Features 2002

Where have you gone, Red Soxer Billy Werber?

 ... Eighty four years - and counting - and waiting

by Jerry Norton, Guest Contributor

It was 1935; I was then eleven years old and my father took me to Fenway Park to see my first major league baseball game. In my mind's eye I can still see the images that so awed me that long-ago time. Until that day my knowledge of baseball fields was confined to the school yards and sandlots of Melrose.

Upon emerging out into the grandstand area I was overwhelmed by the immensity and greenness of it all; the beautifully groomed playing field with its surrounding green walls and the big clock mounted above the center field bleachers. In those days there was no screen above the left field wall and the locals referred to it simply by its generic name, "left field wall". This was long before its fame spread throughout the civilized world and it became known as the "green monster". The only scoreboard was the venerable old manually operated one which is still imbedded just above the field in left. In the days before big television royalties and inflated ticket prices the teams relied greatly on billboard advertising on the walls surrounding the playing field for much of their revenue. Among the many ads was one which informed the fans that "Red Sox use Lifebuoy". I don't know why that one should have gained my attention since, as a young boy, hygiene was not too high on my list of priorities.

The games that day (a doubleheader) were with the old Washington Senators and the names of the Red Sox players are like a roll call from baseball antiquity: Wes and Rick Ferrell, Babe Dahlgren, Billy Werber (pictured left), Dusty Cooke, Mel Almada, Roy Johnson, etc.. Wes Ferrell who was the starting pitcher for the Sox in the first game was a prima donna if ever there was one. He was normally a winning pitcher but, like us all, he had his bad days and this was one of them. The Senators jumped on him in the early innings for several runs. When he could take it no longer he threw his glove over to the sidelines and walked off the field. Young Joe Cronin, the manager and shortstop, chased after him and a heated exchange followed. The prima donna prevailed and Cronin, who already had relief pitchers warming up, hastily called one in. I don't remember much else about the games except Joe Cronin's home run over the left field wall in a losing cause in the first game and Red Sox pitcher Jack Wilson's home run in the last inning of the second game to win it for the Sox and my dad knowingly commenting, "He won his own game".

Today's ball player presents a vastly different image from his predecessors in this story. He is now amply equipped with the creature comforts of his trade: batting helmet and array of batting gloves, wrist and arm protectors with which to enhance his performance. He no longer has to pick up a handful of dirt at home plate to rub on hands and bat for a better grip. He now wears his uniform pant legs down over his ankles covering some of his team's colors. How can we now know for sure they are still "red socks"?

Players are no longer indentured servants bound to toil at the pleasure of the owners holding their contracts, at a wage offered by that team, or not play at all. Curt Flood and free agency transformed them into astute businessmen able to offer their services to the highest bidder. Last year's hometown hero may well be a member of this year's visiting team whom the fans greet with a cascade of boos. Thus the market economy spills over into "America's Pastime".

But dear readers, no matter who with the big red "B" on his cap represents the team, it is still deserving of support. Eighty four years of star-crossed effort should somehow find redemption ... if only the Sox could be motivated by that old-time soap ad and clean up their act.

August 2, 2002

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