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It has been 24 years since those six men played on the team that went to the World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals. Those 24 years have not been kind to this city. Not kind at all.
" 'The most racist city in America,' is what you hear before you come here," Red Sox first baseman Mo Vaughn says. "Sure. I heard that a lot when I signed."
"Friends of mine, when I was drafted, were saying, 'Uh-oh, you're going Up South to play," Boston Celtics guard Dee Brown says. "That's what they said. 'Up South.' They were joking about it, telling me to watch myself."
"I remember, I was drafted late, in the seventh round, so I was happy to go anywhere," New England Patriots defensive end Brent Williams says. "Initially, I was very happy. Then someone said to me, 'Man, you're going to Boston.' That's when I first thought about it."
The image is...the image is...the image is what? The image is swan boats and Paul Revere's house and cobblestone streets. The image is Harvard, on the other side of the Charles River, and the Kennedys. The image is the Atlantic Ocean and maybe Spenser: For Hire and certainly Cheers and...hate. The hate won't go away. Not in the image that is held by black America.
The pictures that dominate are mostly from the middle '70s, pictures of black children being taken to formerly white schools under police guard as angry white faces shout angry words and fists pound on the windows of the buses. A classic picture, which won a Pulitzer Prize, shows a black man named Ted Landsmark being attacked in front of City Hall by a gang of white kids, one of whom is lunging at him with a pole that holds a large American flag. Other pictures from other places have followed, most recently the pictures of Rodney King being kicked and beaten by members of the Los Angeles Police Department, but the Boston pictures from forced busing and school integration came before, and they will not leave. Not in black America.
"It's like everything came to light with the busing, and since then it just won't quit," former Celtics guard Dennis Johnson says. "That's the way Boston is perceived."
Even in sports—maybe sometimes abetted by sports—the image is strong. The Red Sox forever are known as "the last team to integrate in the major leagues," and this year, until the midseason arrival of Vaughn, they had only one black player, outfielder Ellis Burks, on their roster. The Celtics are lampooned by black filmmaker Spike Lee as the white man's team of Larry Bird and Kevin McHale and 1950s basketball. The Patriots, with one of the largest black rosters in the National Football League, still are not one of the more desirable NFL stops. Raghib (Rocket) Ismail, a potential Pats first draft choice, let it be known early that he didn't want to go to the team because they weren't offering enough money and, Boston, well...he would rather be in Atlanta or Dallas.
"It's almost an impossible thing to shake," Red Sox president John Harrington says. "I don't know how you do it. I've been told it will take 50 years, generations, before this thing is gone. I won't be around and you won't be around. It's just impossible."
The everyday realities of a city of neighborhoods with a black population of 136,679 out of 574,283 residents provide a requisite number of slurs and snubs and horror stories to keep the bad news rolling. Trouble in the schools. Trouble with the gangs. Trouble with the police. In Boston, there seems to be an exaggerated racial edge to everything that happens. The Charles Stuart case, in which the alleged white murderer claimed his wife was killed by an unidentified black man, sent the police chasing through the minority community. It was a nationally reported incident. Ah. That's Boston.