exile," which, under a suitcase logo, details the exploits of Messrs. Fisk, Burleson, Lynn and Hob-son. As of Sunday, Fisk and Burleson were batting over .300; Lynn had five homers and 19 RBIs; and only Hobson was slumping. In recent months Sullivan has been likened to Scrooge, Lou Costello, Silas Marner, Oliver Hardy and Inspector Clouseau. He's none of the above. He's not even Harry Frazee. Yet.
Still, there are some interesting parallels. Upon taking over the club, both men enjoyed instant success. Shortly after Frazee purchased the Red Sox, they won the World Series. In Sullivan's (and LeRoux') first year of stewardship, the Red Sox were 10 games up in July, and in August Sullivan was the hero of a Herald American story headlined now THE SUPER TEAM WAS BUILT. Then along came the Yankees and Bucky Dent. Sixty years before Sullivan-LeRoux, Frazee dispatched his star shortstop, Everett Scott, his star catcher, Wally Schang, and his star outfielder/pitcher, Ruth.
The Red Sox ownership made the decision last year that it couldn't afford, or wouldn't afford, to keep Burleson, Fisk and Lynn. When the owners hired Ralph Houk as manager last October, they told him that the most important third of his lineup would be changed by the 1981 season. All three players were signed in 1976 under the Basic Agreement then in effect, and all were eligible for arbitration in 1981 and free agency at the end of the season. "I thought they'd at least keep two of the three guys," says Rick Miller, Lynn's replacement and Fisk's brother-in-law. "Then after Rick and Fred were traded, I thought they'd try to at least keep Carlton."