As you roll down from Logan Airport you’re confronted with the tunnel to bring you into the city itself, complete with its impressive relief of a baseball player in full swing at the entrance.
That’s Ted Williams of the Ted Williams Tunnel, the man who came to play for the Boston Red Sox with a simple wish: that people would watch him walk down the street and say, ‘there goes the greatest hitter that ever played the game’.
(Hm, a city naming a tunnel after one of its greatest sportspeople? Unusual.) Boston has a fair sense of its own importance when it comes to sport, and in fairness it can back that up.
Its ice hockey team, the Bruins, is one of the ‘original six’ founders of the National Hockey League, and the New England Patriots - who were once the Boston Patriots - have won a fistful of Super Bowls in the last decade or so; under coach Bill Belichick they have become the dominant team of the age. Meanwhile, the Boston Celtics of the NBA must be the only organisation with a leprechaun emblazoned across its merchandise ever to be taken seriously in this country.
The Red Sox are older than the others, though, and have a place above and beyond in the locals’ affections. Columnist George Will once pinpointed part of the reason behind their significance in America’s northeast when he highlighted that the Red Sox were the team of New England, which means the team followed by intellectuals and boffins at the area’s many colleges.
Meanwhile, the writers and thinkers who spent winters pontificating - as Will said - about another Sox disappointment by trumpeting, ‘why, the Red Sox remind me of the federal deficit or the human condition or whatever you like’.
The Red Sox suffered for decades from the curse of the Bambino, the sale by Sox owner Harry Frazee of Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees to finance one of his Broadway shows.
That it was New York which Ruth energised to decades of glory made the pain all the sharper for Boston, of course. The Yankees represented the big city down the coast and provided Red Sox with an ever-present cause for complaint.
There were other complaints, though. That tunnel? One of the Boston Celtics of the sixties, Tommy Heinsohn said of the magnificent Bill Russell, the undisputed star of that team: “All I know is the guy won two NCAA championships, 50-some college games in a row, the Olympics, then he came to Boston and won 11 championships in 13 years, and they named a ———- tunnel after Ted Williams.” A final word.
The Red Sox eventually cast off the curse to win the World Series in 2004, and if you watched the movie Moneyball you may remember the closing scenes, where the manager of Oakland A’s is offered a hefty salary to put his statistic-driven approach to work in Boston.
Billy Beane - played by Brad Pitt - turned down that approach, mainly because Brad Pitt doesn’t play movie characters who abandon their guitar-playing daughters to the west coast, even when offered a king’s ransom, but the Red Sox hired a Beane variant called Theo Epstein and bagged three World Series titles in the next nine years. (A team breaking a decades-long losing strike by changing their approach to become more scientific? Again, nothing to see or learn here.)
America: it’s so different.
Everyone needs good neighbours
If there’s any bright side to the news during the week about the Rugby World Cup it’s surely the chance to roll our eyes about the perfidy of Scotland and Wales.
I’m sure they’re nice people on the whole but whatever happened to solidarity with the other small fish in the pond, or is it just jealousy of us being . . . a country?
To be honest, I hope everyone bears this in mind when the time comes that one or the other of them bids to host a World Cup.
That will likely be in about four centuries’ time and will probably be contested by weaponised cyborgs, but I for one will be agitating for us to support Liechtenstein in that particular ballot.
The man who tried to save Ali from himself
The passing of Ferdie Pacheco over the weekend takes another link out of the chain linking us to Muhammad Ali.
Pacheco was the doctor at ringside for many of Ali’s greatest fights — and deepest disappointments.
Nobody watching the Rumble In The Jungle all those years ago could have foreseen that Ali’s strength in absorbing pummelling punishment from the strongest men on the planet would ultimately contribute to his own early demise.
A recent book by Jonathan Eig suggests that Ali was in neurological trouble far earlier than was thought previously: should Pacheco have been on the case?
It’s hard to pitch oneself back to the early seventies — hard to imagine oneself in the early noughties, let’s be honest — but Pacheco claimed to have detected signs of wear and tear in the boxer in 1977 after Ali fought Earnie Shavers.
Pacheco told USA Today that after the Shavers fight he sent Ali’s medical examination results to Angelo Dundee, Ali’s trainer, his wife Veronica and Ali himself.
‘I wrote, ‘This is what’s happening to you. If you want to continue, you have no shot at a normal life.’ I never heard a word — a word. Because they knew I was right.’
Ali fought on until 1980. What would his life have been like if they had acted?
Comma lessons from John McPhee
I won’t go on any longer about Boston only to add that I picked up John McPhee’s Draft No. 4 there.
If you want to know why this is important, consider this brief passage.
“Nonrestrictive: This is a baseball, which is spherical and white.
“Restrictive: This is the baseball that Babe Ruth hit out of the park after pointing at the fence in Chicago.
“The first ball is unspecific, and the sentence requires a comma if the writer wishes to digress into its shape and color. The second ball is very specific, and the sentence repels commas.”
If you still don’t know why this is important, then there’s nothing more I can do for you.